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International Assignment

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The ever expanding globalization of economies during the past decades has given rise to companies pursuing more and more international operations. During the last century emerging economies such as Brazil, Russia, India and China have gained fast economic growth and the Western companies have recognized their potential. Developing long-term business relationships and acquiring market share in these economies may not be that easy. The majority of the emerging economies has substantial cultural differences and requires Western companies to acquire solid cultural capabilities and adaptations in order to build strong business relations and produce profit. The key to building more culturally intelligent companies is training those who are in the front line of international business interactions. These employees are called expatriates. (Chew, 2004) Expatriate processes must be handled effectively. The process contains several aspects to help achieve a successful expatriate assignment. The expatriate candidate should be sensibly chosen and the work assignment description has to be clearly defined. Practical matters such as making a proper contract, logistic and housing issues, and tax assistance need to be arranged. An integral part of the expatriate process is preparing the expatriate and the spouse to contend with the myriad of cultural challenges they will face. They must be offered appropriate cross cultural training or CCT. CCT strives to improve cultural awareness and behavior in situations that are characterized by cultural differences. A vital principle for a company’s success is its employees’ ability to understand, appreciate and acclimatize to other cultures and to cultivate a global mindset. (Chew, 2004) Preliminary visits can be valuable in orienting an expatriate into a host country and is a necessary part of a good pre-departure program. The visit can provide a screening that permits the expatriate and their spouse to access their fittingness for and interest in the assignment. A preliminary visit can assist in the primary adjustment process. It is important to note that the preliminary visit should be applicable to the proposed position and not just a tourist experience. (Dowling, 2013) Language training should be an integral part of any pre-departure program. Language skills are critical to an expatriate’s success. A deficiency in language proficiency can limit the multinational’s capability to monitor competitors and process vital information. The ability to speak a foreign language can improve the expatriate’s negotiating abilities, make them more effective leaders, and can improve upon the adjustment of the family. (Dowling, 2013) Safety briefings are another essential part of pre-departure training. These briefings are necessary when relocating to an area where the health, safety, and security of the expatriate may be threatened. Risks include terrorist activity, natural disasters, exposure to diseases, hostile political environments, and kidnapping. Formal procedures and broad guidelines address evacuation procedures, assignment tracking systems, and continuous improvements in security as a whole. (Dowling, 2013) Before an expatriate employee leaves from the home-base country, the HR Department should collaborate with the managers in charge of the expatriate employees to develop a professional profile for each employee who is placed on an international assignment. This profile should plainly outline what the company’s expectations and productivity criterions are in areas such as profitability and operation proficiency. Reasonable productivity standards that are pertinent to manufacturing and service industries will need to be determined within each foreign subsidiary. (Chew, 2004)
Performance standards and goals are best established by linking the values and norms of each local setting with the home-office’s performance standards. An individual country profile should be established and should take into account the foreign company’s environment. This profile should be used to review any factors that may have an effect on the expatriate’s performance. These factors can include language, culture, politics, labor relations, economy, government control, and communication. (Chew, 2004)
Hard, soft, and contextual goals are often used as a basis for performance criteria. Hard goals can be directly measured such as ROI and market share. Soft goals lean towards trait based characteristics such as interpersonal skills and leadership ability. Contextual goals consider the factors that result from the situation in which performance occurs. An example would be that financial figures are subject to the issue of currency conversion. The performance criterion of the performance management approach allows for the clarification of goals and expectations of performance against those goals. (Dowling, 2013)
Companies should use several criteria when selecting an expatriate. The person’s capability to perform the necessary tasks is an important consideration. Technical and managerial skills are consequently essential prerequisites. Expatriates require cross-cultural abilities that enable them to operate in new environments. These abilities include cultural empathy, adaptability, diplomacy, language ability, positive attitude, emotional stability and maturity. (Dowling, 2013) Family requirements need to be considered. As the family is an important factor in the successful performance of the expatriate, several issues including the ability of the spouse to relocate, the ability to relocate the child/children in to new school environments, and the care of aging or invalid parents have to be incorporated in choosing an expatriate. Language skills are important criteria as well. Knowledge of the host’s country’s language can improve an expatriate’s performance dramatically. (Dowling, 2013)
