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HR Management


Repatriation strategies

As with all other expatriate practices, repatriation also involves careful planning way in advance. As we have already discussed, the use of mentor programs from early expatriation stages helps to reassure expatriates that their experience will be recognized upon their return to headquarters. Also, thorough training programs should be in place to facilitate the re-entry of the expatriate and his or her family back into their original society.

Frazee (1997) also stresses the importance of involving the respective line-managers throughout the assignment to make sure the assignment will not exceed mutual expectations. It is important that all parties involved in ex- and repatriation have realistic expectations that in the best of all cases are put down in writing before the assignment begins. As the author puts it, "there can't be a guarantee, but there should be an international/domestic career-planning process with options laid out and requirement set (...)" (Frazee, 1997).

Information laid out in a repatriation agreement should include agreements about compensation, transportation, accommodation and in-country support. Especially the monetary issue should be discussed in advance, because returning expatriates will have to face income losses of about 30 per cent and are not as likely to enjoy the same perks as they did abroad.

While the company can monitor the repatriate's job opportunities, it is also important to offer them the possibility of managing their own careers while abroad. Keeping them informed about internal vacancies, establishing contact through the intranet, providing home leaves, the mentor program and other contacts to colleagues at home as well as setting up a resource center and vacancy database can help expatriates take their future into their own hands.

As for a time frame when to begin the actual repatriation mindset, Frazee suggests six months prior to going back home. It is then the challenge for the HR department to identify families that might have specific issues or doubts about coming back that have to be dealt with in detail. The repatriation training should build on the initial expatriate training, reminding the family of how they dealt with the first cultural change and how to apply the acquired skills back into the home environment. Involving repatriates in the home work environment is regarded as the "toughest challenge" by Frazee, but keeping the repatriates informed about the headquarters' situation, training them and holding a homecoming reception could facilitate the re-entry.

Allen and Alvarez (1998) identified some causes for poor repatriation and suggested the following strategies to overcome repatriation difficulties. The company might not consider its subsidiary's activities as very important. A sharp divide in domestic and overseas operations can lead to mediocre performers being chosen for overseas assignments, the "out of sight, out of mind" dilemma occurs and the HR strategies might not be well organized in that the domestic department does not feel responsible for the expatriate and his homecoming. The authors defined repatriation problems as a sign for broader HR problems, describing them as "symptoms of ineffective human resource management policy characterized by a short-term orientation in some cases and lack of involvement and responsibility in other."

The divide between home and host country operations can also place the expatriate in a difficult middle position due to competing priorities. It is therefore necessary to spell out expectations on both sides and plan for repatriation from the beginning. A short planning horizon will hinder the proper repatriation, as there might not be a proper job for the repatriate to come back to. The aforementioned contact, communication and mentor programs can facilitate repatriation, although as the authors note, especially the support from headquarters and mentors needs to be consistent. This implies that training and screening of mentors is necessary.

Planning ahead and linking the overseas assignment to the long-term career plans of the expatriate will create commitment and give a sense of security on both sides. Allen and Alvarez (1998) also indicate that broadening the re-entry 'time window' would also increase the likelihood of finding an appropriate position for the repatriate. Unfortunately, in reality most job openings will not be able to be held for long, but arrangements for the repatriate to return home early and the family following later can be taken care of. It is furthermore suggested to create a repatriate directory and network to maintain contact with former expatriates and enabling repatriates to gain insight into previous experiences. Repatriates can thus be used as trainers of future expatriates.

Black and Gregersen (1999) give examples of how different companies handle their repatriation. At Monsanto, for example, jobs after repatriation are thought about three to six months prior to the expatriate's return. The expatriate's skills are assessed and potential vacancies are reviewed. At the same time, the expatriate is asked to write a report including a self-assessment and a description of career goals. Again, it is noticeable that involving the expatriate into the process and listening to his or her concerns and ideas creates a sense of ownership and commitment and reduces the risk of losing the repatriate. A formal coaching process can assist with debriefing the international experience as well as with realistic goal setting.

Another example is UNOCAL, offering a day-long debriefing program for the whole repatriate family, identifying common repatriation difficulties. Videos from past repatriates' discussions are watched and sharing experiences is encouraged.

