Things change fast these days. It was just a few weeks ago that I returned to the United States from a trip to Europe (read about it here). At the time, parts of Europe were beginning to shut down (in particular, Italy), and certainly, the coronavirus and its possible effects were all over the news, and on everyone’s minds. But in most ways, life seemed to go on as usual. People moved about freely. Schools, shops, museums, and entertainment venues were open. I could traverse countries via air and rail without impediment.

Fast-forward three weeks and the reality looks markedly different. Shelter-in-place orders of various kinds are in effect in many countries by now, and in the San Francisco Bay Area where I live, it means everyone needs to stay at home, except to take care of essential needs, such as getting groceries and picking up medications. It mandates social distancing — keeping a 6ft distance between yourself and others — if you have to go out.

As the shelter-in-place order was broadcast, my first feelings were unease and confusion, worry and a strong need to make some kind of a plan. My thoughts were spinning: “what does this actually mean for me and my family and friends, what can, and can’t I do, what does it mean for society at large, and most pressingly, where can I learn more?”

As the new reality of life in the Bay Area has been slowly setting in, I keep thinking of how important it is to have clear guidelines. I think about what the information flow surrounding the coronavirus has looked like until now — there has certainly been a lot of information output, but much of it has been disjointed and unclear.

I firmly believe that the lack of clear guidelines and cohesive messaging is contributing to the unease people feel, it promotes some of the chaos we see in stores, for example, and most importantly it puts people’s lives and livelihoods at risk.

Working at a company where supporting the needs of the globally mobile is at the center of what we do, the importance of having effective duty of care measures in place has long been one of our core messages. And this moment in time makes it abundantly clear how important it is to have a plan for emergencies and trusted channels for communication. This moment in time underscores the need for clear guidelines on all ends — in order to aid the people looking for help and answers, as well as those tasked with providing help and answers.

Emergencies come at different scales and in different forms, there is no way of knowing exactly what’s going to hit, how it’s going to hit or when. There are, however, measures to take to mitigate the effects of unforeseen events, to make sure people know where to turn and having a chain of command that can confidently execute the pieces of the plan.

As someone who has loved ones spread out over the country and over the world, I’ve been thinking a lot about what the coming weeks, or more likely months, will look like. Knowing that I have no way of traveling to any of their locations, what happens if one of my family members across the globe falls seriously ill, what if my daughter on the other side of the country has an emergency? I’m trying to make a “duty of care plan” in my mind. I’m trying to sort out what actions I can take, what support system and safeguards I can put in place so that if any of the worst-case scenarios do happen, I at least have a roadmap to turn to. 

By: Felicia Shermis

 

The coronavirus pandemic is changing many routines for all of us, and we have no choice but to adapt fast in order to thrive.

With most of the business world now out of the traditional office space, knowing how to effectively operate through virtual communication tools is vital — how do you stay at the top of your professional game with little more than a camera and a microphone at your disposal? How do you present yourself? How do you structure a meeting to run efficiently? How do you engage your colleagues from different cultures? What are some of the common mistakes people make? 

Our free webinar “Virtual Meeting Skills” will cover all of these questions and more. We are offering two sessions on Monday, March 30:

Session 1: 10:00 am – 10:45 am CET/1:00 am – 1:45 am PDT  — register here
Session 2: 7:00 pm – 7:45 pm CET/10:00 am – 10:45 am PDT — register here

Globiana experts have been delivering virtual trainings and coaching to global teams in cross-cultural environments for a decade. We are also a company established in a completely virtual environment. Allow us to share our experience and expertise with you. Welcome to Virtual Meetings 101!

 

As most businesses know, staying competitive often means “seeing into the future” — as in trying to figure out what the next trends, needs, and musts will be. As in thinking about new innovations, making groundbreaking discoveries, and laying alternative paths. But what are the forces that shape innovation and can we really predict the future?

There are of course think tanks and professional prognosticators whose job it is to try to figure out what the future will bring and what it means for everything from investment and technology, to education and general living conditions. Companies and countries alike dedicate lots of resources to research and development (R&D) to try to stay ahead of the curve and be competitive. In 2018, some $553 billion was spent in the US alone on R&D, and globally, more than $2 trillion was invested in technological development and innovation.  

The Framework for Thinking of Trends of the Future

How we predict the future and the role technology plays is a topic that comes up often when speaking to business leaders and innovators. While technology is usually at the center of these kinds of discussions, it’s the process for predicting what the future might look like that typically becomes the central issue. Because, it turns out, understanding the future is not about making predictions so much as it is about considering what the consequences will be — that’s where the opportunities for innovation lie, that’s where needs will have to be met. 

Understanding the needs of the future takes methodical work — it means thinking about the next product or service in a larger context, it requires imagining the desires of customers and deciphering what the evolution of technology means and how it will impact us going forward. 

An Example — Millennials vs Generation Z 

An example used to illustrate what goes into trying to make predictions is the current generational shift that is taking place between Millennials (born between 1981-1996) and Gen Z (born between 1997-2012). Because “generational preferences” are borne out of the reality of the everyday, the question for the prognosticator is: “What similar sets of trends can you see emerging when looking at the bigger picture?”.

Many agree that the overarching issue for Gen Z is climate change. It will have an impact on most aspects of life for this generation, including some of life’s biggest decisions, such as what to do for a living, where they’ll be able to live, and even having kids. Climate change might impact such things as if they drive cars, or if air travel is viable. It might dictate how they are able to spend time outdoors.

Another reality for Gen Z is information control and privacy concerns, along with what some call “radical globalization”, by which is typically meant the increase in global connectivity between people. 

For someone trying to predict the future, the interesting question is: What are the consequences of these sets of circumstances?

