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8 Steps Through Expat Change Using Personality Type

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8 Steps Through Expat Change Using Personality Type

"Change is inevitable. Growth is optional." That's one of my favorite John Maxwell quotes, and if you've ever gone through an international transition or other kind of change, you know it's true. At our local APTi Chapter this week, we heard Ravi Verma talk about his experiences leading a change process at a billion-dollar company not too long ago. He applied personality type knowledge and the positive results speak for themselves. He used Kotter's 8 step model for change as a framework to highlight the different phases. As you read through them, I invite you to think of your work or your family system and see how you can facilitate the change process for others and for yourself.

8-Step Change Model according to Kotter www.kotterinternational.com

1. Urgency

Knowing that change is inevitable, different types have different reactions to the prospect of change. If you want to effect change, you have to create a sense of urgency. For people with a Sensing preference, for example, this can be achieved by explaining the details with data. Why is the change necessary? Who's going to do what, when, and where? What's a realistic picture of the future? To convince Intuiting teenagers of the advantages of your impending international relocation, it may be helpful to point out the general plan and direction, and come up with lots of re-frames and alternative ways to seeing things.

2. Coalition

Leading effective change means you have to have people on your team. You need to have at least one person who sees the bigger picture, one who's analytical, one to make it happen, one who is credible and liked, and one who's creative. If this reminds you of the Z-Model, you're on the right track: any kind of problem-solving or decision-making ideally goes through all four functions of Sensing, Intuiting, Thinking, and Feeling, to ensure alignment, purpose, and results. For your expat assignment, this means knowing details, facts, and figures about your relocation and destination, as well as opportunities to exploring new ideas and hobbies, taking into consideration the money and logical aspects just as much as the feelings, values, and preferences of everyone in the family.

3. Vision

When defining a vision, personality type is a helpful factor to communicate it in a way that the vision is bought into by all parties. In particular, consider the Thinking and Feeling function - does your goal only make sense for the bottom line? Ignoring the personal dimension would be like trying to balance a square table on only two legs. Underestimate people's values at your own peril.

4. Communicate

For people with Introversion preferences on your team, you may want to provide written information in advance to allow time for reflection. People with Extraversion preferences may appreciate a discussion forum, and the opportunity to bounce ideas off of one another face to face. In any case, everyone appreciates the feeling of being heard and having a voice. If you're the expat deciding whether to go or not, this means asking your HR department and every other contact who's involved in your relocation every single question you may have, and not giving up until you have a satisfactory answer.

5. Empower

For change to be successful, barriers have to be removed. You want to make sure to provide everyone the tools they need to do their parts, as well as manage any conflicts that may arise. The Thomas-Kilman Instrument may come in handy. For more information, see my post on conflict styles.

6. Short-Term Wins

To persevere over the long haul, you have to celebrate intermediate steps. This creates a feeling of accomplishment particularly important for people with a preference for Judging. Equally important for those with a preference for Perceiving, acknowledging short-term wins shows progress towards the goal. Mothers, yes, this means some days are a success if you got out of bed and folded some laundry. Especially during the first few months of your expat assignment, everything is going to take a lot longer than you're used to. That's normal. Your system is getting used to a new country. Stay positive, and cut yourself some slack.

7. Never let up

There will come a time where you feel like giving in and slowing down. To see a change process through to perfection, however, it is important not to lose momentum. To guard against change fatigue and help your team members deal with stress, consider applying the knowledge from the Introduction to Type and Stress - In the Grip manual. This is particularly relevant for international assignees, because your change process is so overwhelmingly all inclusive that moments where you feel in control might be few and far between. Stick with it. Don't give up. Know that going through culture shock is part of the process. This, too, shall pass.

8. Culture

To make any change stick, it has to change the culture. Follow up with assessments, and agree on a minimum maintenance level of the introduced change. Again, knowledge of type helps support everyone in effective ways. Once you're adapted to the new culture, you'll be able to move around more confidently, find nuances within the new country's culture, and have fun with it. Remember, adapting doesn't mean adopting, so you're still going to be yourself - only with added behaviors and perhaps even new language skills on top.

