Open Letter to Home Office Senior Management & Their Agents

130124120043-overseas-job-assignment-614xaThis is a guest blog post by Reyno Magat (full bio at bottom of the post), leadership and talent development consultant, coach and mentor, about a topic of crucial importance in the global mobility arena: management of headquarters’ expectations. I find it far too infrequently talked about, particularly in light of the huge impact it has on both expatriate and subsidiary (and in turn, overall organizational) success. I have previously written on this subject. I trust this open letter, intended as an exercise in empathy and walking in an expat’s shoes, and not as an indictment (unless the shoe fits), will help raise awareness and effect some change. Put those Cultural Detective subscriptions to good use, please! We need organizations that enable sustainable success, in all locations in which we operate.

“Much of expats’ energy, motivation and performance are affected by having to contend with home office senior leaders and their agents, who can be clueless and typically, frankly disinterested in the local realities, other than financial targets being met. These leaders and their collaborators often place unremitting pressure on expats to continue to conform to a home office-centric mindset, group-think, and timelines, with complete disregard of the challenges actually faced locally. All of these factors are at play as the expats are expected to perform and deliver results whilst mindful of risks to their personal reputation and consequent relationships with these leaders—affecting pay, bonuses, career progression AND family.”
—Reyno Magat

Dear former colleagues,

Before you ask, I’m happy to say my family and I are settled back home, having secured a really incredible new job at one of your competitors. As an added incentive, they have given me the promotion I had missed out on [for the second time, even though it had been verbally promised to me when you offered me the foreign assignment], and they’ve generously made up the cumulative pay awards and bonuses which you have steadfastly refused to give me, all on top of their superlative relocation package. Although I guess it was rather flattering that you had me flown back home for a series of discussions [business class flights and fine dining at your expense no less!] after I sent you my resignation letter, I have to say all of your efforts were too late, frankly, far too late.

Oh, just in case you’re genuinely interested to know, my dear wife is now able to have the medical attention she wasn’t entitled to whilst we were abroad, because your medical benefits package did not apply to her. You considered her a local national there, even though she has lived abroad for most of her life. You would have enjoyed meeting her when you visited, but of course you always had such tight schedules, having to fit in client meetings and their entertainment at the grand sporting and social events there [I always assured the local team that the timing was purely coincidental]. Memories of having to cajole the team to drop whatever they were doing [with unpaid overtime, as Group Finance would not have approved it] so that your visits, however frankly disrupting, went smoothly, are all in the distant past.

Speaking of clients, I’m relieved I no longer have to ask them, plead even, to provide yet more information to comply with your constant demands [which by the way seemed to invariably arrive late on Friday afternoons]. Thankfully, I’ve built very good relationships with them, although it never stopped them naturally making barely polite comments about what they call ‘imperialist/colonialist’ mentality and behaviours that must prevail at your home office. As I have often pointed out to you, many of your clients and, indeed, your employees there are well educated [including graduates from some of the best universities/business schools in the world], cosmopolitan and culturally sophisticated, some of whom coming from families, dynasties even, dating back to a time before our own nation became one. Unlike in our own culture, where people seemingly seek every opportunity to boast about their personal achievements, status and wealth, they are far too well brought up and well mannered to ever behave with such brashness, immodesty and self-publicity.

The local nationals there certainly never appreciated your inability and unwillingness to recognise that they come from an independent, sovereign nation which is only one, albeit in their eyes the most economically vibrant, of several that make up a region of different  histories, politics, economics and cultures. Yes, as I had pointed out so many times until I was blue in the face, indeed that country belongs to a geographical region, but their nation has a distinct market, business practices and customs, and political sensitivities [which may be different to ours, but not to be equated or conveniently labelled as being ‘corrupt’, ‘illegal’ or ‘laissez faire’]. I always felt very uncomfortable and worried about having to translate your memos, circulars and announcements into a language that all can understand, and have them not be seen as offensive. Inevitably, I was often accused by yourselves of having gone ‘native’ and not being mindful of Group initiatives or indeed being a dutiful corporate citizen. Frankly, frequently I didn’t understand them either, and our lives were made tougher, especially when the timelines were so compressed that they required all of us to stop everything else to comply. And, when I queried some of the content, somehow I was invariably referred to the corporate intranet. Because of time zone differences, it was often difficult to find anyone at your offices in any case who was available to help. Actually, even when I did visit your home office as part of my bi-annual leave, I found there were so many new faces, and that some of the people I had known well before I departed seemed to have moved on.

I believe you really ought to stop believing your own advertisement; that of being a truly global company, as in reality you are principally a domestic company that happens to have international offices. The market there as well as the clients, competitors and your very own employees think the same. Certainly, the employees witness on a daily basis the battles between yourselves and the local management team, with yours truly often being ‘piggy in the middle’! I know for sure that none of you ever appreciated my many sincere  efforts to mediate, and to offer what I believed to be workable solutions, as such actions had most certainly cost me my promotion and any chances of pay awards and bonuses during the time I was there. How I wish I was wiser when you asked me to take on the assignment and uproot my family, for what you then described as a ‘fast track’ for my career. I should have suspected earlier on, indeed even before I left the home office, that you were really ever only interested in sending a ‘body’ over there when HR suggested, as my own and my family’s only preparation, to go to the CIA website to read the country report of where we were going, as well as to go to the Amazon website to search for books about that country. Apart from a lengthy briefing on the company’s tax equalisation policy, that was the sum total of help my family and I were ever given.