The Consequences

Using the generational shift example, possible consequences could be an increasing number of people working from home, using technology for connecting online. Another one could be that the data stream (collected online) that is currently informing a lot of innovation will become hampered by people refusing to share data, and be polluted by the highly curated content that is currently being shared/collected on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Again, for someone trying to get a read on the future, the question is: What are the long term consequences of these behaviors?

The Future has Already Happened

When talking about Gen Z, it’s hard not to mention education. This is a generation where the first college graduates have just emerged. One area where the “generational preference” is already being noticed is on college applications where it’s become increasingly common to fill out “preferred pronoun” rather than “sex” — it’s a direct reflection of this generation’s understanding of gender fluidity. 

While this may seem like an insignificant detail, the effects of this kind of mind-shift may actually be great. Over time, the implications will reach far beyond a checkmark on an application, and will impact (and in many instances are already being discussed) areas such as competitive sports, the courts, the military, as well as data collection and analysis, just to name a few. Staying relevant in business means adapting to this shift. The gender pronoun question serves as a good example of what the concept of “looking at the consequences” means.  

Understanding what the future will bring is a subject that has few givens but endless possibilities. And with that in mind, it’s probably fair to say that there is no way to predict the future, there are, however, many ways to forecast it. 

By: Felicia Shermis

Sources:

U.S. News and World Report

IFTF

TIME Magazine

The basic idea behind a merger is to capitalize on the strengths each side brings to the table with the goal of becoming “bigger and better” together. So why is it that so many mergers don’t live up to expectations, or fail outright? Mergers are time-consuming ventures where the details of each company are examined and weighed, discussed and compared. Considering the resources invested in bringing a merger to fruition, you’d expect the chances of success to be high, but failure rates are reported to be somewhere between 50-70 percent. How come, and what can you do to improve the odds?

To some degree, it’s the “nature of the beast”, you can evaluate each company’s existing parts — numbers, resources, and talent down to the very last detail — but you won’t know how they actually fit together until you launch and it’s time to move forward as one unit. It’s when you are bringing the project from being a largely theoretical exercise to a practical reality that you’ll see if the pieces fit. 

At this stage, success hinges on how the details are executed, and that, in turn, depends on how they are communicated. If those tasked with executing the plans — employees and managers at various levels — have differing understandings, then it’s easy to see how the reality may end up being that of confusion and conflict, rather than the well-oiled “bigger, better machine” you were aiming for when first joining forces.

There are well-known examples of high-profile companies where the merger did not go as expected. One such example comes from German automaker Daimler AG (then known as Daimler-Benz) and American car company Chrysler. This transatlantic deal was praised by many because it combined two companies that focused on different areas of the automotive market and operated in different geographical regions. Before long, however, the positives were overshadowed by internal cultural conflicts. Chrysler had a loose entrepreneurial culture and Daimler-Benz was structured and hierarchical. The managers for the two companies clashed and eventually, the merger was dissolved when Daimler sold its remaining stake in Chrysler. 

In his Harvard Business Review article Merging Two Global Companies, Matthew Bird says: “Successfully managing with culture in mind is an art based on judgment — like a tightrope act, it hinges on balance.” The gist, of course, is that you need to self-correct before being too far off-balance, or you’ll fall.

It turns out that whether you are doing a transcontinental merger or are staying closer to home, many of the issues that arise are the same. Culture and communication are at the heart of the matter in most instances.

Globiana’s CEO, Elena Mosko, notes that the merger between Globiana and the German counterpart crossculture academy had its fair share of communication gaps. This may seem ironic as both companies are experts in cross-cultural communication, but perhaps that was part of the problem. Elena says: “One mistake we made was assumption. We assumed that because both companies were in the same field (albeit with different entry points), had an international employee base, did international business, and spoke English, that we somehow occupied the same space, that we automatically got each other. That wasn’t the case. Our everyday working cultures were very different. We had to actively work out the details.”

The problem with making assumptions is that they are based on a subjective view that translates into feelings and projections and that’s not what you want to guide you as you negotiate a merger. In Elena’s experience, these basic strategies/mindsets are helpful when negotiating and implementing a merger:

  • Identify and acknowledge communication styles of the parties involved.
  • Review and spell out communication expectations. 
  • Work proactively to not let an “us vs them”-mindset take hold. 
  • Revisit your “BIG WHY” when struggling to see the path forward.
  • Look for and utilize “the golden nuggets”. 

Here is a closer look:

Communication Style

This can include whether someone is straightforward or more of a hedger/obfuscator. Communication style can also include perception of time, and body language. All of these things are influenced by personal style and preference, as well as the culture a person is coming from. Identifying and acknowledging each other’s styles is vital to avoid misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and negotiation break-downs.

Communication Expectations

The expectations of communication include such things as urgency in replying to an email message, or adherence to agendas in meetings. What is the protocol for canceling meetings? If you are engaged in an international deal that spans time zones, what are the guidelines for handling time differences when conducting meetings? Not being on the same page can result in everything from mild irritation to resentment, and, ultimately lost business opportunities.

The “Us vs Them”-Mindset

It’s important to pay attention to the “us vs them”-mindset because without buy-in from both sides, on all levels of the organization, the risk of failure is big. You need to be able to communicate shared goals and articulate what the joint mission is. The best-case scenario if not succeeding is lost productivity and poor engagement. The worst-case scenario is losing valuable talent or even the deal itself. Adopting, sticking to, and communicating an “us”-mindset early on in the process is vital.

“The BIG WHY”

“The big why” is the reason you wanted to do this in the first place. It’s important to go back to this question when you are struggling to see the path forward or are having doubts about the project. There is a reason why “the big why” is a well-known and oft-used strategy in business coaching, and one you can return to over and over again. If you can’t answer the question of what’s at the core of your decision to do something, to follow a certain path, then you most likely won’t get there. As a business leader, you need to be able to communicate your “why”, and get buy-in from employees, in order to succeed.

