Ensuring contact is maintained between the expatriate and their home unit decreases the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ risk for both parties, as well as making the eventual transition from expat to repat smoother. Many expatriates are often ‘tapped up’ by the competition well before their own company starts to talk with them about repatriation.
There are a variety of ways to maintain this contact, for example, inviting expatriate managers to ‘dial in’ periodically to staff or team meetings on a conference call facility that enables them to update their colleagues on their plans and activities; arranging return visits to the home office; or having a named contact in the home country to ensure that both parties are kept informed and up-to-date on progress and plans.
Agree what will happen after the repatriation
Pre-departure career discussions are a positive way for HR professionals to begin managing repatriate expectations. By defining an individual’s repatriation job status early, they are less likely to worry about their situation and more likely to concentrate on the job in hand. As a result, they can better prepare for the repatriation when it eventually occurs.
Following repatriation, many employees find themselves in a holding post, with no serious job to do, or in a new position with clearly less authority than they had while abroad. Not only does this situation prevent individuals from using the skills they acquired overseas, but it has a significant negative impact on employee morale and motivation, with the prospect of driving valuable employees out of the business.
Manage the additional knowledge coming in to the business
The organisation needs to consider how it will use the additional knowledge and experience individual managers have gained through the expatriate experience.
This process needs to be considered and managed from the beginning of the managers’ relocation – development and strategic goals need to be agreed from the outset to ensure there are valuable outcomes for the individual and the organisation. ‘Debriefing sessions’ with senior managers are also a good way for the organisation to learn more about its international environment and to make the repatriates feel valued.
Consider the impact on work and personal relationships
The change in interpersonal relationships between repatriates, their colleagues and friends must also be a significant consideration. Reintegration, particularly where there may be jealousy about the time abroad or changes within departments, can cause problems for repatriates. Maintaining communications between the expatriate manager and the ‘home’ office will minimise the effect of this situation.
Family members and dependants also have a huge impact on the success of the repatriation – if they are unable to adjust to the move ‘home’, this is likely to become the focus of the employee’s attention, distracting them from their work and, as the employee becomes less productive and less motivated, their levels of satisfaction and their value to the business are diminished.
HR needs to consider strategies such as re-entry counselling for all those involved in the move, as well as building in the needs of the family and dependants into repatriation programmes.
Is it worth it?
Although it is a complicated process to implement, generally it is accepted that foreign experience is good for career development. It is only when there is no careful management of the repatriation process that the value of overseas experience may be lost to the organisation and to the individual manager.
Factors leading to Successful Repatriation
The repatriation and retention process is well executed by a few organizations. The merging of repatriation theory and practice has produced very positive results in selected instances. The parts of this process in which certain organizations excel and the supporting current research are highlighted in this article. Many actions and issues are involved in the repatriation and retention process. To more closely examine the most significant aspects of repatriation and retention, we have divided the overall process into phases. These include: pre-expatriation, during expatriation, prior to repatriation, and repatriation.
Phase One: Pre-Expatriation
The focus of this period is on creating and building internal support for the program, selecting the proper type of individuals to become expatriates, expatriate career planning, and the orientation of spouses. 1. Developing and Maintaining a Formal Repatriation Program- A major component of the process is a formal repatriation program. The need for such a program is illustrated by the results of a recent survey that indicated five percent of employees at companies with formal repatriation programs leave within a year of returning from an overseas assignment, whereas twenty two percent left within the same time period at companies without such programs. The repatriation program normally begins prior to an overseas assignment when potential expatriates are identified, career development is being planned, and goals for assignees are being communicated to them. Mentors, who are frequently members of senior management of the home organization, are normally assigned to monitor and work with potential expatriates at this time. An excellent example of a successful repatriation program is that of the Royal Dutch Shell Group. It is used to assist in managing Shell’s expatriate work force which numbers almost 5000, assigned in 76 different countries and 200 locations.
