How to Assess Intercultural Competency

Posted on October 7, 2015

Your business is expanding into a new country and you have narrowed the field of possible candidates down to the final few, when one of your colleagues says they’re not sure how well the front-runner will actually get on working in a new country. How do you measure someone’s ability to thrive in a new culture – and in many cases, lead?

Why do this anyway? Because if someone doesn’t have the ability to fit into a new culture, or their partner doesn’t, then your assignment is going to fail. And assignment failure is expensive, Vogel et al (2008) claims they cost a parent company ‘…upwards of $1m.’ That is not the sort of money any company wants to throw away. This is why I recommend assessments for everyone going on the assignment, not just the potential assignee.

There are a few tools on the market that will quickly give you a pointer in the right direction. Each one measures a slightly different aspect of Intercultural or Global Competency, so it will depend on what you want to achieve in the assignment (and you’ll know this from what you’ve developed as measures for this role in your eROI) as to which one is best for each assignment.

  1. They are the AAC&U (Association of American Colleges and Universities) Intercultural Knowledge and Competence Value Rubric (PDF). This was developed in the United States and identifies learning outcomes – and what the essential criteria are for each outcome, i.e. Self-awareness and cultural knowledge, empathy, verbal and non-verbal skills and attitudes like curiosity and openness. These are offered at no cost via the website, but will rely on someone having the time to do in-depth interviewing to assess where each candidate is at.
  2. The Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) is a statistically reliable and valid tool adapted from the Development Model of Intercultural Sensitivity. It gives groups or individuals a graphic, in-depth profile of intercultural competence. It’s a high standard of measurement, partially because you have to be validated to use the tool, which means substantial training for your staff.
  3. The Global Competencies Inventory assesses competencies critical to interacting and working effectively with people from different cultures. It is self-reporting and measures competences in cross-cultural relationship skills, traits and values, cognitive orientation, global business expertise, global organising expertise and visioning. Like the IDI, it gives an graphic, in-depth report and also like the IDI, someone in your organisation has to be validated to use the tool – with time and cost involved in doing this.
  4. The Global Competence Aptitude Assessment (CGAA)measures all the components of global competence, as published in refereed journals worldwide. The questions are based on regions around the world, with particular emphasis placed on those countries that make significant contributions to the world’s population and economy. It also gives a detailed report and unlike the IDI and GCI, anyone can take it.

In reality, whichever assessment you use, it will just the part of a successful assignment placement. Other things, like the scope, boundaries and measurement of the ROI of the role, intercultural training, finding a role for the accompanying partner and ongoing support for the assignee while they’re in the new country, will all support the success of the new person in the role.

This article was written by Veronica Lysaght from Mobus who specialises in assisting companies to successfully move staff internationally, increasing the Expat Return on Investment (eROI) and retention of key staff. For further details contact her at  or on +44 (0)7757 939 940.

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