I was gobsmacked by the results of Personnel Today's research into attitudes of HR professionals towards taking international assignments.
Probably the best two years of my career were those I spent in Guangzhou, China, as head of HR for a Fortune 50 telecoms company.
Before I moved I had all the classic worries. Could I do the job? What about language? How would I do in a foreign city? What would happen when I repatriated?
Essentially, I shared the concerns shown in the survey. However, I also realised that I had a terrific opportunity to establish professional credentials that would stand me well in the future (it did).
The biggest surprises, though, were the magnitude of the concerns about an assignment being risky for the career and the divergence between the 78 per cent who wanted to take on an international role and the "tiny 6 per cent" who were willing to leave the UK.
In other words, 94 per cent would not be willing to move overseas. I'd argue that our credibility as HR professionals can only be validated, and then enhanced, when we are seen as on a par with our line colleagues. In a boardroom full of internationally-experienced executives, the HR director unwilling to work overseas may not be perceived as credibly as the other executives.
I was also concerned that 60 per cent of respondents felt they were insufficiently equipped to compete for these roles. How did we define that? Many listed their language skills as a detriment. I'd suggest they identify one or two languages and learn enough to get through airports, hotels and restaurants effectively; and to meet and greet their colleagues. The world, right or wrong, uses English as the main business language. The ability to converse, even briefly, in your host country's tongue goes miles in building relationships.
I'd argue that being "sufficiently equipped" for an assignment has more to do with flexibility, perseverance and a sense of humour than language fluency. Sure, there's the table stakes of being highly skilled in your specific discipline, but it's the ability to move to a different place, live and work in that culture, and still be the best at what you do that will define your success.
Finally, 76 per cent thought that an overseas assignment would be more pressurised than back home. Good point. Expat assignments are not for wimps. When the assignee's salary costs jump i