Recruiting Across Cultures: One Size Does Not Fit All

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PedestriansWhen scaling out a talent management program such as a wide-screening selection initiative, ensuring accurate interpretation of candidates’ assessment results across a team of recruiters is challenging in and of itself. That challenge is immeasurably amplified when these candidates hail from different regions and cultures, where the expectations of an employee can vary wildly from those of headquarters. For HR leaders at multinational corporations — or at organizations operating in countries that share a talent pool with culturally distinct neighbors — this challenge tends to arise more often than not, and has been intensely magnified by the recent shifts in the macro-business landscape. 

The recent global economic turmoil galvanized the localization of jobs across the world and resulted in organizational charts catering to the new era of emerging-market consumers. As companies quickly strategized to make up for the sagging established customer bases and to capitalize on diversity of perspective, indigenous benefactors of the developing world were suddenly being considered for jobs where they were asked to carry twice the responsibility of their expat predecessors — and to do so with half the resources and little if any preparation. Though the eye of the initial financial storm has since passed, it seems those in the talent management industry forgot to ask the most pertinent question when it came to deploying recruitment models across the globe: When we apply our recruitment processes and evaluation models in different regions, do our standard interpretations still hold?

Culture is nuanced, and so are the resulting leadership expectations. Even though the trademarks of a leader tend to be similar across boundaries, how those characteristics manifest behaviorally, and the consequential way to interpret assessment results, can vary by location. 

SnowTake for example the age-old favorite, “drive.” No country in the world denies there’s a preference for driven leaders. Drive, and its many vague definitions, can seem to some countries (like the U.S., Germany, and Australia) as unfettered self-initiation and a proactive method of taking charge, based on strivings for power, status, and reward anticipation. Accordingly, those who decide first and rally followership later tend to appear more leader-like to their colleagues.

However, in more consensus-driven societies, such behaviors rarely rise through the ranks. Rather, in places like Mainland China, Japan, and South Korea, those considered leaders tend to focus more on being dependable, self-disciplined, and achievement-oriented; in these locations, those who generate alignment first and then push forward are more likely to have the leadership label ascribed to them. Thus, when recruiters apply a Western-centric evaluation model of drive to selection scenarios in Northeast Asia, they often come up empty-handed in the employment market. Ironically, Western-centric evaluation models can appear to indicate that those populating the managerial ranks in the fastest growing economies lack basic intrinsic motivation.

By Michael Sanger