When offshore managers stay stateside, intercultural assessment and training can help.
By Brenda Bellon and Jennifer Rowe
The recent economic downturn has hastened the growth of globalization, but has made it more difficult as well. American companies are more and more likely to be working with teams that span the globe, but they often can’t afford to export as many employees to foreign locations.
When you open a new office in another country, or outsource some of your operations to an overseas provider, it’s essential to put people in charge of the project teams who are flexible and accommodating to other cultures. These are the people who’ll be exporting your company’s vision: introducing the organization and its products to a new audience, building goodwill with clients, vendors, and employees, and maintaining strong, long-term relationships.
To keep expenses down, you might have chosen to have these managers work from a home office in the United States. Many companies are taking this option, and have put pressure on relocation experts to come up with products and services that will help their clients work with international, multicultural teams on a “virtual” basis. This is especially important when a client engages employees from countries whose culture is dramatically different from that of the U.S.
For example, your company might have to manage a call center in India, a mine in Tanzania, and a laboratory in Italy. Cross-cultural understanding will probably be essential to the success of each team. Does such understanding, on the part of a manager, require extraordinary knowledge? Probably not. But high-quality assessment and training can often ensure that your management candidates have the awareness, knowledge, and skills necessary for working with another culture.
A number of cultural assessment products are available for use in selecting and training employees who might be living overseas or staying stateside and working cross-culturally. These tools are designed to assess the employee’s ability to adapt to different ways of working, levels of formality or directness in communication, approaches to time or deadlines, and ways of building relationships.
The most common uses for cultural assessment tools are as part of the assignment selection and assessment process for expatriates and spouses, for candidate pool creation, and for expatriate development and coaching. However, you might also find cultural assessment tools to be useful for performance and talent management, employee development, self-assessment, multicultural teambuilding, and management training.
Prudential has been offering candidate assessment services for employees going on international assignment for more than 50 years, via our proprietary Overseas Assignment Inventory (OAI). Recently, we’ve seen the need to address cultural adaptability issues with regard to people who work cross-culturally without necessarily relocating outside the U.S. Therefore, we’ve developed a spin-off of this service called the Global Assessment Inventory (GAI).
The GAI is a Web-based instrument designed to assess attributes related to success in multicultural interactions. It also helps to identify weaknesses in an employee who on the surface might have appeared an ideal choice for a cross-cultural management position. A low scorer might still be the best person for the job, but might benefit from further training. He or she might simply need to be made aware of information he or she didn’t have before, or be reminded of personal characteristics that could work against him or her. The GAI can help identify those potential challenges, and it can be incorporated into a training program to enhance her cross-cultural business skills.
Managers often assume that a good employee can perform well working with anyone. But some are more culturally adaptable than others, and all will require some training to ensure their success in a global environment. Relocation companies and other human resources consultants are paying more attention to helping not only with logistics, but with the far less exact science of ensuring that the client puts its best foot—and its best people—forward in and across global teams.
Brenda Bellon is director of intercultural services and Jennifer Rowe is business development specialist for Prudential Real Estate and Relocation Services, Inc.