The Golden Nugget

The golden nugget(s) is “the proof” that the merger was solid. It represents concrete examples of areas positively impacted by the merger, such as a new contract that would not have been possible without your business partner, or expertise previously not available. You might need to turn to the golden nugget more than expected, especially in the early days after a merge, as a reminder to yourself and others, that you are on the right path.

Combining two companies across cultures is an exercise in paying attention to the small details while at the same time keeping the bigger goal in sharp focus. The foundation for any successful merger is the ability to effectively communicate, to all levels, why, and how, you will be stronger together.

By: Felicia Shermis

Sources: 

Investopedia

Harvard Business Review

Investopedia

It’s that time of the year again — the holiday season. Whether you are a fan or not, the holidays are when traditions of all kinds are being enjoyed and honored, and sometimes reinvented. Globiana’s team is spread across the globe and because we come from different cultural backgrounds, we have varied thoughts on what the holiday season and the new year is all about. 

There is one thing we all appear to more or less agree on, and that is the practice of making (or not, in our case) New Year’s resolutions — we are fairly unified in our belief that they don’t really serve a useful purpose. 

A sampling of thoughts on New Year’s resolutions among Globiana’s team reveals a desire to be proactive rather than wait for the new year to roll around in order to make plans or set goals: “I don’t make resolutions because most times it’s just setting the bar high enough to walk under wearing a top hat and that feels like a losing strategy. For now, I spend the first of the year hugging family tight and promising to see even more of everyone, whatever it takes.” (Mindy). Or, how about this: “I don’t make resolutions as I think they seldom work. I also don’t like the excuse of postponing something till January 1, to make a needed change. Why postpone anything?” (Elena). 

Shannon says: “I don’t make resolutions as I believe any time is the right time to set goals, but I do look to a new year as renewal — it’s a good time for something ‘new’.” Camilla hedges her no-resolution stance a little and says: “I never do resolutions normally, but as I already decided this, I will go for it — less time on social media and more on reflection.” Lisa has yet another take on New Year’s resolutions and when to make them, she says: “I don’t make resolutions in January. September is my time to reflect on what’s working and what I’ve yet to achieve. I am a great list maker, so I keep a rolling checklist of major and minor things I’ve accomplished, and what’s still pending. 

As most of Globiana’s team members live and work away from their home countries, they know what it’s like to spend holidays far from family, figuring out how to keep old traditions alive while adopting new ones. Read on to learn more about the Globiana team members’ holiday- and New Year’s traditions. 

Mindy:

I look forward to a fresh start. And sometimes, to put the previous year behind us. I feel like 2019 has been a springboard for many wonderful possibilities in 2020. Bittersweet though, because my baby graduates high school and there will be five in college come August.

Our most cherished tradition is the Christmas Pickle. Each Christmas Eve, the host hides a glass pickle ornament and the first to find it gets a special treat. Over time, we’ve had to up the number of pickles to three to prevent uprisings, the children have learned to share the treats — arguably, the most mature thing they do all year. 

Carol:

We are starting a new tradition this year as it’s our first set of holidays in Cyprus. We are planning a “Holiday Happy Hour” from 5-7 pm and everyone brings an appetizer. It will be multicultural, with Chinese, Israeli, Cypriot, German, and American nationalities in attendance!

Elena:

What I associate with the start of the new year is doing away with the old. I’ll use the last few weeks of December to wrap up a project, push some things through and clear the space: both mentally and physically. Clothes, papers, storage space… Then I feel like I really cleared the way for the new. Aside from that, it means PARTY! New Year’s Eve is my absolute favorite celebration from my years of growing up in Russia. Staying up till dawn, dancing and celebrating is our idea of a real New Year’s celebration.

With the new year approaching, I look forward to continuing with the many developments and opportunities 2019 brought, and to staying busy and productive. I am looking to grow as a person, and as a parent, as my youngest son is college-bound next year. I am also looking forward to staying the course with my weekend art adventures, with a few shows already on the calendar. So yeah, no downtime planned yet! 

Lights, trees, decorations, candles — they all bring out my inner child. Everything turns magical at Christmas time. Always! Also, our Soup-and-Song party is in its 15th year — it brings together 70 plus people under our roof. Happy chaos, uncoordinated (and off-key) caroling sometimes mixed with Beatles songs, friendship, and good food!

 Shannon:

I look forward to continuing on my learning journey from what I gained in 2019 and use this as a springboard to greater heights. I look for new experiences, learning, and opportunities in my personal as well as professional life. And to discover that “something” personal passion again.

Our new tradition in Nicaragua is to host a pre-Christmas gathering to enjoy food, drink, and conversation with our close friends before everyone departs on their holiday journey for the remainder of the year. The significance is gathering and appreciating the close friendships we have developed.

Trixi:

I prefer to reflect on what we as a family achieved during the year — in my case, this was a big one: My daughter went off to college. I got to see her put in the hard work for applications, deal with acceptances and rejections, and then deciding where to go. She ended up choosing British Columbia, Canada so she is now an expat in her own right. And my son is graduating college this December. There is so much to be grateful for as he has established himself as a fully independent adult. My husband was offered his dream job in Germany this year. We had to have some serious conversations about why this was the right time to take it on and learn how to navigate him being a short term expat (he will be back in the US in six months). 

Our family holiday tradition was always an American Thanksgiving. Now that my youngest is in Canada we’ve had to sit down as a family and make plans for when we are going to be together, it won’t happen otherwise. We decided to go to Nicaragua for Christmas — being together at the place where my kids spent many of their childhood winters.

Lisa:

I look forward to taking care of myself more, and to “shooing off” that inner critic who imposes ridiculous expectations, that says I should be further along in my French language learning, for example. I have to remember that it’s hard enough just to get through the day sometimes, let alone master French. Having come from a very results-oriented culture like New York, my tendencies are constantly being tested living in Paris, but I have learned some hard-won lessons along the way, such as patience.