The program requires the five major business groups recruit and select employees for their respective parts of Shell. Each of these groups has human resource professionals (resource planners) who not only match employees and positions, but also monitor each expatriate’s performance. Initially, the resource planners are particularly concerned with an expatriate’s ability to adjust to foreign environments after which they closely monitor the employee’s career development. They also keep the expatriate informed about future assignments, whereas most employees know their next assignment three to six months before their move. Technical mentors review expatriates’ level of technical skill and recommend who should receive what type of training.
The corporate human resource office manages succession planning for the top 1000 positions in the company. AT&T has also developed a comprehensive Repatriation Education Program. The program includes administering a self-assessment inventory to potential expatriates and spouses. This assessment guides employees and spouses in exploring the issues, concerns, challenges, and rewards of living outside the United States. It provides a foundation for discussion with spouse and management that will increase the candidate’s confidence either in accepting or foregoing a foreign assignment. Pre-departure psychological counseling is also part of this program. It includes helping the candidate in the decision making process, identifying the primary transitional issues to be addressed, assisting in discerning timeliness and suitability, and helping the candidate forego the assignment, if appropriate.
2. Senior Management Participation in the Process- A recent study suggests that in those instances where senior management is involved in formulating, and not merely approving, expatriate policy there is a higher occurrence of best practice activities. In those cases it is more likely that there are career discussions with expatriates, expatriates are given special attention in succession planning, mentor programs exist, and perhaps most importantly, there is much greater planning for expatriates’ return (Conference Board, 1996). At Shell, Chairman Sir Martin Moody-Stuart and the vice chairman not only ensure that the program operates well, but they also make it a point to personally address expatriates at their locations as part of the company sponsored OUTPOST Global Network Program. 3. Selection of Candidates to Fill Expatriate Positions- The selection of potential expatriates is recognized as a major factor in the repatriation and retention process.
One study has indicated that the generation of reliable and valid predictors (technical skills and experience) of expatriate success was the major area of concern related to the selection process. In the early 1990’s, expatriate selection became very critical at Sun Microsystems when turnover reached more than sixty two percent. By carefully screening expatriate positions and the potential people who would become expatriates the turnover rate was initially reduced to twenty nine percent. It was subsequently brought to thirteen percent. 4. Defining Career Expectations- Prior to departing for an expatriate assignment an employee should be made aware of how the forthcoming job fits the overall career pattern. This would include recognizing the possible subsequent domestic job opportunities and how they fit into the expatriates’ career path.
At Case, where ninety percent of returning expatriates are retained, much of the credit is given to the career planning and development program. Conversations about an employee’s post-assignment job begin before the overseas assignment and continue throughout the expatriate period. Managers recognize that the organization needs to be aware of the employee’s goals and help them set realistic expectations. These types of conversations should include specific career goals for the forthcoming assignment as well as how the employee can expect to reach them. 5. Providing a Spousal Orientation- Research indicates that spouses can have a substantial amount of influence on the success or failure of an expatriate assignment and the long term relationship of the expatriate with the organization. One of the prime factors blamed by American firms for premature returns from expatriate assignments is the failure of the spouse to adjust to living in a foreign culture. Ensuring the spouse is properly prepared to relocate to an overseas assignment will not only add to the likelihood of a successful completion of a tour but also could lead to a longer tenure with the organization.
DuPont invites the employee and spouse to attend orientation sessions where both can ask specific questions about the forthcoming transfer to an overseas assignment. DuPont also has a formal policy of reimbursing spouses for expenses incurred while seeking employment or continuing their education in a particular environment. This is helpful in those countries where work permits are required or job placement agencies are normally used. If the spouse chooses not to work, or cannot work in a given country, DuPont will reimburse for further education. Not only has the spousal support succeeded the overall program has been a success at DuPont. The results are demonstrated in a recently conducted retention review covering the period 1998 to 1999 which revealed that two years after completing their overseas assignment ten percent of the returnees had resigned from the organization Phase Two: During Expatriation
The major issues associated with this phase are: adjusting to the overseas environment, keeping up with organizational priorities, and not being “out of sight, out of mind.” Emphasis is on settling in to the new job and environment, and establishing lines of communications with key members of appropriate offices in the headquarters to keep abreast of significant activities throughout the organization. 1. Adjusting to the Overseas Environment- The first six months in the overseas assignment is generally referred to as a “honeymoon” period, the “U” curve of adjustment, when expatriates are frequently pre-occupied with cross-cultural issues and others dealing with adapting to a new environment. Some employees are assigned overseas for short periods of time, (three, four or six months) to assist in determining their ability to work in the new culture prior to giving them longer term assignments.
