3 Tips for Smoothing the Waters of Expat Assignments

There is little doubt as to why the number of global assignments is growing exponentially each year. As more companies employ multi-national strategies, the relocation of their top talent is essential to implementing their global strategies. Reasons can vary – process harmonization, financial stability and brand consistency — but regardless as to why, cross-cultural endeavors now account for an estimated 66.2 million expat professionals1 globally.

Yet the ride can often be a bumpy one, especially at the start. Daniel Binder, veteran of several long-term expatriate assignments, is an executive-level consultant and coach on the Going Global team at Marie Moran & Company. With his extensive experience as an expat leader in global organizations, Daniel brings a unique perspective of the challenges faced by expats, the impact on their families and the necessity of personal touch in the transition process. Daniel gave us a glimpse into his deep expertise recently, as he provided three of his top tips for increasing your presence in these often high-visibility assignments:

Balance is key.

It is important to balance the effects of this new environment on your daily life with the continued objectives of your organization. “A person moves overseas and leaves what they know, sometimes rather suddenly. What they often don’t realize is that in terms of their work and their company, the world doesn’t stop. The organization is still moving forward.” Change in every part of your day-to-day routine (and that of your family, if they join you in the move) has a larger impact than most professionals realize. Yet, the expectation is to continue to function at the same high-potential level as you were previously. You may find yourself working long hours to assure a high level of performance and yet desiring to also spend time settling into your new life and devoting time to your family. This calls for a great deal of balance. “When you are halfway around the world,” says Daniel, “it may seem simple, but adhering to strict calendarization of your day will assist in maintaining work/life balance.”

You’re the guest.

Daniel has observed that one of the most damaging mistakes made by expats is forgetting that they are the guest in another country. From the temperature of the office to the local customs around meals and breaks, it’s important to not assume all will be the same as it is in your home country. “There are such different customs. Appreciating and being sensitive to the differences is vital. For instance, in many countries, employees don’t eat lunch at their desks. They make it a point to go out for an extended lunch.” Daniel points out that if this is the case, not going out to lunch with your host country colleagues, and choosing instead to eat at your desk, would be considered offensive. “That’s what they do, so how does that look to the team when you don’t join in?” Also, learn the local holidays and be cognizant of your colleagues’ work hours. “Your new team may not celebrate the same holidays as you do, and scheduling meetings on their holidays is not good.” Working during their normal office hours is important to how the new team views you. It is important to demonstrate that the new team and new assignment are important to you. “From Day One,” says Daniel, “show up when they show up in the office. It goes a long way to gain their trust and have them see you as a part of the team.”

Your effort matters.

Lastly, what may seem like just a little effort to you will be noticed by your team and likely appreciated. Depending on how quickly the assignment occurs, you may not have time to embrace the local language, but Daniel suggests that learning even a few essential words will build team rapport. “Hello, goodbye, please, thank you” – these words will make a very positive impression from the start. “Do a little research. Something as simple as learning how those in the host country start emails, for instance, will go a long way. In a less formal culture, people may tend to use a salutation such as ‘Hi friend.’ In a more formal culture, the custom may call for a more formal approach such as Dear Mr. Ito.’” Lastly, globalizing your language by avoiding slang words or figures of speech will diminish confusion in communication.

Since the global marketplace is expanding every day, overseas assignments will only continue to rise in number and in importance to companies of all sizes. These brief tips are offered as a quick start to assuring new global team members reach their desired outcomes.

As part of the Marie Moran & Company team, Daniel Binder is available for international business consulting for global organizations with culturally diverse customers or geographically distributed teams. One-on-one coaching packages, designed for busy leaders and entrepreneurs looking to develop cross-cultural leadership skills, are also available. Contact us for more information at 888-284-2442 or info@mariemoran.com.

1Global Expatriates: Size, Segmentation and Forecast for the Worldwide Market. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.finaccord.com/Home/About-Us/Press-Releases/Global-Expatriates-Size,-Segmentation-and-Forecas