In the age of the coronavirus pandemic, business travel has come to a near standstill. While virtual meetings can serve as a good substitute in the short run, it’s widely recognized that face-to-face meetings, whether to collaborate, strike a deal, or to educate, are crucial to the success of a company in the long run. An Oxford Economics study found that each dollar invested in business travel can result in as much as $12.50 in revenue. This is one of the reasons business leaders believe that business travel will resume once conditions allow (although most also believe reaching pre-pandemic levels will take a long time) — meeting in person is simply too important to the growth and success of a company. 

As important as business travel is, it will undoubtedly be different going forward. The criteria for who goes and what warrants a trip will change, and perhaps more importantly, the protocols and safeguards that have previously been in place to inform and protect travelers, will have to be refined. Having a comprehensive duty of care-program has always been an integral part of keeping globally mobile employees safe — it will become even more so in the future. 

Factors for deciding the extent and frequency of business travel typically include such things as cost, capacity, and perceived value. These now have to be evaluated with traveler safety and well-being in mind.

Now Is the Time to Look Over Travel Policies

Traditionally, corporate travel policies have mostly included provisos for spending and reimbursement, and what preferred providers to use for travel and accommodation. To meet the needs of business travelers in the future, these policies will have to address a host of additional issues pertaining to traveler communication and safety. 

Because business travel is not likely to resume in any meaningful way for many months — a recent survey by the Global Business Traveler Association (GBTA) shows that about 40% of their members believe that international business travel won’t resume for another six to eight months — this is an ideal time to evaluate and build policies. 

For many companies, the first thing to do when updating travel policies will be to develop a protocol for determining what travel is considered essential, and what expenses are reasonable to absorb. For example, are the costs of having an employee quarantining at a hotel for two weeks feasible? This is also a good opportunity to get the input of employees, to find out what needs they most want to be met when considering business travel. Once a baseline is set, it’s easier to build strong policies to match travel needs.

Travel Policies will Look Different

As companies put the safety of the traveler in focus, they will have to augment existing traveler policies, or create new ones (according to the Egencia Business Travel and Technology Study, only some 60% of companies have an official policy in place to guide business travelers), to include such things as real-time travel updates and risk assessment, implement strategies for tracking employees, as well as develop communication plans that are efficient and customizable. These categories break down as follows: 

  • Travel updates — A big piece of the puzzle to ensure travel safety and business continuity will be how to stay on top of travel information as it develops. Ideally, travel managers will identify reliable sources for the latest news. Depending on the company, the type of travel, and the destination, these sources will vary. There are of course companies that do travel tracking and news, whose services can be purchased. There are individual countries’ travel advisory websites, as well as direct contacts on the ground. Resources, as well as the nature and scope of the travel program, will likely determine an organization’s most suitable source(s). 
  • Employee tracking — Companies will need to be able to track employees to determine what the implications of changes to travel restrictions are for individual employees. This will be crucial to maintaining a safe work environment. 
  • Communication — Communication protocols will have to include several pieces. First, a solid communication system starts with making sure employees are aware that the information exists, and then educating them on how to access it, and relaying what to expect in terms of direct communication. Second, developing “communication action plans” for what to do in case an employee needs assistance, health care, be in quarantine, etc. will become ever more important as business travel ramps up.  

Ensuring the Wellbeing of Traveling Employees

In addition to augmenting and modifying their own travel policies, travel managers will also have to look closely at their suppliers’ policies and practices for cleanliness and distancing, for example. Compiling a list of vetted and approved providers they feel confident about will be important in keeping employees safe. Likewise, health care policies and procedures will have to be examined and updated. 

It’s clear that business travel going forward will require a multi-pronged approach where economic factors are considered alongside the physical and mental health of traveling employees, as well as practical matters such as safe transportation and accommodation — paying attention to all of these aspects is how companies can keep their employees protected and productive while on the road. 

By: Felicia Shermis

Sources:

How COVID-19 will change business travel (Conde Nast)

The Future of Work (Business Insider)

Business Travel Statistics (Financesonline)

How to enable business continuity (TripActions)

Getting ready to restart travel (TripActions)

 

The need to measure the effectiveness of a product or service is almost universal in business, regardless of field of service or type of product. Getting feedback is not only how you know if what you are doing is working, but it’s also how you improve and grow. And — it can’t be denied — customer satisfaction data is an effective marketing tool.