2. Keeping up with Changing Organizational Priorities- Keeping up with changes in the organizational headquarters is a challenge for an employee working in an overseas assignment. Normally this is accomplished through periodic distribution of letters of policy and other positions developed at the headquarters. However, the expatriate may not get the rationale behind the positions reported in the organizational literature. Mentors could also play a major role in keeping expatriates informed of changes, or potential revisions in structure, policies, and strategies that are being implemented in the organization. Mentors at AT&T are charged with ensuring the offshore employee is kept in the information loop and that they come home periodically for meetings and just hang around the office and be seen. 3. Out of Sight, Out of Mind- The physical separation of an expatriate from the headquarters can lead to them being excluded from many career enhancing activities.
Not being in regular contact with those who have both formal and informal knowledge of the significant events at the headquarters can be a serious disadvantage. Some organizations tend to forget expatriates when important human resource decisions are made. They may not be present when people are selected for significant tasks, or even considered for career enhancing jobs. Mentors, who otherwise would keep expatriates informed, are sometimes reassigned and the access to insider information is interrupted or curtailed (McEvoy and Parker, 2000). Coherent Inc. has an innovative approach to keeping expatriates informed. In addition to bringing expatriates back to the headquarters two or three times a year and for the annual sales meeting, the overseas employees are brought back to the United States on a short-term project before they are repatriated (Solomon, 1995). Proactive human resource organizations can be very helpful in keeping expatriates informed of activities within the organization that could affect their career plans. Phase Three: Prior to Repatriation
The key issues to be addressed during this phase include: ensuring the proper expectations are developed and fully understood, appropriate counseling is started, career planning is conducted, and those issues which could lead to resignation are addressed in a way which may encourage the expatriate to remain with the organization. 1. Creating Expectations- Communicating the organization’s future intentions for the expatriate and support available for the family are significant issues that should be addressed as early as possible in the repatriation and retention process. To prevent disappointment or undermet expectations firms should focus their attention on helping expatriates develop realistic expectations about their work and non-work lives before repatriation (Gregersen and Black, 1992). A recent study reports that there is a direct correlation between a returning manager’s expectations and the level of commitment to the organization. When the expectations are unmet, met, or exceeded, the employee’s level of commitment is increased accordingly (Stroh, Gregersen, and Black, 1998).
Further, when there is a clear understanding on the part of the returning expatriate about the impending assignment, the employee will experience satisfaction with the repatriation process (Gomez-Mejia and Balkin, 1987). For example, at Honey well expatriates are conditioned to expect that upon repatriation, they may not receive promotions but will be able to do their jobs better (Ettorre, 1993). Part of the AT&T program is a segment called “Journeying Home” which prepares expatriates and their families for the rigors of repatriating to their home location 2. Counseling and Reorientation – The return trip to the domestic scene has been regarded as being somewhat more difficult than the move to the overseas assignment (Adler, 1981 ). The reintroduction of both the expatriate and the family to the domestic environment requires careful attention.
At one end of the spectrum the returnees can feel alienated, and at the other they can be very proactive (Adler, 2002, Napier and Peterson, 1991). Orientation programs are needed at this time. One researcher has prescribed that multinational corporations should form teams of experts who can counsel expatriates during their overseas tour of duty (Harvey, 1982). AT&T has instituted a program similar to this in that expatriates and spouses are invited to attend a twoday seminar conducted overseas about six months prior to their overseas assignment ending. During these seminars expatriates and their spouses, who participate in jointly conducted but separate focused seminars, can ask very specific questions related to their return to the domestic environment (Sievers, 1998). At Novo Nordisk, at least eight months before they return the expatriates’ manager meets with the expatriate to focus on career objectives and develop a list of potential contacts (Conference Board, 1996).
