06 August 2012

Nine Global Assignment Success Factors

There are some factors that facilitate a successful expatriation experience that workers can directly influence.  But then there are factors over which one has limited control.  Rather than focus on the problems that people experienced while on assignment, I would like to hone in on nine common traits shared by persons on assignment who enjoyed a positive experience.
  1. Career:  Strong home and host company sponsorship for the assignment.
  2. Career:   Invested in personal development and active in managing their own succession planning.
  3. Career:   Rationale, goals and next steps after the assignment were well planned and articulated at the start.
  4. Personal:  Handles unexpected challenges with calm resourcefulness.
  5. Personal:  Strong level of emotional intelligence and strong intuition in working with others.
  6. Personal:  Highly adaptable and flexible individuals who are grounded realists rather than idealists.
  7. Family:  Uncomplicated and/or stable family situation.
  8. Family:   Preschool children or young (and adaptable) teens.
  9. Family:   Relatively unencumbered lifestyle, e.g, no animal menagerie. 

Some of these points cannot be easily influenced by the employee alone.  For example, certain factors like having to work out something like shared-custody of children has nothing to do with one's suitability for an assignment from a career/capability standpoint.  Personal factors are something that makes candidate selection so challenging for corporations.  Management, supervisors and human resources professionals, are required to focus solely on work competencies in candidate selection.

Do you have the right stuff?

Another factor that is beyond the control of an employee is being selected for the assignment in the first place.  Truth is, from my standpoint, nothing is more off-putting than someone who is campaigning heavily for an expatriate assignment.  There was a situation where an individual at one place I'd worked arranged their own interview for an assignment in a foreign office when there was no open position nor business rationale for an international assignment.  What a colossal waste of time for all involved!

Sometimes the best decision may be to not go on an assignment.  This is why I recommend open access to tools to help employees to make an early and informed decision about their own foreign assignment suitability.  Without access to such resources, countless hours are wasted on inappropriate candidates or failed assignments.  There are platforms available through most firms that offer cross-cultural training to run self-assessments to determine one's own capacity for an international assignment.  Avoiding one failed assignment could justify access to such a platform.

Three mindful suggestions in being selected:
  • Assess personal and family readiness;
  • If the timing is right, then make openness to international assignment known;
  • Be patient for the right opportunity.
Remember that (like many things) offers of a foreign assignment is not something that can be made to happen if it's not meant to be.  And, if an individual is successful in pushing for an assignment that's lead by personal desire over true business need, then the justification will be too weak to sustain overall career continuity - if you know what I mean!

Expatriation Commando-style

If someone has a strong desire to work internationally, there's absolutely nothing wrong with this.  If that person is impatient for an international opportunity to happen, then my recommendation would be to look for open and posted positions at foreign offices in target locations.  If there is a good fit, inform management, apply, interview and, if offered, then accept the role as a 'local' hire.  Expect that the standard (rich/costly) international assignment benefits will not be included.  Among the many factors to be considered, the following should be anticipated:
  • Relocation benefits may not be included;
  • Nationalized pension schemes (e.g., social security) contributions will not continue;
  • Prepare for double-taxation - no tax equalization benefit;
  • Foreign work authorizations will have a time limitation to them, and options for permanent residency are often limited by the nationality of the employee and the country being entered;
  • International school fees, language training and settling-in services would likely not be included in the offer;
  • If things don't work out, the position is eliminated or immigration options are exhausted, there is no corporate sponsor to ensure a return role or to cover repatriation expenses.
As technology brings the world together and companies require those in leadership roles to have demonstrated global working experience, the number of assignments are only expected to increase according to a recent study by Towers Watson.1  I would advise people starting out to include some type of overseas exchange, internship or assignment to their early on in their experiential history.   The later in the career, the higher the stakes for the company and employee.
"Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength, mastering yourself is true power."
- Lao-Tzu


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