But few things can be as hard to do well as to gather feedback and measure and report outcomes — for several reasons. For one, designing feedback programs that measure relevant information is complex. Also, measuring outcomes is rarely a single-objective undertaking, as data gathered serves many purposes. This means you have to be clear about what you are going to use the data for. In addition, getting people to respond/give useful information is a well-known challenge, and using the information you have gathered, whether for product improvement, customer reporting, or marketing, requires analytical insights.

Globiana’s COO and Co-Founder, Steffen Henkel, has long experience of measuring outcomes and analyzing and reporting data. When asked about his approach, he starts by talking about the importance of measuring the right thing (and how hard that can be), and of being able to identify what is useful information and what is not.

To illustrate what he means, he gives a simple example of trying to measure someone’s impression of a cross-cultural training session, something he is well-familiar with. The goal of the training on an individual level is to increase a person’s cultural awareness so that transition into life in a new country is as smooth and efficient as possible. The training session is usually given shortly before someone relocates.

The goal for a company providing the training to an employee is typically multi-faceted and includes general cultural adaptation, as well as business-specific skills, in order to be effective at work. A company sending an employee abroad to work or do business represents a big investment and a failed assignment or botched negotiation is costly. Hence, the training serves an important function in maximizing the outcome for the employee and the company alike.

So, what is useful information to measure after the training session is completed? And what is reported to whom? Steffen wants to know several different things:

  • The basics, such as was the trainer professional and knowledgeable? Were the facilities satisfactory?
  • What people thought about the course — was the format good, material engaging, etc.?
  • Was the information the trainer provided effective and useful? Does it translate to usable skills in “real life”?

Reporting considerations are both external and internal and typically include the following:

  • External reporting to purchasing client
  • Feedback from/to trainer
  • Internal reporting for the purpose of improving content and practices
  • Marketing

On the surface, the basic questions, such as was the trainer professional and knowledgeable, should be pretty straightforward, as should finding out what people thought about the course. However, even these seemingly simple questions can produce answers that are not actually measuring what you are intending to measure.

Steffen says: “Unless you have a carefully designed survey, what you may end up measuring is how a person is feeling after the class — are they tired, hungry, happy because it ended a little early and the snacks were good — rather than what they think about the content of the class. And that’s not really the information you’re after.”

According to Steffen, the best way to gather information in these cases is to make data collection as specific as possible. For example, by starting off the session by asking “what are your three main objectives with the class?”, and then at the end revisit to see if/how the objectives were met. This approach ensures context in the information gathering process. 

Understanding the effectiveness of the information the trainer has provided is trickier. This is something that can’t be measured at the conclusion of a training but has to wait until the assignee has been on location for a while, typically several months after the training took place. Gathering data months after an event comes with its own set of challenges. Because the questions revolve around if the person has been able to apply anything they learned in training in their everyday life in the new location, this information is more about “feeling” rather than raw data, meaning measuring the outcome is not something that can be done on a scale or quantified in a graph.

In this example, the ultimate indicator of training success for the employer may be whether the employee stays the course or not. Measuring that outcome represents a separate survey, targeting the hiring company.

Steffen’s “simple” example above highlights the complicated nature of gathering data and measuring outcomes and it underscores the need for deliberate data collection/reporting to be part of the overall product/service offering. 

General trends in measuring outcomes and reporting are influenced by the online tools available, many of which make it easy to collect information and data. However, the quality of information will vary, and it may not always be actionable. Clicking a happy or sad face emoji, for example, will give an indication of someone’s current state of mind but not much more.

As for a tool like Net Promoter Score (NPS), Steffen sees it as being really useful for marketing purposes and it can function as an internal indicator of how you are doing. However, it also may not give much specific actionable information. And it’s not really a useful reporting tool to clients seeking data.

Lastly, when thinking about the power of collecting and reporting data, and how your findings help make business decisions, consider this from a Helpscout study — it shows that 80% of companies say they deliver “superior” customer service, whereas only 8% of customers agree with that assessment. While this particular study doesn’t indicate the level of dissatisfaction among customers, it does point to a big difference between the perceived success by the companies and the lived experience of their customers, and that is not a good starting point for building a strong brand.