Financial counseling is particularly important for the expatriate and family as the return to the domestic environment represents a new, and sometimes totally different look at the expenses which they are about to assume. The impact of the elimination of foreign allowances, financing options for home and automobiles, and an adjustment in life style need to be explained to the returnees. Organizations can assist with many of the financial challenges (Harvey, 1982). At Intel, for example returning expatriates receive removal/storage of household goods, free housing (or a housing allowance) for thirteen weeks, and home sales assistance where the company shares (50/50) any losses from a sale (Arkin, 1993). 3. Career Planning-Expatriates expect companies to recognize and reward them for their overseas hardship by giving them higher-level job opportunities where they can utilize their newly acquired skill sets (Stroh, Gregersen, and Black, 1998). The adjustment to a lower level management position or the dilution of an attractive track record is not inspiring to a returning expatriate (Harvey, 1982).
At Cable and Wireless, expatriates are coached to help them find positions upon repatriation. To do so, they are given a questionnaire that helps them focus on updating their skills and matching them with suitable positions. Also they are provided with a workbook to identify career aspirations, achievements, and strengths; and they receive assistance with writing and updating their resumes (Conference Board Report, 1996). At Ciba-Geigy, repatriation planning begins approximately twelve months prior to returning from a foreign assignment. A formalized policy which includes opening a position, selecting an expatriate, writing a contract, and other related tasks is in place. Most expatriates know what their new position will be six months prior to repatriation (Conference Board Report, 1996). Among the strategies available to preclude losing expatriates, when appropriate jobs are not immediately available, is the creation of holding patterns where their experience can benefit both the organization and the individual.
Examples of these are: establishing a position as a trainer of future expatriates, job sharing, educational leave, sabbatical, or lending the expatriate to a non-competing company. 4. Issues Leading to Resignation- Between twenty and fifty percent of repatriates resign after returning home, a significantly higher percentage than among non-repatriate executives (Gregersen and Black, 1998, Stroh, 1995). Feelings of isolation, rejection, skill sets which do not match requirements, lack of co-worker empathy, or interest in the expatriates’ newly acquired skills overseas, lead many expatriates to resign from their firms. To assist supervisors in keeping and managing returning expatriates GTE developed a guidebook that helps supervisors understand the opportunities and challenges that come with accepting a repatriate into a workgroup.
Phase Four: Repatriation
The focus of this phase is on the following issues; reverse culture shock, repatriation adjustment, managing expectations, welcome home orientation, role of the mentor, using newly acquired skills, and valuing international experience. 1. Reverse culture shock- The return of the expatriate and family to the home country can include many challenges. The areas which have been identified as those where the expatriate and family may be most adversely affected include: reentry adjustment, stress management, and work performance. Foremost among these is “reverse culture shock.” Research (Adler, 1981 ) indicates that readjustment in the home country is more complex than the cultural adjustment experienced when initially going to another country. The areas which have been identified as those where the expatriate and family may be most adversely affected include; reentry adjustment, stress management, and work performance. Initially, the attitude with which the expatriate approaches repatriation is very significant.
The range of options reaches from “optimistic” to “pessimistic” depending on the individual and the circumstances (Adler, 1981, 1977). A major factor impacting the readjustment process is the length of the foreign assignment and the level of cultural adjustment abroad. Generally, the longer the foreign assignment and the more the expatriate and family have been immersed in the foreign culture, the more difficult it will be for them to work through the “reverse culture shock” associated with returning to the domestic environment (Adler, 1981; Weaver, 2000). The stress associated with the re-introduction of the expatriate and family into the domestic environment can come from the schools where the children will be required to handle a new set of courses and expectations, the social scene which will dictate making new friends, the working climate which may include new jobs for both the expatriate and spouse, and getting settled into a new location.
