Ready steady go!On 4 Jun 2002 in Personnel Today Previous Article Next Article Comments are closed. Ilene Dolins of GMAC Global Relocation Services examines how companies canbetter prepare employees for working abroad – with a little help from the firm’slatest Global Relocation Trends SurveyThe way businesses operate across borders is changing rapidly and onlycompanies prepared for these changes will survive and thrive. Companies withhigh levels of success in their international assignments are the same onesthat have integrated US domestic and international programmes into a singleglobal HR programme. They have embraced a global perception of their entireworkforce. GMAC Global Relocation Services (GMAC GRS) conducted its eighth annualGlobal Relocation Trends Survey in November and December 2001, in co-operationwith the US National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC) and the SHRM Global Forum.Participants represented 150 companies that conduct business worldwide, andthose responding were senior HR managers and international relocationprofessionals, primarily from US-based multinational companies (83 per cent). The survey covered such topics as the impact of current events on expatriateprogrammes; the shift away from long-term assignments; outsourcing relocationprogrammes; changes in the expatriate population; female expatriates;assignment success; retention; and the impact of technology and communication. The ‘pressure point’ of this survey was not the events of 11 September, butthe global economic climate and its impact on individual business sectors withsignificant expatriate workforces or global operations, says Bill Sheridan,senior director of the NFTC. Sectors most affected were technology, telecoms,power and utilities and financial services, the latter because”cross-border deals were drying up”, Sheridan tells globahr. Since the survey tracks global relocation trends over eight years, manycompanies use it to benchmark their own policies and programmes. Sheridan says,”Employers still look to what’s happening in their own individual sectorto decide what they should be doing.” A key figure in the survey was the amount of revenue the participatingcompanies realise outside their home country. At 44 per cent, that figure hasbeen consistent for the past few years. With almost half of business growth inother countries, the need for global talent that is trained and interested in aglobal assignment becomes more important than ever. As a result, companies canno longer count on finding the right person when a need arises. They mustanticipate opportunities and ensure that people who are eagerly awaiting theopportunity for a global assignment have been well trained. Dave Whitwam, CEO of Whirlpool, reinforces this: “The thing that wakesme up in the middle of the night is not what might happen to the economy orwhat our competitors might do next – it’s worrying about whether we have theleadership capability and the talent to implement the new and more complexglobal strategies.” Ever-changing world conditions demand greater preparation, responsivenessand flexibility than before. A prime example of how quickly the world canchange was 11 September. A question was included about the impact of thosetragic events on global relocation programmes, and 96 per cent responded thatno impact was felt. Because the survey took place just after that event,however, it may have been too soon to tell if changes to relocation programmeswould be affected. Indications are that changes are indeed taking place ascompanies institute stronger security measures; review ‘danger’ locations morecarefully; and put crisis management programmes in place for unforeseenemergencies. Overseas assignments Companies appear to be taking a more cautious approach to making internationalassignments, but there does not seem to be a reduction in expatriate activity.While expat activity continues to increase, only about a quarter of thesurvey’s respondent companies had an increase in their expat populations in2001, compared to nearly half in the 2000 survey. Another 39 per cent expectedactivity to remain at the same levels, 7 per cent more than in 2000. E James Simon, president and CEO of GMAC Global Relocation Services, pointsout that in addition to the challenges put forward by 11 September, “theworld was already experiencing financial pressures that were leading to a moreprudent approach to global expansion. However, companies recognise their growthopportunities outside their home country, and [in] global expansion andconsequently, international assignments continue to go hand in hand.” Changing perceptions The survey results revealed some disappointing outcomes. HR professionalswill likely need to focus even greater attention on ensuring that companyleaders perceive global assignments and human capital costs as hard-core costsof doing business instead of as non-essentials. HR issues, such as identifyingpools of potential candidates for global assignments and conductingintercultural awareness programmes, ranked much lower on scales showing howrespondents’ companies prepared for global expansion than “determiningbusiness objectives and needs” and “evaluating programmes to ensureneeds are met”. To change the reigning perceptions the HR professional must play an integralpart on his or her company’s strategic planning team. A failed assignment cancost a company three to five times the employee’s annual salary. And notattracting first-choice candidates can interfere with the company’s objectivesin a particular country. Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, says: “Headquarters at GEdoesn’t run companies. It runs a school that teaches how to run companies, anddoes it so well that GE maintains a huge trade surplus in talent. That’s myjob. We spend all our time on people. The day we screw up the people thing,this company is over.” To develop a proactive global relocation programme, an understanding isneeded of what motivates people to be successful. When asked when and whyexpats leave the company, 6 per cent said during the assignment; 13 per centwithin one year; and another 13 per cent within two years. In GMAC’sexperience, the numbers are actually higher, reaching perhaps as high as 40-50per cent within two years. Unfortunately, the way organisations are structured, the human resourceprofessional responsible for sending someone out and bringing them back nolonger has responsibility for tracking the former expats. An astounding 49 percent of respondents didn’t know what would happen when they returned home. Global fluency is critical to a successful international assignment andcentral to this is understanding cultural differences and having the ability toadapt to them. Global organisations are only as good as the global talent ofeach employee and their ability to recognise how profound changes in worldmarkets affect all operations. Individuals need to understand the uniqueness ofdifferent cultures in the way they approach business issues. Most companies (69 per cent) provide cross-cultural preparation of at leastone day’s duration. Forty-four per cent provide training for the entire family;21 per cent for the expat and spouse; and 4 per cent for expats alone. Whencross-cultural preparation is available, 67 per cent of expats participate. Whenasked if cross-cultural preparation is mandated for employees going oninternational assignments only 30 per cent said yes. The selection process When selecting people for international opportunities, it is important tocarefully select and assess those who will go on assignment, and equallycrucial to keep in mind that someone who might be successful in Brazil might bea poor candidate for Singapore. As HR professionals know all too well, peopleare often selected by a business manager based on their availability andtechnical skill. In response to a survey question ranking assignmentobjectives, on a scale of 1 (least common) to 5 (most common), filling a skillsgap ranked highest (3.1), followed by launch a new endeavour (2.8), andtechnology transfer (2.7). Management expertise and transfer corporate cultureranked below these (2.2 and 1.9 respectively). Companies need to provide a variety of assignment opportunities for the”new traditional family”, where the spouse/partner does notnecessarily join the expat on assignment because of their career path orpersonal issues related to children’s education, elderly parents, and so on.There are also more ‘significant others’ – both same sex and opposite sex.Forty-four per cent of respondents include provisions for significant others intheir relocation policy, up from 30 per cent in the 2000 survey. Those companies that adapt their programmes to meet the needs of this new‘family unit’ will successfully meet their global business challenges. Morethan half of the respondents indicated they are exploring alternatives tolong-term assignments, for instance. For them, the chief reasons are costeffectiveness, obtaining first-choice candidates and dual-career couples. Otherapproaches companies are taking as an alternative to long-term assignments areexpanding their use of business travel versus relocation, training localemployees and project-related moves. Other highlights include: The number of female expats increased to 16 per cent, up from 13 per cent in2000, and is expected to reach the 20 per cent mark in 2005. In the 1995survey, however, respondents had anticipated the female expatriate populationto be 20 per cent by 2000. The latest results may reflect more realisticexpectations of the growth in the percentage of female expats than in the past.During assignments, most married expatriates are accompanied by their spousedespite what appears to be a negative impact on the accompanying spouse’scareer. Before assignment, nearly half the expats’ spouses are employed, andduring assignment, only 14 per cent of spouses are employed. This is consistentthroughout the eight years of the survey. The primary reason is that workpermit/visa issues prevent spouses from working in many countries. When comparing the careers of expats with careers of employees with nointernational experience, 36 per cent of respondents reported that expatsobtain new positions in the company more easily; 36 per cent said they arepromoted faster; and 24 per cent said they change employers often. Only 25 percent of expatriates had previous international experience, compared to 44 percent in last year’s survey. This could be interpreted several ways: perhapsthere is a smaller pool of experienced candidates, or maybe more people arereaching out for a first-time global assignment. Conclusion Companies with a long-term plan for leveraging the value of their”human capital” will find they have the best candidates to choosefrom for global assignments; supportive, positive families; career path growth;and as their company expands globally, they will have a cadre of leaders withthe training and international experience necessary to take the company intothe future. What companies must ultimately look at, says the NFTC’s Sheridan,is “their investment. Is the employer maximising their investment in theirexpatriates?” Weblinkswww.gmacglobalrelocation.comGMAC Global Relocation Serviceswww.nftc.orgNational Foreign Trade Councilwww.shrmglobal.orgSHRM Global ForumWhat to focus on– Provide training programmes before offering international assignments.Create a surplus of global talent, trained and eagerly anticipating a globalassignment when one is available– Select candidates carefully – look beyond technical expertise.Do they have a supportive family? Will their personal attributes help make theassignment successful? Are they interested in a global assignment?– Provide employee/ family support – a supportive, positivefamily can make or break the success of an assignment. The company needs toprovide programmes from the beginning to long after the return home, includingcross-cultural preparation, home finding, settling in and repatriation Related posts:No related photos.