By: Felicia Shermis

Sources:

Harvard Business Review

Aircall

There is a lot of talk about resilience these days — on a personal, professional, and societal level. Resilience is what will allow us to get through, and succeed, in these times of high uncertainty. But what is resilience, and how do we become resilient? In the corporate world, how do resilience and effective leadership go together — is there a role for employers to promote resilience? And, can a company’s actions now, during these extraordinary circumstances, serve to make it stronger in the future?

What is Resilience?

The basic definition of resilience is “the ability to recover from or adjust to misfortune or change” (Merriam-Webster). There is no doubt that collectively, and individually, we have experienced a lot of change lately. The way we lived and worked just a couple of months ago is radically different from how we go about life today and there is great uncertainty of what lies ahead. 

While resiliency isn’t something you can build overnight, it is a skill that can be learned and modeled. As Paula Davis-Laack (J.D., M.A.P.P.) says in Psychology Today: “When resilience becomes a practice, you can better anticipate and manage risk, deal with setbacks more appropriately, and stay engaged during times of challenge.

Research shows that resilient employees — those who not only bounce back from adversity but also thrive — are those who build strong connections and relationships with others and where these connections are characterized by effective communication and well-defined leadership.

Clearly, the current pandemic is an extreme example of adversity, but the principles that guide a workplace culture of resilience, in general, can still play an important role today. According to the article “Resilience in the Workplace” from PositivePsychology.com, a positive work culture that builds towards resilience is one in which team members are encouraged to:

  • Speak up, and ask any questions
  • Openly share bad news, and report early warning signs of potential problems
  • Maintain composure during emergencies and times of heightened stress
  • In case of needing further support, seek out expertise rather than simply relying on another worker’s rank or seniority
  • Keep an eye on one’s work colleagues, and be there to offer support throughout the challenge — before (to minimize the impact of the stressor), during (to manage the heightened stress) and after the stressor (to “mend” once the stress has passed)
  • Be able to express when there is a need in the workplace to switch to and from “emergency” modes of operating

The Cornerstones of Resilience

A sector of society that is built on resilience in order to function is the military. Mark Lloyd served in the Canadian Military for 15 years and is now a Project Manager at a software company in the US. In a recent conversation he shared some of his thoughts on resiliency, and how what he learned in the military translates to civilian and corporate life. 

Mark points out that being resilient, in many ways means being prepared. In the military that’s how you ensure people are able to perform in difficult situations and can adapt to the unexpected. Of course, in civilian life and in the corporate world, life is not as clear cut as it is in the military where everything is governed by a set chain of command and where you know what to expect and what is expected of you. But, the basic ideas for building resilience in the military, have a lot to offer the civilian world — the cornerstones being clear communication and controlling the things you can control.

Clear Communication

Communication might be the most important component of resilience. During unpredictable times, in particular, Mark says, people like to know who is in charge. A company that can communicate what’s going on will impact the confidence of its employees and in turn their ability to engage at work. Mark notes that his employer, for example, has increased communications from the CEO to keep employees informed of what’s going on strategically, and what the impact will be on the company as a whole. It’s a simple measure that signals deliberate actions, and that builds confidence among employees.

Likewise, in Mark’s smaller workgroup, they have changed how they communicate with each other. There are work meetings as needed online of course, but the bigger changes have come outside of work. “Now, we’ll have a Zoom game night, or a happy hour, to stay connected and just make sure that everyone is doing alright.” The checking-in and open line of communication is important because everyone’s circumstances are different and the insight into what influences someone’s ability to cope and work is essential if you want to have a well-functioning team.

Uncertainty adds to the stress people feel and negatively impacts the ability to perform and collaborate. That’s why it’s important on a corporate level, not only to communicate clearly but also to demonstrate a level of control over the things that are controllable — whatever those are. Mark gives the example of his own company where they have announced cost-saving measures such as no bonuses until they know more about the long-term effects of the pandemic. While no one is happy about losing their bonus, knowing that the company is controlling what it can now, to safeguard for the future, boosts confidence and trust among employees.

Building for the Future

In the corporate sphere, it falls to the leadership to model and reinforce the behaviors linked to resilience. If done consistently, the results can be significant, as it can help engagement in the short term while building a stronger more attractive work culture for the future. Mark thinks that how a company is reacting to the current situation — the quality of their communication, the deliberateness of their actions, and level of support they offer employees — will impact how the company fares in the long run in terms of employee retention and trust and that, by extension, will impact business success. 

