by BARRY KOZLOFF, President
SRI SELECTION RESEARCH INT’L, INC.
How can we fail as an international company? How can we help our competitors have a competitive advantage over us? How can we marginalize our capital investments around the world? How can we fail to manage our risk?
As absurd as these questions sound, a proven, fool-proof way to accomplish these goals which are counterproductive to the organization, is to not properly evaluate candidates, their spouses or partners and families for global assignment.
Making non-selection of personnel for international assignment an almost informal policy is not a standard practice of companies. The non-selection blind spot is universal, no country or company is immune. Vittorio Tesio, Vice President Human Resources at Fiat SpA, Torino, Italy says, “We [Italians] are no different than US companies in selecting people for international assignments. Whoever speaks Russian is the person who goes to our plant in Russia. We emphasize speaking Italian, assuming many things about their abilities, when we hire someone locally…”
International Selection is a protocol and an integrated system. An organization might not be able to do all of the following, but intelligently made selection decisions require rich, significant information from many sources or data points – triangulated pieces of information to make reliable, predictive choices. And, then, there is the task of how to manage people once the company knows their strengths, gaps, and needs. Assessment is not over with the selection decision. Like in the writing of a novel, the ultimate success of a selection process is in the follow-up – the editing.
Selection and manpower development requires a systematic approach which should include as many of the following steps:
• Background reference checks:
– Internal: performance evaluations,
personnel records, academic records
– External: work references, background/
• Medical exam (drug/alcohol, too)
• A general physical
• International self-assessment/readiness
A self-evaluation of the candidate and family’s readiness in the form of a self-guided, self-report can be a valuable investment for the success of the assignment. The benefits of a self-assessment tool for the potential expatriates and the organization are further realized through a structured interview/de-briefing conducted by Human Resources.
A cautionary note about candidate testing: When looking at candidate assessment inventories, tests, or profiles – a company should use standard, published psychological instruments, with national norms, to ensure adherence to Federal Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures (1991 Civil Rights Act, ADA, Right to Privacy) and Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing. Most international assessment instruments, tests, profiles do not adhere to the Federal guidelines opening companies to liability. Instruments which have been designed using a company or organization’s employee population do not adhere to the uniform guidelines. Request the vendor of the assessment tool to provide you their published research manual to decide if the results of their research generalize to your company’s population.
Candidate selection decisions should involve data from operations, Human Resources, and assessors with the appropriate credentials, academic degrees, and clinical training.
Structured supervisor evaluation instruments provide information about the candidate’s repertoire of abilities and skills and their transferability to a different business environment. Supervisor interviews provide critical information about the employee or manager’s job suitability.
Technical Interview(s): Assessment information about
candidate job fit received from managers familiar with the
candidates performance, as well as, their prospective supervisor.
Formal, International Assessment Interview and Testing: The psycho-social evaluation should only be conducted by a well-qualified assessor with appropriate academic degrees, professional credentials and certification. They should provide assessment results in a manner which makes sense to the company in terms of job fit, development and career planning, organizational and succession planning (repatriation).
Expatriate Case Studies: Let us look at an example played out thousands of times, in various scenarios. A major U.S. chemical company with decades doing business around the globe entered into a joint venture with M, a major Japanese company. The U.S. company decided to send their General Manager, John, in the Hong Kong office, to be in charge of the joint venture between the U.S. and Japanese company. A formal evaluation of John and his wife, Barb, learned that John and Barb were quintessentially “Ugly Americans.” (Strange to use words from a book written in 1958 to describe cross-cultural behavior prevalent today). John evidenced possible emotional instability and a high probability for engaging in white-collar crime. If that were not enough, standing in his paneled office overlooking Hong Kong’s harbor, delicate Chinese porcelains arranged on his desk, John said, “I’ll tell you the difference between living in Singapore and Hong Kong – the Chinese in Hong Kong are pushy and can’t be trusted.” Barb’s smiling face moved up and down in cheerful agreement with her husband’s comments.” John made his comments in a loud voice with his office door open to his Chinese secretary sitting six feet away speaking with two of the company’s Chinese sales managers. Do John and Barb lack tolerance? Yes. Do they demonstrate a deficiency in their social sensitivity? Yes. Was there a strong chance they are ethnocentric? Definitely. Did we observe gross arrogance and stupidity? Absolutely!
When company executives received the results of John’s and Barb’s assessment for international assignment suitability, and that John was recently observed making fun of Japanese cuisine at a dinner party hosted by their new partner’s in Japan – they said, “But John is a global manager, he’s lived in Brazil, Singapore, Hong Kong, and he speaks different languages.”
