How to ensure international assignment success

by Jun 10, 20163Plus, Career, Personal & Professional Development, Stages of Life

Five ways to guarantee international assignment success

The investment in international assignments from both the organisation and assignee perspective is high. It’s in everyone’s interest to achieve international assignment success. While global mobility surveys suggest that out and out assignment failure is infrequent, few companies have a good handle on the true return generated from their investment.

international assignment success

international assignment success

Relocating an employee internationally is a complex process. Focus on the tax, compliance and logistical aspects can mean that performance outcomes are ignored. International assignment success relates to the effective transition of the employee, but this is only part of the success story. Role engagement and performance also matters for obvious reasons.

 5 ways organisations can ensure international assignment success:

#1. Show clarity of purpose and monitor outcomes.

Due to the complexity of international organisations it is easy for assignees to fall between management processes which has a significant impact on international assignment success. A 2016 report from Ernst and Young found that 72% of corporate respondents were not tracking the performance of their international assignments. Without any focus on outcomes, what seems like a clear business need at the outset, can, lose direction and impetus over time, impacting negatively on assignee performance.

While global mobility teams usually manage the relocation process, they are not always tasked with monitoring the performance and career management of the assignee. We recommend designating a sponsor tasked with overseeing the welfare, development and performance of assignees within a given function or area of the company, ensuring that clear key performance indicators (both tangible and non-tangible) are identified and then monitored.

#2 Recognise the change and transition process

Many people involved in the management of international assignments have frequently never been through  an expatriation procedure themselves. Recognising the essential elements inherent to international relocation, as well as supporting the assignee and the family to understand the transition, is vital for success.

[Tweet “International assignments involve more than a career change”], though we recognise that many people think about it in that way. International relocation, especially where partners and children travel too, is a massive life change, impacting on every aspect of each family member’s life. Read: How companies can support Expat Partners

It is important that the assignee and families understand what they are taking on in terms of both the opportunities and the challenges. Supporting everyone to understand impact of such a life change helps them to make an informed relocation decision and develop the appropriate strategies and approaches for success. Read: 5 tips expatriate women need to succeed It also means that they set realistic expectations about the transition process, lifestyle and career opportunities of the assignment location.

#3 Acknowledge that it takes time to adjust.

Due to the disruption and expense of an international relocation there is a desire for fast returns. Often the expectation is that the assignee will ‘hit the ground running’. We suspect this is one of the fastest routes to burn out and underperformance as it does not allow time for adjustment; ‘when expats are not adjusted to their work environment, they are more likely to perform badly’ Black & Gregersen (1991a) cited in Shaffer et al (2016)

Adjustment to the new work, local and social environment does not happen over-night. The assignee and partner will have to adjust to new roles and the responsibilities and relationships inherent in those new roles. The partner may become a stay at home partner/parent for the first time ever, the assignee may become the sole provider. The work role will be different. It takes time to adjust and find the new balance.

Recognise adjustment as a process. Settling in time is important. Padraig O’Sulllivan in his book, Foreigner in Charge, suggests that assignees negotiate a pre-start and a start date. During the pre-start time, the assignee settles in, holds pre-start meetings and supports the family as they adjust to their new environment. This enables them to ‘start’ officially in a more focused manner.

#4. Communicate effectively

Support is important but it is often the communication around any support that makes the real difference. While benefits are not as generous as they once were, what seems to matter most is that any communication about the support offered to those on international assignments is well-defined, delivered effectively and received in a timely manner. Lack of clarity about relocation packages leads to frustration and the sense that the organisation is not meeting its obligations. One of the key frustrations mentioned by expat partners is a lack of communication between the organisation or provider of relocation support and the partner. It is typically the partner who is responsible for much of the preparation, packing and arrival settling in. Lazarova, M., McNulty, Y., and Semeniuk, M (2015)

Involve the partner in the pre-relocation preparation conversations and keep the dialogue and continued support going in the new location. Finding a host country mentor for the partner is a simple, often free and extremely effective way of supporting them through the early adjustment phase.

#5 Support dual career partners.

[Tweet “The dual career challenge is one that is unlikely to diminish for economic reasons”]. There are more dual income households than ever before. Recruiting and retaining the best international talent is going to depend on an organisations willingness to recognise this challenge and provide partner support in some form. We are not suggesting salaries for partners, but we are suggesting that organisations need to become more creative about the forms of support offered.

Career coaching for the partner is one potential solution, which the majority of partners currently do not receive. Such support empowers partners to analyse their strengths and skill set and identify a path forward which fits in the context of their new environment and meets personal and professional aspirations. Partnering with other multinationals through organisations such as the International Dual Career Network is another great way in which partners can be supported. The good news is that with the advent of the internet there are many ways that partners can develop personally and professionally abroad.

Companies seeking coaching for employees and /or partners on international assignments  contact 3Plus Now! 

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