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Successful Expat Manager Profile

in charge womanThe following characteristics of a successful expat manager were written over 20 years ago. Do they still apply today? According to the "The 21st-Century Expatriate Manager Profile", written by Cecil Howard and published in the HR Magazine in 1992 (read the full article), successful expat managers have these skills:

Skills

  • Multidimensional Perspective
  • Proficiency in Line Management
  • Prudent Decision-Making Skills
  • Resourcefulness
  • Ability as Team Builder

I'd like to add that in countries which are open and indeed encouraging of trial and error, "prudent" decision-making skills may not be as effective as strategic risk-taking.

Resourcefulness can come in many forms - it's who you know in Communitarian cultures, what you know in Individualist cultures, and what you can do with who and what you know in Achievement oriented cultures.

Managerial Implications / Core Skills

  • Extensive multi-product, multi-industry, multi-functional, multi-company, multi-country and multi-environment experience (quote attributed to Ed Dunn, then Vice President at Whirlpool)
  • 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

All of these core skills need years of practice - and you're never done developing them. To get yourself known and accepted in the host country, different strategies have to be employed. For example, on the Asian continent it may be best if a senior manager can introduce you. It's a sign that you come well-recommended and trusted.

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

Computer literacy isn't enough, blogging and social media are all ways of communicating and offering transparent services. Advertising is now done on multiple platforms and new mobile streams. Indeed, technological mobility offers so many ways to engage with the customer. A successful expat manager knows which work in his country and how to leverage their effects.

The participative management style may also not work in all cultures. Some national cultures may influence corporate cultures to resemble that of a family hierarchy and structure. There's one usually male leader / mentor at the top and he provides clear instructions what and how to achieve while taking responsibility for his employees.

The good news is, there are assessments available to gauge a candidate's preparedness for an international assignment. In the case of skills gaps, they can be improved through targeted coaching or training. This is why it makes so much sense to involve Talent Management at the strategic level in a person's international career trajectory.

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Characteristics of a successful expatriate

Another post dusted off and updated from the archives: 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."

Yet most companies choose expats based on technical / managerial performance alone. Past behavior may be the best indicator for future behavior when it comes to psychology, but as soon as you cross borders, your usual behavior will yield very unusual results.

Expat leaders have to be culturally aware and open to adapting their style in order to be successful.

Rothwell (1992) defines six characteristics all successful leaders expatriates possess. He defines:

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 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.

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!

Resources:

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!

Thanks to Vertes for the free pic!

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Expat Marriage Characteristics

mars ship Dennis Tito, American multimillionnaire, holds the title of world's first space tourist. Where you and I might think twice about a $1,500 trip to Hawaii, he spent $20m to go up in a rocket ship. Call it eccentric, but the trip did produce an idea that's going to create lots of jobs and opportunities: he's now planning to send people on a privately-funded return-trip to Mars in 2018.

Not just any people, a married couple.

501 days in close quarters - with your spouse. Let's take a breath and imagine what that'd be like. Nowhere to go, no doors to slam, no idea how sex would work in zero gravity. Certainly not for everyone, right?

Of course, living in close quarters under strenuous situations with a limited group of people is nothing new. Submarine or oil-rig crews do it all the time, as well as soldiers on assignments. There were eight participants in a 2-year ecological experiment locked away in Arizona, and let's not forget monasteries or various the Big Brother houses.

deborah_rolf624

Deborah Shapiro wrote an article on the subject. Her experience makes her an excellent source of reference: she and her husband spent 270 days alone in the Antarctic on a boat. Severe weather conditions, having to maintain and fix things all the time, lots of time for thoughts to swirl around your head, and only your husband to talk to. Well, and whoever's near enough for radio transmissions, I guess.

Here are her top tips for not killing your spouse, and who would make a good space couple (bolding is mine):

(...) because we relied on each other for survival, murder would be counter-productive.

We figure that a couple who ran a farm a few generations ago would be very likely to have a successful trip to Mars. Why? Because a couple on a farm lived in interdependence, with accepted roles. They lived frugally, entertaining themselves, producing what they needed and repairing their tools that broke. All those traits are necessary for a long space voyage.

Showing tangible signs of caring and of empathy ensures that cabin fever never takes hold.

(...) firstly, remaining sensitive to each other's moods and concerns, never belittling. (...) The second important rule, is that showing care benefits both.

I think all of those tips are valid for couples who go abroad on an expat assignment as well.

  • If it's not in actuality, it may feel like your survival is threatened, creating the same visceral responses in your nervous system.
  • If you're not clear about your changing roles, e.g. when one spouse loses a work permit, anger and resentment are sure to follow.
  • If you don't speak the language, trips to the cinema are out. Reading food labels going shopping are a challenge. Conversing with your kid's teacher or the plumber is frustrating.
  • If you're cooped up inside all day waiting for your spouse to return from work so you have someone to talk to while they just want to sit down and be quiet, it can spell disaster.

A marriage is hard work to maintain under any circumstances, and international assignments add various layers of new potential aggravation you wouldn't have experienced at home. If you don't have any couple-friends who've been abroad together, things like role expectations, daily routine, entertainment, and the sense of self-worth may not come up in the usual conversations.

In our normal daily lives, we have work, friends, family, and hobbies to attend to. When moving abroad, all of that gets disrupted and changed. We turn to the one person who's closest to us, and if we make them responsible for everything that's going wrong in our lives, it will break the relationship.

Here's where Shapiro sees a big difference between her own experience and that of the space couple:

In a space capsule, the couple will have to depend upon a vessel they have not built, and the people working at space control.

If you're not absolutely sure you want to go on the assignment, you'll feel out of control as well. Make sure you have all the information you need to make an informed decision. Because once you're abroad, coming back early is going to be a hassle. I'm not just talking about the cost and expenses, but also the feelings of failure to complete the project, to make your company look good, to disrupt project deadlines and customer relationships.

There are plenty of conversations and tools at your disposal. Know before you go.

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Top 5 expat allegiance patterns

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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!

Resource:

Black, J. Stewart and Gregersen, Hal B. (1992) Serving two masters: Managing the dual allegiance of expatriate employees, Sloan Management Review, p61

Image by tiffini, flickr, Creative Commons license

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Six characteristics of a successful expatriate

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Six characteristics of a successful expatriate

Hello! Thanks for visiting and please enjoy the free info below! 

Just fyi, you can find me over at www.dorisfullgrabe.com from now on, where I'm making custom lettering and calligraphy. 

This archive will be discontinued next month. 

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!

Resources:

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

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