Research confirms that the pressure on returning expatriates and families is at the highest point when they return to the domestic environment without the benefit of appropriate orientations to manage stress. These include, but are not limited to, organizational policy, position definition, financial counseling, and family reorientation (Harvey, 1982). The uncertainty associated with a new job, superior, peers, subordinates, and goals to achieve, contributes to the possibility of a decline in work performance Not only do these factors affect the retention of an expatriate, when they contribute to an employee’s leaving they have a negative effect on other well performing employees who will then equate international assignments with detriment to their careers (Black, 1991 ). 2. Repatriation Adjustment- The three transition strategies normally used by expatriates are: (1) re-socialized returnees who forget the overseas experience, (2) alienated returnees who praise everything foreign and are critical of behaviors in the domestic environment, and (3) proactive returnees who incorporate the best experiences from both the foreign and domestic environments ( Adler, 1977; Napier and Peterson, 1991 ).
The formation of these attitudes requires some time. Estimates as to how long an organization should plan on accommodating an expatriate’s readjustment vary from at least one month (Harvey, 1982) to three years (Tung, 1984; Welch 1994). These are based on the specific needs of the returning expatriate and the culture of the organization. However the returning expatriate should he given at least one month to become oriented on the internal modus operandi and current priorities of the new organization prior to assuming full responsibility for a new position (Harvey, 1982). In some cultures returning expatriates are given much more time to be fully integrated into the domestic environment. For example, Japanese firms typically do not expect peak performance from an expatriate until the third year after returning from an overseas assignment 3. Managing expectations- Researchers have presented strong evidence which affirms that how expectations are managed, will lead to success or failure for both the returning expatriate and the organization (Gomez-Mejia and Balkin 1987; Stroh, Gregersen, and Black, 1998).
This becomes particularly critical during the repatriation phase since it is during this period that, given limited or the absence of certain support mechanisms, the former expatriate is most predisposed to resign from the organization (Stroh, Gregersen, and Black, 1998; and Stroh, Gregersen and Black, 2000). Returning expatriates generally expect to be rewarded with: high level job opportunities, positions where they can utilize the skills acquired abroad, the interest and support from co-workers and friends, and an environment at home that includes friendly neighbors, clean communities, and a manageable cost of living (Stroh, Gregersen, and Black, 2000). The organization should expect that the employees’ level of commitment will correlate highly with how their expectations are met, exceeded, or undermet (Stroh, Gregersen, and Black, 1998). RDS pays close attention to the expectations of returning expatriates. Resource planners match expatriates with jobs that are becoming available at the firm to ensure that returnees career aspirations and personal development needs are met whenever possible. 4. Welcome Home Orientation- Professional counseling should be provided to the returning expatriates and their families to help them re-integrate into the domestic environment (Harvey, 1982).
AT&T invites returning expatriates and their families to a “Welcome Home” re-entry seminar within one month of repatriation. Counseling sessions are conducted for spouses looking for employment opportunities and specially designed sessions are also presented to expatriates’ children. AT&T uses the feedback from these sessions to improve them and strengthen the linkage with the returning employees and families (Sievers, 1998). AT&T also provides professional consultants to counsel expatriates and their families as part of the “Safety Net” segment of its Repatriation Education Program. These segments are followed by an informal check-in with former expatriates and families at about six months after they have returned from overseas. These three segments have received very complimentary reviews from recently returned expatriates and their families (Neale, 2002).
5. Role of the Mentor- The mentor plays a critical role in the repatriation of an expatriate (Tung, 1988). At 3M, mentors conduct pre-departure interviews with the expatriate, prepare re-entry plans, maintain communications with all key parties associated with repatriation of the expatriate they are mentoring, review the expatriate’s performance ratings, are a part of the decisions affecting the expatriate’s pay raises and promotions, are a part of the approval process if the expatriate desires to extend the international assignment, maintain periodic contact with the expatriate, communicate the new assignment to the expatriate, work with human resources to finalize re-entry plans, and conduct re-entry discussions with returning expatriates (Conference Board Report, 1996). 6. Using Newly Acquired International Skills- Only thirty nine percent of them receive an opportunity to use newly acquired skills when they return (Stroh, Gregersen, and Black, 1998). If the organization uses these skills, or otherwise demonstrates that the experience gained is valued, the expatriate should respond positively. However, if the expatriate does not believe the overseas experience is appreciated, the result is normally increased stress that could lead to leaving the organization (Welch, 1994).