In summary, it is safe to say that the company can do a lot for expatriates before, during and at the end of an international assignment, but the ex- and repatriate him- or herself has ways of taking the career into their own hands. Remaining in close touch with headquarters, developing relationships with mentors and line-managers, maintaining visibility through frequent visits, and formulating clear and open expectations all ensure a smooth repatriation.

How have your own repatriations been handled in the past? Does your company have measures in place to make sure repatriate knowledge isn't lost in the process? Thank you for leaving a comment!


Frazee, Valerie (1997) Welcome your repatriates home, Workforce, p24

Allen, Douglas and Alvarez, Sharon (1998) Empowering Expatriates and organizations to improve Repatriation Effectiveness, Human Resource Planning, p29

Black, J. Stewart and Gregersen, Hal B. (1999) The right way to manage expats, Harvard Business Review, p52

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Alternatives to using Expatriates

expat alternatives_moneyIn order to remain globally competitive, companies have to look at cost. Sending a mid-level executive expatriate may come with a price tag of $1,000,000 and more, so this decision usually isn't taken lightly. Before going into the costly and difficult process of selecting the right employee to be sent abroad, your company might want to consider using alternatives.

Solomon identified the following alternatives in 1998:

Short-term assignments / extended business travel arrangements

Instead of offering the usual three to five-year assignment stints abroad, companies could look at reducing the time to six months or a year, if the project allows. This practice usually goes hand-in-hand with single-status relocation, which means the expatriate will travel alone while the family stays behind. It will incur higher travel costs as the expat flies back to visit family more often, but relocation costs would be limited to one person and therefore significantly lower, as for example smaller accommodation is needed and no education expenses for relocating children have to be taken care of.

The advantages of introducing short-term assignments include a wider pool of candidates and the possible emergence of a global team network, where international companies can send employees around the globe within their different subsidiaries and departments more readily. Drawing on the international labor market and offering more employee a career opportunity by training them accordingly is another important aspect of any international HR strategy.


Solomon also mentions using communication technology to its fullest by holding teleconferences and using the Internet to cut down on long-distance business trips. With services like instant messaging, Skype and other voice or video conferencing software as the norm nowadays, this practice can be more or less effective depending on the country and the project you are working on. Personal contact and visits are indispensable when doing business in relationship-oriented cultures, and saving time by using technology to communicate and establish relationships may cost you more in the long run.

Another alternative, as I've mentioned before, would be:

One-Way expatriation / Localization

New assignees go abroad with the understanding that they are not under expatriate status, i.e. not expected to come back to the home country. Existing expatriates are taken off the home-country payroll and given local contracts. For many families this is a great solution, especially when they have been abroad for a while and developed strong ties to the host country.

According to Solomon, companies back in 1998 began to recognize that "the shift toward flexible assignment structures is clearly more cost-effective." For HR specialists today, this means more administrative effort, as every case is treated on its individual and specific merits. Finding middle ground by using general expatriation guidelines that apply to everyone and supplementing them with personalized support as needed is an ongoing challenge.

What are your experiences with expat alternatives? Have you been working on or receiving any one of the ones mentioned in this article? If you or your company know of other strategies used, please let us know by leaving a comment below.


Solomon, Charlene Marmer (1998) Today’s global mobility: short-term assignments and other solutions, Workforce, p12

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Expatriate candidate selection

Odd One OutAlthough it is widely recognized that one should not assume a good performer at home would be a good performer abroad, many multi-national companies (MNCs) still select their expatriates on these merits. Other reasons for using expatriates include to develop their potential and preparing them for higher positions within the company, or to transfer know-how during special projects.

Solomon (1998) identified that effective expatriate management seems to follow three general practices. First, instead of promoting someone "out of the way" or only focusing on their technical skills, successful MNCs look for expatriates to "generate and transfer knowledge" as well as "develop their global leadership skills." Surveys have shown that expatriates are likely to leave the company after repatriation if they do not feel their newly acquired skills are used to their full potential. They will question the sense of their assignment if the home country management is not interested in learning about the situation in the subsidiary and what the expatriate is contributing to headquarters after his or her experience abroad.

