It would have been easy to fall into the comfortable pattern of enjoying a great job in the UK with stimulating colleagues and challenging objectives. But I have always been a passionate believer in shaping the right opportunity and enhancing development by looking beyond the obvious career path.
It is that philosophy which carried me – a working mother with two young girls and a husband whose business is based in Europe – to move to Charlotte, North Carolina.
Having sat on the boards of Moto Hospitality, Little Chef, Travelodge and Harry Ramsdens, I knew that I needed to gain some global experience and to step out from the operating company board level.
As part of my Compass Group job I had the opportunity both to take responsibility for HR and to work globally across the group and take full project responsibility for a global executive development programme.
These broader responsibilities enabled me to work closely with teams across the world. During my time working with the Americas division, I realised that if I was ever going to make an international move, it would be to the US. Culturally the fit was right for me, and I could also see the contribution that I could make to strategy.
When the opportunity arose in the Americas division, I knew that it was the right development move for me. I also knew what it would be like to live and work in the US through the project opportunities the group had given me.
The new job is wonderful – it is a new role that encompasses the whole “attract, develop and retain” strategy. My new boss also threw in HR vice-president for our retail sector for good measure – keen to keep me grounded operationally, I suspect.
So here I am, living and working in Charlotte, having overcome the hurdles to relocate as a working mother. I won’t pretend that the move has been effortless – it would be unfair to people who are thinking of moving and would certainly mislead organisations considering relocating staff.
The logistics of the move were made easy for me as Compass Group is passionate about supporting moves. The visa process was handled quickly and I have a team of experts on hand when I need them.
Another tip that my new boss gave me was to come out for orientation before the family moved. That worked really well. I did a three-week orientation where I had nothing else to worry about. I really got to grips with the business, the team, the budgets and the goals for the next year.
Emotionally at that point, it just felt like I was on another business trip. I attended meetings, went out for dinner and travelled to other cities.
Then I returned home for two weeks to pack up the house and collect the family. And I have to say, nothing prepared me for the shock of landing with two kids, a new job, setting up the house, childcare arrangements and an absent husband.
My experiences have taught me that organisations that want to consider international talent mobility must engage the employee first. It is often the myriad of processes that ‘sinks’ the individual.
I was offered a mentor to help me to acclimatise, and the compensation and benefits vice-president sat with me to complete payroll transfer.
It is that level of personal support that expedites the process. The key objective for any organisation is to get any new executive settled and contributing to the strategy as quickly as possible.
If you don’t get the support right, the employee struggles and the company does not see the benefit. My boss has been extremely supportive. He has minimised travelling in the first few months and helped me to prioritise and focus.
For potential relocating executives themselves, it is worth the stress. Even in my darkest moments I have not regretted taking the plunge. It was the right move for me, it just happened to be in another country.
And when I sit with my team considering the part we will play in the business strategy, before I drive home with the top down in the sunshine to collect the kids and go for ice cream, I know I have made the right choice.
Amanda Leonard is to write a blog for personneltoday.com, coming soon
Amanda Leonard’s tips for a successful relocation
Capture hearts and minds
This is the first point for all practitioners dealing with global mobility. We often focus on the quality of the relocation package, transparency of opportunities and terms and conditions. But the fundamental component is to win the hearts and minds of global staff and engage them in the countries where you are likely to need them in the future. Hook them in to teams, involve them in projects as a taster to what it might be like working in another country and expose them to the local leadership.
My self-employed husband commutes between the US and UK. He had to miss my birthday but he made my daughter’s. It is tempting to treat his trips as a holiday but he needs to orientate, get into his own routine and start to consider business prospects in the US. Having your spouse settled in their own right is key – for a relocation to work, everyone has to be happy.
Do your research early
For example, the children had to take school entrance exams. How competitive are the schools? Can things be handled from the UK? My daughter’s school in the UK was great at turning round references, converting UK grades to US.
Make sure you obtain an international driving licence
I could not lease a car without a North Carolina State Driving Licence. So week two of relocating, I am not only playing single parent, meeting the new team and delivering the budget for 2005-06, but I am also revising for the test. UK licences can be converted for up to six months.
Be practical – understand the climate and prepare accordingly
During my first power cut caused by a tropical storm, I realised that I didn’t have a torch and sat on the deck with the kids by the light of my Blackberry. I should have taken heed when I left the office in the rain carrying a paper bag which disintegrated after 30 seconds, scattering research papers all over the curb. Make sure that you find out where the trip switch for your power supply is, buy a torch, and find out the passcode for the power company’s automated helpline.