What is the Right Personality for a Global Workplace?

As work becomes increasingly international in focus, successful managers need to be able to operate across cultures easily. Obviously, expatriate managers working in other countries will need personality traits that make them better able to work overseas, but managers at home who order parts and services from overseas or prepare marketing plans for other countries, for example, will also conduct cross-cultural communications. In the workforce of the future, everyone from mechanics to customer service representatives to advertisers will need to understand the global market. What is the right personality for a global workplace?


You might suspect that, of the Big Five traits, openness to experience would be most important to effectiveness in international assignments. Open people are more likely to be culturally flexible—to “go with the flow” when things are different in another country. Research is not fully consistent on the issue, but most does suggest that managers who score high on openness perform better than others in international assignments. Other evidence suggests that employees who are more agreeable and extraverted have an easier time with international assignments. They may be better at establishing new relationships and developing social networks in unfamiliar contexts.


What do these results imply for organizations? Given continuing globalization in the future, organizations should select employees with traits related to better performance in international assignments. Managers will need to foster an open-minded perspective about other cultures among their employees.


Source: Based on M. A. Shaffer, D. A. Harrison, and H. Gregersen, “You Can Take It with You: Individual Differences and Expatriate Effectiveness,”  Journal of Applied Psychology 91, No. 1  (2006), pp. 109–125; M. van Woerkom and R. S. M. de Reuver, “Predicting Excellent Management Performance in an Intercultural Context: A Study of the Influence of Multicultural Personality on Transformational Leadership and Performance,” International Journal of Human Resource Management 20, No. 10 (2009), pp. 2013-2029; and M. Downes, I. I. Varner, and M. Hemmasi, “Individual Profiles as Predictors of Expatriate Effectiveness,” Competitiveness Review 20, No. 3 (2010), pp. 235-247.