I haven’t developed a holiday tradition yet, but I put up a Charlie Brown Christmas tree with a few ornaments, strung cheery lights around the flat, and baked cookies. This year, I’m spending Christmas together with my daughter in Paris. What’s significant for me is to continue this forward motion, and to plan ahead when I can. Planning, routines, and keeping busy are an expat’s best friend.

Marlies: 

The new year is almost like a reset button, it’s exciting having all-new vacation plans. 2020 feels like a big year, there are many milestones for us, such as our 30th wedding anniversary. 

We don’t really have a tradition for this time of the year. My family is overseas so we get to celebrate New Year’s twice and I guess you could call that a tradition — we will have a toast to the new year in Europe and in the US.

Felicia:

Like my fellow Globiana team members, I’m not big on making New Year’s resolutions. However, I do find entering a new year a good time to issue a challenge to myself — something that speaks to a deep-held desire, concern, or idea. Something that requires some work to figure out or resolve. Other than that, a glass of good champagne on New Year’s eve is the perfect way to bid adieu to the year gone by and greet the one ahead. Cheers!

International assignments can be an integral part of business development. However, they also tend to have a high level of complexity attached to them — from finding the right person, with all that that entails regarding relevant competency and the ability for cultural adaptation, to the person getting settled and becoming a productive member of a team, to the administrative hoops. In short, there are inherent challenges, facing the employers of global talent, as well as the global talent itself. 

The good news is, most of the issues are well known and can be addressed and mitigated by implementing a support system — a duty of care program. There is no one formula for what a duty of care program should look like. It can be more or less comprehensive. Ultimately, it depends on the organization it supports and its needs such as the type of assignments offered, and what the destination countries are. Done right, it should serve the employer, as well as the global talent. The benefits of a duty of care program are well documented and include:

  • Ensuring your global talent is functioning at the highest level possible as soon as possible.
  • Mitigating risk for the company.
  • Ensuring a competitive edge and attractiveness as an employer.

Having a well-crafted support program allows for a streamlined process for paperwork, emergency situations, and practical matters alike. But perhaps more importantly, it offers a framework for intercultural support that can include preventive measures, access to educational tools, and professional guidance.

Consider for example an assignee who finds the office culture in the new country hard to navigate and thus is having difficulty performing at the expected level. The consequences are often not just the personal struggle of the assignee but can be felt throughout a workgroup, impacting what they are able to produce. A duty of care program might offer solutions such as intercultural training sessions, or a chance to seek the guidance of a coach. Having access to these kinds of resources can be the difference between a successful assignment and a failed one.

In basic terms, providing intercultural support is an insurance policy. Key to ensuring that the support program works is making it known and readily available to the assignee and educating those in charge of implementing it. 

A 2018 survey from Cartus Global Mobility asked the question: To remain competitive in the future what are the biggest global talent challenges?

  • Attracting talent with relevant global skills (leadership/cultural/language) in target markets: 64%
  • Readiness of workforce for the complex global business environment: 47%
  • Retention of key talent post assignment: 45%
  • Key talent less willing to relocate due to loss of partner’s income/career: 35%

The answers to the survey question above are telling. As most know, adding international relocation and cultural adaptation to a work assignment changes the parameters for the job. The way an employee performs in a familiar environment is not directly translatable to how they perform in a foreign environment. 

Furthermore, relocating with a partner or a family adds yet another level of complexity to an international relocation. The 2016 Global Mobility Trends survey by GBRS reported the following regarding relocating with a family and the impact it has on the success of an assignment:

  • Assignee/family adjustment issues ranked number three as the most challenging factor in managing international assignments.
  • 27% of assignees self-select as single when accepting an international assignment (even though they are not single). Out of those, 55% say partner career concerns are the reason, and 7% say that lack of support for family is the reason.
  • Impact of spouse employment on attracting first choice candidates: 31% say significant impact and only 16% say no impact.

Again, an employer-backed support program can provide resources to help an accompanying partner settle more easily and prevent the loss of talent based on family concerns.

In its Global Talent Trends 2019 report, LinkedIn explored the four big trends impacting the future of the workplace. At the top of the list for career success was “soft skills”. Soft skills are personal attributes that allow someone to interact effectively with others, hard skills are occupational expertise. According to the report, 92 percent of talent professionals say soft skills matter as much or more than hard skills when they hire, and 80 percent say they’re increasingly important to company success.

This is an important piece of data when considering how global talent settle, function, and excel. Finding the best global talent is not just about identifying the hard skills, it’s about soft skills and how you support and develop those for optimal performance while abroad. Offering support is a way of protecting your investment while retaining a competitive edge and attractiveness as an employer.

By: Felicia Shermis

Sources:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/amyblaschka/2019/02/06/heres-what-global-talent-professionals-and-a-tech-leader-say-is-vital-for-career-success/#22f0ab46420d

https://business.linkedin.com/content/dam/me/business/en-us/talent-solutions/resources/pdfs/global-talent-trends-2019.pdf

https://www.cartus.com/en/relocation/resource/biggest-challenges-survey/

https://www.bgrs.com/insights-articles/2016-global-mobility-trends-survey/

 

Johannes Klemeyer has always had a passion for foreign cultures, and he’s always wanted to be an entrepreneur. When he got the opportunity to combine the two, he didn’t hesitate to take it. Together with Steffen Henkel, he co-founded crossculture academy (Germany’s first online worldwide intercultural support site) which later merged with Globiana.

Johannes has plenty of personal experience with the cross-cultural lifestyle — he has a master’s degree in American Literature and Eastern Slavic Languages, he used to work as a journalist in Moscow writing for newspapers back home in Germany, he has family spread out in different countries, and his wife grew up abroad. He sums it up neatly when he says: “I’ve always been dealing with different cultures.”