I had actually used my own initiative before departing, by contacting Manuel Jones who you know had been an expat himself in several countries [mostly in other regions], and had been assigned previously to that country. After arrival though, I soon discovered that despite his many years of working and living abroad, his perceptions were inaccurate, dated, narrowly focused, and on many occasions, frankly racist. In fact, it made me wonder whether he actually met or formed any meaningful relationships with the local nationals, as he painted a significantly different picture of the people and the country. I suppose it was some years ago when he had all that foreign experience, and norms and business practices and realities have moved on rapidly since his time.

Looking ahead, and positively, senior management [and HR!] in my new company have warmly welcomed my offer to assist them in selecting people for foreign assignments, and to coach and mentor current and future expats. As HR is presently reviewing their foreign assignment policies and procedures, they have asked me to be one of their advisors, and I shall be collaborating with them too to identify new methods and sources of direct help aimed at all foreign assignees and their families. These will include setting up a panel of coaches and mentors specifically available to assist them [despite her own ill-treatment from you, my wife is certainly willing to assist too]. The Group CEO has already started introducing me as the Executive Committee’s newly appointed ‘BS detector’, who is expected to carry out reality checks on important home office directives before they are issued.

My experience with your company has made me justifiably sceptical, naturally, about what my new company will actually ‘deliver’ vs. intent, but I shall nevertheless be optimistic. I owe it to other expats and their families.

Sincerely,

Disillusioned but unbowed

*Reyno Magat is a London-based leadership and talent development consultant, coach and mentor. Over 35 years of working in the learning and development field has not diminished his  relish and enthusiasm for working with leaders at various levels to equip them with the self-awareness, skills and motivation to perform at their best and to develop to their full potential. Having worked with some 30 nationalities in about 15 countries from 5 sectors, he brings to bear his own personal international background, extensive insights into business and organisational realities, creative spark, and a healthy dose of pragmatism, whether he is facilitating a leadership workshop or on an executive coaching assignment. With the added direct experience of having been a corporate buyer of external leadership and cross-cultural development services, he is keenly aware of the imperative to seamlessly integrate learning interventions with the values, culture, priorities and realities within, client organisations. By being challenging and provoking honest reflection, his primary focus typically is on consistent, culturally-appropriate behaviours, and commercially-anchored, sustainable decisions that will produce the desired results for the client.

Oldie but Goodie: Comprehensive Expatriate Support System

Expat-Flow

Moving overseas is an exciting yet stressful time for all involved: the person transitioning to a new position, the expat’s family who is relocating, and the organization—both the office dealing with the loss of a valued employee, and the receiving organization. We all know there are a myriad of details involved in preparing someone to work abroad, but where to start and what to include?

Years ago, when Cultural Detective Online was not yet a glimmer in anyone’s dreams, I put together the above guide for a client. You are most welcome to use it if it can be of assistance (click through to view a larger version), though I ask that you retain the copyright and url of the original.

I was proud to work with that client. They valued their international assignees, desiring that the employee and the relocating family become stronger from international assignment, and that both the receiving organization and the organization as a whole learn and grow. They thus asked me to “map” a process to help make that happen.

Today, Cultural Detective Online is an excellent tool to use with expatriates, relocating families, and receiving teams and organizations, at each stage of the relocation process. It offers a process as well as information at your fingertips — anytime, anywhere — to help build bridges across cultures, to help each of us better understand those we work with, and to get to know ourselves better.

“The Cultural Detective Online product is a sound investment for my work as an intercultural and relocation coach. I suggest to my clients to get a subscription for themselves.”
—Maartje Goodeve, Nascence Coaching, BC, Canada

How might you update the process in the graphic above? How could you use Cultural Detective Online in combination with other tools, approaches and your own facilitation to enhance expatriate performance?

Talent Development Huge Topic For Keeping Employees

It’s commonly known (but not necessarily budgeted for during economic downturns) that talent development serves many purposes. Successful organizations use talent development for employee attraction and retention as well as superior employee performances. Recently, in discussing how best one of our site license clients could leverage Cultural Detective in one of their employee networks, the client mentioned there is a big push for employee development again, now that the economy is coming back. Their focus is on keeping people by teaching the skills that support inclusive and collaborative teams.

Cultural Detective is a phenomenal tool for teaching both of these skills and applying them on a global, as well as domestic level. As Janet Bennett points out in her article, “Culture General or Cultural Specific? That is the Question!“, “Rare is the professional arena where we face colleagues from only one or two cultures. Instead, each of us operates with a wealth of cultural diversity that is rich, complex, and challenging. This reality suggests that learning a single specific culture serves us well, and learning about cultural difference in general serves us even better.”

So developing employees to operate effectively in an inclusive and collaborative environment can be accomplished by learning the core Cultural Detective Method which builds the skills of knowing oneself, understanding others and building cultural bridges. As Janet goes on to say, “Cultural Detective® provides both the necessary culture-general breadth of application across many cultures while developing the culture-specific depth. The Worksheet provides a unifying and consistent process for examining yourself and others, and for bridging differences as assets. CD develops intercultural competence by simultaneously improving culture-general and culture-specific expertise in a variety of realistic contexts. By examining key cultural similarities and differences in a culture-general way, we come to know ourselves, and are able to compare and contrast our own perspective with that of others. By focusing the Values Lens on a specific culture, we enhance our capacity to untangle problems, negotiate differences, and look below the surface within and across cultures.” And through this process we can understand how to be inclusive in our multicultural environments and collaborate with those we don’t necessarily share common experiences and work styles.

With feedback like I heard from our client it seems talent development is perhaps again ready to be supported both financially and in practice — let Cultural Detective be your tool-set for achieving an inclusive and collaborative workforce!