Is an international assignment worth the risk and cost to an organization? According to a recent Harvard Business Review, organizations can anticipate costs to be about three to five times the expatriate’s annual salary. As Global Mobility teams are under more pressure than ever to reduce costs, they need to ask themselves, how can they ensure a successful Global Mobility assignment?

What prevents a successful assignment?

Moving is already a stressful time of life for most people. Moving abroad only enhances this stress. It also raises the chances of personal or professional failure if it is not managed well.

The personal, professional and cultural challenges make an international assignment a potential risk for the individual, their family and the organization. It is also, of course, a huge opportunity.

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The Role Global Mobility Can Play in Delivering a Diverse Workforce

There are plenty of areas that can reduce the chance of a successful Global Mobility assignment:

  • The local office may resent the imposition of an outsider into a senior role, with the implication that they are not good enough
  • The criteria of a successful Global Mobility assignment may not be clear to the assignee or the host and the sending organization
  • The assignee may feel isolated, and that they are missing out on opportunities at head office
  • There may be no plan to re-integrate the assignee back into the home organization at the end of the assignment, leading to disillusionment and resentment
  • Culture shock may reduce the performance on assignment, or may even lead to an early return

Most organizations recognize that they need to offer a robust relocation package as an attractive, practical part of their assignees’ relocation. Ideally, this includes much more than assistance with the logistics of moving.

Most organizations will provide:

  • Tax and financial advice
  • Immigration support
  • Home and school search

Many also provide support to the assignee’s family. For example, providing support for a partner, ranging from family wellbeing matters to assistance in the executive search for their own career. These additional services can make a huge difference in the expatriate’s chance of success.

Similarly, providing cultural training benefits the assignee in both their work and everyday life, and benefits their family as well.

Without these basics, international assignments have a much higher chance of failure.

But this is not enough to maximize the chances of a successful assignment.

Managing the assignee and the assignment

A successful assignment is much more than simply performing a job well in a new environment. Most assignees get to grips with the tasks required in their new position quickly enough. Organizations often look at the bottom line in assessing the employee’s performance.

But this is not the whole picture. Learning how to adapt to their new environment also means learning how different cultures do things differently.

For those assignees who do this well, a new level of knowledge is gained that enhances the assignee’s skills and knowledge. Smart employers recognize that these new skills and knowledge enhances their organization as well.

Most organizations fail to maximize the assignee’s new value. Here is what they can do to maximize the return on investment in a successful assignment.

5 Essential Skills for Global Mobility Professionals

5 keys to a successful global mobility assignment 

1. Have a business plan

Of course, there needs to be a business case for the assignment to begin with. Is there a gap in the market? Is the assignee the best person to fill this gap? How will the market work with the new assignee? How can the market and the organization both benefit from the assignee’s placement during and after the assignment?

Considering these questions lays the foundation for an assignment that adds value to the organization.

2. Choose the right person

Professional and technical skills should not be the only criteria for consideration. Assignees with the best chance of being successful abroad are open-minded and able to adapt to a new environment and culture.

Choosing the right person includes recognizing these abilities and not simply their effectiveness in getting things done.

Being curious about their new assignment should extend to curiosity about how and why things may be different in their new location.

Learning how to incorporate this new knowledge into their skillset means gain for the assignee and their organization.

3. Select assignee sponsors both home and abroad

Organizations wanting to manage assignees successfully may wish to establish a sponsorship or mentoring system, where someone is working with the assignee in two locations: the assignment destination and back home.

This system does wonders for keeping both the employee and the organization informed of key events and activities undertaken by the assignee.

It also keeps the assignee current about what is happening back home and helps the host office understand the wider objectives for the assignment.

4. Set up formal channels to keep in touch

Structured communication is key. Sponsors on both ends of the assignment and the assignee should consider communicating openly and often.

Scheduling calls to discuss key targets, progress and challenges of the assignment are a step that many organizations fail to do, especially if they are operating in crisis mode or are only focusing on task-related deliverables.

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Setting up a strong channel of communication allows the assignee to adjust to most situations. It also provides the organization with an opportunity to assess what is going well and what could be improved upon whilst there is still a chance to change things for the better.

5. Plan for the assignee’s repatriation or next assignment

Many well-planned international assignments are successful while the assignee is abroad. However, expatriate assignments eventually end. Assignees either accept the next assignment or they return home.

Either way, many organizations fail to get the maximum benefit from the assignment. Many organizations do not recognize the valuable information and experience of a freshly returned assignee.

The return home is also a source of frustration for the assignee. They may feel that:

  • Their experience is not valued
  • Their role may have less independence
  • They have missed opportunities to progress in their careers

The biggest frustration is that they feel as if they no longer fit into an organization that they do not recognize – either because they have changed or the organization has changed.

Many assignees come home to find that they do not have a clearly defined role – as if a job was created for them as an afterthought.

Ensuring that an assignment is a success means that organizations must not only leverage the assignee’s experience but must also find a meaningful way for the assignee to continue to be motivated within the organization, building on their new skills and experience.

Otherwise, it’s almost certain that the assignee will quickly find another organization that does value their skills and experience.

5 Essential Skills for Global Mobility Professionals

To the uninitiated, an assignment is as simple as getting a visa and a plane ticket. However, to ensure that it is a successful assignment, organizations must carefully:

  • Define the criteria of a successful Global Mobility Assignment
  • Select the correct person to send on assignment 
  • Engage both host and sending offices
  • Keep communication lines open
  • Plan the repatriation process 

Adding value to the assignment

Global Mobility teams are often considered a cost center, adding little value, beyond their administrative skills. And this is certainly true for those who limit themselves to providing the logistical support to an assignment.

However, a successful Global Mobility assignment that contributes to the long-term performance of the organization is managed by a strategic global mobility team that is actively involved from the identification of the need to utilizing the talent development on return. A strategic global mobility team can maximize the return on investment that comes from a successful assignment.