So, needless to say, by now, some nine years into his journey of developing effective intercultural support, Johannes has gained keen insights into how we live and work across cultures. In this interview, he talks about the future of intercultural support, what the drivers of change are and how those changes are impacting employers, assignees, and support providers alike.

Drivers of Change

There are several big drivers of change at this moment in time. Each on its own is enough to have an impact, and all together they are creating a major shift in the landscape of global mobility:

  •     General globalization
  •     Generational shift in the global workforce
  •     Type of deployment

Globalization might be a bit of an overused catchall-phrase by now, but it nonetheless describes pretty accurately what is going on: people are moving, traveling, working and exchanging cultural traits across borders to an ever greater extent.

There is an ongoing generational shift — millennials are estimated to be 35 percent of the global workforce in 2020, by 2025 that number is estimated to be 75 percent. Millennials have grown up online. They not only have a different relationship with technology compared to previous generations, but they are also more global in their way of life. Johannes notes, however, that the latter doesn’t necessarily mean they have a deeper understanding of foreign cultures. What he sees as truly notable is that they require a different format of support. They want direct and flexible access to information. They want digital solutions.

Along with a generational shift in the workforce, there is also a shift in how global talent is deployed. Johannes says: “We see that shoulder assignments — shorter assignments, ranging from six months to a year — are becoming increasingly popular. In many instances, shoulder assignments are used as part of development programs, allowing for skills development in different environments. We also see commuter assignments, as well as virtual teams working together across the globe.” As it turns out, Globiana itself is a prime example of a global multicultural team collaborating across borders — most of the team works remotely, from all corners of the world.

Another driver of change is the companies themselves as they are modifying the way they support their globally mobile talent. Global mobility budgets are shrinking and companies are looking for more affordable solutions. 

What about Digitalization?

You can’t discuss the changing landscape without acknowledging that technology itself plays a role in how intercultural support is evolving. However, some worry that digitalization is making support solutions too impersonal and thus ineffective.

Johannes feels strongly that this is not the case. He says: “Barring technical difficulties, digital support is a boon. More people have quality global lifestyle support available now than ever before.” He goes on to say: “It’s not how you offer support, but the quality of how you do it. Video calls with skilled trainers or coaches can be just as effective as in-person sessions. Combine that with 24/7 access to high-quality webinars, recorded video, e-learning courses, etc, and I feel like an individual’s experience is almost more personal now. And more accessible.” That doesn’t mean he thinks face-to-face trainings will vanish. There are many occasions where Johannes feels they make the most sense, team building for example, or when prepping a whole family for an international assignment.

Consider it an Insurance Policy — Protect your Investment

As the responsibility of obtaining intercultural support falls more to the individual, it’s important to note that there is still a big role for the employer to play — in making sure their assignees know the professional and personal benefits of intercultural support and, ideally, providing access to high-quality support — whether as part of a traditional benefits package or through providing support options for the lumpsum assignee.

When asked about why companies should be assertive in their promotion of intercultural support to their global talent, Johannes points out something you hear often in this field: “You don’t know what you don’t know, and the consequences of the unawareness can be quite severe.” It’s a sentiment worth bringing up as the damage caused by uninformed global talent conducting business on a company’s behalf can span everything from mild embarrassment, to a lost business deal, or even long-term damage to business relationships. Likewise, a failed assignment because of cultural adjustment issues, is a costly setback for any company, and disruptive for the assignee.

Johannes says: “In its simplest form, I want people to think of intercultural support as an insurance policy, as part of a risk mitigation strategy.” He also points out that, in a more developed stage, it serves as a tool for talent development and enrichment, ultimately benefiting the employer and the assignee alike. He says: “The better functioning you are in your new environment, the more you’ll bring to the table, the better work you’ll produce. The sooner you adapt to your new environment, the sooner success will come, and the sooner you bring value.”

By: Felicia Shermis

Sources: Mercer study

 

In an increasingly global world, where people travel and move around the planet to an ever greater extent, and where engaging with people from different cultural backgrounds is commonplace, some wonder about the role of expat coaching in the future. If you add to the picture the ease with which we can gather information on the internet, it’s no surprise some think there is no need for employer-initiated, structured support in the shape of coaching and training — I mean, why bother when all the information you need is right there, a few keystrokes away?

Individuals may be travel-savvy and interculturally knowledgeable these days. However, when looking at the bigger picture of moving and working abroad, that isn’t enough. An international assignment carries with it inherent challenges such as culture shock and language barriers, for example. In addition, every assignee comes with their own set of challenges, be it the family settling well, a partner wanting to work, or elderly parents left at home. In order to have a successful international posting, assignees (and their families) need to learn not just how to perform their work in a new environment — they need to learn how to live life in their new environment. 

Why coaching is needed

Taking on an expat assignment isn’t like taking on a difficult new job that you can leave at the end of the day. Being an expat is much more complicated — it’s a new life. It’s a 24/7-proposition, and the stumbling blocks are many: if you are single, loneliness is a common problem. If you are relocating with a family, helping your children settle is a big task. Dual career partnerships are particularly tricky as the assignee’s career takes off while the partner’s career is severely altered, or as is often the case, comes to a halt completely. 

Failure rates of international assignments vary. Researchers at INSEAD put the figure at 10-50 percent depending on the country (cultural differences, language barriers, etc, vary, making adjustment more or less easy depending on location). Unhappiness of the partner and the inability to adapt to cultural differences are reported as the most common reasons for a failed assignment. 

In addition to the risk of a failed assignment because of family adjustment issues, you also have to take this into account: many expats are significantly less efficient at work because of increased stress and the need to cut hours to tend to relocation-related concerns at home.

Interviews with executive managers of expats show that, particularly in the initial phases (the first four to six months of an assignment), many expats are operating at about 90 percent with regard to time on the job. The extra work goes either undone or is being covered by bosses and colleagues, resulting in inefficiency, and prolonging the time it takes for everyone to assimilate in their respective new roles in the work environment.

