Perlmutter proposed that “the degree of internationalisation of a firm could be estimated by the mentality and orientation of its executives”.
No truer words said as most successful companies have successful strategies and processes in place due to good, insightful and courageous leadership. When it comes to operating in offshore environments however, we have found good leadership to be a little lacking. The skills sets required by employees to work offshore are far more complex and difficult to find. Domestically we get away with technical competence being the driver. In offshore operations however, global skill sets (GSS) are required more often than technical competencies. Globalising companies need to ensure they have a development and feeder strategy in place to ensure that the global talent and global competencies are being developed throughout their ranks.
These global skill sets that successful global companies require for success aren’t trained-in overnight nor are they learned in a month or two. It takes several years of exposure, training, coaching and mentoring to instill them in your global worker and remember, not all employees can cope in this international game. Don’t send the wrong people…select them…manage their talent.
30 percent of global assignees fail and it’s this figure that’s going to dent your bottom line.
Q: Where does this process begin?
A: At the top, where it has to become a fundamental strategy in the most senior management ranks.
Does this happen? Is there top management buy-in? Is it taken seriously? These are questions that unfortunately, more often than not, receive a “no” or a “possibly” as an answer from many companies on international forays.
Rapid deployments and sudden market expansion plans push most of us into reactive management mode and we are only too happy to get a “warm heartbeat” out there to hold the fort. Resources in the offshore country are often few and far between and the newly deployed offshore employee is often so busy struggling with personal settling-in issues, muliti-tasking, doing the work of all and sundry, that he or she doesn’t have any hope of doing a good job. This is often compounded by the fact that he or she doesn’t have the skills required to operate in an offshore environment.
Everything takes three times longer and if they don’t have the right skills. They often pack up and come home or worse still they become “brownouts”**. Take your time and find the right person and prepare them before they go. Oh and don’t be fooled by the guy who has been an “expat” before…there are 5 kinds of expats and you should be interested in only one of them.
1. Recognize that if you want to be successful offshore you need talented and competent people and that does not just mean technically competent. They have to have “international fit” and GSS in healthy doses. That includes the partner.
2. If top management does not buy into the need to develop global talent and don’t want to support it then as a global talent manger or HR director it’s probably time to find another job.
3. Set up prerequisite training modules that all people who are going to be exposed to offshore operations have to complete or be licensed in before you let them loose. If they don’t want to attend the training and think they are beyond it then don’t send them. That’s your first clue that they have the wrong attitude.
4. Include the employee’s family on the modules as well. 60 % of the 30 % failure rate is attributable to spousal and family issues.
5. Recognize that it’s not only expatriates that need to be globally trained and groomed. Training global competencies into: your businesspeople going in and out, your due diligence teams, your short term assignees… etc is a good way to start grooming and selecting your talent for future deployments. Monitor who does it well.
6. Ensure that you have a stipulated code of conduct for your assignees and that they understand why adhering to correct international behaviours is critical.
7. Set up a mentorship programme for offshore assignees and keep their mentors accountable for their development.
8. Having a formal repatriation procedure is also top of our list. Make sure that there are people in your organization who are responsible for the retention of the skills you have just repatriated. (60% of repatriates leave their company within the 1st year of being home and it’s my experience that it’s not all their fault. The way the company handles the repatriation goes a long way as to why the repatriate leaves.)
9. Ensure your in-country head is worth his salt when it comes to being measured against being globally astute and skilled. If he is of poor quality from an international fit point of view then the staff under him/her will be as well.
10. Make sure your in-country head is also held accountable for assignment failures and poorly developed staff with less than satisfactory global skills.
11. Home support staff needs to understand the management science behind expatriation and global workforce management. They need to understand the impact that they have on the assignees and how they contribute to the success or failure of the global employee. Get rid of the “them and us” syndrome.
12. Most of the top management in companies who are initiating these offshore forays often have very little or no expatriate or global work experience themselves and this leads to huge barriers between the offshore worker and head office. Perlmutter calls these ethnocentric organizations. All of the top management ranks need to understand the management science that supports global workforces and live it. Geocentrisim is the goal.
Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric, put it quite well:
“The Jack Welch of the future cannot be like me. I spent my entire career in the U.S. The next head of General Electric will be somebody who spent time in Bombay, in Hong Kong, in Buenos Aires. We have to send our best and brightest overseas and make sure they have the training that will allow them to be the global leaders who will make GE flourish in the future”.
13. Ensure that every failed assignment and failed repatriation is thoroughly debriefed by a specialist to establish causes and then plug those gaps in your system.
“After investing over a million dollars in my overseas assignment, I thought someone, somewhere in the organisation would want to know what I learned…I was wrong….Anonymous international manager
Remember that is costs a large amount of money to deploy people offshore so why not take the time and effort to insure against failures. Get a strategy in place. Ensure you understand the management science behind this game and use it to gain a positive ROI.
What’s your strategy?
**”Brownouts” are managers who do not return prematurely but are nevertheless ineffective in performing and executing their responsibilities. Estimates are that between 30 and 50 % of expatriates fall into this category. Copeland and Lewis
*Kevan was educated at the University of Witwatersrand and did his Masters Degree in Business Leadership after having spent time as an expatriate with South African Breweries. The title of his dissertation was “The key success factors for expatriate management in Africa”. He is the founder of Expatriate Preparation and has prepared global workforces to over 50 countries around the world. He has traveled to all of these countries and understands the global workplace well.