Expatriate Assignment Checklist Part 1 – Assessment, Selection and Approval

Warren Heaps – Birches Group LLC

If you are an international HR practitioner, then you have probably had to deal with long-term international assignments.  They can be complex, with many different people involved, both internal resources and external suppliers and vendors.

One of the best ways to ensure all the necessary steps are followed is to use checklists.  These are simple yet extremely useful devices that will help you stay on track with your international assignees.  A recommended approach is to develop a checklist for each of the common assignment stages or events that occur, including:

In this series, we will share checklists for each of the five stages of a long-term international assignment.  The steps highlighted probably won’t match the procedures in your company exactly, but the checklist will provide you with a handy reference which can be customized to your actual process. Let’s start with the first stage, Assessment, Selection and Approval.

In this stage, you’ve identified the need for an international assignee, and now you need to find the right candidate, and gain approval for the assignment.  Here is a checklist for this stage:

Let’s talk a look more closely at each one of these tasks.

Identify Candidates
This is one of the most crucial steps for an international assignment – finding the right person for the job.  You need to consider both the technical job requirements as well as any special skills such as languages which might be required.  Remember, assignments are expensive so you want to make sure your investment is sensible.  Therefore, always consult the outputs from your career and succession planning process to see if there are candidates in need of an assignment to further their agreed upon career plan.  Be sure you also take into account any location-specific limitations, such as lack of schools, security risks, and other situations which make normal family living difficult.  Be sure to involve line management and HR staff together in identifying the potential candidates.

Evaluation and Assessment
You will want to apply the standard assessments used to select people for any position in your company.  In addition, however, special consideration should be given to a candidate’s suitability for an assignment.  This includes an assessment of their personality and cultural awareness, to try and predict how successful they would be in the new environment.    How well does the candidate deal with uncertainty and change?  Are they comfortable operating in unfamiliar territory?  Is their operating style compatible with local culture?

What about their family?  It has been proven over and over that a family that is unhappy on assignment usually causes the assignment to fail or at least terminate prematurely.  So be sure the assessment covers the spouse and children, too.  You will probably want to assure some confidentiality of the results, with no details being shared other than a basic assessment by an external consultant of the likelihood of success and a “go/no-go” recommendation.

Final Candidate Selection
Now you are ready to meet with line management and together select the best candidate for the position.  Be sure to take into account all of the considerations, both the “hard” and “soft” ones.  Pay special attention to the potential impact on the candidate’s career plan.  While many organizations would look at costs as part of the decision, I would suggest choosing the right candidate first, and assessing the cost implications separately as part of the approval process that follows selection.  Too often, companies choose candidates based on cost as the primary consideration, which often results in sub-optimal results.

Assignment Approval
The best candidate has been identified based on a holistic assessment that considers technical knowledge, personality, cultural fit, career plan and family considerations.  The final step is to do a budget for the assignment.  The usual approach is to run a cost projection.  There are many ways to do this.  The most common approach is to work with your outside tax consultant; this generally requires a great deal of information as inputs, but yields a very complete picture of the total assignment costs.  Another alternative is to use a system which estimates costs based on normative data.  AIRINC has a product called ACE (Assignment Cost Estimator) which allows clients to estimate assignment costs quickly and with enough detail to make a decision about an assignment.  After all, you don’t need the entire, detailed budget until the assignment is finalized by both the company and the employee.

What’s Next?
In the next installment in this series, we will look at all aspects of assignment planning, from the employee and family perspective, as well as the company’s view.  In the meantime, please share your ideas, and any steps you follow in your company for selecting long-term international assignees.  Are there tools you use that you recommend? Or maybe some stories of difficult situations you wish you could have handled differently, from which we all can learn?

We look forward to your comments.

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