orientation is at the vanguard of training for foreign postings. Lucie
Carrington looks at its merits
the one about the British manager who went to Japan to clinch a deal? After two
frustrating days on the golf course, he finally turned round to his hosts in
desperation and asked when they were going to do business, only to be told,
“But we are doing business.”
the story about the senior manager who went to live in Thailand and in her
first week failed to secure a vital contract – all because at the start of a
meeting she booked a taxi, for a couple of hours hence, back to her Bangkok
office. Her offended clients wondered how she could possibly know when the
meeting would be over.
only these managers had been better prepared for working and doing business
abroad. Sending people to work abroad is an expensive business for firms –
costing at least four times as much as keeping them at home, according to one
globalisation of business is giving rise to a new breed of international
manager. The hunt for markets, joint ventures and other partnerships, not to
mention competitors, means there are few firms that don’t need an international
could mean providing long-term placements or a short stay of a few months.
the case, if firms are to make the most of their international workers, they
have to invest in preparing them for the experience of life overseas.
Industrial Society survey of more than 100 firms with an expatriate workforce
found a big disparity between the training that firms said is most important
and the preparation they actually give workers going overseas.
majority provide language training and field visits, but what they really think
expats need is cultural awareness training.
fact, says Alex Swarbrick, consultant with the Industrial Society, the type of
training and preparation assignees need depends on where they are going, how
long they will be away and what other overseas experience they have had.
there are several core ways in which firms can prepare expats for what lies
most important of all is an in-depth briefing on the terms and conditions of an
assignment and what it is for. This is where law firm Freshfields starts its
expat preparation, while international HR specialists at IBM ensure that
assignees have personalised briefing packs within 24 hours of being appointed.
language training is a must says Jeff Toms, marketing director at Farnham
Castle International Briefing and Conference Centre. “It’s no longer acceptable
for expats to assume they can converse in English,” he says.
from reducing misunderstandings, clients and colleagues appreciate it if expats
have made an effort with their language.
let’s face it, people like to do business with people they like,” Toms says.
Castle provides language training as part of its service. This includes
specialist training in, for example, presentation skills or report writing.
amount of language training firms supply varies. Law firm Freshfields provides
up to 20 hours, while food manufacturer Diageo pays for up to 60 hours.
real push in the expat training market now is for cultural orientation courses.
the Industrial Society research shows, firms have recognised its importance,
even if only 38 per cent provide it pre-departure.
value is twofold. Firstly it helps expats avoid any cultural faux pas that
could damage the business. But it also ensures expats and business travellers
know what to expect, feel at home in their new country and don’t fly home in
misery a few months down the line.
aim is to help expats combat what Toms calls “the acculturation curve”.
the first four to six weeks, the euphoria, excitement and trepidation of being
somewhere new gives way to the realisation that this is for keeps,” Toms says.
“That’s when expats start to challenge the way their host country does things
and life becomes more difficult.”
Castle provides in depth, pre-departure, cultural briefings customised to the
needs of individual expats and their families.
is a crucial point. Research from William Mercer has shown that an unhappy
spouse or family is the biggest reason for the failure of expatriate
assignments. The growth of two-career families has made it even more important
that the complete household is taken into account.
as well as running briefings for expats and their partners, Farnham Castle runs
parallel briefings for any children over eight years old.
aim is to introduce experts to their new culture – explain some of the
practicalities about how business works, how society is organised, how to get
around, perhaps find accommodation and make friends.
fundamentally, the aim is to encourage experts to challenge their own
attitudes. “We want them to understand that other cultures they work in are
different, not wrong,” Toms says.
Castle is not alone in providing cultural awareness training. Canning does it
too, but its service is aimed at short-term placements and business trippers,
and it concentrates heavily on business communications. For example, it is
helping car firms Renault and Nissan, who have recently gone into partnership.
International, meanwhile, publishes useful guides for experts and their
spouses. These cover before, during and after placements and have been put
together by HR managers, expats and their spouses.
point is that it doesn’t all end when you wave goodbye on the tarmac. Expats
still need support and training while they are on secondment.
option is to provide a mentor in the host country to help expats settle in and
another mentor back in the home country to ensure expats remain in touch with
what is going on, says head of consulting at ECA Angela Hume.
move people around very quickly now, and it can be quite difficult to set up.
