International assignments are a great performance development tool. Rather than relegating your employees to their current position, international assignments offers them the opportunity to explore a new culture and learn from different teams. However, they shouldn’t be taken lightly. In order for your organization to reap the maximum benefits, you should craft a plan to prepare the individual for the assignment and how to position their new skills once they return.
At the front-end, you should identify opportunities that will stretch employees’ skills while meeting the needs of the company, and employing tools to assess whether candidates — and their families — will thrive in a new environment. This is especially important if the assignment will last longer than 12 months, says Betsy Welch, global mobility manager for AIG.
Companies can use business and personal assessment tools to match a candidate’s business skills and personality to a role. It’s important not to assume that a candidate who thrives in one region will automatically do well in another.
“If you take someone who thrives on being independent and send them to a country where the business culture is consensus oriented, it may not be the right fit,” she notes. Similarly, if the candidate’s family doesn’t want to move, or has specific needs that will be hard to meet in the host location, it can derail an otherwise effective placement.
Once an employee is chosen, the best companies set clear expectations for what they will do — and what skills they will acquire. For example, if a manager is sent to Japan where the local team is exceeding business goals, they will be expected to incorporate what they learned in the home office upon their return.
Setting clear business objectives that are aligned with the performance review process can make it easier to track whether the mobility assignment added value to the business, Welch says. She likens this to measuring a “return on objectives” rather than a return on investment.
Another key strategy that leading organizations follow is crafting a return plan for employees once the assignment has ended. This is important, as roughly 12 percent of expat employees leave a company within two years of repatriation, according to Brookfield Relocation Services’ 2016 mobility trends survey.
Their exodus is often due to the fact that companies fail to make plans for the candidate’s next career move, says Joe Carella, assistant dean of executive education at the University of Arizona.
“Companies invest all of this time and effort to develop a person’s skills, but when they return they often find that experience isn’t valued,” says Carella, who has done extensive research into talent mobility trends.
For instance, companies have no openings for that person to move into, or managers are more focused on developing local teams rather than expats who’ve been gone for two years. At the same time, their new skills make them attractive candidates for competing firms.
Carella notes that in a previous role at British Telecom, his boss came back to London after an assignment in the United States, and spent months waiting around for a new role. “He ultimately left the company, and went back to the United States to work with a different firm,” he says.
To avoid attrition among these valuable employees, Carella encourages companies to have a next position identified ahead of time to take advantage of their new skill set and to offer repatriation support, including help finding a home, schools and other resources to ease back into the community.
“HR managers often assume that expats will be fine when they return, but it’s not true,” he says. “Returning home after living abroad for years can be very difficult.”
Implementing robust mobility programs isn’t easy, especially when companies are concerned about the rising cost of these of overseas assignments. But if business leaders want to embed a global mindset in their corporate culture and appeal to a diverse customer base, these are investments that need to be made, says Travis Cossitt, senior manager of organization effectiveness for Western Union. He adds: mobility gives leaders a worldly perspective, and it demonstrates to customers and employees that the company is truly a global organization.
For more information on how to develop mobility programs for your workforce, visit world-ready workforce.