For example, Monsanto expects managers to allow former expatriates to participate in every opportunity where their individual skills can be used by the organization. To assist in this process the planning for an expatriate’s return begins between six and eighteen months prior to the date the individual is expected to return to the domestic organization. A key factor in the planning process is the use of the skills gained while in the international assignment (Ettorre, 1993). Ford has a high percentage of their 200 senior managers assigned abroad, and they are valued for their overseas experience. It is the belief at Ford that seasoned professionals facilitate the circulation of skills and the transfer of institutional knowledge they gain abroad.
Accordingly, the company places expatriates into jobs where their experience is used. They participate in task forces, work teams, on projects, and ad hoc assignments where international experience is needed by the firm (Ettorre, 1993). 7. Valuing the International Experience- Considering the high level of expectations that returning expatriates frequently have regarding the level and quality of re-entry positions the specific assignments they receive carries a message concerning how an overseas assignment is valued by that organization. If the former expatriate is promoted, the newly acquired international skills are used, and others in the organization witness the use of the newly gained international skills, the overseas assignment may be viewed as a positive career move (Adler, 1981; Welch, 1997). Conclusion
The repatriation and retention process can be a valuable human resource activity that could assist in significantly improving an organization’s ability to compete in the global arena. The skills and experience retained through this process can play a major role in ensuring the future success of the multinationals that properly use it. The significant policies, procedures, and associated actions to be taken, to have a successful repatriation and retention process have been reviewed in this article. The multinationals that have implemented them and their respective experiences suggest that the repatriation and retention process can be executed in a manner that benefits the organization, the expatriate, and the family.
The repatriation and retention process is normally prescribed by a formal program. Our research suggests that the process normally includes; senior management participation, expatriate career development, spouse support, communications that keep the expatriate abreast of organizational priorities and related issues, appropriate orientations for both the expatriate and spouse before going overseas and returning to the home environment, and provisions for using the skills that the expatriate developed in the foreign environment. The planning for these actions is imperative, yet the ultimate results are dependent on many members of the organization properly doing what is expected of them. A proactive international human resource management program can provide very valuable assistance in over watching this process.
Employers failing to keep top talent as increasing numbers of expats walk out after return to UK
Companies that send employees on international assignments are failing to capitalise on this investment and losing talented staff through inadequate arrangements for repatriation and professional development
A study of 3,450 expatriates – by professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and Cranfield School of Management – looked at return on investment in this area and found that, on average, 15% of international assignees (often an organisation’s top performers) resigned within 12 months of completing their posting.
As the trend for international assignments increases, organisations are placing more emphasis on selection. On average, a third of new expatriates are in the top performance category as assessed by their company.
Surprisingly, the report finds no correlation between higher pay for expatriates and improved performance. In fact, the higher the pay, the longer assignments tend to last, with some employees happy to prolong an enhanced financial existence abroad, with little incentive to return.
Among the report’s recommendations are those home countries managers need to retain a stake in performance assessment, establish clear finish dates at the beginning of the assignment and spend more time on planning for the employee’s return.
The resources committed to international assignments were found to be substantial.
International assignees are supported by twice as many HR professionals (one to 37) than other staff (one to 70). One participating organization had one HR professional for every 15 expatriate workers.
George Yeandle, a partner at PwC, said: “One of the worst pieces of news a HR manager can get is that a high performing, newly returned employee is leaving, but this is worryingly common.
“Companies need to plan assignments, be clear about objectives and timescales and remain involved in performance management as much as possible, not just hand it over wholesale to the host country.”