Why isn’t coaching more popular?

International assignments are complex, expensive, and strategically important — they require a variety of support programs and personnel, as well as several levels of management participation. In short, international assignments are big investments. Considering the complexity and the investment, it seems reasonable that a proven technique such as coaching should have a natural place in an organization’s global mobility program — so why isn’t expat coaching more widely used? 

There are several reasons:

  • Available resources — global mobility and HR managers have budgetary restrictions to manage relocation as cheaply as possible. Priority tends to be on providing basic services like moving furniture or ensuring that compliance issues are met. 
  • Manager’s experience — many global mobility managers have no personal experience of living and working abroad, which means they don’t have a real knowledge of what the challenges involved are. 
  • Employer’s mindset — assignees are chosen for their expertise — be it their technical skills, their leadership skills or the general knowledge base they bring to the table. Their emotional intelligence, flexibility, family circumstance, and resilience are rarely part of the assessment when matching an employee to a position. There is little thought given to the person/family as a whole. 
  • Assignee’s concern — assignees will often say they don’t need coaching because they worry it will make them seem as if they don’t have the confidence or the skills to take on the assignment. They worry that accepting coaching will reflect badly on them. Typically, only one in four takes advantage of coaching that is offered to them at no cost on an optional basis. 
  • Assignee’s and employer’s unawareness — there is an increasing trend to give a lump sum for the assignee to spend on support. Because of the unawareness of both parties, this is an inefficient way to offer/receive help. It’s not uncommon for the assignee to simply pocket the money, effectively going without support. Meanwhile, the employer has spent resources that could’ve been used for proven effective measures such as coaching.

Benefits of coaching

Most former expats, regardless of family constellation — single, accompanying partner, or family —  will tell you that they benefited from coaching. In particular, coaching that helps set realistic expectations of what relocation entails is perceived as helpful. 

Learning about how cultural differences can impact work is crucial, as is learning to cope with losing your familiar support system for example, or dealing with homesickness. Without adequate support, the likelihood that factors like these will negatively impact an assignee’s job performance or the assignment as a whole is very real.

Apart from coaching having a positive impact on the assignee and the accompanying family, an ICF (International Coach Federation) study also shows that 60 percent of companies with strong coaching cultures report having revenue above average for their industry. The same study says that 65 percent of employees from companies with a strong coaching culture rated themselves as highly engaged in their company.

Although surveys measuring the success of coaching programs indicate highly engaged employees, and higher than average revenue, the real measure of a successful coaching program will be the day-to-day effects it has on the organization as a whole — leaders that are better equipped to lead, workgroups that are more creative and functional, higher employee satisfaction and retention, as well as positive business outcomes. 

What’s involved in coaching?

The ideal coaching program is comprehensive and flexible enough to cover both general and personal challenges. As assignments vary in everything from location and family situation, to language barriers and cultural differences, it’s hard to pinpoint what the exact needs are going to be; what is clear is that all these variables can have an impact. 

An effective coaching program should, at the least, be:

  • Flexible in scope — to cover the varying needs expats bring to the table.
  • Confidential — to remove the worry that accepting coaching will reflect badly on an assignee.
  • Required — to ensure maximum uptake. Numbers show that only one in four takes advantage when it’s optional.
  • Inclusive — to ensure that the accompanying partner/family has access. The family as a whole will have an impact on the success of the employee.
  • Ongoing — to provide support beyond the initial relocation. Issues arise at various points of relocation, including during repatriation. Continued support is important for long-term retention.

By: Felicia Shermis

Sources: 

TMA World

INSEAD

ICF

There is no clear champion when it comes to the challenges an expat partner faces through the course of relocation. Different individuals react differently when confronted with the tasks and circumstances of moving abroad — many find the process to be stressful and emotionally draining, others have an easier time. However, when the relocation dust settles and the partner has had a chance to reflect on, and sort out, their own feelings, physical and social isolation is one of the biggest pain points you hear about — across the board.

Scholars and researchers are quite unanimous in the assessment that learning the new language, or at least taking the first steps to learn it, is the most effective and easy way to adapt to a new culture, this goes for employee and partner alike. It gets you on a clear path to start bringing down the cultural barriers and get going towards finding a new social environment. As is often the case in all things cross-cultural, whether the goal is to achieve personal satisfaction in a new location or business success, or anything in between, communication is the key.

Then why? Why do the expat partners, who will typically dedicate endless energy to supporting the employee through the transition and helping their kids get settled and connected to their new life, often ignore this important step for themselves? Is it a lack of time? A lack of resources? Time can be an issue, especially at the early stages of relocation, however, for many, that changes once the family is settled. Access to resources vary of course, but in many locations, there is everything from private tutors, to traditional “second language learning” classes, to corporate learning tools. And if none of those are available or viable, there is a number of language learning apps that are effective when first starting out. And then there is this — what better place is there to learn a language than in an environment where the native speakers are all around you?

Yet, many report having a hard time getting started with language learning. So then could it be something as simple as fear holding us back? The human insecurity heightened by the experience of being away from the familiar, safe and “normal”? Is it because we are afraid of being discovered as different: the accent, the grammatical mistakes, the complete loss at how to use slang terms. Are we afraid to be funny, strange, foreign, misunderstood? Just afraid…?

The most successful expats I have ever known were fearless. I remember my shock (backed by a rather decent command of English since my early teens) at a friend who showed up in London with about 100 English words in his vocabulary. He would engage in every conversation he could. People raised their brows at his absolute mutilation of the language, he often totally failed to get his point across, but he connected with people. Over and over again. Within a year he had a city full of friends and he was fluent. This recipe never fails. 

