by Alan Royal
Jan 28 2016
The implications associated with executives allowing themselves to be expatriated to a foreign country are not addressed as part of the targeted executive decision making process. As I have been expatriated by three different Fortune 500 companies, I can provide unique insight as to pros and cons. I also wrote my doctoral thesis directly on the issues and associated implications of expatriation, which required me to directly address published research regarding expatriation. Therefore, the information I have put forward below has emerged from not only my own lived experience, but also from the totality of my research related to this topic.
When an executive is asked by their organization to go work in a foreign country, the value proposition that is often put forward is that it’s a unique opportunity to advance their career and get “on the fast track.” In addition, the package put forward usually reflects an increase in net disposable income so large that it is actually “breathtaking.” Thus, the opportunity for career advancement, as well as associated income acceleration, is virtually impossible for the executive and their family to say no to.
Expat US Relocation Service published this article asserting that expatriate failure rates were between 30 percent and 50 percent in 2014. These expat failure rates are consistent with my previous research. The question which obviously emerges is why do expatriates fail, and what can be done to mitigate the downside risk? The answer is to proactively self-assess yourself prior to agreeing to be expatriated to a foreign country.
Therefore, based upon the totality of my lived experience, as well as the associated topical research, I put forward practical and relevant self-assessment criteria as a basis to make a more informed decision regarding whether to accept or reject the expatriation opportunity.
The first consideration should be your family and their associated stability. From the moment of initial arrival into a foreign country, you will immediately be embraced by your fellow expats as a basis to establish a social network and employment relevance. However, for your marriage partner and children, establishing a social network and reconfiguring themselves into a comfortable daily life style is far more complicated. Thus, your partner and children must be able to enter the same foreign country and, for a period of time, have the tenacity to sustain themselves through a disruption of normal daily life until they have reconfigured their daily lifestyle around their new environment. The key for the children is to immediately transition them to the international school that, hopefully, has been prearranged. Secondly, in virtually every foreign country, there are “trailing spouse” clubs which immediately put forward a social network that can help your partner quickly reestablish a social network.
The second consideration is to self-assess your probability of success vs. failure. Prior to day one arrival, you need assess your own cross cultural curiosity, which becomes a key enabler of developing a relevant global mindset. Additionally, you need to ponder the key management competencies required to ensure yourself that your expatriation experience will result in a positive outcome. Key management enablers for an expat taking a leadership position in a foreign country include: cultural acclimatization, real-time adaptation, psychological flexibility, real-time resilience, cultural self-awareness, cross-cultural communication and a proactive vs. reactive explorer adventurer mindset. The totality of the above key management competencies, which enables a successful outcome of your expatriate experience, requires reconsideration of how your current success drivers will transition into this new management paradigm.
Thirdly, and finally, you need to self-assess your exit strategy prior to your expatriation into a foreign country. During the typical course of a successful three-year expatriate assignment, you and your family become well accustomed to having your home, cars and daily expenses covered as part of your expatriate package. Depending on the country you are deployed from, as well as the associated foreign country you are deployed to, you may see a material increase of your net income on top of all the associated expenses your contract covers. As you might imagine, you and your family become well-accustomed to this materially-elevated lifestyle.
Over time, if you emerge as one of the "success story" 50 percent of expat executives, you will find yourself on the radar screen of other multi-national companies seeking an expat to fill a similar role in the same country you reside. This will result in offers coming from other multi-nationals, which reflect a material bump upward in your executive status, as well as a compelling increase on your net income and management level. As you and your family continue to feel well-settled into your new lifestyle, this is likely an offer you and your family simply cannot refuse.
Thus, the totality of implications associated with repatriation back to your home country and company need to be addressed, prior to your expatriate deployment. When you and your family return home they will have to reconnect to their old social network, as well as you yourself will have to reestablish your relevance back into your company of origin. Additionally, your may find that your net income diminishes so dramatically that you will have to dramatically reduce your lifestyle.
Frankly speaking, once you and your family become comfortable living oversees in an expat configuration, the upward trajectory of income, management status and family social status drives you and your family to remain deployed in a foreign country, which over time becomes the status quo. Using myself as an example, my initial two-year expatriation evolved into a 12-year, three-company expatriation. This lifestyle would have continued to sustain itself, but due a personal life event, my wife and I were forced to return to our country of origin, while still maintaining a passion to reemerge into the expatriate lifestyle once again.
Interested in learning more about the expat experience and if expatriation is right for you? Register for the upcoming BlueSteps webinar “Insider Secrets for Executive Expat Success”.