Scant screening for overseas staff hurts US firms' image, profits
US companies doing business abroad continue to waste millions of dollars and perpetuate the ''ugly American'' image, too - all because they don't screen the people they send overseas carefully enough.Skip to next paragraph
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So charges Barry Kozloff of Selection Research International, a St. Louis firm consulting in what he calls ''international human-resource management.'' Through intensive personal interviews and reference checks, he and his associates help major companies screen out people whose personal or family problems could prevent them from completing an overseas assignment successfully.
''I don't try to dig up dirt, but I do try to get objective information on people,'' says Mr. Kozloff, who is a trained counselor and cultural anthropologist. ''I try to provide an objective assessment that will be a reliable predictor of someone's success in an overseas assignment.''
If an employee has to bail out of an overseas assignment, it can cost the company big bucks - even for someone well down the corporate ladder. One aerospace company calculates that if a $20,000-a-year technician working on a fighter plane project fails to complete a two-year job assignment, it costs the company $100,000. A major chemical company finds it costs three to five times the employee's annual salary to maintain him overseas.
Although cost-plus contracting lets US companies working for foreign governments pass along extra expenses like the cost of replacing an employee, these personnel mistakes obviously work against the firms' ability to maintain good long-term relations in the foreign countries where they operate.
Asked how US companies screen their overseas employees, an official at one aerospace company, who asked not to be further identified because of current contracts, responds, ''Poorly.'' He adds, ''There's too much 'body shopping.' '' Corporate officials ''just want to fill the job,'' usually under pressure of time.
Bruce Adair, a marketing expert in St. Louis and adviser to the University College program at Washington University, concurs: ''I suspect most companies aren't doing well'' at screening employees for foreign assignments.
Particularly in third-world countries, where Americans have to cope with language and cultural barriers and what Mr. Adair calls ''noncosmopolitan locals ,'' the problem of attrition leading to inefficient job performance ''is bigger than anyone is willing to concede,'' he says.
The aerospace official says his own company's attrition rate has been very low, but adds that the problem of job failure is ''extremely serious, and it's very expensive if it occurs.'' His company wants to send people overseas who are ''strong, flexible, without personal problems - people who have managed their lives well,'' as he puts it.
That would seem a pretty basic set of qualifications, but Mr. Kozloff has a trunkful of horror stories of poorly qualified people sent abroad with disastrous results.