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19 January, 2016 - 15:28

Much of the training may include cultural components, which were cited by 73 percent of successful expatriates as key ingredients to success.  1

Training isn’t always easy, though. The goal is not to help someone learn a language or cultural traditions but to ensure they are immersed in the sociocultural aspects of the new culture they are living in. Roger N. Blakeney,  2 an international business researcher, identifies two main pathways to adapting to a new culture. First, people adjust quickly from the psychological perspective but not the social one. Blakeney argues that adjusting solely from the psychological perspective does not make an effective expatriate. Although it may take more time to adjust, he says that to be fully immersed and to fully understand and be productive in a culture, the expatriate must also have sociocultural adaption. In other words, someone who can adjust from a sociocultural perspective ends up performing better because he or she has a deeper level of understanding of the culture. Determining whether your candidate can gain this deeper level would figure in your selection process.

Figure 14.3 Blakeney’s Model of Psychological versus Sociocultural Adaption 

One of the key decisions in any global organization is whether training should be performed in-house or an outside company should be hired to provide the training. For example, Communicaid offers online and on-site training on a variety of topics listed. Whether in-house or external training is performed, there are five main components of training someone for an overseas assignment:

  1. Language
  2. Culture
  3. Goal setting
  4. Managing family and stress
  5. Repatriation

Training on languages is a basic yet necessary factor to the success of the assignment. Although to many, English is the international business language, we shouldn’t discount the ability to speak the language of the country in which one is living. Consider Japan’s largest online retailer, Rakuten, Inc. It mandated that English will be the standard language by March 2012. 3 Other employers, such as Nissan and Sony, have made similar mandates or have already implemented an English-only policy. Despite this, a large percentage of your employee’s time will be spent outside work, where mastery of the language is important to enjoy living in another country. In addition, being able to discuss and negotiate in the mother tongue of the country can give your employee greater advantages when working on an overseas assignment. Part of language, as we discussed in Successful Employee Communication, isn’t only about what you say but also includes all the nonverbal aspects of language. Consider the following examples:

  • In the United States, we place our palm upward and use one finger to call someone over. In Malaysia, this is only used for calling animals. In much of Europe, calling someone over is done with palm down, making a scratching motion with the fingers (as opposed to one finger in the United States). In Columbia, soft handclaps are used.
  • In many business situations in the United States, it is common to cross your legs, pointing the soles of your shoes to someone. In Southeast Asia, this is an insult since the feet are the dirtiest and lowest part of the body.
  • Spatial differences are an aspect of nonverbal language as well. In the United States, we tend to stand thirty-six inches (an arm length) from people, but in Chile, for example, the space is much smaller.
  • Proper greetings of business colleagues differ from country to country.
  • The amount of eye contact varies. For example, in the United States, it is normal to make constant eye contact with the person you are speaking with, but in Japan it would be rude to make constant eye contact with someone with more age or seniority.

The goal of cultural training is to train employees what the “norms” are in a particular culture. Many of these norms come from history, past experience, and values. Cultural training can include any of the following topics:

  1. Etiquette
  2. Management styles
  3. History
  4. Religion
  5. The arts
  6. Food
  7. Geography
  8. Logistics aspects, such as transportation and currency
  9. Politics

Cultural training is important. Although cultural implications are not often discussed openly, not understanding the culture can harm the success of a manager when on overseas assignment. For example, when Revlon expanded its business into Brazil, one of the first products it marketed was a Camellia flower scented perfume. What the expatriate managers didn’t realize is that the Camellia flower is used for funerals, so of course, the product failed in that country. 4 Cultural implications, such as management style, are not always so obvious. Consider the US manager who went to Mexico to manage a production line. He applied the same management style that worked well in America, asking a lot of questions and opinions of employees. When employees started to quit, he found out later that employees expect managers to be the authority figure, and when the manager asked questions, they assumed he didn’t know what he was doing.

Training on the goals and expectations for the expatriate worker is important. Since most individuals take an overseas assignment to boost their careers, having clear expectations and understanding of what they are expected to accomplish sets the expatriate up for success.

