Expatriate Assignment Failure – The Tip of the Iceberg

The real reasons behind expatriate assignment failure

Expatriate assignment failure
Much of the discussion concerning the rationale for providing more extensive support for expats and their families revolves around expatriate assignment failure rates. However, focusing on expatriate assignment failure rates misses the main issue affecting expat ROI. Of course, every failed assignment is a loss and often comes hand in hand with a sad human story worthy of our concern.
From an organisational ROI perspective there is a bigger issue and one that we don’t see being widely addressed. Yet it’s impact on the bottom line is much greater than assignment failure.
The issue we’re talking about is under-performance.Tweet this
Simply completing an assignment term does not mean that it has been an assignment success. Romero (2002) estimated that 50% of expats who do not return prematurely give low levels of performance. A more recent survey of 202 CEO’s and senior human resource professionals surveyed by Right Management found only 42% of assignments to be judged as successful.
In the worse-case scenario companies see a negative financial impact from the assignees presence as they fail to integrate into new teams with clients and ultimately do more leadership damage than good. While these worst- case scenarios may get attention – there’s a whole world of under-performance in expatriate roles that often goes unnoticed.
Read: How companies can support Expat Partners

Reasons why this under-performance and expatraiate assignment failure occurs:

How to support expats in your business

• Companies do not have a tight talent management process attached to the global mobility function, focused on getting the right people abroad. Often, the selection process is driven by individuals within businesses pushing for the “best person” to do the job based on past performance at home. How that experience then translates in a new foreign and cultural environment can be a bit of a lottery.

• Because the assignee is needed abroad yesterday, they are given no time to think through the decision or prepare practically and mentally for the big life and career change. This impacts on the way they arrive and consequently the way they react and start work on the job.
• It is assumed that the assignee is the “best person” for the job and will therefore know what to do and how to do it in the new country. In reality the assignee needs clear objectives and support but may be reluctant to ask out of fear of being judged not capable of doing the job.
Read: 5 tips expatriate women need to succeed
Language and cultural awareness are given inadequate attention and support.Tweet this Both contribute to the assignee’s ability to develop their cultural agility and confidence and can therefore impact positively or negatively on performance.
• The assignee’s partner/family may find the move professionally or personally challenging. Without other sources of support for the partner, the assignee’s attention is directed away from work and towards relationship and home challenges. But again, they probably won’t be sharing that information with the company.
• The challenge of such an enormous life and career change derails the assignee for a time. It is difficult to get his/ her head around understanding the dynamics of their new work environment. The assignee’s ability to make an impact is limited, particularly since the assignment will only last 3 years.
It is a huge life and career change for the assignee and their partner/family. Laying the best possible foundations for a smooth transition and providing ongoing support for the assignee and family not only supports them through the change process but also provides the basic structure on which they can then build their assignment success.
Read: How I won France. An expat in Paris
• Give assignees and their families support to make an informed decision understanding their personal and professional ‘why’ for making such a life changing decision.
Support families so they prepare thoroughly and avoid many of the typical expat pitfalls.Tweet this
• Set clear objectives for the assignee and provide the coaching, mentorship and support they need to accomplish them. Ensure asking for help is not viewed as a weakness.
• Give the assignee time to assimilate to their new environment on arrival. An adjustment phase that enables them to adapt to their changing roles and engage in the new work environment and ultimately perform at their best.
Read: Expat – iating Business
• Provide the appropriate skills training and technical support needed by the assignee to ensure that they perform effectively in their new role and culture.
• Support the partner through the transition and beyond to the creation of a life and career (if they want one) abroad that is meaningful, fulfilling and sustainable.
Read: Thriving Abroad: The Definitive Guide to Professional and Personal Relocation Success

Improve the expat ROI in your organisation. Contact 3Plus now!

3Plus, Career, Culture, Executive Search and Recruitment, International Assignments, International Assignments, Personal & Professional Development
Louise Wiles
Web | Email | Twitter |
THRIVING ABROAD supports organizations to improve assignment effectiveness and return on investment by supporting expatriate assignee's and families. Our book: Thriving Abroad: The Definitive Guide to Professional and Personal Relocation Success and the accompanying workbook, helps organizations support international assignee's and their families through the relocation process and beyond to the creation of a thriving and fulfilling life abroad.

Leave a Reply

Found that interesting? Learn more about our services
Individual services
Make your dreams a reality with a professional evaluation of your career to date.
more info
Corporate services
The evidence is in. More women in your company can deliver 35% greater financial returns. (Catalyst)
more info
Upcoming events
Currently we don't have upcoming events
Download and listen free podcasts
How to get Noticed by Head Hunters and Recruiters
Free Download

In this power coaching podcast, we’re going to tackle one of the questions asked multiple times a week by active job seekers and passive candidates.