Someone should have told these managers that their criteria for a global manager could also be applied to Nazi SS officers who had escaped from Germany after WWII, found refuge in other countries, learned to navigate through different languages and cultures. John and Barb went to Japan with John as head of the joint venture. Three years later he was fired from the company after financial improprieties were discovered. This true story highlights not only the cost of an poor international selection it also points a finger squarely at the selection practices in general use in his company. While this man was being promoted to positions of high responsibility during his twenty years with the company, who was evaluating the managers who were doing the promoting?
Now, let’s look at Barron’s Bank of London, now defunct, brought down by the corrupt trading practices of one of its British expatriate securities traders in Singapore. Barron’s, upon moving into this line of business, hired an apparently experienced, motivated young man for its Singapore office. Dr. Alastair Macfarlane, a British consultant reported the employee who brought down Barron’s had previously worked for Morgan Stanley in London. However, Morgan Stanley had done a much more thorough job evaluating its people and would not allow this fellow out of the back room operation and on to the trading floor. Unable to advance on to the trading floor where he saw enormous amounts of money to be made, the employee left Morgan Stanley selling himself to Barron’s Bank. Barron’s loss was the national debt of most developing countries.
In a 1995 survey of international staffing and selection practices of 650 corporations by Selection Research International (SRI) for the National Foreign Trade Council in New York – 31% of the survey’s respondents reported their organizations used international assignments as a way to get rid of people. Line managers made 98% of the decisions about who got selected without drawing from any objective assessment information. Moreover, 98% of the line manager’s decisions were based on the candidate’s technical skills. 98% of the same respondents reported people failed to complete international assignments, or did not perform as well as was expected, not because of any lack of technical skills; but because of personality-based factors, interpersonal style, and family conditions.
What would stock holders do if it got out that corporations used international operations to remove people who were not liked, were recognized as poor performers, or selected because a manager in Mexico had simply worked with them five years before in Wichita, Kansas?
What we are looking for in people who can adapt to new living and cultural conditions and where the employee is a good job fit – are the characteristics, the conditions or factors which make one person or couple better than another for an international assignment. For example, what is it about a couple who have lived their entire lives in Texas, where the employee has been “Mr. Telephone Company” in a dozen small towns in the Rio Grand Valley during his twenty-five year career – potentially more successful than our pseudo-global manager and his spouse. What is it about this couple which will enable them to move to Preston, England where he will be in charge of 150 British cable splicers following on the heels of the British supervisor who has recently been let go? During their formal evaluation the Texas couple admitted “Until recently we’d never met a Jew or an Italian, and, we just got back from a two-year foreign assignment – we lived in New Jersey.” As they described their experience creating a new lifestyle in New Jersey they related how their son and daughter attended Hanukkah services with their Jewish neighbors and they invited their Jewish neighbors’ children to their home for Christmas, so that the children would understand and have respect for the beliefs and ideas of other people. As a measure of how effectively our Texan performed in the U.K., the British subcontractor requested he and his wife stay an additional two years on the telecommunications project.
Technological advances have always outpaced the ability of societies to integrate them. The Hubbell telescope peers into the dark, humming corners of the universe, and a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal reports a Brahman teacher stated unequivocally to his students the world is flat, because it is written in sacred text. There often is a disconnect between peoples’ expectations and needs, and their views of the world – whether a Brahman teaching students the world is a shimmering disk whirling in cosmic space or an executive thinking he is a global manager whirling around the world in a shimmering cylinder / jet.
“There is an old adage in personnel, if a company has ten dollars to spend on personnel nine dollars should be spent on selection,” says Dr. Edmund Gaydos, Director of Management Development and Organizational Development at Anheuser-Busch Companies. Gaydos goes on to say, “Selection is a technology (as much as financial methods and procedures) that supports every strategic business objective and tactical goal. Companies usually have all of the skills and knowledge to achieve their objectives. But require a selection system to identify the people who have these skills.”
Global Competencies Factors and Conditions Predicating Success and Failure:
There are specific traits and conditions known as “foundation competency” which predict international success. The competence of success is a constellation factors which produce “job suitability” and “cultural adaptability.” Selection is more than looking at someone as if they have a particular genetic predisposition for living in a particular country, such as a gene for London, Cleveland or Bandung, Indonesia. A person might adapt exceptionally well to a particular country, we can say this person has an affinity for a particular culture, and might be able to create a satisfying lifestyle for them self and their family. However, none of this proves the individual possesses the abilities that are necessary for accomplishing the job (i.e. the ability to maintain formal and informal relationships at post, as well as with the home organization, can sell their ideas cross-functionally, function as an individual contributor, team member or build a team; communicate with people from diverse upbringings, backgrounds, temperament styles).