Because moving to a new place, especially a new country, is stressful, it is important to train the employee on managing stress, homesickness, culture shock, and likely a larger workload than the employee may have had at home. Some stress results from insecurity and homesickness. It is important to note that much of this stress occurs on the family as well. The expatriate may be performing and adjusting well, but if the family isn’t, this can cause greater stress on the employee, resulting in a failed assignment. Four stages of expatriate stress identified in the Selyes model, the General Adaption Syndrome, are shown in Figure 14.5 General Adaption Syndrome to Explain Expatriate .... The success of overseas employees depends greatly on their ability to adjust, and training employees on the stages of adjustment they will feel may help ease this problem.

Figure 14.4 General Adaption Syndrome to Explain Expatriate Stress

Spouses and children of the employee may also experience much of the stress the expatriate feels. Children’s attendance at new schools and lack of social networks, as well as possible sacrifice of a spouse’s career goal, can negatively impact the assignment. Many companies offer training not only for the employee but for the entire family when engaging in an overseas assignment. For example, global technology and manufacturing company Honeywell offers employees and their families a two-day cultural orientation on the region they will be living in.  5 Some of the reasons for lack of adjustment by family members might include the following:

  1. Language issues
  2. Social issues
  3. Schooling
  4. Housing
  5. Medical services

The ability of the organization to meet these family needs makes for a more successful assignment. For example, development of an overseas network to provide social outlets, activities, schooling and housing options, assignment of mentors to the spouse, and other methods can help ease the transition.

Finally, repatriation is the process of helping employees make the transition to their home country. Many employees experience reverse culture shock upon returning home, which is a psychological phenomenon that can lead to feelings of fear, helplessness, irritability, and disorientation. All these factors can cause employees to leave the organization soon after returning from an assignment, and to take their knowledge with them. One problem with repatriation is that the expatriate and family have assumed things stayed the same at home, while in fact friends may have moved, friends changed, or new managers may have been hired along with new employees. Although the manager may be on the same level as other managers when he or she returns, the manager may have less informal authority and clout than managers who have been working in the particular office for a period of time. An effective repatriation program can cost $3,500 to $10,000 per family, but the investment is worth it given the critical skills the managers will have gained and can share with the organization. In fact, many expatriates fill leadership positions within organizations, leveraging the skills they gained overseas. One such example is FedEx president and CEO David Bronczek and executive vice president Michael Drucker. Tom Mullady, the manager of international compensation planning at FedEx, makes the case for a good repatriation program when he says, “As we become more and more global, it shows that experience overseas is leveraged back home.”  6

Repatriation planning should happen before the employee leaves on assignment and should be a continuous process throughout the assignment and upon return. The process can include the following:

  • Training and counseling on overseas assignment before leaving
  • Clear understanding of goals before leaving, so the expatriate can have a clear sense as to what new skills and knowledge he or she will bring back home
  • Job guarantee upon return (Deloitte and Touche, for example, discusses which job each of the two hundred expats will take after returning, before the person leaves, and offers a written letter of commitment. 7)
  • Assigning the expatriate a mentor, ideally a former expatriate
  • Keeping communication from home open, such as company newsletters and announcements
  • Free return trips home to stay in touch with friends and family
  • Counseling (at Honeywell, employees and families go through a repatriation program within six months of returning.  8)
  • Sponsoring brown bag lunches where the expatriate can discuss what he or she learned while overseas
  • Trying to place expatriates in positions where they can conduct business with employees and clients from where they lived

It is also important to note that offering an employee an international assignment can help develop that person’s understanding of the business, management style, and other business-related development. Working overseas can be a crucial component to succession planning. It can also be a morale booster for other employees, who see that the chosen expatriate is further able to develop his or her career within the organization.

While the focus of this section has been on expatriate assignments, the same information on training is true for third-country nationals.

If it is decided that host-country nationals will be hired, different training considerations might occur. For example, will they spend some time at your domestic corporate headquarters to learn the business, then apply what they learned when they go home? Or, does it make more sense to send a domestic manager overseas to train the host-country manager and staff? Training will obviously vary based on the type of business and the country, and it may make sense to gain input from host-country managers as opposed to developing training on your own. As we have already discussed in this chapter, an understanding of the cultural components is the first step to developing training that can be utilized in any country.