Are you contemplating staffing a particular project, acquisition or vamping up a local operation in a target country with expats? Are you struggling with under performance of previous teams?
This article presents top hacks for business leaders and expats to consider before making the big decision to deploy.
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When business leaders develop plans to explore opportunities for growth in other countries, there are a variety of ways they can approach their strategy.
For those with a smaller appetite for risk or with no footprint in the target country, securing a local commercial agent or representative can be an effective way to get their feet wet. The obvious advantages to this approach would be the minimal investment required as typically the agent would be remunerated based on successful sales or by meeting some specific business target. The disadvantage would be the inability to manage the agent from a distance, not to mention that many agents are not exclusive and also may pose a potential compliance risk to the company.
For those with a manufacturing focus, entering into a joint venture or acquiring a local manufacturing facility would be an obviously bigger step, requiring a larger financial commitment not to mention a higher appetite for risk.
In some cases, the company may have secured a large project for which they will need to staff up to meet the business needs of their customers and this may or may not result in the need to acquire office space or even establish a local branch.
There are also companies that already have an established presence in the target country and they have identified the need to implement a new business strategy to pursue the opportunities they have identified.
Whatever the need, business leaders need to consider how to staff their presence in the country and this could include deploying an individual expat or team of expats to manage the business need along with their local partners and staff. This can be a daunting task as the chosen few to lead this strategy, this elite task force, or expats, need to be properly identified and vetted prior to deployment.
How To Choose Expats
Choosing the right expat or team of expats can be challenging, especially in those situations where the company has decided to limit its engagement in the target country by sending one or a handful of expats. Although it seems obvious, before attempting to staff these positions, it is necessary to first identify the scope and expectations of the assignment.
The HR department needs to challenge the business leaders to detail as much as possible the specific actions and level of responsibility that the expat(s) will be responsible to manage. In some cases, the expectations may turn out to be unreasonable such as the need for the expat to be the country manager, while also managing the sales, operations, and finance teams all at once. Even the most experienced and qualified expat will find it difficult to manage the daily work of all these functional areas. In this case, it would be appropriate to send perhaps two or three expats to cover these areas efficiently.
If the intent is to send a smaller team of expats to exercise a role of problem-solving to assist local teams with compliance to corporate policies and the business strategy, including special reporting templates and software accesses, then a team of functional specialists could be sent to execute the strategy.
There are also obvious risks which need to be identified, mapped, and discussed with the business leaders to determine the level of political, social, and economic risks, as well as other risks, which could impact the expats once in the target country.
Once these issues have been discussed, HR has a strong role to play in not only identifying and presenting viable candidates should the business leaders not already have individuals in mind, but they will also need to develop or review the expat policy to ensure that it is still relevant (more on this later).
With the policy now in hand, HR will then need to select the best matches per the work scope document, identifying key gaps such as functional skills, experience, reputation, and language barriers which may need addressing as it is very difficult to find the perfect employee who meets every single criterion of the job. Based on my experience, project managers have a distinct skill set which usually matches the vast majority of the skills required and I have seen many PMs thrive in the expat world.
Do I Have A Good Expat Policy?Judge
You would think that, given the importance and higher cost of deploying expats, companies would then have a tighter than normal employee policy to cover the expectations, compensation, benefits, repatriation, as well as other important aspects of the policy. As a career expat myself with assignments in six countries and four different companies, I was extremely surprised to see the lack of such clarity in the Expat policies I needed to follow.
For example, one of the company's I worked for discussed payments in French Francs, Italian Lira, and other European currencies far after the launch of the Euro. It also listed special hazard pay for areas such as Yugoslavia, which had already disintegrated as a nation. It also referenced a number of other outdated concepts which made it very clear that the policy needed to be updated. When it was presented to the expats during a global conference call, I made a gentle, constructive remark to the Vice President of HR and she proceeded to issue the revision which we were all sent a few weeks later. I was surprised that no one had brought up this type of feedback, but sometimes expats tend to not want to rock the boat and possibly lose any special deals that they had negotiated with the company during the hiring phase.
Some companies allow a degree of flexibility when negotiating their expat contracts, due to the special nature of the assignment and obviously higher level of skill set that is required to achieve the business targets. This makes total sense and should be expected by business leaders when staffing these positions; however, a robust Expat policy is still needed to ensure there are rules of engagement for both the company and the employee.
Once the decision has been made to assign expats, I highly recommend that both the employer and the employee take into a consideration several important points to better align the expectations and also greatly improve the chances of a successful partnership.
Some of the key topics to consider when implementing or reviewing your expat policy are:
For the corporation:
1. An expat policy which includes specific language and local cultural training, taking into consideration the historical context of the country. By this, I mean a list of "To-Dos" and "Not To-Dos" along with getting by on a daily basis, rather than getting by on a per diem. Many times corporations fail their expats but not thinking of the cultural aspects as they believe that the language training will be enough to meet this need.
