Once you have decided to use expatriation and an expatriate has accepted an overseas assignment, several concerns have to be addressed. On the one hand, will the relocation allow the expat and their family to at least maintain their current living standards, and on the other, which training does the expat and their family need in terms of language, cultural awareness, and professional skills for the assignment to be successful.
Since the relocation services vary across the spectrum due to size and resources of the company, let’s take a closer look at the training aspect for now. Leiba-O’Sullivan (1999) identified various cross-cultural competencies a successful expatriate might need. She refers to the KSAO categorization of competencies, which refers to knowledge, skills, ability and other (including interests and personality constructs). She defined knowledge and skill as dynamic competencies that can be acquired through training, in contrast to ability and ‘personality,’ which are stable competencies that may “constrain the potential to develop a skill.”
The questions that have to be raised in this context are whether or not all cross-cultural competencies can be acquired through training, whether every person is equally trainable and are cross-cultural competencies really necessary for successful adjustment. I’ll look forward to reading your comments and thoughts about this. It can be summarized to say, as we have already mentioned in the expatriate characteristics during the selection period, that stable competencies like an open mind and an outgoing nature unafraid of different cultures need to be in place for the cultural nuances to be learned, understood and practiced.
Frazee (1999) suggests that any sort of training should be provided as soon as possible, which means the company and the expatriate can start thinking about training sessions as soon as the expatriate has agreed to go abroad. During the final weeks before the relocation the family will be busy selling the house, the car, saying good-bye to friends and might not be relaxed enough to sit through a thorough training program. Frazee suggests that language training, instead of in the form of intensive courses, should be provided over an extended period of time allowing for the material to sink in. As you know, I believe coaching and similar support services would be most beneficial when viewed the same way, as an equally longer-term process. In any case, the family should have basic conversational skills of how to buy groceries and the polite way of saying yes, no, and thank you. This is especially important for the spouses, as they are the ones left alone during the workday of the expatriate having to get along with everyday life. More detailed classes can be scheduled once the family is in the country.
As for cultural education, classes should provide the profiles of home and host country, pointing out the main differences and similarities. It is also be helpful to prepare the expatriate and the family for ‘culture-shock’ that they might experience, describing the symptoms and providing tools to counteract it (Frazee 1999). The programs I deliver for Cartus’ clients are very well researched and balanced, as they allow for the exploration of personal experiences as well as giving theoretical frameworks that translate across various cultures.
When accepting to go abroad for an extended period of time, expatriates often fear the “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” problem might occur. Companies can counteract this by establishing close communication ties with the expatriate by nominating a mentor from the home office to stay in touch. That mentor can keep the expatriate updated on internal affairs, inform them about job opportunities upon return and generally take care that the expatriate’s name is not forgotten amongst staff in the headquarters. Regular visits can be arranged for the expatriate to show face and be involved in home country business (Allen and Alvarez, 1998). One of the companies I’ve surveyed, for example, makes use of the Internet and its Intranet by having established an “Employee’s Channel” for the exchange of information and staying in touch between expatriates and headquarters. Also, a “Women’s Club” organizes meeting of expatriate families in the city and welcomes new arrivals.
Bottom line is, careful training and preparation of expatriates and their families is indispensable when trying to avoid an assignment to terminate early because the involved parties were not aware of what was awaiting them. In the long term, the resources invested in pre-departure training are an investment in the successful assignment and a content expatriate that will do his or her best for the company.