How Can Talent Assessments Work in a Multicultural Context?

Over 75% of Fortune 500 companies deploy psychometric testing in some form for employee assessments, yet many line managers do not trust the data and output. How can you make talent assessments work harder and better, especially for a multicultural workforce?

How Can Talent Assessments Work in a Multicultural Context?

28 Oct 2016 by  Mina Morris

The Roman Empire devised a clever system for building up its army before entering a war. All Roman citizens had to make themselves available for selection against a rigid set of criteria. First, men had to be aged between 17 and 46, and be in good physical condition. Those who had served in previous campaigns were excused, as they were deemed to have done their time. Finally, the remaining pool was selected based on social status with the highest taxpayers being selected first. The logic? Those who have built up more wealth had more reason to fight for the Empire.  

The world has (thankfully!) moved on since the Roman Empire, but the need to meet a rigid set of criteria still applies when assessing for talent recruitment and development.

Over 75% of Fortune 500 companies deploy psychometric testing in some form for employee assessments, ranging from online tools such as personality questionnaires or aptitude reasoning tests, to more elaborate scenario-based assessments and face-to-face interviews and role plays. 

Yet, despite high uptake and the advancement of science in this field, a large majority of participants do not view or experience assessments in a positive light, and a lot of line managers do not trust the data and output from these processes. This is further amplified in a multicultural context, where participants may be taking the assessments in their second language, based on an approach designed in a global HQ.

Put simply, can a line manager in Dubai really trust the data about an Indian colleague, collated by a team in the US?

In Aon Hewitt’s work with both local and multinational organizations, we’ve uncovered some fundamental points to ensure that a talent assessment process is a positive experience for the participants, while providing organizations with insightful data to inform decision-making. 

Measure what’s relevant

‘How many golf balls would fit into a school bus?’ 

This is reportedly an actual assessment question used by Google to hire its engineers. Yet, in his book ‘Work Rules!’, Lazlo Bock, VP of People Operations at Google, revealed that upon further examination, Google scrapped asking these questions as they did not predict performance on the job. Instead, Google now relies on a set of behavioural, competency-based assessments, as a means of predicting performance. The lesson here is simple: There must be a transparent link between the assessment tools used, and the criterion to be assessed against. 

Think global, act local 

There are many different factors to consider when rolling out an assessment program in a global context—local cultural norms, language, education, prior experience, as well as testing strategies.  
A typical approach will be to replicate an experience from one region to another, with language being the only difference. However, this approach doesn’t consider the cultural background of candidates and the intricate requirements of working in that particular office.

For example, although Arabic is the native language of all Middle Eastern countries, there are differences in the way the language is used in North Africa, the Levant region, and the Gulf. The same can be said for Asia, with its varied cultures across a vast geographical landscape. 

Therefore, the trick is not having one universal assessment approach, but localizing the experience for each market depending on their needs and employee mix. In markets that tend to house regional offices, such as Dubai and Singapore, there is greater diversity in the employee mix and the assessors as well as assessment tools must be representative of this diversity. 

Close the loop

In our experience, organizations spend the most effort in getting things right for the launch of the assessment process. While this is important, it sometimes comes at the expense of strategic planning for how the outputs from the assessment process will be used plus the messaging and action plans for the individuals.  

In a development setting, research into behavioural interventions reveals that three feedback elements must be in place to ensure effective change of behaviour:

  1. Timely
  2. Bespoke to the individual
  3. Comes with a deliberate action plan

In order for a talent assessment initiative to get the appropriate return on investment and achieve the desired business impact, a well-thought-out strategy that considers the steps post-assessment is required, whether it’s the communication to the individuals or how the talent data is used in a big data environment.

While rolling out any people-related initiative in a multicultural context is never easy, the above guidelines can help you ensure that your talent assessment strategy is more effective than the Romans'—for both the individual, and the business.

Mina Morris

Mina is an Associate Partner at Aon Hewitt Middle East and works with clients across the region to enhance people performance, through increasing organisational effectiveness, developing leaders, implementing talent management systems and helping organisations manage change. Prior to joining Aon Hewitt, Mina spent over 10 years working with consulting firms to develop human capital in organisations in the Middle East. Mina holds a Masters of Science in Organizational Psychology from the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, and is a fluent Arabic speaker.

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