Our SHRM delegation of 20+ HR leaders came back from Brazil a week ago. I’m sending thank you’s to the people I met.The experience itself is still playing out. The DNA that makes up this unique culture- from their personal style of greeting a stranger to their music is addictive and recognizable everywhere.The images, sounds and texture of this small slice of life we observed at work (but also at play) is a healthy blend of optimism, marked by a rapidly growing national pride and always, always with a flair for handling the unexpected challenge- jeitinho (see Howard Wallach’s decription in his blog- Beautiful Brazil listed at end of this post).Even a trip to a local Samba club and Rio’s most famous landmark- the art deco statue of Christ the Redeemer offered insights as striking as the business meetings we attended. One reflected extreme landscapes…and for that mnatter, so did the other.(I would share my pics from the Samba club but they were so hot the digital camera melted.) Brazil is surely a country with extreme contrasts, even within our small sample of two cities- Rio De Janeiro and Sao Paulo.Our business agenda took us to 6 firms in those cities. We met with both business and HR leaders. Each firm was very different but, all were publicly acknowledged in some way as extraordinary places to work and where HR was central to the firm’s performance.They included:- A small, rapidly growing engineering firm (ChemTech) ranked by Great Places to Work as the #1 firm to work for in the country 2 years running (and as the most innovative firm in Brazil by several other organizations). Their solution to scarce talent was to reinvent the work around Gen Y engineers, managing perceived risk despite literally giving the responsibility to succeed to fresh out graduates…with lots of interesting twists and turns. Their average age in an industry whose average is likely 48 years old is 28.- A true monopoly (communications and entertainment) in the classic sense (Globo) that manages its own brand image by intensely listening to its audience, its employees and its prospects and then delivering a customized experience…everywhere that Brazilians gather including places outside of Brazil.- A US multi-national in the midst of a global transformation from a manufacturer to a service provider (Hewlett Packard) with 9,000 employees in Brazil. It was eye-opening to see a view of a firm that has been in the news from the inside and at the same time from outside its country of origin- especially how business and HR practices are configured to Brazilian employees.- A Brazilian multi-national (Natura) and one of the top ‘direct-sales’ firms in the world (think Avon paired with natural ingredients from the Amazon jungle). This 7,000 person cosmetics and natural products firm is well known in Latin America and Europe (the US is in its sights). Its management style is a unique blend of Brazil’s culture, growing eco-consciousness, and OD management techniques emphasizing cooperation, collaboration and harmony. Its brand slogan “Bem estar bem” (Well being done well) translates to its employment brand in unique ways during the recruiting process- the emphasis is on the candidate learning enough to choose well.- A regional package goods distribution center (FedEx) where a blend of technology, logistics and related employment practices, regulations and challenges in Brasil, Agentina, Chile, Uruguay were contrasted with our own.- A purely Brazilian retail chain (Magazine Luiza) that has been ranked for a decade among Brazil’s top 10 firms to work for. This was the only firm where Portuguese translation was necessary but the open flow of ideas, questions and answers was free of barriers.This firm founded by a woman is a cross between Walmart and Target- essentially a national chain of 716 big-box stores catering to the lower end of an emerging Brazilian middle class. With 24,000 employees the firm’s training, development, communications (transparency) and benefit practices this firm chooses to provide (and it is a serious choice as the government requires that if you provide more than basic benefits to employees, you can’t take them back) are more akin to IT industry leaders like Google than they are the retail world.As a result this firm’s employee engagement, customer loyalty and profit margins remain high while turnover is 50% of its industry average.It was the stop where one of the leaders commented that “we are proof companies can grow without losing their soul.”One consistent theme for me with all of our conversations is the depth of knowledge that individuals in each firm had about how their unique company work ‘culture’, business objectives and broader national culture were aligned.. even blended to support one other.I’m convinced there is much more the US can learn about developing and managing an employment brand from our Brazilian neighbors.Having experienced a recent history that has run the gamut from hyper inflation, corruption, military dictatorships and social engineering, Brazil is far from free of challenges.Its new found resources and growing middle class however, along with a strong sense of national pride in upcoming world events (World Soccer and Olympics) are now driving the view of its future.As one leader put it “The only thing Brazil has in common with other ‘developing’ [BRIC] countries is that we are all growing. (And as someone who has been to all the BRIC countries in the last 2-3 years with time to examine their business practices, I would have to agree.)Still, at the core, we are all similar in more ways than not.Brazilians are often described (and describe themselves) as much more relationship than task driven; more interdependent than independent; more status conscious than egalitarian, etc. In some ways they are.And yet, depending who you talk to, many people in certain sectors of US businesses, specifc geographic regions, ethnic origins, age cohorts, etc., could similarly be described. To suggest the US business culture is always in a bit of flux and not necessarily to the left or right of any other country’s ‘characteristics’ wouldn’t be totally out of line.It’s what we can learn from another culture when we want to build and balance our ‘relationships’ and then discover that there is a place that actually drives their business from within their culture- devoting extra hours of a business day to establishing and maintaining their relationships. Maybe we can better imagine the pros and cons about where our love affair with social media might take us if we paid closer attention.It’s what folks used to being independent can learn about how to handle their interdependent kids (who now return home after they get their college degree) from a culture where it is the norm for children to live at home until they are 28…and how that translates to their behavior at work…or difficulty in working from home. Lots of lessons to absorb.Thank you to Howard Wallach, SHRM’s global exec, whose efforts made this trip so successful. I’ve only good things to say about the HR delegations to China, India and Brazil I’ve been on.Take a look at Howards excellent blogs and pictures on the SHRM website.- Rainbows in Brazil http://blog.shrm.org/?p=648- Brazil: where Culture Matters http://blog.shrm.org/?p=678- Beautiful Brazil http://blog.shrm.org/?p=687- Brazilians take soccer…seriously http://blog.shrm.org/?p=724- Farewell Brazil http://blog.shrm.org/?p=740And to our People-to-people guide, Marcella Granatiere, whose knowledge of Brazil and answers to “what’s that mean?” were an essential part of the experience- Obrigato! Marcella’s only failure was an attempt to teach us [me] a way to successfully fake the Samba.A special thank you to all of the HR execs whose insights and friendship I’ve retained but whose foibles I’ll avoid detailing…at least until we can raise a Caiprihina to each other’s health…Saude!Finally, thank you to Mike Hard and http://www.BountyJobs.com for sponsoring a good part of my trip.Next stop….Israel, February 2012. A Nation of Entrepreneurs.
Original source article: CareerXroads