2. A specific training program for the home country management responsible for the target country, focused on the issues listed above as well as the financial, labor, and legal aspects that can be moving targets in complex countries such as Brazil. I cannot stress the importance of this point as misalignment of expectations and lack of knowledge of the target country can create miscommunication as well as unneeded stress.
I will never forget a conference call I had when I was stationed in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where my boss, the Global Director of Project Management responded to my urgent request to send four technicians to one of our customers' jobsites. I was concerned about the time period it would take to secure business visas for the group not to mention their previous experience in Brazil. To my surprise, he phoned me hours later to inform that I was not to worry as he found the four technicians and that they all spoke Spanish!
3. A robust on-boarding process for the expats which should include periodic meetings to gauge the progress and adaptation of the expat team while identifying any potential issues. To facilitate adaptation as well as alignment, I recommend the first meeting be held prior to deployment and then include monthly conference calls to maintain continuity with the team. On my largest expat assignment, I was part of a group of more than 300 expats from the main customer to other associated contractors who attended weekly town hall meetings to discuss life in the new country, security risks, important numbers and contacts in case of an emergency, as well as interesting cultural events to attend. This also helped to create synergy and rapport amongst the business partners and main customer.
The main message is to think about the special considerations and needs of your expats while also keeping an open dialogue to respond to the many unique situations which will arise during the course of the mission. After all, you are making the investment in the team and they too are investing their time and expertise on their assignment so exploring a win-win strategy can be highly beneficial in achieving business targets while also establishing your company as a great place to work.
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Have you been chosen for an expat assignment?
Congratulations for being a part of this elite community of business professionals!
You are about to embark on a fantastic adventure and the aim of this article is to share my experiences with you as a career expat in the oil and gas industry while also providing you some tips to increase your chances of a successful assignment.
As an expat, your stock in the company obviously increases, along with the expectations and levels of responsibility. Be prepared to go beyond the official scope of your duties which is understandable due to the cost involved. Be responsible and aware of what your role means not only to the home office, but to the office and customers in the new country who typically value the expat status. This can greatly facilitate problem solving and attainment of objectives; however, your ability to identify and solve cross-functional issues will be very important which can be both daunting and exciting!
I highly recommend you prepare yourself prior to deployment so that you can make the most of your exciting new opportunity. This includes obviously reading as much about the new country as well as the business customs, local customs, food options, crime, specific laws, mass transit system, or driving so as to facilitate your adaptation once deployed. If you are lucky to already know the country or know people, colleagues, or friends that have lived there, then please do not be shy to feed off their knowledge and experiences.
My top 5 tips:
1. Even though many companies offer intensive language training with locals once in the new country, I highly recommend that you learn the local language as much possible through specific courses prior to deployment, unless of course you are already fluent in the language. Take some time to also study the local customs as this information is readily available on the internet. Also, I would shy away from using Google Translate as a crutch as it is definitely a time saving tool, but can also provide alternate translations or interpretations which can create unwelcoming circumstances. So please be careful!
2. Develop a strategy to interact with the local team as well as report back to the home country management by identifying and then bridging cultural gaps which you identify. This will be paramount to your success as you will align the expectations set forth by your employer when you negotiated your contract while also providing important feedback from the local teams that you will build or may inherit.
3. If you chose the assignment at hand, you are more than likely someone who is curious about other cultures and/or interested in new experiences. I would suggest you suspend judgment and not believe in stereotypes you may have seen on TV or on the internet. Use this experience to draw your own conclusions!
4. From a work standpoint, you will more than likely find yourself involved in resolving issues with many or sometimes all of the functional areas with the local teams. This can be a bit daunting as you may be an engineer yet now have been thrust into a financial or other operational problem that the local team is having difficulties solving with the home office. Rather than panic, this is actually a very good opportunity for you to develop new skills which will serve you in the future. The key is to ensure your primary responsibilities are covered while also reporting such situations back to the home office. Sometimes companies feel that you, the expat, are a super human who should be capable of solving virtually any problem and you may surprise yourself with your ability to actually meet the challenge and further increase your value to the company. In some cases, you may really need to step back and inform the company that such important matters as legal, compliance, or tax must be resolved by the competent people. "Patience" is the key word in all situations!
5. Whether you are a natural networker or not, you may find yourself bonding with other expats, from your company, from business partners or even other industries. There are many expat groups available on social media and assistance can also be given by the local embassy or consulate. If you are like me, you may want to soak up as much of the local culture directly with minimal interaction with the expats so as to further enrich your experience. It is always suggested to be as diplomatic as possible as you are the voice of your company so keep this in mind in your interactions.
Whatever the case may be, accepting an expat assignment can be one of the greatest experiences you will have and it will certainly elevate your stock as a business professional. Please remember to stay safe during your assignment and enjoy it!