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By amber mckinney
04 August, 2016
When businesses want to extend their reach and have a physical presence, boots on the ground as it were, in another country they often have to send or move an employee to that country or region of the world for some time. These expats are usually specialists, representatives or otherwise ambassadors of the company that live and work in a distant locale. There is often a misconception that these expat employees are basically the same employees but work in a different country, continent or time zone. That the resources they need or use would be similar if not the same to an employee situated at head office. It may come as a surprise that for companies, there is more to expats than just working in another part of the world.
On the outset there is dollar figure that is attached to an overseas enterprise. Even if the employee was paid the same amount as their position at home the maintenance costs of conducting business overseas can quickly add up. Insurance coverage, benefits, cost of living, transportation, legal fees and good old expense accounts can cost the company as much as triple the amount it would usually cost them were that employee conducting business on home soil. This “expat cost” must be taken into account when determining whether the investment to send an employee off-shore is a wise idea or not.
Unfortunately, the data does not favor expats. From an organization standpoint the ROI (return on investment) on the use of expats is generally lower than expected, lower even for it to have been worthwhile. Is it the assignment or is it the employee? Just under a third of employees sent abroad often find it difficult to adjust to a foreign environment or just miss home so much that it affects their performance. A third of those that do stay behind and complete their overseas tenure fall short of their targets. Then there’s the churn. A quarter of those that make it back to home after their stint in foreign lands seek “greener pastures” within a year, and often filling the ranks of rival companies. This also must be factored in when deciding whether or not to send an employee overseas.
To increase the odds of a successful international deployment companies must be willing to do their due diligence, to ask the hard questions, not only from themselves but also the candidate. Many companies make the mistake of looking at expat candidates like any other head office candidate. They first check to see if they have the ability to carry out the task needed on foreign soil. This is conventional thinking and not entirely incorrect. Instead what they should first discern is whether the candidate can tolerate and thrive in the stresses and rigors that life in a foreign country can bring. Language barriers, cultural differences, sheer distance from their friends and families back home, may seem like trivial matters to those in head office, but they are not a joke to those that have to live with and navigate through them on a day-today basis.
Then comes the technical ability. The majority of companies who have demonstrated success in implementing international assignments often choose candidates who are not just proficient at their job but also possess a tremendous amount of cross-cultural abilities. There’s also the repatriation process to consider. A good candidate is one that is not only able to perform when stationed overseas, but also has the ability reintegrate with the company culture back home when their assignment is up.
The traits that companies should be looking for in expats are many but in a pinch if they can find someone that can drive the generation of knowledge and/or develop leaders where they are posted, then they can definitely add that individual to a short list. Sounds easy enough, but you would be surprised to find out that these individuals are few and far between. Keep in mind that they must also have the technical proficiency and culturally adaptive to pull of the gig with success.
Look for individuals that are not just good or even great at their job, they must also inspire other to be great at their job or be willing to teach others to be leaders, because once the candidate returns home there must be someone there, on foreign soil, who is capable of donning the mantle of leader and driver of that branch, office or arm of the company. Lastly, the candidate should also have a knack of thinking outside the box, outside of the confines of the typical procedures of what was once done back home. Different place, different culture, different market and different employees needs a different way of tackling and approaching things in most cases.
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