The second practice stresses that cross-cultural abilities should at least be as impressive as the technical skills. Some companies use tests or interviews to see how the candidate reacts when exposed to different cultural behaviors and habits to make sure he or she will be able to adapt. In order to rule out any problems once the assignment is under way, similar tests are taken by the candidate's family to see whether the spouse and children are comfortable living in foreign surroundings. Language and cross-cultural trainings have also become close to the norm.

The third practice is a "deliberate repatriation process." It is a widely held belief that repatriation is as, if not more, difficult than the initial expatriation.

Sanchez et al (2000) also mention technical skills, family situation, relational skills and the motivational state of an expatriate to be important factors at the selection stage. They suggest that in order to minimize assignment failure due to family adjustment problems, the company needs to give a realistic preview of what the assignment will be like and then encourage the family members to carry out a self-evaluation whether they feel up for the challenge or not.

At this point I'd like to mention that MNCs are still highly limiting their expatriate candidate pool by not really considering women. Solomon (1998) found that as of 1996, only 14 per cent of the total expatriate population were female. According to her opinion, women are not as likely to even be offered an international assignment, because the top management assumes they would not want to disrupt their family life and because they would face cultural biases abroad. More recent research by Dr. Nina Cole seems to confirm these numbers, as she worked with male expat spouses representing only 10 % of the expat spouse population.

Unfortunately, it is still typically women who are more likely to take care of the family, even though they might be working. Sanchez et al (2000) are of the opinion that female expatriates "need not necessarily experience more frustration than their male counterparts," which top management should take into account when selecting candidates. Another element stopping women from going abroad is the fact that they are not often found in upper management ranks, from where most expatriates are drawn. Solomon (1998) and Wah (1998) agree that MNCs need to stop assuming women are not interested in going abroad because of their families, but provide the necessary training and cater for specific needs that might occur.

This is exactly the point I would like to stress. When it comes to expatriate candidate selection, aptitude tests can only ever give an incomplete picture. Testing a candidate and their families for personality type or cultural preferences may give an indication of their adaptation predisposition, yes, but they cannot foresee how the person will react in the actual situation, the foreign country, the actual assignment.

Encouraging candidate self-selection is a laudable practice, yet I can't help but wonder at the inherent absurdity of the concept. "I'll warn you about everything that can go wrong and tease you with an equal amount of success stories so you can decide whether you want to take the chance or prefer staying at home"? Yes, I'm being sarcastic on purpose here. I know it's not that simple, for some families a move abroad simply isn't the best choice. What I mean is, candidate selection and support don't have to end with aptitude tests.

They don't even have to end at language or cross-cultural training. If you have a candidate that would be perfect or indeed indispensable for an international assignment, let him or her make the choice under the premise that you the company will support them and their family every step of the way.

After the relocation and destination services are delivered, THAT's when expats and their families get hit by real life issues, and that's when they need support the most. Which is where expatriate coaching comes in. There is a coaching solution to every problem, including spousal adjustment, career management, or identity crisis. If you're worried about your budget, consider the numbers: an assignment that needs to be terminated early can incur costs of up to $1,000,000. A comprehensive coaching process will set you back approximately $5,000.

We're celebrating Thanksgiving weekend in the States right now, so I'd love for you to leave a comment about what you are thankful for when it comes to your international assignment. Thank you for your input, and here's wishing you and your families successful and happy times.


Sanchez, Juan I., Spector, Paul E. and Cooper, Cary L. (2000) Adapting to a boundary-less world: A developmental expatriate model, The academy of management executive, p96

Solomon, Charlene Marmer (1998) Today's global mobility: short-term assignments and other solutions, Workforce, p12

Wah, Louisa (1998) Surfing the rough sea, Management Review, p25

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Top 5 expat allegiance patterns


Top 5 expat allegiance patterns

Last week we talked about 6 successful expat characteristics. What about once they're on assignment? Black and Gregersen (1992) grouped them in the following five allegiance patterns.

"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

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Six characteristics of a successful expatriate


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
  • Resourcefulness
  • 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

Augmented Skills

  • 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!

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