Expats on assignment form different levels of attachment to their new location. Do you recognize yourself in these "allegiance patterns"? Black and Gregersen (1992) defined the following five:
"Hired Gun Free Agents" feel neither particularly committed to their home nor host country company, but are always open for newer and better job opportunities. They are hired international experts who might cost slightly less than a home country expatriate, but at the same time might leave the assignment on short notice if a better offer presents itself.
The "Plateaued-Career Free Agents," as the name implies, tend to not show high commitment to neither home nor host country due to their feeling of having reached a career plateau. They typically come from inside the home country and might be attracted by the financial package an overseas assignment entails, but do not see themselves achieving promotion in the home country.
In the case of an expatriate showing signs of "Going Native," the allegiance pattern shows high levels of commitment to the local operations but not to the parent company. These expatriates are able to identify strongly with the host country's culture, language and business practices. The parent company might be able to prevent "losing" an expatriate to the local operation, or indeed another company in that country, by establishing a mentor program. The mentor will be in the home country, keeping in close contact with the expatriate during his or her assignment and help them with finding a position upon repatriation.
Contrary to the previous pattern, expatriates can also leave their "Hearts at Home," feeling highly committed to the home country but not so much to the local operation. They will find it hard identifying with the host country's culture, language and business practices. "Hearts at home"rs tend to have lived and worked for the parent company a very long time and have strong ties. Their expat deal will be sweetened by using modern telecommunication, video conferencing, and regular home visits.
Probably the most desirable pattern is called "Dual Citizen." Expatriates falling into this category are highly committed to both home and host country operation and feel responsible for and comfortable with serving both "masters." It is interesting to note at this point that depending on the culture the expatriate is from, he or she might be culturally 'programmed' to be uncomfortable with having to obey two leaders.
Companies can help their expatriates become "dual citizens" by thoroughly preparing them for their assignment, giving them very clear objectives and a clear repatriation plan from the very beginning. Autonomy in how to achieve the objectives help the expatriate develop a flexibility that will make the assignment easier.
Black and Gregersen (1992) found "Dual Citizen"-expatriates to be less likely to end an assignment prematurely and to have a higher probability of staying with the firm after repatriation. They also concluded that the expectations, demands and objectives of the assignment can determine the form of commitment. If a "role conflict" occurs, it is hard for the expatriate to feel responsible for the outcomes and he or she will thus be less committed to either side of the company.
A similar effect can be witnessed with "role ambiguity." Hence a clear set of expectations and objectives as well as a clear repatriation plan are most important for the expatriate to feel safe and concentrate on a successful assignment. The authors found the "most powerful factor in creating dual allegiance" being "role discretion." The freedom to decide what has to be done how and when in order to achieve the objectives gives expats a sense of ownership and thus makes them feel responsible for their actions and the outcomes.
Any personal opinions and experiences you'd like to add? Thank you for leaving a comment!
Black, J. Stewart and Gregersen, Hal B. (1992) Serving two masters: Managing the dual allegiance of expatriate employees, Sloan Management Review, p61