It is now a competitive necessity to maintain a workforce which is able to fully integrate with colleagues and business contemporaries from different cultures, which is why so many companies offer cultural training courses for their employees, and why international assignments are now commonplace.
However, the return on investment for expatriates is relatively low (mostly due to the huge initial cost of whole families relocating, additional benefits, and the later repatriation), while successful placements (which run full term) are less common than you might think.
One reason for the lack of success with expatriates, and the early termination of international assignments, is due to a lack of input and training, prior to relocation, by the employer.
Organising a successful expatriate programme requires a special effort on the part of both the employer, and the employee – cultural awareness training, language courses, expat selection processes, with additional family involvement, all assist with ensuring the process runs smoothly and is beneficial for all involved.
At Creative Word, we have been helping businesses train their employees in cultural awareness for many years, so we know what it takes to make a success of international assignments.
To guarantee success with your expatriate programme, follow our simple guide below.
Expatriate Selection Process
Matching a candidate to a particular role is something that employers are familiar with during interview or development processes, but it is often overlooked when selecting an employee for an overseas assignment.
In general, most employers select the candidate who is best qualified (has the required accreditation and job-specific knowledge), and has a solid track record within the firm.
While these skills are considered vital under usual circumstances, they don’t necessarily help when dealing with the unique challenges posed by a prolonged immersion in a different culture, language, economic and political situation.
Therefore, the best option is to match the candidate with the particular requirements of the international assignment.
For example, if a UK based company has two potential candidates for an assignment in the Middle East; one with proven managerial skills and highly qualified, the other with the fewer years managerial experience, but the ability to work effectively with all levels of employee, is adaptable, and who is a practicing Muslim – it would be wisest to pick the second candidate as they will already understand much of the culture, law and familial structures in place in the Middle East and their personality is more likely suited to cope with the challenges created by the move and transition from one culture (both work-based and social) to another.
Cultural Awareness Training, Language Skills and Early Preparation
Once a candidate has been selected, it is vital they are given adequate time to prepare for the move.
Cultural training is a sure way to improve the chance of a successful transition as it gives participants a greater understanding of the country’s values and how they connect in business terms and within the workplace in general.
This improved understanding can reduce frustration, increase efficiency, and improve working relationships with foreign counterparts.
If the selected candidate is moving abroad with their partner or family then it is wise to also include them in this training process, as happiness and contentment at home makes for a more consistent, productive and satisfied employee.
Alongside the cultural competency training, it is helpful to give some language tuition as this will reinforce the cultural awareness and encourage communication.
Learning how to speak a few words of thanks, how to address superiors, or how to ask for directions means that employees and their families will be more confident in communicating with others and therefore, be more willing to immerse themselves in the culture and lifestyle.
As a final note on this point, it is worth ensuring, where possible, that the candidate’s (and their family’s) personal needs linked to the move are met.
For instance, if the candidate is unsure about leaving extended family for a long period of time, consider what practical support may be required to overcome this such as, counselling, or discussions with previous expat employees who can reassure them and explore options for long-distance relationships.
Maintain Support Networks
Spending time before the move ensuring that the chosen candidate (and their family) has the best training in place and they feel prepared for the move is great advice, so following this up with a support network, once the assignment is underway, makes sense as it gives an opportunity to spot potential issues, and engage with resolution, before they become more problematic.
There is a honeymoon period when employees first take an overseas assignment which can soon fade leaving some to feel isolated from their friends and family back home. This is when expats will need the support of their firm so ensure that communication is sustained during this period.
Expats who feel fully supported throughout their move, and beyond, and who adjust well to the new culture are more likely to be successful in their business dealings on behalf of their firm.
Remember, expats will one day return to their home country and this too takes adjustment.
Preparing for career development after repatriation is often overlooked, leading to dissatisfied employees who are easily head-hunted by the competition!
Overcome this with clear progression pathways, advancement opportunities, and reward systems that show appreciation, loyalty and ensure expats feel valued.
Successful expatriate management is vital to a firm’s global development so it is paramount that all of the above steps are observed.
If you would like assistance with your expatriate management programme, contact the Creative Word team and we will be happy to help.