Intercultural Training Best Practices

Michael Tucker, Ph.D – Tucker International

[Editor’s Note:  We are very pleased to introduce Dr. Michael Tucker as a guest author.  Dr. Tucker is the Principal at Tucker International, a full-service international human resources development company.  He is the author of the Overseas Assignment Inventory (OAI), and Tucker Assessment Profile (TAP), which are validated instruments used to assess, select, and develop personnel and their spouses for international assignment.]

Your company is embarking on a new venture in a new market.  Management has asked you develop a program for assessment and intercultural training for the team that will be deployed there from all over the world.  Where to start?

The best practice to address this situation is to partner with an intercultural consulting firm that understands international business and your company.  Using a well-planned and customized approach will deliver the best results.  Here’s a real example from one of Tucker International’s clients, which illustrate the most effective approaches.

Case Study
An international HR Director at her global company’s headquarters contacted Tucker International to discuss a new company project in Africa.  We knew the client organization well in terms of its international business strategy and international assignment policy and practices.  She invited us to a meeting at headquarters to discuss the project.  During the meeting, a review of the project was conducted – its business goals and schedule, organizational structure and staffing plans (some sixty-eight expatriate positions were planned).  The start-up had just been approved, and there were very short time frames.  Tucker International staff were dispatched to South Africa, where a situation and project assessment was conducted with client representatives, local informants and current expatriates from other companies.

The next step in the process was the provision of an intercultural assessment and selection program among multiple candidates for the project along with their spouses.  About one hundred and forty candidates were assessed for the sixty-eight positions.  The most culturally adaptable candidates and spouses were chosen to go on a look-see and home finding visit.  They then completed written and telephone needs assessments with the consulting company.

Tucker International designed a five-day intercultural training program, which was delivered for everyone assigned to the project —- employees, spouses and youth.  Immediate post-program evaluations were conducted and subsequent programs were modified based on the evaluations.  The training program was very staff-intensive, and included the following resources:

  • Highly Qualified Senior Master Trainer
  • Expert on the Assignment Country
  • Business Culture Consultant
  • Belief Systems Consultant
  • Host Country Resource People
  • Returned Expatriate Spouse
  • Assessment and Development Consultant
  • Highly Qualified Youth Trainers

About one-year into their assignments in South Africa, Tucker evaluated the success of the expatriate employees and their families’ intercultural adjustment, as well as expatriate job performance.  We also looked at the success and usefulness of the intercultural training program, and areas which required additional attention.

The project was a success from many perspectives – no early returns, business objectives were met on time and high levels of intercultural adjustment and expatriate job performance were achieved.

This approach is illustrated as follows:

  • Company and Project Situation Assessment
  • Participant Needs Assessment
  • Intercultural Assessment and Selection
  • Custom Design
  • Three or More Training Program Days
  • Training Staff Intensive
  • Short and Long-Term Evaluations and Feedback

This case represents a true service approach to preparing expatriates for international assignments.  In an ideal world, every global company would utilize a comprehensive and even elegant intercultural service like the one presented in this case.  Unfortunately, corporate budgets don’t always allow International Human Resource Professionals to take their expatriate programs to this level.

The intercultural services approach illustrated here is certainly most applicable and affordable when a fairly large group is being mobilized.  However, many of the aspects of this approach can be applied even for “one-off” assignments. With a global company’s success often depending to a great extent on the successful intercultural adjustment of their expatriates, it is critical that they try and provide as many of the services from this “Best Practices” approach as possible.

More about Michael:

10 responses to “Intercultural Training Best Practices

  1. A wonderful success story! I’m glad, however, to read that you admit that this is a best case scenario that takes place far too infrequently. Company budgets, lack of time, and, unfortunately, short-term thinking lead the vast majority of companies to give the necessary attention and devotion of resources that your case study describes.

    Congratulations on finding a like-minded client. What I’d also be interested in is how to get the typical company client, who doesn’t have the time or money to “waste” on such training, to see the value added of such an investment. Any experience there?

  2. Pingback: uberVU - social comments

  3. Leo:

    The case described here involved a very large company, but they were just beginning to globalize. We were able to incorporate these best practices into their policies and procedures. We were vertically connected, from the SVP for global operations down through IHR. So, it is great when you can get involved early on, so that these best practices become the corporate norm or “the way we do things around here”. We have been fortunate enough recently to secure several other client companies like this, and they are doing pretty much what we advise. There are two other ways that we have found which lead to this type of client. One is when they have a very visible international assignment failure, and commit to improvement. The other is when they have experienced an inferior consultant and want to step up, despite the costs. On the assessment side, we have been able to make a strong case for intercultural assessment and training through a field-research based ROI calculation. You can view our webcast about this, called “Can You Afford International Assignment Success?” on our website at and go to Presentations.

