Postings OVERSEAS: The keys to success

Nowadays, more and more Canadian companies are choosing to develop new markets abroad. There are many reasons behind this decision and they vary from one organization to the next. In the end, this expansion strategy is financially motivated, driven by representation and fierce competition. In most cases, this strategy means that employees will be assigned to work in a new environment.
Companies have important decisions to make about which of their employees will be posted abroad. As a starting point, certain variables are taken into consideration when evaluating the options. One might think that there should logically be many well-defined variables that are similar from one organization to the next, but the reality is quite different. Many studies show that the variables most commonly taken into account by Canadian companies are the employee’s specialized expertise and willingness to be deployed. Specialized expertise is clearly an essential variable for an assignment, but what about the employee’s own wishes?
As Joly mentioned (2007), the first phase of an employee’s assignment abroad is called “enchantment1.” In this phase, the vast array of economic possibilities, the discovery of new cultures and the opportunity to face new challenges can sometimes falsely heighten a person’s desire to be deployed abroad. Yet, disturbing statistics show that a significant percentage of employees sent abroad return disenchanted with their experience. This can be due to many reasons, such as difficulties adapting to new cultural and social realities, family problems associated with the assignment (i.e., lack of job and support for the spouse, learning difficulties for the children), a decrease in economic opportunities, an ever-increasing sense of isolation and many others. 2 Now, how can we identify and channel an employee’s desire to be stationed abroad?
The response to this question is both simple and complex. Its complexity comes from the fact that even though most Canadian companies say that variables such as the capacity for adaptation, language skills, and family adjustments are essential for a successful deployment, these same companies confirm that these elements are not given particular consideration in the selection and training process for employees who could potentially be deployed. 3 This situation leads us to affirm that taking these variables into account could on the one hand identify and channel an employee’s desire to be deployed abroad and, on the other hand, substantially increase his chances for a successful deployment in the short, medium, and long term, extending the enchantment phase typically associated with the announcement of a foreign assignment.
In this way, after returning home, employees could then share the benefits of their experiences abroad with their coworkers, their organization and even their community. A skillfully handled relocation process can be a win-win situation for everyone involved.

To relocate employees abroad and to maximize their chances of success, a company should be sure to address the following points:

With market globalization showing no signs of letting up, it would seem that assignments of employees abroad will continue to increase in the near future. In Canada, it is even more important to have a solid evaluation and selection process, since employees will be sent more often to emerging markets with significant cultural, linguistic, social and political differences (e.g., China, Brazil and India). Forewarned is forearmed when it comes to preparing and training an employee…

Nicolas Roy
M. Sc., CHRP, Assessment and Evaluation Consultant

1 Jean-François Chanlat and al., L’individu dans l’organisation : les dimensions oubliées [The Individual in the Organization : The Forgotten Dimensions], Québec, Les Presses de l’Université Laval, 2007, 8ème éd., p.475.
2 Margaret Michalowski and Kelly Tran., Les Canadiens à l’étranger [Canadians Abroad]. 2008
3 Betty Jane Punnett. Handbook for International Management, 2004.