Question: The design of a new multinational personnel selection system at

The design of a new multinational personnel selection system at MobilCom. Louisa is a senior HR manager at MobilCom, currently residing and working in the Kuala Lumpur (KL) office. She had completed a PhD in human resource management (HRM) at Griffith University before accepting a job at MobilCom, and moving her entire family to KL to take up her position. On the way to work on Monday, she received a text message from the assistant of the firm’s owner, Frank. Louisa was expected to call back before her scheduled meeting with the human resources (HR) team that she was leading. The team was made up of HR specialists from mainly Australia and China as well as others from the USA and Germany. The team meeting was scheduled in order to bring together Louisa and Chinese HR experts to form a cross functional project team responsible for the development and implementation of a new personnel process within the context of global restructuring, in order to fill 25 new middle management positions in the Australasia region. According to the in-house global localization policy of MobilCom, 90 percent of these management positions were to be filled by individuals originating from the country they would be working in. The affected areas includes sales and marketing, purchasing, supply chain management, and finance and accounting, at locations in Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Jakarta, Singapore, Sydney, Oakland and Port Moresby. The new personnel selection system was part of the company’s objective to standardize all HR instruments for selection purposes around the globe. The new personnel selection system had to be developed internally. When Louisa first heard about the above changes, it immediately occurred to her that this would not be easy as personnel selection procedures varied significantly between countries. She also knew that the existing selection instruments were by no means flawless in any specific country. After the application documents had been analysed, structured interviews with the candidates were conducted by a department representative and a HR specialist. If both interviewers came to a positive conclusion on the candidate’s qualifications, the top candidates were sent to an individual assessment centre in order to highlight their interpersonal competencies rather than their professional competencies. The approach of the individual assessment centres consisted of utilising biological questions, case studies on leadership in an international context and participation in a leaderless group discussion. Ultimately, additional references were obtained for each candidate, although different procedures existed in different countries. After the reference checks had been completed, each candidate received written feedback, and a report was generated and added to the successful candidate’s personnel file.
For several years now, Louisa had been finding faults in the design of the procedures used at the individual assessment centres, but she could not influence possible modifications because the individual assessment centres were run by external consulting firms. In addition she had been questioning the validity of the information obtained from the centres, as well as the selection system as a whole. She felt there was a need to improve the contents of the structured interviews that were based on the candidate’s current situation, as opposed to the candidate’s previous work experiences. Overall, efforts to improve the current selection systems had only rarely been undertaken owing to limited time and a limited budget allotted for personnel affairs – a fact that Louisa had already pointed out to management several times.
The development of a new multinational personnel selection system now posed a huge challenge for Louisa and her project team. The team had already been working on the development of the new personnel selection system for 4 months, but no significant progress had been made. One reason was the obvious cultural heterogeneity between the opinions within her team regarding the new personnel selection system. This created a tense atmosphere and dissent with respect to sharing the workload. The goal of today’s meeting was to come to a consensus on several important issues:
- What individual modules the new personnel selection system should contain;
- Whether country-specific adaptations were necessary and feasible for each module;
- The implementation process of the new personnel instrument at each location.
When she got to her office, Louisa rang Frank, and Frank began speaking.
“Louisa, you know how much I appreciate your dedication to this company, but I have some concerns about the current international selection procedures. We need something that is going to work, and work immediately! And don’t you dare try to offer me this empirical or validity stuff. I don’t give a damn. You have a whole department with highly qualified people. I assume you are capable of filling these vacant management positions. We also need a selection system that works everywhere. We cannot afford to apply different procedures in every country. What we need are consistent procedures, something applicable cross-nationally and cross- regionally. You, as a cosmopolitan person, should know exactly what I mean. I also expect everything to be documented in complete detail.”
Although Louisa shared Frank’s enthusiasm for an improved personnel selection system, there were many complications that could arise; Frank seemed completely unaware of these, and she tried to inform him about the possible problems. Louisa also expressed her concern with Frank’s lack of interest in testing the validity of the new selection procedures. Frank replied:
“Don’t tell me about the problems; I want solutions. And you should not forget that this is what I pay you and your team to do. You have until the end of this week to deliver the final and written conclusions on this matter. If not, I will reduce your team in KL by half, and I will delegate the development of this new system to global HQ. Either you come up with something useful by the end of the week, or central HQ will do the job. End of discussion”.
