Planning overseas assignments.
The globalisation of business means that an increasing number of managers are being sent on assignments overseas. Selecting, appointing, and supporting managers for such assignments can be a challenging task. Failure rates, or non-completion of assignments, have been put as high as 40%. In addition to this, the cost to the employing organisation may be considerable, as may the professional and personal price paid by the individual. Both for the organisation and the individual, there is a need to reduce uncertainty and ineffectiveness as far as possible, and to create a sense of direction, purpose and control.
This checklist provides planning guidance for organisations sending, and to individuals being posted, on overseas assignments. A separate Checklist covers organising short-term business travel (see Related Checklists)
The careful planning of assignments will:
* minimise the potential for failure for reasons of cultural adaptation
* reduce the risk and cost of premature repatriation.
National Occupational Standards for Management and Leadership
This checklist has relevance to the following standards:
D: Working with people, units 2 and 3
For the purposes of this checklist, working overseas means outside the United Kingdom. An assignment means a posting overseas for a defined period (of over six months) with the current employer.
1. Define the personal characteristics and requisites for the job
As with the recruitment and selection process for any job, it is important to have a clear view of the skills, experience and personal qualities that are needed for the post. The selection process should not just focus on technical competence, but also assess personal characteristics such as flexibility, emotional stability, and learning and relational skills. In the case of an appointment for an overseas posting, additional factors need to be taken into account. These are:
* knowledge of languages
A good working knowledge of the main language of the host country, particularly if English is not widely spoken there.
* international experience
Previous experience can help mental preparation and reduce culture shock. Preliminary visits and existing organisational networks can assist the process of familiarisation.
* job experience, seniority and qualifications
In some countries, qualifications are very important--as a recognition and acknowledgement of expertise.
* flexibility, willingness to learn and lack of prejudice
There is a need to be aware of and avoid stereotypical British superiority, insularity and aloofness and to be able to cope with unfamiliar people in unfamiliar surroundings.
* motivational factors
--the need to gain foreign experience for career advancement
--interest in other cultures and customs
--interest in communication and language learning.
* competence, effectiveness and capabilities
--stable, self-reliant and able to cope with crises
--willing to adjust to a new way of life
--relates well to people
--communicates effectively in the destination culture
--has the required technical knowledge and competence.
Producing a person specification based on the criteria that are essential for the post can be helpful. During the interview questions can be developed from this document and it can be used as a framework for assessing candidates.
Be aware that widely differing conditions between the home and host country, beyond the control of the company or individual, can impact on the effectiveness of any appointment. These include factors such as the degree of economic and industrial development of the host country, political stability, physical infrastructure, including transport, telecommunications, health facilities, social and cultural differences and extremes of climate. These should be taken into account.
2. Be aware of rights
Be aware of the rights of individuals and of the employing organisation in the country of destination, especially any existing or pending legislation. For example, the Posted Workers Directive, adopted by the European Commission in September 1996, guarantees employees sent to work temporarily in another EU state the same pay and working conditions as those recruited locally.
3. Plan ahead
Consider local language requirements and cultural issues, and allow time to prepare mentally and domestically for the transition. Preliminary visits for the employee and family (with the organisation's full support) are invaluable for gaining an initial perspective, making early introductions and learning about local facilities, or the lack of them.
As the transition is the joint responsibility of both employee and employer, it is vital that both:
* understand the task to be accomplished
* recognise the need for adaptability, maturity and technical competence
* understand the need for organisational and family support.
4. Devise an appropriate training programme
Job-related opportunities such as exchanges or secondments, have a role in preparing an employee for international assignments, but there can be no substitute for a practical, tailor-made and flexible programme. This should cover:
* language training
Self-learning tapes and intensive crash courses (e.g. Berlitz) have good track records if the learner is willing and committed.
* general, national and business orientation
--the global economic order and terms of trade
--trends in technology and communications, demography, religion and the environment
--the historical, social and political background of the host country
--the attitude to foreign business within the host country
--the efficiency of transport and communications
--facilities for health-care, housing, education and leisure
--social and cultural expectations and norms
--a grasp of international business strategies.
* family consultation
A stable family life is usually seen as an asset. Where the assignment is for two years or more, the family usually expects to move with the appointee. Consider the whole range of domestic arrangements (which on home ground would usually remain the private preserve of the individual). Consider too, what the spouse will do with him/herself in a situation where the employee is, in effect, cushioned by the very fact of employment.
* career development preparation
View this experience as a stage of development and not the end of the road. Both employee and employer should give thought to how this experience will be of mutual benefit and what will follow.
* pay and benefits
Information should be provided on issues such as the total benefits package during the overseas appointment, tax implications both at home and abroad, UK national insurance contributions, medical insurance, effects on any UK pensions arrangements (particularly important), hardship and other allowances, for example, for inhospitable climates, accommodation costs, private transport facilities if necessary, leave and travel allowances for home visits, and security of job tenure on final return.
5. Support the manager overseas
An on-site line manager, subordinate, superior or peer who acts as a troubleshooter, mentor and guide in the early stages can be a boon during what could be an otherwise traumatic, worrying or frustrating experience.
6. Prepare for repatriation
This is as important for the career path of the employee as for the avoidance of 're-entry shock' for the family. Re-integration, or the coming home phase, may also require some training and re-familiarisation from the company, as well as personal effort.
How not to plan an overseas assignment
Managers should be aware that:
* the cost of preparations can be expensive and time-consuming, but not as expensive as a badly planned assignment
* rapid detours or u-turns due to unforeseeable political, economic or environmental changes of circumstances can throw preparations out of the window.
Problems in planning overseas assignments often result from the failure to:
* research the political, economic, social, cultural and market fronts
* research the facilities and support-lines in the foreign country
* ensure that a proper training and familiarisation programme is in place
* give due consideration to what follows the foreign posting for the employee.
Lloyds TSB offshore working abroad: the complete guide to overseas employment 26th ed. Jonathan Reuvid ed
London: Kogan Page, 2005
This is a selection of books available for loan to members from the Management Information Centre. More information at: www.managers.org.uk/mic
Expatriate selection good management or good luck, Barbara A Anderson
International Journal of Human Resource Management, Apr vol 16 no 4, 2005, pp567-583
Safety first, Ross Bentley
Personnel Today, 12 Jul, 2005, pp15-16
Working away, Sue Mann
Professional Manager May vol 12 no 3, 2003, pp29-32
This is a selection of journal articles available from the Management Information Centre. More information at: www.managers.org.uk/mic
Organising successful overseas travel (025)
Preparing for business abroad (124)
Foreign and Commonwealth Office www.fco.gov.uk
Details of travel advice, health issues and general personal safety while working abroad. There are also downloads of documents detailing the support offered by the FCO for British nationals abroad.
Centre for International Briefing, Farnham Castle, Farnham, Surrey, GU9 0AG
Tel: 01252 721194 www.farnhamcastle.com
Employment Conditions Abroad, Anchor House, 15-19 Britten Street, London
Tel: 020 7351 5000 www.eca-international.com
The Association of Language Excellence Centres, IALC Secretariat, Lombard
House Business Centre 12/17 Upper Bridge Street Canterbury, Kent CT1 2NF
Tel: 01227 69007 www.ialc.org