¶ … Pre-Departure Training
There are a number of different components to pre-departure training for managers who are being sent on overseas assignments. Without pre-departure training, there is considerable risk that the international assignment will be a failure on some level. The assignment will either not meet expectations, or the manager will come home early. There is considerably cultural risk as well, where the manager might perhaps be a poor fit for the assignment from a cultural perspective. So pre-departure training takes into account a number of different factors.
The first component of the pre-departure training is strictly functional: the manager needs to understand the purpose of the assignment. The company is investing considerable money in the manager, and both parties need to have a clear sense of the expectations that arise from this arrangement. The company should have already ensured that the manager is a good fit from a technical standpoint, but should also ensure that the manager understands what, from a business perspective is expected. Further, it is critical that performance measures are established ahead of time so that the manager clearly understands on what he or she will be measured.
The second component is a basic cultural overview. Even in today's globalized world, it should not be assumed that the manager is able to deal with a foreign assignment from a cultural perspective. They can know all the words at the sushi restaurant, but that does not mean that they have an understanding of Japanese culture. So it is important to prepare the manager for the culture into which they are going. This needs to be the big stuff -- nobody cares about how you hold your fork or any of that nonsense, but it is important to understand how other cultures perceive time, what they expect in a business relationship, negotiating style and what the business and economic climate of their country is (Hurn, 2007). There are two key points here. The first is that some countries are easy, while others are not. Never mix that up -- Russia and Sweden are quite close to each other but worlds apart in terms of their cultures. You can send a rookie to Sweden, but not to Russia. The second is that hyphenated Americans aren't good enough. A Korean-American raised in LA is still not a Korean -- at least not over there - so it can never be assumed that ethnicity is a substitute for cultural competence.
The third component to the training is to go deeper. This might not be recommended in too many textbooks, but it is critical to receive training from people who have been there, and understand what the manager going abroad is getting themselves into. There are a lot of little things that will come up that an ordinary training program will never identify; only someone who's been there will know. So it is important that the pre-departure training program incorporates some hands-on experience.
The fourth component is daily life. One of the things that is often overlooked but is absolutely critical to expat assignment success is the ability of the manager to handle the off-work lifestyle, and this usually includes family considerations. While it may be patriarchal to say it here, the adage "happy wife, happy life" applies to overseas assignments, as an unhappy spouse is one of the biggest factors in managers returning early from their overseas assignments (Shaffer & Harrison, 2001; Shaffer & Harrison, 2006). So part of the training has to be to help people adjust to the different lifestyle overseas, and depending on where the assignment is this can be easy or difficult. Family and non-work adjustment factors include helping the manager with things like school, spousal employment, health care and familiarizing them with the lifestyle that they can expect -- not a huge worry if you're sending them to London but if you're sending them to Lusaka, this is very important training.
For the most part, performance appraisal does not change based on location, but for one major issue. The basics of performance appraisal still hold true. The manager needs to go overseas with a set of guidelines, and then be evaluated based on their ability to meet those targets. At the end of the day, the rules with respect to employment still apply for workers on overseas assignment, so the company should not deviate too much in terms of its basic performance appraisal approach. Aside from the basic techniques, there are unique characteristics of expats that require special attention in terms of the performance appraisal.
The first of these is that there needs to be...
While in the 21st century, it is just as easy to track someone in Cape Town as Camden in terms of financials and other such metrics, it is much harder to track their interpersonal performance. The company therefore needs to means of engaging with other stakeholders to determine how well the expat is dealing with their assignment, and how well they are performing in the qualitative measures. A manager's short-term performance may not be indicative of their abilities in the foreign assignment, as it can easily be skewed by short-term adjustment issues, or a short-term pop in performance that does not reflect their actual leadership abilities. Thus, it is important for the company to have a means of interviewing or surveying employees and partners in the foreign location in order to get a read on the qualitative performance of the expat.
Almost forgotten in the third means of determining performance of an expat on international assignment -- the expat himself/herself. They are apt to answer questions directly, and will provide valuable feedback. It is especially important to understand from someone who is on the scene what changes might apply to improve project performance -- remember that if the company did not trust the person he/she would not have been sent on the assignment in the first place.
These requirements will all improve performance, in their own way. The first is the most basic means of providing some extrinsic motivation, by providing targets and benchmarks for the manager to meet. The second is useful in that indirect feedback is received that provides an entirely different sort of feedback. The third helps in that sometimes the best way to understand how to improve a situation comes from the person involved. A good performance appraisal typically involves feedback from the person being appraised, and the same principle applies here. It is especially important to consider that overseas assignments are costly and time-consuming to arrange, so the company should be especially careful to work through minor issues and not pull people back too early; doubly true when the person is stationed in a country where relationships are critical to business.
Recruiting and Selection
A great manager domestically might not make for a great manager internationally, and companies have to take that into account when doing their recruiting and selection for international assignments. There are several dimensions along which a candidate can be evaluated that will affect his or her ability to perform well over the long run in an international assignment. These include having the right personality to adjust through the inevitable challenges, the curiosity to accept and learn about another culture, the interpersonal skills to win over acquaintances in foreign countries and the patience to not quit the first time there is difficulty (Claus, Lungu & Bhattacharjee, 2011).
What this means for the company is that there needs to be some aspect of personality testing as part of the selection process for international assignments. It is easy to identify people within the company that have the technical skills. This requires outlining a skills assessment based on the job description and then checking against the company's records for candidates with the basic skills and experience needed for the job. The personality tests are something that can go for the short listed people, to help narrow it further, but they should not be the be all and end all of the selection process. The process might, however, depending on how important the assignment is, incorporate a visit to the foreign country on a short assignment to see if there is a good cultural fit. Again, this is fairly time-consuming and costly but if this is a long or critical assignment, no stone should go unturned to find the right candidate. It should also be said that younger, single employees are easier to place. They are cheaper to move overseas, don't need big houses and schools, and there is much less risk of family concerns bringing them home early.
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