Graduate Plus: European in outlook but not in practice

Popular cultural theories can create biases in recruitment. By Roger Trapp

Just about every company, it seems, is seeking managers with that elusive pan-European quality. The problem does not appear to be languages - many executives are at least proficient in one or more. It is more likely to be something a little more nebulous, such as attitude to life.

Some might think that such notions have no place in the global village. But as multinational consumer goods companies have belatedly discovered, what plays in one place will not necessarily go down in another.

And so it is that a new book suggests that the career development of pan-European managers "is being hindered by European differences over assessment methods and philosophies".

In what appears to demonstrate the truth of the cliche, Mac Bolton, author of a study that will be discussed at a seminar next month, says these differences can be loosely split into two categories - northern analytical and Latin humanistic. (France falls into the Latin category.) Accordingly, in France, for example, an employee's ability to relate toother employees is regarded as more important than his or her numerical ratings in assessments. No prizes for guessing that it is the other way around in such countries as Britain and Sweden.

But according to Mr Bolton's book, Assessment and Development in Europe, even within categories, differences are common. For instance, a study comparing Swedish and British senior managers set out different priorities in their attitudes towards development. As a result, the Swedes stressed the importance of logical planning and setting priorities in managerial development. The British concentrated on the need for improved communication skills.

To cloud the picture further, there are huge variations within Europe on assessment methods. Mr Bolton, who works at the Roffey Park Management Institute of West Sussex, says that some countries prefer assessment centres to interviews and others refer to graphology. The Netherlands, Germany and Belgium tend to regard assessment centres as essential screening tools providing objective results, while such methods are unpopular in France and in the British private sector.

Moreover, there is no such link between assessment and development. In Britain, for example, much emphasis is placed on assessment, but much less on development.

Perhaps most worryingly for British managers, many other European companies regard Britain's three-year degree courses as too short to qualify for full graduate status. British organisations, on the other hand, tend to recognise the need for further training and development after university.

Mr Bolton, who will be among the contributors at the seminar being hosted by Roffey Park on 19 April, says:"The key to successful employee development is the interrelationship of assessment and development," he adds. "As very few people are assessed as exactly right for a job, so there is always scope for development. One activity needs the other."

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