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International Assignments – A Blessing Or A Curse?

Gaining international experience is becoming increasingly more desirable in this ever-changing world. But not all leaders think about “managing” mobility in the same way. Some of the key HR issues with international assignments are selecting an employee who has the necessary job knowledge as well the right degree of cultural sensibility, costs, and talent retention–during and post assignment.

There is a lot at stake, both commercially and personally, when staff are sent overseas. Here are some areas to think about, as either a leader of staff who may be placed on international assignments or whether you are the assignee yourself.

1. Hire the Right People

If mobility is something that your company expects employees to embrace, hire for it in the first place. In initial interviews ask questions like “are you comfortable with moving internationally in the future?” This is not to say when the time comes for an assignment the person will move, but it increases the odds.

2. Have a Plan-B

A person’s view on “mobility” and being mobile may change as time passes. Family issues, dual careers, and even career opportunity-cost (Am I better off staying than going?) can change. As a leader, and if you have an employee who you may want to be mobile, check in regularly on their appetite for mobility and don’t take it as a given that what you were told in the last chat will be the same this time round.

3. Encourage Local Terms

Too many companies, in my view, waste money on expatriate packages in situations where a local package would suffice. Granted, I do understand that certain situations warrant a full expat package, for example, sending a senior employee (and their family) to a higher cost of living location to fix a specific problem or to hire a local successor.

However, there is a cross section of employees who are hungry for multi-market experience and who are happy to do it without getting a salary or benefits hike. Focus on these people.

4. Is HQ a Retention Killer?

I often see, particularly in emerging markets, elite local or even foreign talent “forced” to move into headquarters to advance their careers. Often this key talent ends up walking before or during the assignment, if an international move is not what the person truly wanted. While there is no doubt that an HQ move gives a greater chance to build key relationships, smart companies are no longer requiring key roles to be done in HQ locations. This is the future, in my view, and frankly it can’t come fast enough.

5. Beware of the Re-Orbit

Getting back home for international assignment talent is always a tricky process, unless “home” is a location where large jobs are in the company. In our view, and using the HR profession as a case study, ChapmanCG estimates that 60% of returning talent leaves the company at the end of an overseas assignment or within one year of returning home. If you have talent out on assignment be proactive about their return home and make them feel comfortable. If you are on assignment and are worried about your re-entry, start talking to your home-based leaders or assignment sponsor early–and if you aren’t happy about what you hear, start having external chats sooner rather than later.

Talent who have spent time outside of their home market naturally bring diversity to both their international posting as well as their home country when they return. We believe international experience is becoming more and more highly regarded. ChapmanCG only has to look at many key global HR leaders to see that an increasing number were spotted earlier in their careers in different places around the world.

That said, mobility is a complex subject and it pays to think carefully about the areas described above to ensure the best possible result for everyone involved.


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