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Always start with self-awareness

29 October 2013

± minute read

    Always start with self-awareness
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How IO Practitioners can facilitate expatriate success.

Globalisation: “...the compression of the world and the intensification of the consciousness of the world as a whole” (Robertson, 1992).

This conceptualisation of the world as ‘a whole’ has resulted in the fading of national borders and contributed to the emergence of an international network of social and economic systems. As such, organisations are no longer bound to their host countries but have rather increasingly developed into Multinational Corporations (MNC’s) operating in diverse markets, cultures, and societies around the world.  This has created the need for organisations to send expatriates abroad to seize new opportunities, manage operations, obtain market share, and ensure competitiveness and sustainability (Esarey & Haslberger, 2005).


Adventure & stress

While life abroad offers a different lifestyle, a sense of adventure, and new experiences, it presents expatriates with a variety of challenges (Ward & Rana-Deuba, 2000; Zakaria, 2000). The daily stressors  of an international lifestyle can involve trying to understand foreign languages, managing new transportation systems, adjusting to new cuisine, dealing with distance from family members and friends, and overcoming a possible culture shock (Scherger, 2012). Moreover,  managers tend to report personal problems with family members, who move with them to a foreign country (Beitler, 2005). Thus, it is evident that numerous adjustments are required to survive working and living in a foreign country.


Not everyone is cut out for the lifestyle

It is not surprising then, that expatriate managers often experience high failure rates.(Beitler, 2005). Failure may involve managers not performing up to expectations,  returning to their host countries  or resigning from the organisation.  However, organisations cannot afford the costs associated with unsuccessful assignments abroad. According to Zhang and Dodgson (2007), in this era of globalisation, a significant source of competitive advantage for many MNC’s lies in the success of international assignments. In an effort to enhance the success of assignments abroad, organisations develop interventions and provide training and support to expatriate employees in the process of adjusting to foreign countries.


Some examples of interventions:

  • In Mexico City, expatriate executives at PepsiCo can immerse themselves in the local Latin culture by taking language courses and joining fellow employees for on-site Zumba lessons which are sultry, high-energy, Latin dance classes (Clementson, 2010).
  • In Dubai, their expatriate employees are provided with opportunities to take part in a World Cup soccer challenge and corporate Olympics.
  • In China, they are encouraged to participate in sporting activities, such as ping pong tournaments, to help them adjust to the local culture.


What role can we play in ensuring the success of expatriates in overseas assignments?

As HR practitioners, industrial/organisational psychologists, talent managers or OD consultants, the question, then, is “What role can we play in ensuring the success of expatriates in overseas assignments?” The Four Phase Training Model (Harrison, 1994; Harris & Moran, 1991) presented below provides some insight into our possible role in ensuring the success of expatriates around the globe.


Always start with self-awareness - The Four Phase Training Model

Organisations typically  focus on steps two to four, namely; general awareness of cultural differences, acquiring specific knowledge, and providing specific skills training. However, the importance of self-awareness for expatriates is usually neglected According to the Four Phase Training Model (Harrison, 1994;  Harris &  Moran, 1991), self-awareness is imperative as it provides employees with insight into their receptiveness and propensity for successful cross-cultural assignments. We therefore have a role to play in assisting employees to gain the necessary self-awareness.


Expatriates need these traits for success:

Research has identified emotional stability, self-confidence, intellectual capacity, openness to new experiences, relational ability, linguistic skill, cultural sensitivity, and ability to handle stress, as traits required for success as an expatriate (Jordan & Cartwright, 1998). Insight into an employee’s effectiveness on the above-mentioned traits can be gained using 360 degree assessment results, performance appraisal results, personal mastery workshops, as well as a variety of psychometric assessments; such as the Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI), the EQ-i2.0 (Emotional Intelligence), the Basic Traits Inventory (BTI), the 16PF Questionnaire, and the Cross-Cultural Adaptability Inventory (CCAI) to name but a few.


Concluding thoughts - Expatriates in Africa

Many companies use expatriates to expand the boundaries of their organisations. This is especially true in Africa. There is a lot of attention on our continent's growth opportunities, and an increasing number of companies are looking to establish a foothold here. However Africa poses a significant HR challenge. There simply aren't enough experienced managers around to capitalise on the growth potential. Ensuring the success of expatriates' assignments will be a key component in many organisation's expansion strategies, and we as IO practitioners will undoubtedly contribute to these efforts.



Beitler, M. (2005). Expatriate training and support. http://www.mikebeitler.com/freestuff/articles/Expatriate-Training.pdf Clemetson, L. (2010). The Pepsi Challenge: Helping Expats feel at home. Workforce Management, 89, (12), 36. Esarey, S., & Haslberger, A. (2005). Should I stay or should I go?: assessing expatriate opportunities. Ashridge Faculty Publications, fromhttp://www.ashridge.org.uk/Website/IC.nsf/wFARPUB/Should%20I%20stay%20or%20should%20I%20go:%20assessing%20expatriate%20opportunities?OpenDocument Harris, P. R. & Moran, R. T. (1991). Managing cultural differences. Houston, TX: Gulf Publishing. Harrison, J. K. (1994). Developing successful expatriate managers: A framework for the structural design and strategic alignment of cross-cultural training programs. Human Resource Planning, September, 17(3), 17-36. Hogan, G.W. & Goodson, J.R. (1990). The key to expatriate success. Training & Development Journal, January, 44(1), 50-53. Jordan, J. & Cartwright, S. (1998). Selecting expatriate managers: Key traits and competencies. Leadership & Organizational Development Journal, March-April, 19(2-3), 89-96. Robertson, R. (1992). Globalization: social theory and global culture (Reprint. ed.). London: Sage. Scherger, A. B. (2012). Homesick: supporting the emotional life of expatriates. Foreign Service Journal. 89 (1), 40-45 Ward C. and Rana-Deuba, A. (2000). Home and host culture influences on sojourner adjustment. International Journal of International Relations, 24(3), 291-306. Zakaria, N. (2000). The effects of cross-cultural training on the acculturation process of the global workforce. International Journal of Manpower, 21(6), 492-510. Zhang, M.Y., & Dodgson, M. (2007). A roasted duck can still fly away: A case study of technology, nationality, culture and the rapid and early internationalization of the firm. Journal of World Business, 42(3), 336-349.

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