A major relocation may be an unavoidable rung in your journey to the top of the HR ladder – but one industry expert says too many professionals fail to adequately prepare for an overseas transfer. Here’s how you can make a success of that big move – even if it is only temporary.
“People can spend more time planning a holiday than they can preparing for a new overseas assignment,” says relocation expert Evelyn Simpson. “HR directors need to plan consciously.”
Whether you’re going for few months, a few years or for an indefinite stretch – there are important things to consider.
If you’re taking your family along in tow then a large part of your success depends on them settling too – make sure their needs are not forgotten.
“It’s standard for companies to help with accommodation and school needs,” says Simpson, “but support for spouses is often neglected.”
Yvonne McNulty, founder of Expat Research, agrees. “In some countries a partner can take 18 months getting a visa, or they may find their qualifications don’t transfer or they can’t open bank accounts because they don’t work, so research about how partners will be affected is vital.”
McNulty advises HRDs to talk to as many expats as possible and plan a “Look-See-Visit” trip to the new country before the official move. According to her, the trips can provide invaluable research on where to live, what culture to expect and advice on how to negotiate leases for property.
Doing this can prevent long-term problems, she adds: “Directors often want to live close to the office because they are under pressure to start work as soon as they arrive, but industrial districts could leave partners feeling isolated.”
“Even if you’re working for the same company, HRDs often forget that they need to re-define their professional role in a new territory,” says Nicole Dominique Le Maire, CEO of Human Resources Global.
“At a strategic level it’s your professionalism that’s wanted, rather than ability to speak the native language, but if it’s a local role, your presence will be more sensitive. Those who are prepared to make mistakes are best at mobilising their new staff.”
“Get everything about your package and what you’re entitled to written down,” warns McNulty – what’s promised in an interview in one country doesn’t always find its way to where you’ll be working.”
Arjen Vermazen, SVP of HR for Astellas Pharma EMEA, has worked – happily and successfully – across three different continents; he says cultural preparation is of the utmost importance.
“I’ve always made a point of listening to the TV and radio stations of the countries I am about to be posted to,” he says. “Just being able to relate to remarks people make has untold benefit.”
Vermazen also said that if HRDs are on a temporary move, they shouldn’t be focused on returning home as often as possible – “You must get involved in the culture,” he urged.
If your position overseas isn’t a permanent one then you also have to prepare your return – before you even set off.
“Too many HRDs return home, full of new experiences and skills, but they feel unfulfilled because they’ve slotted back into their old role,” reveals Simpson. “
The whole point of a posting abroad is that it should lead somewhere on your return, and a major part of the planning process needs to iron out what you expect to do when you get back.”
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