Who are expatriate managers

Expatriate Management - Expat Management

November 28, 2012


Content Expatriate Management - Expat Management

The international posting as a holistic posting process

Posting employees abroad * has been part of everyday life at many companies for years. Those who are globally active nowadays send specialists and managers who work in key positions at the various locations and who can help determine and control the company-relevant processes.

Successful international assignments require not only professional qualifications, but also a whole range of intercultural skills, from which support measures can be derived. The 2012 Global Relocation Trends Report notes the increase in the use of written guidelines for international deployments. He also explains a slight decrease in the dropout and termination rate during and after international assignments to six percent.1 Of this percentage, 22% of employees leave the company during their assignment and 28% quit within the first year after their return. In addition to attractive job offers, the reasons are, in particular, partnership / family problems, discrepancies in expectations and the return culture shock.2 The consequences for the company are, in addition to the financial outlay (a posting abroad costs at least two to ten times the sum of personnel costs, e.g. through moving, travel and school costs,3) the possible loss of international customers and lower employee satisfaction or a lack of willingness on the part of other employees to go abroad.

Expatriate Management: Intercultural preparation and follow-up training

Intercultural preparation and follow-up training as well as accompanying coaching are recommended in the relevant research as measures for reduction.4 Despite the decline in layoffs, there are still large discrepancies in practice between the study results, their recommendations for action and the implementation by companies. Recent research from international personnel development indicates that procedural and holistic international personnel development is required, from basic intercultural qualification of employees to knowledge management after their return. In this context, different personnel development measures are to be presented within seven phases of an assignment abroad (Figure 1).5 The importance of this holistic international personnel management is then included in the debate about the success and failure of international assignments.

Expatriate Management: Selection and Preparation (Phase 1 & 2)

(1) Application / selection

The selection process is as complex as it is important for the success of an entire assignment abroad. In the best case, companies already employ a number of employees with a suitable intercultural qualification profile who are also ready to leave the country. This category includes companies that rely on continuous intercultural personnel development, which is seldom the case, however.6

So other ways have to be found to select employees in a targeted manner. When making a selection, professional qualifications and language skills are of great importance for many companies. There should also be social and intercultural skills such as flexibility and curiosity about the country and other cultures. These are the key to success, as studies point out.7

Using an intercultural assessment center, different skills and weak points of employees can be shown.8 The further preparation can be based on the knowledge gained in this way. More cost-effective methods are potential analyzes, some of which can be carried out with the aid of a computer. If the person leaving has not yet been able to get to know the new place of work as part of projects, a trial visit is also recommended.

(2) Acceptance / preparation

After a posting has been approved, the focus should be on promoting intercultural skills. During intercultural training, different cultural approaches and reflection methods can be learned, applied and classified (

Another measure that has been seldom used so far to provide continuous support is to set up a mentorship.10 Every person leaving comes together with a mentor who on the one hand acts as a contact person for changes in the parent company and on the other hand serves as a personal contact for the expatriate. In the best case scenario, the mentor has already gained experience in the country and / or the company unit.

Departure and stay abroad (phase 3-4)

During the stay abroad, the expatriate must be accompanied continuously. Thorsten Kühlmann, personnel development researcher at the University of Bayreuth, divides the escort of the departing person into four areas of responsibility: departure of the posted worker and his family, support for settling in at the posting location, familiarization with the international position, ensuring contact between the posted worker and the posting part of the company.11

(3) departure

To support the departure, relocation companies offer a variety of services from shipping the furniture to looking for an apartment at the new place of residence to finding a school for the children. Here it should be checked which support measures can be carried out by the new company unit or by a relocation provider.

During the departure phase (within the first few months at the new location) there should be accompaniment to settle in (acculturation accompaniment) for all those leaving (seconded person and family). These consist of a seminar to reflect on the first impressions, further strengthen intercultural skills and a culture shock treatment.12
With a view to the seconded person, a step-by-step professional goal setting and a later performance evaluation should accompany this orientation process.

