Ensuring the Right Fit in a Country Manager: What to Look For

Getting the right fit in a Country Manager is about balancing three things: technical skills, leadership skills, and cultural fit. This mix is vital to ensuring that the person is able to deliver in all key areas.

country manager

Striking the right balance between technical proficiency, leadership skills and cultural fit is vital for recruiting the right kind of candidate to a Country Manager role in Latin America. In fact, cultural awareness is more important than being from the country you are managing, although local or at least regional knowledge helps.

Almost 9 years ago we asked an expert panel for their thoughts on how to bag the right person for the job, and while some things have changed since then, Julio Mosquera-Stanziola, who was on that original panel, says much has also stayed the same. Mosquera-Stanziola is currently Global Head of Academy for Selina, a hospitality start-up in Panama, and former Talent Acquisition Manager for Dell.

At the time, the panel comprised of Mosquera-Stanziola, Salvador Salazar, Stream Global Services VP of Latin American Operations, Bobby Varanasi, Chairman & CEO at Matryzel Consulting Inc., and Brian Gray, VP and Manager for Latin America at StarTek. All of the panellists agreed that recruiting to that role was complex and required varied strategies. Some stressed the tole of LinkedIn; others said they looked internally first because knowledge of internal policies and procedures was vital. All, though, agreed that country managers needed the right mix of skills, experience and education.

Now, Mosquera-Stanziola says, it is much clearer how important it is to hire leaders in this role. Leadership style is important, but leadership capacity is vital. “You need to look for the right mix of technical skills, but you also need to think about what is the cultural fit of your organization, and what is that person’s leadership style and capacity,” he says.

“Technical skills are extremely important because otherwise the country manager won’t understand the business; technical skills account for 50% of the required skills, but the other two are just as important, accounting for a quarter each.”

Mosquera-Stanziola says there is much more of a focus on people leadership and an awareness that organizations that don’t have a leader who is capable of understanding  different communication styles and empowering people to perform, are just not going to succeed.

“A person can have all the technical skills and be brilliant at what they do, but have little to no leadership skills and they will fail to empower people to succeed in their organization,” he adds.

Culturally Aware and Geographically Savvy

Familiarity with the country is important, but it is not vital that a person is actually born and bred in that country – although it helps if you are. For Mosquera-Stanziola it is much more crucial that the person has a cultural awareness of the country or the region, or comes from cultures that are similar. “it is quite possible for Someone from Latin America to succeed in leading in Portugal and vice versa. They are culturally similar – not identical, but similar enough that a person can navigate the other culture,” he says. “Someone who is geographically and culturally savvy is likely to have higher success than someone who is not.”

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If a candidate cannot be drawn from the country or region, the next best thing is someone that is what Mosquera-Stanziola calls “polycultural”, who has a cultural awareness and can blend in in any kind of culture because they are naturally digital nomads. “Or they are world travelers who are going to say ‘I am not going to come here to impose what I know but to learn from they have’,” he says.

One of the major shifts that Mosquera-Stanziola has noted in terms of HR and recruitment trends is to look at the whole person rather than just the role they play or position they hold. “Do if I am hiring for a country manager for a contact center, do I only look for someone who is a great contact center manager or professional? No, there is now a much stronger focus on the person and how that person fits into the company.”

Traditional Approaches Still Work, But Look at the Person Not the Role

He says there is still very much a place for traditional recruitment strategies such as using assessment centers and getting prospective candidates to sit in on board meetings to understand how they approach such things or how they react to others. But, he adds, it is also about understanding the person as a person and not just as a leader, as a technical person, and so on.

“Balance is the key. Finding someone who is superb in one way but fails completely in another isn’t going to work, but there  is potential where someone is lacking in just one part of say the technical or leadership skills to coach or mentor that person to address that shortcoming,” Mosquera-Stanziola says.

“Finding the perfect person is never possible, but you can get as near to that as possible and then be willing to close any gaps they may come with through things like coaching and mentoring. It’s about selecting someone and understanding what their shortcomings may be and then working with them to address them.”

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