  4. Hello Michael,

    Thanks very much for the response. Indeed: proving ROI of investment is one of the strongest tools you could use. And building on others’ failures – mighty convincing!

    I would be very interested in seeing your field research ROI calculation. Do you have it in presentable form other than what is in the webinar?

    We approach the question from the receiving side: how to keep expats here and happy when they arrive at their assignment. Up until now our ROI evidence has been either anecdotal or heavily debated (the oft-quoted “40% of all expat assignments are terminated early due to poor cultural assimilation” is subject to much debate among HR officers here in Amsterdam). Fortunately we have the backing, through an assignment, by the city of Amsterdam to improve the economic climate of the city by training expat service providers with training to help them to become more customer friendly. The ROI here is clear: unhappy expats keep their wallets closed.

    Do you work with training/development bureaus on the receiving end of expat assignments to make the handoff to the new environment complete? I like very much how you work from within companies to move from best practices to embedding in the company culture. Perhaps working with a company on the receiving end might help to complete the cycle.

    Looking forward to hearing from you.



  5. As President of SIETAR New York, I enjoyed your piece. Thank you.

    And, of course, companies, can also rely on our trade association as a reliable source for Intercultural Education, Training, and Research professionals.

    Happy New Year to all of us, in any culture

  6. Leo:After you register and view the webcast, you receive our white paper on our ROI approach and calculation.  I have never agreed with the statements about a 30% or 40% early return rate among corporate expatriates.  I fact, I think this got started by a state of the art study that I did in the early 1970’s.  I found an early return rate of about one-third from all sources–American Peace Corps Volunteers, US and Canadian Aid Workers, other public sector organizations and corporations.  The global companies that we deal with today don’t consider early return much of an issue, but they do focus on performance and level of successful intercultural adaptability.  We don’t work much with the receiving end of expat assignments.  We do some follow-up coaching and lots of informal contact with those that we have assessed and trained.  We also do a follow-up evaluation of intercultural adjustment and expatriate success by means of our on-line Survey of Expatriate Training and Development.  We would like to do more with organizations like yours.


    Mike Tucker

  7. Hello Mike,

    Thanks very much for the additional details. Even though we work with government agencies on their intercultural skills, we indeed prefer to focus on company performance. Even though many Dutch travel abroad for work, they are a diminishing target group for us. We focus on companies located in the Netherlands that rely on knowledge migrants for a good part of their workforce. Helping these impats to assimilate, training the locals how to more effectively work with these migrants, and facilitating a work culture that is conducive to intercultural effectiveness is at the core of our international business. If you think it would be of added value to your clients to have an on-the-ground partner to facilitate the transition of expats in Europe, I’d be happy to speak with you more about it.

    In fact, if you’re in Europe next week (you never know!), I’d like to invite you to our annual “Meet the World” afternoon at De Baak. 15 January, starting at 1:00, we will have an interesting afternoon of exploring international issues. You can read more about it here: Let me know if you’re interested and I’ll arrange that you’re my guest.



  8. Leo:

    I would love to come to the De Baak conference. It looks to be interesting and a lot of fun. However, I won’t be able to make it–thanks for your offer.

    We occasionally are requested to deliver programs on the Netherlands, although China is the number one destination these days. We have a terrific intercultural and Dutch language training program that we deliver here in Boulder for employees and their families assigned to the Netherlands. We will keep you in mind in the future for in-country support.

    Mike Tucker

  9. Suresh Sharma

    Hi Michael,

    As Human Resource Consultant I feel that things have been taken care of very well in short duration. The actual performance of Human Resource People is often described by such kind achievments.

    The training schedule and the evaluation process could have been desribed more so that actual results can by presumed.

    Can you please update more on training evaluation process used during the process.

  10. Suresh:

    About one year into an international assignment, everyone who has completed our intercultural assessment and/or training receives our Survey of Expatriate Training and Development (SETD). It employs a 20-point, Guttman-type scale with a true zero point to assess our six factors of interculutral adjustment and a job performance factor. It also incorporates the Kunin Faces to assess affective adjustment. For those who have participated in our training programs, we assess to what extent it was worthwile and helpful and if they would recommend it to others in their company. We also try to stay in close contact with our client to determine if there are any failures and to monitor data and information that they may have.

    Mike Tucker