With the ethnocentric staffing approach parent-country nationals or people from the home country of the corporation are employed to fill key managerial positions because they are familiar with the goals, policies and procedures, technology and products of the parent company. They are in a much better position to report to the company, especially where there is an inadequacy of managerial skills at the local level. (Dowling, 2013)
In utilizing this approach there is an ability to transfer the headquarters' culture to the foreign operation (infusing central beliefs throughout the organization), there is effective communication between headquarters and the subsidiary, there is a greater ability of expatriates to transfer know-how from the parent to the subsidiary, and there is a measure of control over the subsidiary. Problems with this approach include PCN’s continuing to experience difficulties in adjusting to international assignments, the limiting of the promotion and career opportunities of local managers, which may lead to low morale and increased turnover, and expatriates are very expensive in relation to host country nationals. (Dowling, 2013)
The polycentric staffing policy describes a multinational's approach of recruiting host country nationals to manage subsidiaries in their own country. There is little or no flow of personnel between the various countries. Advantages of this approach include adjustment problems as well as language barriers are non-existent, the employment of HCNs is generally less expensive, and it enhances the morale and career opportunities of local staff. Disadvantages include the difficulty of achieving effective communication between HCN managers at subsidiary level and PCN managers at corporate headquarters, the difficulties in exercising effective control over the subsidiaries that arise when a multinational firm becomes a loose federation of independent national units with weak links to corporate headquarters, and the lack of international experience becomes a liability in an increasingly competitive environment. Since the company that I work for is just beginning to assign workers to international posts I would suggest the ethnocentric staffing approach. With their familiarity with the goals, policies and procedures, technology and products of the parent company, the headquarters’ culture can more easily be transferred to the subsidiary. (Dowling, 2013)
A mentoring system would need to be informal since a very formal system could be too time consuming and possibly fail. The contact would be at least once a month. The mentor would make sure the assignee was kept up to date with structural changes, promotional opportunities and general company knowledge. The mentor serves as a support for the expatriate and not as a teacher. Ideally, the mentor should be senior and experienced, based in the home country, and have international experience. (Broder-Singer, 2012)
In order for the mentor program to be successful there must be commitment from senior management, the program must be flexible and not too formal, the mentors should be trained to support their expat- not to teach them, and the company must understand that mentoring needs to fit in with the senior employee’s heavy workload. Burger King Corporation runs a successful mentoring program and they say that some of the keys to their success are allowing the mentor/mentee relationship to blossom naturally and not following a strict schedule. (Broder-Singer, 2012)
It is important for the repatriate to be able communicate their experiences and what they learned while on assignment. It is a cost effective and useful way to disseminate information to employees about to embark on international assignments. It can be highly satisfying for the repatriate to feel just as useful on the return trip as they felt when they were leaving.
Expatriate assignments cost between 1.5 and 4 times what a local employee would cost. They represent a major investment, especially those that include family. Measurement is critical. Companies are looking for ways to reduce costs by hiring local staff, by reducing or eliminating benefits and allowances, or by looking for alternative ways to address pressing business needs. Some companies are replacing long-term assignments with short-term ones. However, this may be counter-productive, and companies are acting without sufficient information on the effectiveness of current policies. (Scullion, 2006) The elements most frequently taken into account when projecting the costs of international assignments are expatriate package costs such as salary, premiums, allowances and benefits and relocation support costs such as preliminary visits, language training, moving, and tax assistance. Administration costs linked to the management of expatriate compensation are also considered. (Scullion, 2006)
The main challenges of measuring ROI of international assignments are a lack of centralized control systems, time constraints, and inadequate or missing software tools. Only 3% of companies have processes implemented to track ROI in terms of measuring costs and rate of return. (Scullion, 2006) The elements that I would take into account when measuring ROI are:
1. The increase in business profitability and revenue.
2. The development of a pool of skilled experienced managers, global culture, and competencies.
3. Whether or not the expatriate met the goal of the assignment
4. If there was a development of local competencies
5. If there was an increase in the market share in the host location.

References
Broder-Singer, Rochelle. (2012) Why mentoring matters. Bus.miami.edu Retrieved May 25, 2015 from http://bus.miami.edu/magazine/fall2011/features/mentoring_matters.html
Chew, Janet. (2004) Managing mnc expatriates through crises: a challenge for international human resource management. Curtain.edu.au Retrieved May 25, 2015 from http://rphrm.curtin.edu.au/2004/issue2/expats.html
Dowling, P. J., Festing, M., & Engle, A. D., Sr. (2013). International human resource management (6th ed.). United Kingdom: Cengage Learning EMEA.
Scullion, Hugh & Collings, David G. (2006). Global staffing (1st ed.). Canada: Routledge…...

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