The effects of improper candidate selection are more apparent and pronounced when people transfer from a domestic environment to another country; where they lose the insulating social connections of the home organization that buffer them from scrutiny.
What can companies do to ensure the quality of their global staff?
Selection technology is the central function for the identification, development, and management of the entire workforce. It comprised a series screening gates, data gathering points of relevant, significant information about the employee and his or her family. Keep in mind the employee and spouse (partner) must always be considered an inseparable unit for international assignment, whether they are considered for an assignment in Prague with an in-country date three months away, or for career development and participation in a global talent pool.
Global Selection is a System
What can companies do to reverse the Alice in Wonderland selection practices which exist today in too many organizations? Assessment and selection are elements within a protocol which includes: company-directed activities, medical screening and background checks, candidate self-assessment / readiness tools giving both the candidate and the company a heads-up about strengths, as well as, potential areas or concerns requiring greater or lesser degrees of assistance; a structured interview of the employee’s supervisor to learn about their strengths and developmental areas, and structured interviews by the receiving operations and human resources. In-depth information comes from the formal evaluation and testing procedures conducted by qualified assessment experts following the Federal Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures.
Formal psycho-social evaluation enables the organization to obtain information about the individual and family related to their potential for adaptation and job suitability. Conducted in a structured confidential manner the formal assessment focused on strengths and deficiencies for customizing cross-cultural training and destination support, and provide the company a developmental plan for assignment management and career counseling. This last step links repatriation and after-assignment retention with selection as part of career planning versus making selection a simple go / no go proposition which will contaminate the entire process in the minds of most candidates. In addition, the assessor-conducted evaluation serves several functions: information for candidate selection and job fit, counseling the candidate and spouse to make a well-informed selection decision, customizing training and in-country support, and career planning and performance management.
Done correctly, much sound decision-making information comes out of an integrated international selection process. Done incorrectly, the costs to the company and to the individuals’ happiness are enormous.
The international factors and conditions predicting cultural adaptability and job suitability (International competencies):
The international competencies appear as a configuration, an inseparable group. Like a spider’s web you put a load on one strand and the entire web vibrates. The same with individuals and families for international success factors. The factors never appear in isolation; they are imbedded in a person’s personality appearing in their interactions and significant relationships.
The configuration of International factors or competencies include: Confidence and Emotional Maturity: Comfortable with oneself and taking initiative – but decisions do not cause problems for or are harmful to other people.
Tolerance: How fast a person judge’s the actions and beliefs of others. But if they are critical, they do not act in a discounting way.
Flexibility and Adaptability: Mental and physical capacities for dealing with change coping with new and novel situations.
Insight: Introspection, self-reflective, insight into one’s behaviors and motives, as well as to others.
Social Intelligence: Understanding and sensitive to the subtle, important aspects in social interactions; ability to scan one’s environment.
Interpersonal Style and Skills: Ability to communicate effectively, contribute to a team, work effectively with and through people, adopt different styles – from directive to process oriented.
Problem solving and Decision-making: Critical thinking skills, set priorities, and identify alternatives.
Intelligence: The ability to handle complex information quickly and efficiently. Responsibility: Solid set of personal values encompassing commitment to tasks, objectives, the organization, achievement, and aspirations. Requires perseverance and staying power.
Motivation: What are the drivers, the impelling anchors in a person’s life for taking an international assignment which will sustain him or her – employee and spouse. They are the anchors, the internal resources underpinning realistic expectations.
Values and Ethics: Solid set of personal values which is inclusive of other people, a moral obligation to do what is right; and a lack of calculating the personal advantages to oneself – not self-serving.
Independence: Not dependent on others for validation. Possessing the internal resources and skills for making choices and building a balanced, meaningful lifestyle.
Relationships (kind/satisfaction): Spouse or significant other, interdependence, dependents: children, parents, siblings former spouse.
Barry Kozloff co-founded Selection Research International, Inc. (SRI) in 1978 with Edmund Gaydos, Ph.D. SRI is group of international psychologists and management consultants specializing in global selection technology for expatriate and executive assessment, workforce development, assignment and performance management. SRI has five service areas: formal psycho-social evaluation procedures, four global assessment and development instruments, assessment training for corporate staff, organizational consulting: executive assessment, developmental planning and coaching. SRI’s domestic work includes designing selection systems and auditing for corporations vendor psychological assessment and testing services to ensure their compliance to Federal selection guidelines and testing standards. SRI’s headquarters are located in St. Louis, Missouri, tel: 1.314-567-6900, www.sri-2000.com.