Selecting Staff for Intercultural Teams
by By Jeff Toms, Marketing and Client Services Director, Farnham Castle
The successful international manager needs to have developed the competencies and personal attributes necessary to allow him or her to work effectively in an international and cross-cultural environment.
This is an environment in which staff will be expected to interact, manage, negotiate and even live and work effectively as individuals and in teams with people whose values, beliefs, languages, customs and business practices are different from their own. It is also an environment where relationships are all important and where misunderstandings can lead to costly mistakes and even business failures.
Increasingly, outsourcing organisations are looking for ways to develop their managers and internationally focused staff to handle this important dimension. A professional approach to the selection and development of international staff can help avoid the problems that may arise from appointing an individual through a ‘knee-jerk reaction’ who is the most ‘technically’ competent and readily available person.
Experience shows that technical competence, while important, does not of itself produce an effective international manager. The first step in this process therefore, should be to identify not the people but the competencies, motivation and personal attributes required for success at international, managerial, functional and personal levels and then select and develop potential international managers against these.
While there are international competency models that have been developed to help in the selection and assessment process, it is essential that the one which is eventually used by the organisation reflects both the specific and various cultural needs of its markets and the organisation’s culture, which sometimes can be in conflict.
In identifying the personal attributes needed, it is also important not to assume that there is a single attribute (or personality) profile for all markets or cultures. For example, the person who is ideally suited, in terms of their motivation and personality, to work in one market, say the USA, may find it very difficult to work in another, more relationship orientated culture of say India or Pakistan.
This assessment process should not be left until a vacancy arises. It should be ongoing and one through which people, who are considered as high performers with international potential, are identified as early as possible in their careers and then given the appropriate opportunities to develop their experience and skills in that direction.
Consideration should also be given to planned exposure to the international side of the business through projects that require them to visit and work for short periods in the organisation’s overseas operations, or with its customers. This would allow in-market senior managers to assess and provide feedback on how effectively, or otherwise, the person is able to work with the local team and in the different cultural environment.
A further part of the process should be to give individuals the opportunity to attend relevant country briefings and cross-cultural awareness workshops. This can help them more fully appreciate the opportunities and challenges of an international career and allow them to take an informed and objective view of what they might be letting themselves in for. In this way, there can be a process of self-selection which helps ensure that the people, who eventually are offered and accept an international role, are fully committed to it.
At this point, formal training should become an integral part of the process, ideally including advanced management and functional skills training, and country briefings covering the historical, political, economic, social and business environments of the required market(s). Also needed will be cross-cultural awareness training to help them appreciate the values, beliefs and practices of the other cultures and how their own culture may be seen by people from the host nation. Time should also be allocated for language training – experience has shown that effort to acquire a basic ability to converse in the national language greatly assists in overcoming cultural barriers and improves project outcomes.
Farnham Castle is a world leader in Intercultural Business Skills training and Global Mobility Programmes and can help with language training and more detailed briefings on individual cultures.