By: Felicia Shermis

 

Sources:

https://positivepsychology.com/resilience-in-the-workplace/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/pressure-proof/201410/seven-things-resilient-employees-do-differently

 

It may sound counter-intuitive, but personal relationships are one of the most important components when leading a virtual team, in good times, but even more so in high-anxiety times like the ones we’re experiencing now. So, while it may be that virtual teams owe their existence to advances in technology, it is the people within the teams, from management down, and their ability to connect on a human level, that ultimately determines success. 

When asked about their take on leading remote teams, this is what Elena Mosko (CEO and Founder of Globiana) and Steffen Henkel (COO and Co-founder of Globiana) stress — the success of a virtual team depends on interpersonal trust, and it requires a strong sense of individual agency. Without those components, it will struggle to be efficient and deliver results. 

Globiana has operated as a fully virtual company from the start, so Elena and Steffen have seen first hand, through trials and errors, failures and successes, what works well and what doesn’t. And while all teams have their own dynamics, there are some basic measures to implement and general tendencies to be aware of that can greatly impact the success of a virtual team. 

The Organizational Level

On an organizational level, there are a few essentials that need to be in place for a team to function well. Most importantly, Elena says, is a clear understanding across the team(s) of the chosen means of communication, and what is expected in terms of responsiveness. It’s up to the leader of the company to identify the office tools such as project management environment, file sharing, conferencing tools, and email, for example, and then sell “the environment” to the team. It’s up to the leader to set expectations for what reasonable response-times are with regards to emails and the protocol for sharing files, for example.

Getting buy-in from the team can be a challenge as everyone has their own preferences and abilities to adapt to new technology. Elena says: “You have to lead by example and be very disciplined and consistent in your own use. Also, as a leader, you have to take personal preferences and an individual’s technical limitations into account. Personal allowances, much like in a physical office where some like to stand and others sit, for example, are important, but can be harder to identify and implement because they are not right there in front of you. It comes down to communication and getting to know your employees.”

The Role of the Manager

The daily job of making sure people are thriving typically falls to the manager. Steffen points out that as a manager of a virtual team, in addition to the operational part, you must be prepared to spend a lot of time on relationship-building — between yourself and individual team members, as well as between individuals on the team. He says: “I would argue that the interpersonal aspects are more important in a virtual environment than in a physical office space, especially when it comes to leading a team in a crisis.”

That’s because, oftentimes in the middle of a crisis, we end up in a reactive mode and our personal extremes become more pronounced. Steffen says: “In simple terms, our worst instincts come out during high-stress times. We revert to a “flight-or-fight”-mode which tends to not be very productive or conducive to collaboration. That’s why it’s so important to have the basic piece of personal connection and communication in place — without that, a team can quickly unravel.”

Additional aspects to be aware of is the make-up of the team. Virtual teams often span across cultures, which can add a layer of complexity to managing. In multicultural virtual teams, the combination of personal preferences and cultural traits play a great role in how a team functions.

Elena has the same observations from the operational level. It’s a matter of building an environment that lets shared human experiences act as the glue for the team. She says: “It’s our job to make it easier for people across the company to connect, not only technologically and on a professional level but interpersonally as well. We have to be the facilitators — this can be something as simple as recognizing that there are several avid runners on the team, or parents, and then facilitating bonding around those shared experiences. 

Both Elena and Steffen also note the importance of self-care and leading by example. A stressed-out manager is not going to be an efficient leader. This can be particularly hard to recognize in times of high stress when our tendency to “just push through” can get the best of us. Elena says, “just like you have to find ways to check-in with your employees and encourage them to recharge, you need to do the same for yourself. And whatever your preferred method is — going for a run, meditate, reading — you need to take the time to do it, or you won’t be able to lead well”.

Virtual Meetings

Virtual meetings are one of the most relied on tools for communication on remote teams. And while they serve an integral purpose, it’s important to note that they are one tool among many and that they don’t typically work well unless you recognize their built-in limitations and then take action to mitigate these limitations.

Steffen gives a simple example of how when you are in a virtual meeting, you don’t have the luxury of visual clues and body language, so participants have a hard time reading each other. Also, personal traits and cultural tendencies are often amplified in a virtual setting — someone who is used to speaking a lot and sharing points of views freely will do so even more, while someone who comes from a more restrained culture where you wait to be asked a direct question, or who is comfortable with silent pauses, may stay quiet. The virtual meeting can become very lopsided very quickly without awareness and strategies for inclusion.