Image by Albireo2006, Flickr, Creative Commons License

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Expat Survey Findings

As some of you know, I prepared a short survey for expats that was meant to help me find out more about the gap between expectations and actual experience concerning their international relocation. The most important point for me, and the most interesting, was to find out if the respondents felt that the support of an expat coach like myself would add significant value during the international relocation.

The questions were open-ended and gave respondents the opportunity to be as honest and detailed as they wished. A big THANK YOU! to all those who participated. In the following I will paraphrase some of the responses:

Question 1: Relocation process - What went well? What were your expectations, what surprised you?

  • The company's support for the actual physical move / hiring a professional moving company was an excellent idea that relieved a lot of possible stress.
  • The lower cost of living turned out to be financially quite profitable.
  • I was surprised by little differences and how much I actually missed my home country.

Question 2: Relocation process - What went badly? What were your expectations, what surprised you?

  • Some furniture was damaged and belongings had suspiciously changed boxes during transit.
  • Connection to HQ office got interrupted and I was out-of-the-loop regarding opportunities back home.
  • No language training made the first months abroad impossible.
  • The company was oblivious to tax and social security implications of long-term stays abroad.
  • No credit-history in the US made it really hard to buy a car and a house.
  • I suggest to plan time to deal with "separation anxiety" when it comes to figuring out which things to pack and which to leave behind.
  • I was surprised by the overall cost of the move and the cost to stock a new household.

Question 3: Emotions - How was it for you? What were your expectations, what surprised you? Were you offered psychological support?

  • Saying good-bye to elderly friends/family is especially hard. What if this is the last time I see them?
  • Psychological support may be offered but I don't trust its confidentiality.
  • I didn't need psychological support, but it would have been helpful for my wife.
  • I didn't plan to integrate into the host culture for the planned number of months I was supposed to be there - but then the assignment time frame tripled.
  • I am a "trailing spouse". Nothing changed for my husband, but I had to give up my career, my life, and my family and start all over again.
  • You might miss certain friends or dates. Tip: stay involved with the people back home, read the local paper online, and travel back regularly.

Question 4: Review - in your opinion, would talking to a Coach who specializes in Expat relocations add significant value?

  • There are programs in place that you have to ask for. They are good ideas but poorly implemented; too little too late, impersonal, and lacking warmth. A Coach could offer great human support.
  • Yes, plus language and culture training.
  • Yes, especially if a move isn't supported by an organization.
  • Definitely - to overcome fears, aid communication, keep up the good spirit, help set up new social network, deal with cultural differences, help understand mentalities and manage expectations, recognize the opportunity to adjust own set of values and support the career progress in the new country.
  • Yes, especially if the coach knows about the location or if the location has special culture-shock potential. Most helpful would be session(s) on expectations/motivations for the move, then a check-list of "to do's".

Question 5: In case you've already repatriated or are about to, what are some of the hopes and fears you are experiencing? For which areas would you like to get support?

  • I would like support in my home country.
  • I fear having lost my social network, feeling strange after having been away, and would like support.
  • I have lots of experience and know that social contacts matter the most.
  • I fear to be forgotten by my old friends and that I'm not up-to-date with the political and economic situation.

What did I take away from this? Companies are doing a good job helping their expats with the physical move and, in some cases, offer attractive financial incentives. Most expats are prepared for, positive and excited about the move. There is still plenty of room for improvement when it comes to excellent all-round relocation, and the responsibility to make the experience an enjoyable and successful one lie with both expat and organization. Check back in the following weeks for more information on what you can do to make the best of your opportunities.

I will keep the survey open until the end of the year, please do feel free to add your opinions and feedback by clicking on the provided link. If you are interested in further information about expat surveys, here are some more to browse through:

Nina Cole: Managing Global Talent: Solving the Spousal Adjustment Problem (content of this link has been moved, please google!)

HSBC Bank: International Expat Explorer Survey 08

The Interchange Institute: various research reports

Yvonne McNulty: The Trailing Spouse

Robin Pascoe: Family Matters (click on the link on the bottom-right of the homepage)

Thank you John Vernon for the free image.

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