People tend to be curious about newcomers, especially when the newcomers are showing an interest in learning the language. So, perhaps the best thing one can do is to step out and lean into being different. To embrace your accent. Gather every word you know and start engaging. Speak to the server at your local café, to the lady in the grocery store check-out line, to your spouse’s co-worker at a social event. Take the time to meet with other relocated people around you and practice speaking together. You will then discover that the world is waiting to meet you. With a smile, and with a myriad of accents of its own. 

By: Elena Mosko

The business of managing globally mobile talent is fast-moving and logistically challenging. There are few one-size-fits-all solutions. It’s a world where the needs are varied and new challenges are the norm of day-to-day operations. Whether you are a relocation management company, one of the vendors in the network, or an intercultural services provider, you are destined to rely on partnerships in order to ensure the best service possible.

Making the most of a business partnership takes a multi-pronged approach. At Globiana we recognize that staying relevant means adding value well beyond your product. While staying focused as a business partner, you need to keep the big picture in mind, reminding yourself that it’s the end result that matters to the client.

The wider-view approach — adding value beyond product

There are plenty of buzzwords that go into defining a business partnership — deliverables, ROI, processes, deadlines, etc. And while these represent important concepts, there are other ideas to factor in as well. It goes without saying that establishing a dynamic, successful partnership means being responsive to the business demands at hand. In our experience, incorporating a wider view of what your deliverables are is equally important.

In practical terms, this means recognizing that the client does not have the same high-level knowledge that you do as a specialist vendor. It means adopting a mindset where, in addition to delivering on your product, you also educate and advocate for your client. In short, you need to:

  1. Stay on top of trends and developments, educating/informing the client on what these entail for their business
  2. Be proactive in reporting on metrics and providing feedback regarding program efficiency based on data
  3. Think outside the box when analyzing risks and potential exposure for the client

Adopting the wider view, you might find yourself supporting a client’s internal development conversations with data and analysis rather than selling your ready-made product. It could result in having to put on your consulting hat and assist a client in devising a customized product that will not be widely used outside of that collaboration. It also means being able to give strategic advice about which of your products/services will be most advantageous for your client.

Lastly, understanding the larger context and adding value beyond your product is important because it’s how you build trust. And as with most partnerships in life — business or personal — trust is a crucial component of a long-lasting relationship.

Recognizing your limitations

Perhaps it’s counter-intuitive but part of building a strong partnership is being able to recognize and acknowledge your own limitations. Once you identify your limitations, you can proactively work to make sure they are not a liability. Belonging to a professional business network, for example, is invaluable because being part of a comprehensive solution is better than serving up dead-ends to a growing client. With our partners at WBN (Worldwide Broker Network), we can comfortably make recommendations and introductions to augment our services. Our WBN partners are vetted experts in their respective fields who adhere to the same business standards that we do.

And then there is the human touch…

In a competitive business world, it’s easy to forget that human interactions are what ultimately make a project successful. So, perhaps the most important thing to remember when building business partnerships, is that there is a human behind every email, every decision, and every project implementation. As most everyone in the fields of global mobility and global benefits knows, and what we always come back to — communication is key.

By: Felicia Shermis

Each year corporate travelers take some 480 million business trips and there are an estimated 56 million business expats worldwide. The cost to a company when these globally mobile people are not performing, or even worse, are doing harm by not knowing the cultural codes of their business counterparts, is great. To be successful in a cross-border, multicultural business world, you simply can’t afford to be unaware of the underlying culture. Globiana’s COO Steffen Henkel has been engaged in the field of intercultural communication and cooperation since 1997, and when asked to describe the program he manages he sums it up with these three words: “Global Competence Training”.

What is Global Competence Training?

Steffen explains that global competence training encompasses many different things, but at its core, it has to do with gaining awareness and learning how to apply said awareness to build skills — skills that can be used to handle everything from business meetings to cross-cultural knowledge for salespeople, to collaboration in a multicultural office environment, to expat transition. The training programs Steffen develops are rooted in the knowledge that culture — our own and our counterparts’ — dictates how we function in a given environment and a given situation.

He says: “Understanding that your culture isn’t ‘normal’, or the norm, to those from other cultures is a very important realization.” He gives the example of a German company hosting a potential business partner delegation from South Korea. The pitfalls are many because the two cultures are very different from each other — they have disparate hierarchical structures, visual languages, and social habits, for example. You can get off to a bad start simply by choosing the wrong type of hotel for your business partner. You can offend people by addressing questions to the wrong person, and you can sink a presentation by using the wrong colors and pictures — all in spite of best intentions. All because of a lack of cultural understanding.

What About ROI?

Steffen acknowledges that ROI questions are difficult to answer with cut and dry numbers. But the above example gives an idea of what some of the issues are when doing business globally across cultures. Bottom line is — cultural unawareness can lead to ineffective workgroups, incompetent presentations, mishandled sales interactions, failed expat assignments, and ultimately lost business opportunities. Any of these failures can present a major cost to a company.

Global competence training is an effective method to mitigate these risks and costs. Steffen says: “People tell me all the time that they wish they had done our training program earlier because that would have helped make sense of a business negotiation, a new office environment, or a colleague’s way of interacting.”

The Trainers

Trainers are the backbone of global competence training and having the right trainer for the right assignment is crucial. Steffen hires trainers based on a few well-defined criteria, such as training methods and how up-to-date and active they are in the training community. The most crucial “skill”, however, is that they have lived and worked in the country they provide training on.

What trainings look like vary depending on customer need and the individual trainer. Actual sessions can be done virtually or in a classroom, or by using a hybrid format of the two. They can include everything from traditional cognitive learning, to simulations, to games, and they can span just a few hours to several sessions over a period of time.