Steffen notes that there needs to be a deliberate approach to the virtual meeting setting in order to make it as inclusive and productive as possible. Basic measures to set clear expectations and ground-rules for how meetings are conducted include agreeing on things like: 

  • muting yourself when not speaking 
  • not eating on camera 
  • being on camera vs. having an avatar 

Team-building measures for promoting trust and communication include:

  • starting each meeting with a roundtable “check-in”, making sure everyone has a chance to speak
  • having scheduled breaks if a meeting is longer than an hour (or some other predetermined time span)
  • doing simple stress-relieving exercises together (more on those later)

The Key Bottleneck when Transitioning to Working Remotely

A recent study by Insead confirms much of what Elena and Steffen have observed and learned over the years managing all-virtual teams. The study shows that the key bottleneck to transitioning to working remotely is organizational, not technological. For example, 80 percent of the people surveyed agreed that their technology infrastructure was effective at supporting their remote work, while only about 50 percent agreed that their manager was supporting their remote working effectively, and 63 percent agreed that their organization laid out clear procedures and processes that were supportive of effective remote work. 

In addition, the study shows that the tendency among new virtual teams is to default to synchronous communication tools like video and chat, while asynchronous tools that help with workflow coordination, like file sharing, for example, are less utilized. Previous studies by Insead show that asynchronous tools are more effective for collaboration as they don’t have the constraint of time attached to them. Again, this highlights the importance of having a well-defined structure in place for what tools are being used to collaborate and what the expectations are with regard to how those tools are being used.

Consider This when Managing a Remote Team

In this era of COVID-19, many companies have been forced into working virtually with little or no time to prepare or build protocols for best practices. Employing a deliberate approach to leading a remote team is important regardless of where you are on the virtual team experience-spectrum. Steffen recommends considering the following:

  • Realize you don’t have physical insight into your team so take the time to get to know your team members — what are their cultural backgrounds, strengths and weaknesses, family situations, etc., and what does that mean for the individual, the team dynamic.
  • Find a way to bridge personality/cultural differences within the team so that there is a communal awareness of each individual. This can be tricky as it’s not a matter of labeling people, but rather facilitating communication and building trust. Trust is ultimately how you get commitment within a team.
  • Learn how to give feedback. This is especially important if you have a multicultural team. In German business culture, for example, saying nothing means you’re doing a good job, while someone from another culture might see this as a sign that something is amiss. Until you learn how to bridge those gaps, you will have a halting team.
  • Let people know that there are simple physical measures you can take to relieve stress, such as massaging your ears, taking deep breaths, or even ripping pieces of paper. These exercises may sound silly, but they are known to be effective stress relievers. Doing these exercises as a team takes trust so it may not be the first thing you ask your team to do, and they should always be voluntary without any pressure attached. And of course, as the leader, you need to be willing to do them with the team.

When it comes to working through high-stress times, also keep in mind that shared experiences and perspectives around a common stressor can serve to promote team-building because they provide natural points of understanding within a group.

How Do you Know If What you Are Doing Is Working?

Evaluating progress in a newly established virtual work-environment can be difficult, but Elena points out that having informal discussions regarding what the high points have been so far, what has brought you closer, what is working — is it your tactical approach, how you’ve buckled down, etc. — can be important and can also serve as a tool to build trust and promote communication. Taking action based on what you find out in these kinds of talks will strengthen team bonds and can be used to build for the future.  

Looking to do a more formal evaluation of what went right and wrong during a time of crisis is something that will likely have to wait until there is a greater time-perspective. 

What about “Company Culture” in a Virtual Environment?

“Company culture” is a popular term to use both for attracting talent, as well as when promoting externally. But in a virtual environment, company culture doesn’t necessarily translate as it would in a physical environment. Elena says: “I don’t know that you can expect to have a group of people within a remote team have the same view of what the company culture is. What is important is that they feel supported by the leadership, that there are interpersonal relationships and a firm sense of what the structure is that they are operating within. That’s how you build trust within a team and when you have that, not only will you see good results, you also end up seeing alignment in how you are reflected externally, with employees, clients and networks alike.”

By: Felicia Shermis

Sources: Insead Study  

 

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

 

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