So it could depend on expats taking some responsibility for themselves,” she
firm Shell has gone further and set up a virtual network of expat partners all
over the world.
if firms are really to reap the rewards of their expat investment, they have to
ensure that the mechanism is in place to bring people back into the fold when
they come home. From a training perspective this could mean a debriefing – picking up on what expats have learned overseas
and filling them in on what’s changed in business.
if you don’t look after your expats, and this means before, during and after
their stint abroad, then don’t expect them to stay with you. They are now
highly marketable, which could explain why up to 40 per cent of expats leave
their job within a year of returning – taking their international perspective
and business knowledge with them.
staff feel at home
firm Orange provides its international staff – business trippers and expats –
with a variety of cultural awareness and language training.
training is strictly according to business need – although the need has
increased since it was taken over by France Telecom.
lessons stop once you have reached the required level.
carried out on a one-to-one basis using Berlitz and costs £2,500 per person.
They are more expensive than other providers, but in the long term it works out
to be more cost effective, says Alison Speak, international training and
development manager. “Wherever they go in the world there is usually a Berlitz
so that staff can carry on with the classes,” she says.
are probably 80 out of 150 in the international team undertaking language
training. Speak monitors their progress, sitting down once a month with her
Berlitz contact to go through the caseload.
has recently used business communications specialist Canning to develop a
cross-cultural training course for employees who have to hop from project to
project all over the world. It takes one-and-a-half days and costs £2,500 per
delegate. “We measure its impact against delegates’ ability to work quickly and
effectively in the project groups they are assigned to,” Speak says.
receive customised briefings pre-departure from TMA, which also carries out a
debriefing for Orange. So far it’s been successful. “Unfortunately, we’ve had a
few divorces, but no one has come home early because they were the wrong person
for the job,” Speak says.
could be because Orange chooses its expats very carefully. “We do assess them
on their cultural fit and adaptability before making any final decision about
long-term assignments,” Speak says.
also assess their partners. It hasn’t happened yet, but if we
thought a partner wouldn’t fit in we would advise someone not to go overseas.”
is currently piloting on an on-line, cross-cultural assessment developed by
TMA. The package also provides practical and cultural information on various
countries too, and she hopes to have something in place within the next six
service scores points
you want to get on in law firm Freshfields, Bruckhaus, Deringer it helps to
have served time overseas.
an international firm. Naturally it’s good for your career development to have
spent time in another jurisdiction,” says the firm’s head of international HR
any one time, Hill expects to have 150 people on international assignments from
London. They can be away on long-term assignment for two to three years, or on
short-term secondment of three months to a year.
it is, the preparation package is pretty much the same. “In many ways, shorter
secondments are more disruptive, so we have to be sure people know what’s going
on,” Hill says.
process begins about three months before a secondee leaves the country. It
starts with an hour-long briefing from Hill or one of his colleagues in
international HR. If they have a spouse or partner who is going with them, then
he or she is invited along too.
briefing covers all the areas secondees have to consider. “We check that they
understand the aims and objectives of the secondment, and the length of time
they are likely to be away from home,” Hill says. “We also check that they have
contacted the host office.”
addition, the briefing looks at the terms and conditions of the assignment
including disturbance allowances. Secondees discuss health and safety
implications, housing, schooling for children and removal details.
are also encouraged to think through their arrangements for the UK home and reminded,
for example, to stop their council tax payments.
all sounds a bit babyish for grown ups, but secondees are extremely grateful,”
Hill says. “Moving abroad is very stressful, so we are quite sympathetic.”
also provides more in-depth financial advice. All secondees have the option of
spending up to one hour with the law firm’s accountants, Ernst & Young.
training is available too. Up to 20 hours of one-to-one tuition is provided for
secondees and their partners, but not for their children.
Freshfields does not provide cultural awareness training. “Our secondees are
senior managers who are already fairly well-travelled,” Hill points out.
the firm does operate a mentoring scheme, linking a secondee with a colleague in
the host office who can help with difficulties associated with work or living
arrangements. “It’s a very useful system and I couldn’t recommend it more
strongly,” Hill says.
when secondees arrive in their new country, they can expect a call from one of
the international HR team. “It’s a courtesy call just to check everything is
all right. But we find that people really appreciate it,” Hill says.
Bruckhaus, Deringer provides:
– Pre-departure briefing
– Specialist financial advice
– Language training for assignee and partner
– Mentor in host country
away – the essential training
– Briefing on terms and conditions of placement
– Language training
– Cultural awareness briefing
– Opportunity to talk to other expats
– Mentoring – in host country and back home, too
– Repatriation briefing – what’s changed since you left