But it is the final stage of the reintegration of employees that remained the weakest link, Yeandle warned.
“People who have spent two years working in different ways across varied markets and cultures are not always happy to return to the same desk and the same prospects. In this vacuum of direction, many have a career ‘wobble’ then leave via a recruitment market in which their experience is seen as increasingly valuable.
“By taking steps to plan the repatriation phase, companies will be able to halt the exodus, retain talent and benefit from the substantial investment they have made.”
Ensure you don’t make a bad expat investment
A few weeks back, I stressed in this column the importance of expatriates having agendas and exit strategies. I also briefly mentioned why companies look to expats and design the assignments they do. The ‘brief mention’ was not sufficient, so here is more on the subject.
Building a clear remit for any expatriate should involve far more than getting tasks A and B accomplished in Haderslev – in most cases, there should be an underlying, developmental agenda as well.
A well-vetted expat will be capable of carrying competencies and operational excellence across borders without deterioration in quality or quantity. While a return on investment (ROI) on the assignment can be determined based upon achievements while in a country, the ROI can be accelerated if the assignment also serves to broaden or deepen the overall strength of the company.
That’s another way of asking if your expats are people being closely watched for succession planning purposes. I would assume that anyone deemed strong enough for the company to make a £250,000+ a year investment in, should also be someone who is in the succession planning spotlight.
Most firms don’t have dedicated executive or leadership development departments; that falls to HR. So, HR must look at each expat assignment from several different angles.
I argue there are two types of expatriates: transactional expats and transformational expats.
A transactional expat is one who is handled on a transactional basis, for example: “Our firm needs 5,000 telephone boxes painted red, and the local staff needs to be taught our painting practices. Please fly to Madrid, paint the phone boxes, train the staff, and be back here in 18 months.”
A transformational expat will be dually tasked – transform the business you are going to, and transform yourself: “We have a turnaround situation in Thailand. Please go there, change how the business is being run, and return it to profitability. We view you as having potential with us here, so, while there, please develop the appropriate skills and competencies to be a general manager when you return.”
Structuring an assignment agenda isn’t that simple. But there are two very different remits, and two very different ways of demonstrating value and ROI.
Is your HR function asking the right questions when a line manager wants to send Joe Bloggs off to the Far Corners? Are there future opportunities for him? Has someone thought through costs and how best to fund and recover them? Has the expat’s developmental agenda been discussed?
When you look to determine the value an expat assignment is creating for your business, ensure you look at each facet of the expat/company relationship. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a bad expat investment. As HR increasingly focuses on metrics and quantifications of value, that’s something nobody can afford.
By Lance J Richards, senior director, International Human Resources for Kelly Services, and a board director for SHRM Global Forum
Case 1; Due to medical emergency
Australian case study: Repatriation from Australia
We were notified that a 29 year old man had been admitted to Prince Charles Hospital in Brisbane having suffered a severe neck injury after being “dumped by a wave” at the beach. He had a spinal cord injury and was unable to move his arms or legs.
Because of the nature of his paralysis, he needed support from a breathing machine and so was admitted to the intensive care unit. Surgery was then performed to stabilise his broken neck.
As he recovered from surgery, it became apparent that (as expected) there was no possibility of any improvement in his paralysis in the short term. While his breathing had improved, he still needed intermittent support from a non-invasive ventilation device. This situation was not expected to improve soon.
The patient and his family were desperate to return to the UK but his breathing problems appeared to necessitate that this would require an air ambulance with enormous cost implications.
As a trusted medical provider, we were able to gain permission from a major scheduled airline to transfer this patient on a stretcher on a commercial flight to the UK. We sourced two experienced anaesthetists and two intensive care nurses and provided all the equipment necessary (including two ventilators capable of operating on low flow oxygen, equipment for invasive monitoring and ample battery supplies) and, in close liaison with the airline, were able to organise for this patient to be transferred back to the UK in a safe manner at considerably cheaper cost (and greater comfort) than would otherwise have been possible.