At the team meeting, Louisa informed everyone about the current situation with Frank, set the objectives of the meeting and asked for the detailed recording of everything they discussed. The Chinese colleagues agreed by nodding their heads, a behaviour that was often observed when there was an order from a member with a higher order hierarchical status, whereas somewhat predictably, the Australian colleagues openly disapproved of the detailed recordings of the discussions. During the meeting, there was an apparent disagreement between a Chinese HR employee and the Australian economist regarding the definitions of the job requirements and their profiles. Dewei wanted to include 15 dimensions – five components that tested the candidate’s professional competencies. However, Andrew openly disagreed with this proposition, stating: “I have told you many times that the acquisition of 15 dimensions is simply impossible. It is important to define clearly distinguishable job requirements that are measureable, describable, and equally relevant in all countries in the region.”
Dewei, unsettled by his Australian colleague’s manner, looked down towards the floor, signalling that he would not say anything further. He often found it difficult to deal with this type of brusque negative feedback, particularly when it occurred in front of other people. There had been several times already when he had not been able to stand up to Andrew, which seemed to affect him more and more each time. He had once spoken to Louisa about his difficulties in communicating with Andrew; however, Louisa was quickly irritated by the complaint and asked him to wait and hope for an improvement in the situation. Dewei had never discussed the situation with Louisa again. The German in-house psychologist Brigitte intervened in the discussion and proposed the inclusion of six competencies – technical and vocational skills, social competencies, leadership competencies, communicative competencies, flexibility, and adaptability – that showed a great deal of reliability and validity. There was some disagreement from some of the Chinese members, who proposed the inclusion of several more and different competencies, which ended with them feeling irritated and intimidated. Andrew proposed that due to the time pressure, they should bring a majority vote with respect to the skills, but the Chinese HR manager Gui argued that: “No, a majority vote is not the solution. It may lead to good decisions not succeeding because certain team members follow the uniform opinion of the majority. We should try to reach a consensus on this issue.”
The dispute was solved by Louisa who decided which would the final job requirements for selecting the managers, and who adopted the six dimensions proposed by Brigitte.
The next important issue on the agenda was to define the modules and the job requirements for each module. For this issue, there was agreement that a multinational selection system should be two-tiered. The first tier would consist of three modules: viewing the application, an unstructured telephone conference, and obtaining three references to verify employment history and for feedback on the applicant’s personality. Four modules would follow in the second tier – a panel interview, a biography oriented in-depth interview, a simulated group exercise and testing procedures. All the modules were described in great detail, and emphasis was placed on including standardized tests in order to increase the validity of the entire process, even though there is evidence that intelligence and personality tests are not generally highly accepted and that cultural problems exist. Towards the end of the discussion, Louisa’s colleague Steven, an American who held an MBA from Harvard, interrupted:
“I don’t want to be rude, but isn’t it important to take the candidate’s perspective into consideration as well?”
“Unfortunately, nobody cares about that. We are interested in choosing the right person, certainly not in satisfying the applicants – these never ending discussions on fairness, ethics and acceptance! Reality differs significantly from the ideal procedures we are taught in university!” “But let’s not forget that management is not just a technical matter and sometimes, if you find someone generally useful, then you could adapt the job to fit the person. The selection process is always a sort of negotiation between the potential employee and the potential employer. We as recruiters cannot really know what any of these people are really going to be like. So we need to deploy the basic human skills of eliciting helpful response from people and judging the likelihood of one person being a better bet. So there is no one right person for the job, only a better bet? And what’s wrong with being ethical?”
Louisa could not stand any further disputes at the time and took the initiative to terminate the meeting. At least the first step had been taken. However, they had not been able to specify the adaptations for each target country and the ways of implementing those modules. Louisa thought perhaps she should make the decision herself.
She went to her office and wrote up a report for Frank. Louisa later received a short email from Frank informing her that the important basic conditions and necessary adaptations had not sufficiently been taken into consideration in the new multinational personnel selection system; therefore, he had handed the case over to global HQ. Finally he stated that there would be staff-related consequences for Louisa’s department in KL.
1. Describe in detail all the modules included in the two-tiered selection system proposed by the team.
2. What is the critical analysis of the case study relevant to human resource management?
3. What is the vital ethical issue of the case study?

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