How can I get noticed by head hunters and recruiters and connect with them?

In this short power coaching podcast Dorothy Dalton shares some tips and tricks to make sure that you are always on the radar of the recruitment and search specialists who can be most helpful to you. With extensive experience in executive search and corporate HR Dorothy has placed, coached and trained thousands of men and women to career success. As a career coach she has a deep understanding of the job search market and what job seekers need to do to position themselves to they are easily found.

As CEO of 3Plus she also has deep experience of the challenges women face in the workplace. Sadly because women tend not to create career strategies they can be vulnerable when it comes to dealing with change. Regular transitions become career crises. In this short session you will learn some simple tips and tricks to make sure you are on the radar of key recruitment specialists in your sector, geography or function.  It’s not rocket science.





One of the most puzzling things about working in executive search is that people and I say this reluctantly particularly women fail to plan ahead. You’ve heard me say before that only 5% of women have a career strategy. This means that they are not prepared for any emergencies until they become a crisis.


Goal setting tips to boost your career
Free Download

The happiest people are those that really love their jobs. Those that don’t, dread Sunday nights and the upcoming work week. So how do you get to a place where you look forward to a new week of doing what satisfies you? You’ll have to either learn to love your current role, or make a commitment to pursue your dream job. Use these goal setting tips to help you get to where you want to be.

Some women choose the latter, and to do so you’ll have to set career goals to get where you want to be. So make sure you have a detailed plan on how to land a job that you will tick all the boxes.

The majority of women choose to stay in their own organizations and even then you still need to have goals, not just KPis set by your manager. But even if you do see your career developing within your current business it’s still important to set goals.

Many women struggle with career planning and creating a career strategy which can lead to problems. This makes them vulnerable to and sort of challenge which can moprh into a full blown career crisis. Some simple steps to plan and prepare can help avoid this.

Take a look at these goal setting tips to help boost your career and set you on the right path.

Lewis Carroll  said

If you don’t know where you are going any road will get you there.”

Research shows that only about 5% of women create career goals and a career strategy. This can have a negative impact on your career progression. It means you are reactive not proactive and career glitches can morph into full blown crises. It puts women at a clear disadvantage to men.

Learn these simple goal setting tips to boost your career and protect and prepare you for all eventualities. If these goal setting tips make you think that you could use some further help,  contact us immediately.


When Does Female Rivalry Turn into Sabotage
Free Download

There’s a lot of stuff written on social media about  female rivalry and competition between women. Some of it makes sense and some of it is confusing. Organizations are pyramids with fewer roles at the top than at the bottom. It is inevitable that at some level, as more and more women are in the talent pipeline, at some point they will be in competition with other women.

Many would say that women aren’t competitive. I would suggest re-framing that. I think it’s more accurate to say they are not as competitive in the workplace as men. We have also been made to feel guilty about being competitive. We need to get over that.  Here are the reasons:

  1. The male nature of corporate culture makes it a disincentive to compete
  2. Women don’t want to compete because  prescribed male goals are not attractive enough for them. “Work 14 hour days, not see my partner or family … get sick.. die..no thanks.. I’ll pass”
  3. Women don’t know how to compete in the workplace. They are new arrivals on the corporate competition scene and lack practise.
  4. Women experience gender blow back when they do compete, from both men and women
  5. Women have been raised to think that competing with other women is not empowering them. As more women enter the talent pipeline that is just nonsense.

Learn some insights from Annabel Kaye, Employment Law Expert about how it’s OK to be competitive and the danger zone when it can turn into sabotage. Understand the benefits of mutual support and how all women can profit from having strong strategic allies, role models and mentors.






The importance of Hard Talk
Free Download

Dawn Metcalfe, author of Managing the Matrix and Hard Talk, shares with us  tips to achieve the lasting communication skills needed to tackle the difficult conversations we encounter in the workplace. Hard Talk answers the big questions like:

  • How do I manage a boss who insists on micro-managing me?
  • How do I let a high performer know that they are not getting the promotion he wants?
  • What can I do about a direct report who doesn’t show me respect?
  • How do I tell my boss that despite all efforts our deadline on an important deliverable will be missed?

In this podcast, Dawn Metcalfe will give us an overview to handle challenging scenarios to empower you with the skills needed to ensure you have these conversations in the best way and generate the best outcome. Make your workplace and your professional experience more fruitful and less fraught by learning the importance of Hard Talk.