In multinational organizations international assignees – both short- and long-term – play very important and somewhat unique roles. They may be sent abroad for setting up a new operation, for development purposes, sharing best practices and corporate culture, problem solving, filling skill gaps or running projects. In any case, in order to optimize the assignees’ positive impact on the local operations as well as on the whole organization, assignees need to be well prepared.
Practice and research show significant losses, between $250,000 and $1 million for each individual, when assignees fail. This includes direct costs, such as salary and benefits, relocation expenses, and training and development. There are also the indirect costs to consider such as inefficiency and low morale of the local staff, damaged relationships with key clients in the region, future difficulty in recruiting for the location and the negative impact on the expat involved as well as on her/his family.
Technical competence is a must but in the international environment it has to be combined with cross-cultural sensitivity. Cross-cultural relocation training is therefore an important part of setting up assignees and their families for success.
Best practices for expatriate cross-cultural relocation programs
An effective program should have the following components:
- The training session should have a focus on every-day business situations so that the expatriate is able to use the learnings immediately in her/his work
- A blended approach of training and coaching over a 4-6 week time period so the expat and spouse/partner can practice what they have learned while receiving support
- Allowing the expatriate and spouse to assess their own cultural biases, in addition to learning about the other culture/cultures
- Providing recommendations for how the expatriate can adjust her/his behavior in order to be most effective
- Addressing the assignee’s specific concerns and issues
- Inviting the participation of the spouse since the lack of the spouse’s or the family’s adjustment are the most often quoted reasons for expatriate premature return
Expatriates often quote the following two points as the most important benefits of cross-cultural programs: 1) Becoming aware of how their own cultural perceptions and biases impact the interactions with their colleagues, customers, partners, etc., and 2) The understanding of how cultures influence peoples’ behaviors (e.g. having a different approach to time, using a direct or indirect communication style, respecting or almost ignoring hierarchy).
Other benefits include:
- Accelerated readiness for effective work performance
- Realistic expectations and overall better preparation for work and life adjustments required in the new location
- Effective communication with international colleagues and the local office
- More fulfilling experience during the assignment
A quality relocation training program gives expatriates a heightened chance for success in their intercultural interactions and a good foundation on which they can further develop their cross-cultural competence. And when the assignee succeeds, so does the organization.