What’s an ounce of prevention worth?

by University Communications,

Professor Lisbeth Claus envisions the future of Human Resources.

A court transcriber from a New York firm took a nasty fall in the shower of his Toronto hotel. A French executive was kidnapped and held for ransom in Colombia. The daughter of an Australian employee on assignment in Jakarta contracted dengue fever.

What exactly is a company’s obligation when it sends employees and their families overseas on assignment?

That question has launched Lisbeth Claus Ph.D., SPHR, GPHR, Professor of Global HR at Willamette University, and the 2003 President of The Global Forum, the international division of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), farther to the front of the world stage.

Modern origin story.

“In the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, the HR blogosphere lit up with concern for employees in the area,” Professor Claus recounts. “We implicitly expect employers to take practical steps to safeguard their employees against any reasonably foreseeable dangers in the workplace; they have a Duty of Care (DOC). But as I began to look into the topic –a basic tenet of the medical profession- I discovered that there wasn’t anything in the academic literature about employees crossing borders for work.”

The following January, Professor Claus spent her sabbatical producing a white paper on the topic. In it, she wrote: “Multinational Corporations risk liability for breaching not only the laws of the countries in which they operate and in which their employees are nationals or permanent residents, but also those laws in the countries to which their employees travel on business or live as expatriates.”

“Human capital is now our biggest risk.”

Though Dr. Claus has been published widely on subjects related to global HR and performance management of multinational companies, she says, “That white paper on DOC was the most popular thing that I ever wrote.” Already a frequent keynote speaker at HR conferences around the world, Professor Claus became the international spokeswoman on Duty of Care.

Claus’s paper highlights the predominant assumption that holds employers responsible; “Of 39 DOC cases analyzed for that white paper, 36 were decided in the employee’s favor. Courts are likely to look at the employer’s profits, and ask ‘couldn’t you have spent a bit more to protect your employees’ well being?’ Consumers show that they share that attitude; they won’t buy from companies they perceive as irresponsible.”

HR: an essential part of good management.

Professor Claus has been championing the fundamental importance of HR in her classes at Willamette for years; “I believe this is one of the strong suits of the program: HR isn’t treated as an elective, it’s a core part of the full-time MBA program. Students leave with a healthy respect for HR as a management discipline.”

Claus’s past students agree.

Simona Bucur (MBA’08), Business Unit Manager of Infectious Diseases at Janssen, Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson and Johnson Romania, recounts “that the hardest and most important thing in my work is the so-called ‘soft’ part, which Lisbeth teaches. You can always compensate for the technical part, but you cannot compensate for this ‘soft’ part.”

Matthew Newberry (MBA’11), Senior Tax Consultant, Global Mobility at Deloitte adds that Claus’s “reputation and extensive experience in Global HR was one of the main reasons I chose to attend Willamette’s business school. During her experiential Global HR course, our small team conducted several consulting projects on Global HR-related issues for real client-companies. Lisbeth structured the experience to be as close to a real world experience as possible. This class and Lisbeth’s guidance literally led me to where I am today.”

“Students can hang their hats on more than one discipline.”

Whether she’s addressing her class at Willamette, or a multi-day strategic HR seminar, Claus asserts that; “Optimizing for one management discipline isn’t enough. You have to be at least ‘baseline good’ at all the disciplines, and then have a focus in one or two areas. That’s the future of management. In the workplace, you identify problems by red flags and recognize the underlying situation. To address it well, you have to grab from different bags of knowledge. That’s what a modern professional does.”