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Concept covered this week: Global Selection
What Is Global Selection, Anyway?
It is now a cliché to note that the world is changing rapidly and that the notion of work is feeling the effects of that change. But the rapidly changing world’s impact on work is being felt more acutely as the pace of that change speeds up. Nowhere is this more important than in selection. Where selection used to be simply finding the person who would fit best in a well-defined and stable job, now it is much more complex. All of the five ‘‘W’s’’ of work are changing—who, what, when, where, and why. Different types of people are doing new types of work in different locations and even for different reasons. It is not uncommon anymore for a 20-year-old to create a new industry, such as Adam Zuckerman’s Facebook, and a 50-year-old to be considered unfit for many jobs despite his experience, because the technology he learned is so outdated. Moreover, a career may begin in one country but then progress through five other countries before it ends. Finally, as industries disappear and others are born, one person may have several different careers in her lifetime.
Given these aspects of the work world, it is not a stretch to say that selection rules have changed. Moreover, when we add the necessity for dealing with different ethnic groups, nationalities, or cultures, the problem is further compounded—yet moving between different cultures is becoming more important for companies, especially multinational companies (MNCs). A representative of Shell, Inc. notes that: ‘‘If you’re truly global then you’re hiring in here [the United States] people who are immediately going to go and work in The Hague and vice versa. So in essence you wind up in a global job market and the standardization [of staffing systems] ensures that you are applying the same standards and using the same tools to [obtain] the best candidates who are going to be part of a global community’’ (Ryan, Wiechmann, & Hemingway, 2003, p. 86). Clearly, being able to move effectively from one culture to another is becoming a requirement for at least some employees.
One example of this is the changing nature of companies in the human resource consulting arena in the Greater China region. Where even ten years ago one would have hired a few expatriate (expat) consultants and brought them into the region to deliver services to MNCs that were also just moving in, now one must search for well-educated locals (many of whom were educated out of the region) who speak three languages (Mandarin, Cantonese, and English) and have experience in MNCs. Having an expat who speaks only English or a local who speaks only Mandarin limits the capabilities of that person to deliver a number of services in the region.
The goal of this chapter, then, is to highlight some areas that might have been missed when considering selection in a global context. Specifically, we will discuss some of the major issues when selecting across cultures, including how to effectively develop tests, manage cultural issues in assessment centers, and differentiate among the types of employees who are assessed. We will focus more on practical solutions than theoretical considerations and at times we will be less empirically based than anecdotally relevant, although we do reference some recent research. Finally, Asia, with a particular focus on China, and the Middle East will figure largely in our analysis because two of the authors have significant experience working as consultants in those regions.
One way in which local selection and global selection are similar has to do with the need to distinguish between the selection of more senior-level managers and those at a junior, possibly nonmanagement level. Though most would probably say that the hiring of the more senior-level managers is more important and thus requires more resources, the selection of more junior-level managers has a major impact on not only how the company does in the present, but also how well the company will do in the future, as the junior-level managers are expected to take on the senior roles later (assuming the company can retain them). In any case, each level requires a different approach. One would use mass-selection tools for lower-level selection and more precise, targeted tools for higher-level selection. However, there are significant differences across countries when selecting among lower-level applicants. For example, it is not uncommon to get a request in China to devise a selection system that will sift the applications of 10,000 recent graduates down to 20 candidates who will be offered positions. Similarly, Friedman (2005) mentions a case where a company receives 700 applications per day for entry-level positions. It is probably rare to get that many applications in most markets, and it requires the use of significant resources to ensure that such a process is handled correctly. Thus, this is an issue that should be considered by those selecting lower-level candidates in some international markets—expending significant resources just to get these candidates in the door.
However, selection is further complicated when recruiting across cultures. This is simply because there are cultural differences between the candidates. For example, as Ryan and Tippins (2009) point out, one important difference between cultures is on the assertiveness and emotional expression dimensions. Whether a person is to be hired for a low-level or a managing director position, it is likely that the same selection tools will not work the same way across different countries because of differences in this characteristic. A Thai person may act in a very unassertive manner in a group discussion, whereas an American may be quite assertive in comparison. When both are put into the same group, one risks that the more assertive candidates are rated higher when Western instruments are used, because assertive people are more likely to speak up and be rewarded. If this were a deciding factor for selection, then the company would hire more assertive (Western) candidates and thus end up with a staff that may not relate well to the various local cultures into which they are placed.
At the same time, there are cases in which the use of a Western assessment process in a different culture would be warranted, despite its clashing with some of the incumbents’ own cultural mores. First, if that person is tasked with interacting with both her own culture and that of the ‘‘parent’’ country, she will need to be conversant in the parent country’s culture. For example, speaking with headquarters is typically an important part of the jobs of many in a foreign office of an MNC, from the country managing director to lower-ranking managers, as the latter are often matrixed with a ‘‘dotted line’’ to the global headquarters function. This will necessitate the candidate being able to successfully negotiate with other, sometimes very different, cultures. If she cannot do so effectively, she should be considered someone who can possibly be effective in her own country (which the assessment process might not be able to indicate) but not in a context where there are other nationalities. So the Western assessment process would effectively weed out these candidates.
Second, in a Western assessment process a number of competencies are typically measured. If the measurement process effectively assesses the other competencies, then even where it is less valid on one or more (in this case, over- or underscoring on assertiveness) the overall results may be positive. Thus, the candidate may not be strong at assertiveness, but if she is able to do other things well (such as demonstrate technical competence, openness, and judgment) she may be a good fit for the position with some assertiveness training.
By the same rationale, when selecting more junior managers, one should probably not expect a strong showing on competencies related to intercultural competence. At this level, expertise in the local context is both necessary and sufficient. One cannot expect a 27-year-old manager who has never been out of his own country to be able to rise above his own culture and deal effectively with those from a second or third culture. Moreover, at this level, he probably will not have to, other than possibly dealing with the senior executives who may be from the host country. Given that, he will have time to learn such skills if put in the right situations and mentored and coached successfully. For this group, then, the Western (or imported) approach probably would not work. Instead, the local culture must be examined by the creator of the assessment procedure and the idiosyncratic aspects of that culture must be built into the process. This includes the necessity to take the local culture into account when creating tests, as will be discussed below.
To summarize, then, the following questions must be asked before assessing a local candidate for a position in a foreign office of an MNC. First, how much will that person deal with the head office? If the answer is ‘‘a lot’’ then cultural competence should be assessed. If that person will be expected to stay in the host country and only much later achieve a position where she would interact with the head office, then a locally based assessment process should be used. Second, of the competencies considered, which are ‘‘must haves’’ and which are ‘‘nice to have’’? It may be that given strength on some competencies, the overall result may indicate a good candidate who can be trained where necessary.
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