Helping Trainees Succeed Overseas

Following a five-step approach to preparing expatriates for international assignments can lead to greater success and retention.

I was having brunch recently with the former VP of sales for one of the world’s most prestigious and elegant hotels, which is based in Singapore. As we got to talking, he mentioned that he was asked to be the VP of sales for a brand new hotel that was considered one of the top hotels in the world. I mentioned that one of the areas I work in is the training and development of expatriates for international assignments. His reaction was one I have heard more than 50 times: “I wish I had known you before I went to Asia.”

He then proceeded to tell me that he had a short time to train and prepare a multicultural sales staff, each of whom was new to the organization. He quickly discovered his East Coast success made him ill prepared for the assignment. During one meeting he was so frustrated by direct reports’ lack of initiative that he lost his temper and criticized each of the sales leaders in front of each other. Another time he used an obscene gesture to one of his subordinates he felt was not cooperating. He quit the job out of frustration, saying it was the “worst experience in my life.”

Many organizations take a trial-and-error approach to preparing their expatriates for international assignments. They take qualified leaders and managers who have domestic success and then expect them to succeed overseas.

While there are no guarantees of success, the following five-step approach, taken by a leading pharmaceutical, has led to greater success and retention of its expats during and after their assignments:

  1. Identify the unique character and background of the expat and family to deliver a customized cultural training program. There is an assessment of the expatriate’s (and other family members’) background and prior international experience, their understanding of the host culture, specific goals/ concerns, and personal tendencies that can help to design a customized expat/family training intervention. Use of online cultural intelligence tools, such as Culture Wise (https://app.global-dynamics.com), enables expatriates and family members to further assess their personal tendencies against the cultural tendencies of the host country. A customized cross-cultural training program is designed and delivered to the expat and his or her family. This is designed to increase the assignees’ knowledge about the host country, society, values, business culture, and day-to- day living.
  2. Host manager and team cultural briefings. A unique feature of this process is that the host country (receiving) manager and the team the international assignee will be working with receives training about the expat’s culture in order to provide insight into the cultural values and norms of the assignee. Differences regarding communication and management style, as well as different expectations, are identified, analyzed, and addressed.
  3. Hold a project alignment meeting. A project alignment meeting with the assignee and host manager discusses cultural differences that might affect the success of the assignment, bridging tools and techniques to prevent misunderstandings, and mutual expectations of the assignee and the manager. This meeting typically includes discussions about timelines, reporting strategies, setting milestones, etc. This is followed by an alignment meeting with the expat, his or her manager, and the host team.
  4. In-country coaching. A coach conducts periodic phone coaching sessions with the expat to evaluate his or her success during the assignment and captures experiences, case studies, and best practices. In some cases, the coach observes the assignee’s activities such as staff meetings, virtual meetings, and other interactions between the assignee and team members.
  5. Leverage the knowledge management process. To build the organization’s competence for a global pipeline of talent, there is ongoing capture (and dissemination) of relevant documentation and lessons learned from each expatriate assignment. This information enables the organization to avoid repetitive occurrences of issues, and over time, best practices and effective case studies are developed based on the knowledge management process.

Neal Goodman, Ph.D., is president of Global Dynamics, Inc., a training and development firm specializing in globalization, cultural intelligence, effective virtual workplaces, and diversity and inclusion. He can be reached at 305.682.7883 and at ngoodman@globaldynamics. com. For more information, visit http://www.global-dynamics.com.

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