(4) Stay abroad / accompaniment in the country

Expatriates need professional support, especially when dealing with experiences that are summarized as culture shock. Intercultural coaching is ideal here. This should begin after three months at the latest, when the first changes in the professional as well as in the private area become more apparent.13

Regular coaching should be offered throughout the stay abroad. Continuous reflection on the work and life situation can lead to a reduction in psychological and physical stress and to the development of intercultural management skills.
In the case of a mentor system in the home company, internal developments are passed on to those who have left the country. Employees in the parent company are also informed about the work of the posted worker. Invitations to conferences as well as other important company events and paid home leave promote the company connection and the private contact maintenance of the foreign employee. This information, contacts and relationships are of particular importance in the reintegration phase.14

The return (phases 5-7)

Dealing with the return process of an expatriate and, if applicable, his / her family is a component of international personnel development that has so far not been well received by research and has not been integrated into practice.15 For employees, there is often a high level of frustration when career expectations are not met, but the private environment has also changed significantly. Here, however, as with departure, comprehensive support is required in order to reintegrate the employee, both privately and professionally. The consequences of poor support are high termination rates and the resulting loss of know-how and investment costs.16 At the same time, Kühlmann points out the desire for a “limitless career” by internationally active employees, which means that dismissals cannot be prevented after certain professional development goals have been achieved. On the part of the company, too, there are not always suitable positions that meet the expectations of the returnees.

(5) Preparatory return

The return to the home country and company is often underestimated by the seconded as well as by the HR departments. The challenges are diverse and can be found in the professional as well as in the private context. Often there is a divergence in expectations between employees and employers. In order to coordinate these with each other, preliminary visits and reintegration training are recommended. Through this, the expatriates can look back on their experiences and look back on their future ideas (career and personal wishes).

When you visit your home company, not only the HR department but also your personal mentor plays a role. He can identify possible departments and work areas in advance and present them to the seconded person. In this way, both sides can get an idea of ​​each other during the introductory visit. Again, the mentor acts as a mediator between the actors. In the preparatory reintegration seminar / coaching, wishes, fears and cherished behaviors are reflected on. In addition, strategies are tried out on how to deal with a return culture shock.

(6) The return & reintegration

Relocation service providers can also offer practical support on the return journey. Reintegration training should also be carried out for returnees. Professional as well as private difficulties with a "new beginning" at home are discussed. The personal exchange with other returnees and the consideration of formative situations are popular components. In order to reflect on the personal development process during the stay abroad, a link between the intercultural preparation and the return should take place at this stage. Here, too, it is important to coordinate the content with the returnees in order to stay as close as possible to their needs. Participation in in-house training courses to refresh relevant knowledge in relation to the old / new position is necessary in order to gradually reintegrate the employee into the work processes. On the other hand, instruments must be available with which the knowledge and experience of former employees abroad can be collected and used further.

As at the beginning of the stay abroad, support in the partner's job search is required in the private environment. Often they have given up their professional careers in order to go abroad with them. In this way, private conflicts can be reduced through this service. The same applies if the partner or family is guaranteed to participate in reintegration training.

(7) Follow-up / knowledge management

The final phase of an exit process is the integration of the returnee's experience into the company's knowledge management system. This shouldn't start after your return, but should be an integral part of the whole process. Securing experience is important for the company as well as for the expatriate, as it can be used, for example, to further qualify newcomers. It also strengthens the internationalization of the company in terms of integrative diversity management and is an important competitive advantage.


The posting process shown demonstrates the various support measures that are possible and applicable within the framework of continuous and holistic international personnel development. In particular, the interlinking of the individual sub-steps of the posting is necessary. This circular accompaniment is then used by travelers and companies to develop international management skills and to strengthen their international business.

