Most Adaptable Ones Bring Success -Case Study

Almost 2 years ago, I was approached by a large engineering company to help them with their overseas recruitment and appointments. What they basically wanted me to do was to set out the recruitment process and help them with the interviews to identify the best people within their company to be sent on an overseas assignment. They had their own very successful interview process but they found it failing them in identifying the best internal candidate(s) for the overseas roles. In their last few appointments, either the candidates did not like the assignment or they were not a good fit to the role or the local clients did not like them. There had been a few cases where the families did not like the new country they moved to as well. So, having spent so much money in investing in those people and even coming close to losing clients, the company decided to work with me.

The first thing I did was to review their recruitment process which was working perfectly in most cases but not so with overseas assignments. In order to make recommendations on the process, I talked to the managers, i.e. hiring/ interviewing managers, HR managers. I read the job descriptions.  Interestingly, none of the job descriptions mentioned specific requirements for the client management skills or cross-cultural awareness for those specific overseas roles.

Even more interesting than the job descriptions was the differences between the expectations of the current managers of the employees, the hiring managers and HR in the interview process. The current managers’ view point was mostly shaped around the employees’ performance and knowledge of the subject matter. Therefore, they often used the opportunity of the new overseas job opening as a promotion or fast  track to the top roles for the employee and hence the recommendation. The hiring/interviewing managers wanted also someone who is a subject matter expert and who can start as soon as possible so that the financial loss would be minimum and they would have a happy client. Time is money, after all!  HR was in between the job descriptions, hiring managers and all others involved, trying to manage the process and fill the vacancy within the SLA criteria.

Within all these complexities, no one thought about the employee/candidate being the right one for a cross-cultural experience. Therefore, I introduced several tests to understand the candidates’ cross-cultural awareness in the process. I also introduced a few mandatory questions to be asked in the interview, all about cross-cultural awareness. The reason was so simple: the best engineer in the world might not be the best person to live and work abroad. 

Before, we started the interview process, I also trained all the parties involved on cross-cultural awareness and what kind of thinking and behaviours they should be looking for.

The company embraced this process and we started the interviews. Despite, the new process and new criteria to identify the candidate internally, we came across candidates who were high performers and fitted all the business criteria other than the cross-cultural awareness. However, thanks to the new process, we also had different candidates, who were “just good” at their jobs but who were much better in cross-cultural awareness than some of the best performers.

At the end of the interview process we had 2 candidates who were highly thought of  by the hiring managers and HR. As I was getting ready for the next step of our project, which was coaching the candidate they were going to choose, due to the strategic nature of position, higher level management had to be involved in the decision making and  we were told that an earlier  candidate who was a top performer but we had not short listed due to improvement needs on cross-cultural awareness, was going to be given the job!

You can imagine, everyone involved in the project was disappointed to say the least! I prepared my report on the reasons why choosing him would not be a good idea, taking into account the culture he was going to be working in and his attitude towards relationships, leadership, power distance. The list goes on and on. Almost before, I was on the train home, the candidate was on his way to manage clients and projects in Japan.

Exactly, 13 months later, the company approached me for another project and while we were discussing the details HR Manager told me that superstar of the UK who was sent to the overseas assignment with high expectations, unfortunately could not make his new business a success. He made clients upset and caused issues among the locally employed staff. Long story, short, he was kindly asked to leave the company!

The company has not only lost time and money on this specific placement but they also lost one their most talented high performers!

Moral of the story: Not the best performers but the most adaptable ones bring success in overseas assignments!         

Should you like to know more about cross-cultural awareness consultancy and coaching, please contact me on