By now, Steffen has built up an international trainer pool of over 450 people, which means he can assign specialized trainers to fulfill specific training requests around the globe. “One of Globiana’s strengths is our trainers,“ says Steffen and continues: “we can tailor a program to suit a client based on need, whether it’s cross-cultural team building exercises, preparing a family for expat assignment, or to help shape a business presentation so that it most effectively speaks to the culture your company is presenting to.”

The Future

Looking forward, Steffen sees a trend of blended and bite-sized learning increasing in demand. He believes there will always be a need for some kind of a 1-day training program, but millennials, for example, are more interested in learning in chunked up sessions, using a combination of formats and tools. Technology makes this possible, as you can combine virtual training with in-class sessions; you can access materials in multiple formats, interact in groups online, etc.

“This is a good development. It’s interactive and it’s reflective — it’s a process, which is what learning should be,” says Steffen and continues: “Globiana is well positioned to meet the demands of the future, as it has a digital learning platform which offers several different learning formats, as well as unique content along with the training programs.”

Steffen has spent his entire career in global competency training. When answering the question on how he got started in the field, he tells the story of watching the movie the Jungle Book as a young child and being so mesmerized by the monkey temple scene that he decided he’d go there one day. Years later, when it was time to choose a university degree, he stumbled across a program that combined business with cultural studies. He picked Southeast Asian cultures to go with the business studies, thinking it might eventually take him to a place like the one in the movie — a year later he was on his first excursion.  

The reason he has stayed in the field is simpler; he says: “It’s satisfying to help people see the world through the eyes of others — it’s something we’re in need of.”

By: Felicia Shermis

Sources:

DCS

Paragon Relocation

The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) estimates that $1.33 trillion was spent on business travel in 2017 alone. And AIRINC’s most recent Mobility Outlook Survey (2018) reports that 54 percent of companies anticipate an increased demand for cross-border mobility this year. In addition to a higher number of business travelers, there is also a greater variety in length and scope of business travel, as well as in type of destinations — high-risk destinations are increasingly common, making the issue of risk mitigation ever more important. So, how do you mitigate the risks linked to international travelers/assignees? What are your responsibilities and liabilities as an employer, and how can you build a comprehensive program that is both manageable and flexible?

Two Concepts You’ve Probably Heard of: Travel Risk Mitigation and Duty of Care

Let’s start by clarifying a couple of the concepts at play: Duty of Care and Travel Risk Management. The two are often interchanged, but they are not the same. Duty of care is the moral and legal obligation a company has to do what it can to ensure the safety of its employees. Travel risk management is the action a company takes to provide the duty of care.

There is no global law for travel risk management. However, many countries have policies in place that regulate corporate international travel. The United Kingdom, for example, passed the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act of 2007. It imposes criminal liability on corporations where there is a gross breach of duty of care that results in the death of a person, such as an employee, person at a worksite, or traveler. 

Many European countries, as well as Australia and the US, have varying degrees of legislation in place. Understanding the local laws may not always give a precise answer to what is expected in order to fulfill your duty of care. However, being aware of what the laws are is a good place to start when considering your course of action.

Evaluating Risk and Deciding Course of Action

When evaluating exposure to risk, there is a tendency to consider the extremes — high-risk destinations, earthquakes, and terrorist attacks, while overlooking everyday risks such as medical emergencies or car accidents. An example given at a recent global travel risk forum highlighted something as simple as having to drive a car on the wrong side of the road from what you are used to after an overnight flight — a common occurrence for business travelers to the UK and Japan. Neither of these two destinations is typically associated with high risk, yet it’s easy to see how a traveler is vulnerable. In this instance, a policy allowing employees to use a car service could serve as a risk minimizer.

No company will be able to fully protect itself from liability, nor be able to completely protect the safety of its employees. However, careful consideration of risks and thoughtful implementation of risk mitigation strategies can minimize exposure for the company and employee alike.

The Most Powerful Risk Mitigation Tool of All — Cultural Adaptation Training

You can’t really talk about risk mitigation without discussing the component of cultural adaptation training as a way to minimize risk. Being aware of the customs, dress code, social habits and political climate of the destination country is one of the most powerful tools available to keep employees safe. Several of the speakers at the global travel risk forum stressed the importance of combining a deeper cultural knowledge of a host country with a common-sense training program for the employee. 

A phrase that came up often was “mistake of assumption” — meaning there is a risk in heading abroad thinking that everything works the way it does back home. International travelers/assignees are often already at a disadvantage with language barriers and unfamiliar surroundings — the “mistake of assumption” becomes yet another liability. 

In addition to having an intercultural support program to reduce the risks associated with assumption, it’s also crucial for the employee, and accompanying family members, to have easy and ongoing access to information such as company safety procedures, and chains of communication in case of emergencies. 

Breaking Down the Steps to Building a Risk Mitigation Program

While different companies have different needs, there is still a process to go through when building and maintaining a risk mitigation program:

  • Determine ownership of the various parts of the program.
  • Identify, evaluate and understand the risks. 
  • Develop appropriate policies for the identified risks. 
  • Determine how to fulfill duty of care based on identified risks. Will you require outside providers for training programs, what kind of insurance do you need to purchase, etc?
  • Implement training programs; educate and communicate. Make sure your organization’s policies and plans of action are known and understood by all affected parties. 
  • Monitor locations actively to stay up to date on what is going on in the country. Knowing where employees are during a crisis, for example, is critical to mitigating risk. There are assistance companies and travel management companies that offer programs allowing companies to compile and track travel itineraries for real-time data of all employees worldwide. 
  • Evaluate effectiveness of program. There is often a gap in information delivery by the company and information absorption by the employee. As is typically the case with support programs, regular evaluation and subsequent adjustments are recommended.

Mitigating risk for international business travelers/assignees is not a one-solution-fits-all proposition. What is universal however is the ultimate goal: minimizing employees’ exposure to risk, while fulfilling your company’s duty of care. 

By: Felicia Shermis

Sources:

The HR Director

BTN