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Adapting to a Global Economy

"Global" is the catch-word of Lisbeth Claus' life, from her childhood in Belgium to her role as a top global human resources expert to her mentoring of international students.

Claus, associate professor of global human resources at the Atkinson Graduate School of Management, spends about 200 days of the year on the road. When your expertise lies in training human resources managers how to work within an international environment -- and your personal goal is to help smaller countries develop in this area -- it's often necessary to hop on planes to places as far away as China, Israel or Nigeria. "Companies can no longer just be domestic. Everything is about globalization," says Claus, who also is Atkinson's interim associate dean.

Claus spent 15 years coordinating the development of learning materials for people seeking GPHR (Global Professional in Human Resources) certification. The certification, first available five years ago, is geared toward human resources professionals working in multiple countries. They might be recruiting employees from abroad or working for a company that has locations throughout the world. And each country has its own laws and customs regarding hiring practices. "You can't expect someone in Salem to know the laws in Belgium for hiring," Claus says.

Multinational companies also have unique challenges regarding performance management, an area that has been the focus of Claus' research. When a company is headquartered in the United States, which has one acceptable set of performance review standards, but is working with employees in multiple countries, each with their own ideas about review practices, things can get a bit complicated.

"Some countries may not allow you to fire someone based on lousy performance, for example," Claus says. "Multinational companies have problems in balancing whether they'll have the same system everywhere. They don't want to go against the laws or customs of other countries."

Claus' passion for international affairs started early in life. Born in Oostende, Belgium, she describes her family as "very international." "I spoke Flemish to my father, I spoke French to my mother, I spoke German to my grandfather, and I spoke even another language to God, all before the age of 4."

When Claus came to the U.S. to get her PhD at Saint Louis University, she barely knew English. "I learned English from The Beatles' songs," she says. "I knew all the words, but I didn't know what they were really saying." At first it was difficult studying in America, but she worked hard to improve her English while taking her graduate courses.

It's her memory of these struggles that has drawn her to informally mentor international students at Atkinson. This year the business school has 30 international students from 12 countries. Claus often invites them to her home for dinner or just to talk. "They come here for a year, and sometimes they never even get to be in a person's home. So what kind of view do they have of American society?"

Claus also acts as a "mentor" to countries that don't yet have well-developed human resources programs, to help them join the international market. She helped develop professional HR organizations in Israel and Romania, and she often volunteers as a keynote speaker at events in those countries to further assist them in becoming established. "The world has changed so rapidly that people now realize this is something they need to do," she says. "They are dealing with the fact that business is now global."