Chuck Csizmar – CMC Compensation Group
Last week I posted the first five of ten “Rules of the Road” for managing your expatriate program. I hope you enjoyed reading them. In this post, I’ve included the five remaining rules. Enjoy!
Rule #6: Always have a Backup Candidate
It is very important to avoid a scenario where management believes that only one person is capable of handling the assignment. If all your plans are dependent upon one candidate, and your choice discovers this (they usually do), the assignment from that point will likely become more contentious, problematic, internally disruptive and ultimately more expensive. You will have lost leverage when trying to apply Company policies, demands for exceptional treatment will increase, costs will rise as a result and the likelihood of equity issues with other employees will increase.
Having a second choice will enable you to more easily finalize an equitable package of terms and conditions, test the candidates’ genuine interest in the overseas assignment and lower inflated egos down to earth.
Rule #7: Do Not Play “Let’s Make a Deal”
Everyone tends to lose on this slippery slope. The expatriate community is a small group that will eventually learn of any special deals someone received that others did not. While the expatriate policy document should provide a “safety valve” for approved discretionary exceptions covering extraordinary circumstances, be mindful of creating precedents where the sole reason is to placate an employee (or their spouse). This problem can be a major dissatisfier for the rest of your community. Explore cost sharing and trade-offs with the expatriate to mitigate the perception of inequitable treatment.
Certain employees, especially those with a sales background or like temperament, may view many aspects of the assignment terms and conditions as negotiable, simply because it is in their nature to question or challenge what they consider is the Company’s “initial offer”.
A word of caution: if the employee considers the international assignment less as a wonderful career opportunity and more as a “favor” to the Company, the warning signs should be posted that this might not be a good match.
Rule #8: Have a “Hand-Holder” in Place
Another key to a successful assignment is to provide a ‘go-to” person in the host country for the myriad questions that will crop up as soon as the assignee arrives. Set up a local contact point for host country issues, expatriate experiences and administrative fulfillment of the assignment terms. Insist that the assignee utilize this person, not their manager, co-workers or even well-intentioned HR people unfamiliar with the expatriate program. This go-to person should have the authority to make decisions, to “handle” whatever the question might be.
While this sounds like an easy step do not assume that anyone would automatically take this task to heart. Left to their own devices, host country employees often find it difficult to invest the time to help assignees understand local business conditions and culture. Thus you need to make it someone’s responsibility.
Likewise there should be a contact person in the home country as well, a designated individual prepared to handle policy interpretations, provide advice on navigating procedures and assuming responsibility for the home administration of the assignment terms.
Rule #9: Do Not Forget That They’re out There
A successful assignment requires constant attention from both the home and host country contacts. Communication should be frequent, as should the “check-up” calls to gauge the assignee’s temperament. For example, does the assignee understand the COLA calculations, have any payroll or currency exchange issues arisen, is the family acclimating well, are there issues the assignee would like to discuss? A key source of dissatisfaction for assignees and their families is a feeling of being “out in the provinces” and therefore out of touch with what is happening back at the office they have left. Make every effort to ensure that they do not feel marginalized, taken for granted or forgotten.
Make sure the assignee has a Mentor (as compared to a hand holder) back in the home country as well, a Senior Management-level individual charged with representing the assignee’s career interests during the assignment. This person should schedule periodic career discussions with the assignee.
Rule #10: Have an Exit Strategy
All too frequently companies are at a loss as to what to do with expatriates who have successfully completed their assignments. It is not uncommon for assignees to leave the Company upon their return from overseas or within the following year, because either no suitable position was available in the home country or what was available was a diminished or less visible role.
After incurring the huge expense for an employee to develop deeper and broader competencies on the international stage, it is a wise business practice to pay close attention as to how best to utilize that increasingly marketable (and therefore valuable) talent when the assignment ends. Without due care and planning the career cycle of an assignee is left as an afterthought, one that usually crops up late in the assignment; meanwhile the assignee has been worried (and thus distracted) for a much longer period of time.
While there are no guarantees that future positions will be available back home for employees presently working overseas, the international assignment letter should at least state that the Company will attempt to secure a “mutually agreeable position of similar stature” upon completion of the assignment. It is in the best interest of the Company and the assignee to carefully plan for a successful repatriation.
Well, that’s my list of ten rules. The road ahead has curves, dips and more than its share of bumps and potholes. However, if you manage to keep these sign posts in mind (commit them to memory, post them on the wall, send and resend them to managers), the experience does not have to be an endurance course for all concerned.
You will need to keep at it though (persistence is its own reward), because there is no pill or “Easy Button” that will magically ease the journey. There is no cure for the realities that expatriate assignments will always be costly, procedurally complex and a personal as well as professional risk for those involved. But by adhering to your own “rules of the road” your expatriate program can reap significant benefits: lower assignment costs, business objectives achieved, satisfied employees and host management, retained and developed talent and ultimately greater overall business success. It can be done.
Do you have rule that I did not include in my top ten? Please, leave a comment and share your insights with the community.
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