The Global Employee

FRONTLINE - Roland Siegers, executive director of CEMS discusses how to find a multicultural employee.

Multinational corporations operate in a complex and ambiguous environment. They operate across multiple countries and engage with a wide range of cultures but, like all businesses, they are also dealing with individual personalities. It seems sensible, therefore, that the people that multinational corporations employ must have a good global understanding in addition to a high level of emotional intelligence.

While it’s important for employees to have the skills to master the international world through simplification and clear solutions, it’s also important that multinationals are not deceived into thinking the world is a simpler place than it actually is.

Exposure to ambiguity and developing a tolerance for it, becoming accustomed to rapid change and learning to see things from multiple perspectives are all attributes of someone with a truly international outlook. In my personal and professional experience I have observed many ‘multicultural’ people with an expanded world view, who have traits which are likely to lead to advantageous performance in the global business arena.

Here are some of these traits to help you identify such people in your own workforce, who may well turn out to be successful global employee:

1. An expanded world view – these people will clearly understand that clashing cultural perspectives and world views exist, that each perspective is reasonable in its own right, and they will understand how the competing perspectives fit as pieces of the puzzle into a larger whole. People with such an expanded world view are likely to be good at negotiation and relationship forming in the global business arena.

2. An expanded creativity – Possessing a strong understanding of different cultures, and the integration of these cultures, is important because it in turn will lead to expanded creativity. Research has shown that when people identify with both their home and host cultures they’re more likely to be creative than if they are completely assimilated (i.e. identify with the host culture only) or if they are separated (i.e. identify with the home culture only).

3. Adaptable & non-judgmental – People who have been exposed to multiple cultures will adapt back to those cultures with ease. Much like a chameleon, they will quickly observe the environment and immediately switch language and/or behaviours to match that local environment.

4. Fast relationship building – When people are not going to stay in the host country for the long-term, it’s important they are able to develop relationships at speed. People with an international outlook can move through the initial stages of small talk and fast forward to connecting at a deeper level, which means they have high potential to successfully lead international teams and do business globally.

Leading internationally

Simply operating in x number of countries doesn’t make you a global leader. The reality is that leaders at all levels in multinational corporations need the ability to simultaneously lead themselves and others, and lead for a broader social purpose which is where people with a truly global perspective may have an advantage.

For example, leaders should have self-awareness around how and when their cultural upbringing shapes their implicit assumptions about how they communicate, negotiate, motivate and inspire their workforce, or consider what is unethical. Similarly, they should have cultural knowledge and perspective about these things in other cultures.

Can you comfortably switch back and forth between different approaches depending on the cultural context? In my experience, being a person with a truly international outlook makes you perfectly suited to quickly develop into a true global leader possessing these skills. 

CEMS is a a global alliance of 30 of the world’s leading business schools and 70 multinational companies and NGOs that together offer the CEMS Masters in International Management (MIM).