Human Capital Outlook

Cross cultural hirings & the related sensitivities

Overcoming assumptions & cultural sensitization leads to effective cross border hirings

Cross-cultural management is one of the most important facets for a hiring manager in the rapidly evolving business today. Sensitizing oneself with local cultures, business practices & personality traits is becoming increasingly important with cross border hirings involving expatriates happening by the dozens today.

How can one effectively hire people whose attitude and behaviour differs markedly from our own? All hiring managers share a common goal in wanting to hire the best. However, cross cultural misperceptions and poor judgments hinders the process.

In the past, for Indian technology firms, most of such hirings involved people with an Anglo-Saxon background- English was the mother tongue & the cultural divide was not too hard to bridge. However, with business flowing & penetrating deeper into different geographies & companies hiring people from diverse countries & cultures, a deeper sense of cultural appreciation is not just appreciated, but has become imperative.

Within a span of 2 months, the author has been involved with multiple executive-search mandates for searching potential local candidates in counties like Denmark, Sweden, Japan, China, Australia & Germany. It is interesting to note that each of these countries has a distinct language & culture. To cite a particularly relevant example, a large software services client was looking to hire a Head- Enterprise Consulting for the Japanese market, to be based in Tokyo. The hiring manager was conducting telephonic interviews with the candidates. One after another, good candidates with excellent pedigree were being rejected, the feedback being common- none of them have a good command over English & seem to be lacking confidence.

What was being missed here is that it is difficult to actually gauge their language capabilities amongst other soft skills on the phone as most Japanese people are not explicit communicators, though they make for some of the best managers, they don’t open up very quickly & need to create a comfort zone for themselves with the other person. This is a simple incident where had the hiring manager been aware of these finer points; he would have surely not rejected a good candidate.

The basis of incorporating a cross cultural framework of understanding in interviews is in overcoming `assumptions’. The same skills that bring success in our own culture may be perceived as rude and inappropriate by another or vice versa. Interviewers assume what should or should not happen, what is normal and abnormal, and what is correct or wrong. Assumptions also refer to what someone`s physical appearance says about them, what their body language says about their confidence, how people communicate and how they present themselves.

The first step is to avoid the divisive tendency to put negative labels on those whose behaviour differs from our own. For example, what one candidate may regard as relaxed and easy-going may be judged by the hiring manager as lazy and indecisive. Being blunt in the conversation does not mean he/she is rigid, inflexible or reserved as the interviewer may assume. Or for example, eye contact is a sign of confidence and trust in the UK and other European countries. However, if a Chinese individual is being interviewed and maintains no eye contact does this mean he is hiding something or lacking confidence? No, because in China it is considered rude to maintain eye contact.

Similarly, to speak loudly and clearly may be construed to be a positive trait in the UK, but in many other countries such as Malaysia, speaking softly is a good quality. In the US, people communicate explicitly, while the Koreans are implicit communicators, they divulge little- the vagueness is not purposeful. To `name drop` in interviews may be considered inappropriate in Scandinavia. Although Latin Americans are very expressive and emotional, this does not equal them being excitable and unstable.

The second step is to identify & develop cross-cultural skills that are essential whilst hiring people from different countries & cultures. Language plays a crucial role in cross cultural interviews. Where the interviewee`s English is not strong, the use of metaphors, proverbs and colloquialisms will confuse them. Where lengthy pauses are made by interviewees rather than assume they are playing for time or do not know the answer, the interviewer should assume they are searching for a word, phrase or merely digesting the information contained within the question.

The benefits of effective communication and cross-cultural competences are priceless. Be it business dealings, offshoring or virtual teams, one encounters interactions with people from around the globe every day. Effective communication and skillful cross-cultural management are essential tools of leaders: they add real value in cost savings (preventing loss of morale, employee turnover, lawsuits or post-merger pains) and top-line growth (sales results, strategic opportunities or productivity).

In the globalised business of technology, Indian firms need the creativity and dynamism of a culturally diverse staff in critical positions. The only way to achieve this is to ensure that right candidates are not being improperly rejected due to cross cultural misperceptions.