A suitable selection, followed by intercultural seminars and coaching before, during and after the stay as well as international knowledge management requires an international basic strategy of the company. It can become part of a diversity management concept. In addition, the leadership model should refer to the importance of interculturality and diversity. The organizational culture can change further in this direction through the reintegration of returnees. Sustainable companies have already recognized this and integrated a holistic international personnel development to build up skills.
Author: Tore Süßenguth

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Figure 1 - Expatriate Management: Seven phases of the assignment abroad

Evidence / footnotes

* Due to the reader-friendliness, the female form is not mentioned here, but this is included in all names.
1 "Brookfield Global Relocation Services - 2012 Global Relocation Trends Survey", 2012, http://knowledge.brookfieldgrs.com/content/insights_ideas-2012_GRTS (last accessed on 24.09.2012).
2 Judith N. Martin and Teresa Harrel, "Intercultural Reentry of Students and Professionals: Theory and Practice", in Handbook of Intercultural Training, ed. by Dan Landis, Janet Bennett, and Milton Bennett, London. (SAGE, 2004), 309-336.
3 Herman Blom and Harald Meier, Intercultural Management: Intercultural Communication. International personnel management. Diversity approaches in the company. (Verlag Neue Wirtschafts-Briefe, 2002), 177f.
4 Torsten M. Kühlmann, Foreign Assignment of Employees, 1st, edition (Hogrefe-Verlag, 2004); ibid .; Beatrix Deiss, The reintegration of employees after their assignment abroad. Course, problem areas, measures. (GRIN Verlag, 2007); Eva-Ulrike Kinast and Alexander Thomas, "Intercultural Personnel Development in International Companies", in Handbook Intercultural Communication and Cooperation: Handbook Intercultural Communication and Cooperation Volume 1: Volume 1: Basics and fields of practice. Volume 1. With 23 illustrations and 14 tables (Göttingen: Vandehoeck & Ruprecht, 2006).
5 Alexander Thomas, Eva-Ulrike Kinast, and Schroll-Machl, “Development of intercultural competence in action by internationally active specialists and managers through intercultural training”, in Intercultural Learning / Intercultural Training, ed. by Klaus Götz (Munich and Mering: Rainer Kamp Verlag, undated), 91–114.
6 Alexander Thomas, Eva-Ulrike Kinast, and Sylvia Schroll-Machl, Handbook Intercultural Communication and Cooperation: Handbook Intercultural Communication and Cooperation Volume 1: Volume 1: Basics and fields of practice., 2nd, revised. Ed. (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2003).
7 for many: Kinast and Thomas, “Intercultural Personnel Development in International Companies”.
8 Elisabeth Prechtl, Intercultural Assessment Center - Predictor for international assignments and multicultural groups (Dustri, 2009).
9 Kühlmann, foreign deployment of employees, 79.
10 Carolin K.Eckert, “Theoretical and Conceptual Basics”, in Knowledge Transfer in the Foreign Posting Process, ed. by Carolin K. Eckert (Wiesbaden: Gabler, 2009), 30; Kühlmann, foreign deployment of employees.
11 Kühlmann, foreign deployment of employees, 83.
12 Kinast and Thomas, "Intercultural Personnel Development in International Companies", 253.
13 Ibid., 252.
14 Kühlmann, foreign deployment of employees, 89f.
15 Betina Szkudlarek, "Reentry - A review of the literature", International Journal of Intercultural Relations 34, No. 1 (January 2010): 12.
16 "Brookfield Global Relocation Services - 2012 Global Relocation Trends Survey".
17 Kühlmann, deployment of employees abroad, 103.
18 Karin Lackner, “Expatriation: Posting without Return?”, Group Dynamics and Organizational Advice 39, No. 1 (May 17, 2008): 63–86.
19 Betina A. Szkudlarek, "Spinning the web of reentry: (re) connecting reentry training theory and prac-tice" (s.n.], 2008), 74.
20 Szkudlarek, “Spinning the web of reentry”.
21 Klaus Hirsch, "Reintegration of foreign employees", in Intercultural Management, ed. by Niels Bergemann and Andreas Sourisseaux, 3rd, completely revised. and exp. Ed. (Springer, 2003), 417-430.
22 Eckert, “Theoretical and Conceptual Basics”, 31; Sylke Piéch, The Knowledge Potential of Expatriates: To Process Optimization of Foreign Assignments (Wissenschaft & Praxis, 2009).
23 Désirée Ladwig and Katja Loose, “Globalization and foreign assignments. The hurdles of reintegration after a stay abroad in Arab countries ”, Zeitschrift für Personalforschung, 14, Nr. 4 (2000): 372.

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