Six characteristics of a successful expatriate
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When selecting a potential expatriate, corporations should look at competencies as well as personality and character traits of the employee. Pucik and Saba (1998) define expatriate managers as "an executive who is able to assume a leadership position fulfilling international assignments across countries and cultures." To start us off, here are the skills according to the "The 21st-Century Expatriate Manager Profile" by Howard (1992): Skills
- Multidimensional Perspective
- Proficiency in Line Management
- Prudent Decision-Making Skills
- Ability as Team Builder
Managerial Implications / Core Skills
- Extensive multi-product, multi-industry, multi-functional, multi-company, multi-country and multi-environment experience
- Track record in successfully operating a strategic business unit(s) and/or a series of major overseas projects
- Competence and proven track record in making the right strategic decisions
- Skillful in getting himself or herself known and accepted in the host country's political hierarchy
- Adept in bringing a culturally diverse working group together to accomplish the major mission and objective of the organization
- Computer Literacy
- Comfortable exchanging strategic information electronically
- Prudent Negotiating Skills
- Proven track record in conducting successful strategic business negotiations in multicultural environment
- Ability as a Change Agent
- Proven track record in successfully initiating and implementing strategic organizational change
- Visionary Skills
- Quick to recognize and respond to strategic business opportunities and potential political and economic upheavals in the host country
- Effective delegation skills
- Proven track record in participative management style and ability to delegate
If these skills are still valid in today's selection and need developing for a certain candidate, they can be improved through targeted coaching.
Rothwell (1992) heads our list of six characteristics successful expatriates possess. He defined
1. "international knowledge"
as "general knowledge about the world and global economy; national information about conditions in a specific country; and business understanding of strategy, process, and leadership style."
Black and Gregersen (1999) found in their research that companies differ in how they assess candidates, while looking for the following characteristics:
2. "a drive to communicate,"
which includes not being afraid to use rudimentary foreign language skills and being embarrassed.
3. A "broad-based sociability,"
which allows expatriates to move out of close expatriate circles and form ties with all kinds of locals.
4. "Cultural Flexibility" and
5. "Cosmopolitan Orientation,"
which both describe the open mind an expatriate needs to have when experimenting with different cultures, understanding and practicing them. The final characteristic they mention is
6. the "collaborative negotiation style."
Expatriates need to be aware of the 'do's and don'ts' of international negotiation. For example, people coming from a low context culture like the Germans and Scandinavians appreciate explicit and clear forms of communication, whereas high context cultures, like Spain, divulge less information officially but tend to be better informed than their counterparts anyway due to informal networks (Leeds et al, 1994).
These findings were publicized over 10 years ago. Do you still believe in choosing expatriates based on personality characteristics and past performance? How does your company choose international assignees? Which training programs are in place to allow potential candidates to bridge the gap and obtain necessary qualifications? Thank you for leaving your comments below!
Black, J. Stewart and Gregersen, Hal B. (1999) The right way to manage expats, Harvard Business Review
Leeds, Christopher, Kirkbride, Paul S. and Durcan, Jim (1994) Human Resource Management in Europe: Perspectives for the 1990s, London Routledge
Pucik, Vladimir and Saba, Tania (1998) Selecting and developing the global vs. the expatriate manager: a review of the state-of-the-art, Human Resource Planning
Rothwell, S (1992) The development of the international manager, Personnel Management
Til next week, when we'll talk a little bit more about candidate selection, have a good one!
Image by Boris Lechaftois, Flickr, Creative Commons License