by Kevan Hawley – HRM Magazine

Kevan Hawley spent many years as a production executive with South African Breweries – did his masters research on the ‘key success factors for expatriate management in Africa’ and has had many years of management experience both in South Africa and as an expatriate in Africa.

It is essential that the successful international businesses of today become aware of the competitive advantage of thorough preparation of their expatriate managers and the impact it is going to have on their overall profits. To ignore its importance is tantamount to managerial neglect.

Now that South Africa – the power-house of Africa – has had sanctions and trade embargoes against her lifted, we have seen a vast increase of expatriates into and out of South Africa.

It has become important for us to understand the issues around globalisation.

Management in foreign countries is not an easy task for the unprepared. The expatriate has to face a host of challenges which his non-expatriate colleagues don’t have to consider.

He faces culture shock, new value systems, social readjustment, adjustment to the host country’s modus operandi, problems related to communication differences, inferior levels of training, the interpretation of unfamiliar body language and, eventually, repatriation.

Not only does the expatriate have to contend with the usual manager-worker syndrome, he has to adapt to the expatriate-local situation as well. There are often hostilities involved here as the local perceives the expatriate to have deprived him of a job.

Literature indicates that “between 16 and 40 per cent of all expatriate managers who are given foreign assignments end these assignments early because of their poor performance or their inability to adjust to the foreign environment, and as high as 50 per cent of those who do not return early function at a low level of effectiveness,” according to Black and Mendanhall.

Caudron suggests that a failure of an expatriate posting can cost a company between $250 000 and $300 000 depending on the expatriate employee’s salary, the location and whether family transfers were involved.

There are also hidden costs such as loss of customer goodwill, ineffective product support, poor company morale and friction between the home and foreign office.

The key to ensuring, that the expatriate’s contract is as successful as possible depends to a large extent on identifying the factors which can cause dissatisfaction and low motivation of the expatriate and attempting to address them as effectively as possible.

Some of these factors can be addressed by the expatriate himself, some by the company and others through a combined expatriate and company effort.

We have found that the major contributors to failure in Africa to be:

  • a poor understanding of culture and language,
  • the devastating effect of ethnocentrism,
  • a lack of commitment to training the host nationals,
  • a lack of adequate preparation and counseling of the expatriate and his family.
  • Cavusgil is of the opinion. that well planned training and orientation programmes can ease the transition and adjustment of an expatriate and family, improve the expatriate’s on the job performance and minimise premature returns.

Typical programmes for the employee and his family should include:

  • cross cultural training,
  • language training,
  • documentary and practical information on the new location,
  • sensitivity training,
  • arrival orientation,
  • field trips where possible,
  • a repatriation programme,
  • the appointment of a mentor.
  • Delia-Loyle suggests that the employee to be sent abroad should be the employee most able to flexibly adapt to the changing business environment and not the employee who is the most knowledgeable technically.

According, to Barry Kozloff of Selection Research International, the qualities that the expatriate should leave, include:

  • a calm composure under stress,
  • an unwillingness to blame specific people for mistakes,
  • solid ethics and values,
  • the ability to professionally and calmly endure a tough job assignment,
  • strong social judgement and sensitivity to cultural nuances,
  • a lack of self-centredness,
  • spousal support.
  • It is essential that the successful international businesses of today become aware of the competitive advantage of thorough preparation of their expatriate managers and the impact it is going to have on their overall profits.

To ignore its importance is tantamount to managerial neglect.