Supporting Global Talent, What the Data Says

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



Johannes Klemeyer (Globiana’s CEO, EMEA operations) on The Future of Intercultural Support

Johannes Klemeyer, CEO, EMEA operations at Globiana, 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


The Role of Coaching for Global Talent in the Future — What Does it Look Like?

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


TMA World



The Most Successful Expats are the Fearless Ones

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

What to Expect From a Business Partnership

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

Globiana’s COO on the importance of Global Competence Training

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



Paragon Relocation

Mitigating Risk for the Globally Mobile Workforce

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


The HR Director


The Business Case for Executive Coaching

There is a simple reason why the term Executive Coaching is still being used to describe leadership development programs — tradition. It used to be that this type of service was available only to executives in an organization. In today’s business world, executive coaching is applied increasingly to emerging talent and new managers as well. At its core, executive coaching has everything to do with unlocking potential and developing leadership skills — at all levels of an organization.

Why Executive Coaching?

There is a convincing business case to be made for having a strong coaching program — it’s associated with both higher employee satisfaction and better employee performance. An ICF (International Coach Federation) study 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. 

A Gallup report on the state of the American workplace has the range of engagement between 25 and 38 percent, depending on occupation. The report goes on to say that lack of development and career growth is the number one reason employees leave a job — it states: “Employees need help navigating their career, whether that is through coaching, exposure, and visibility, or challenging work assignments.” 

When asked about the return on investment value of executive coaching for emerging talent, Trixi Menhardt, a lead coach from Globiana, points out that this stage of someone’s career is a good time to take advantage of coaching. There are a few reasons for why this is true. Trixi says: “The older you get, the more responsibilities you have, both at work and at home, which means that it’s harder to make changes. In addition, new managers typically get promoted because they are high performing individual contributors (ICs). As managers, they need a very different skillset from their IC skills.”

Executive coaching can be particularly impactful in the global business world. Managing a multicultural team presents challenges beyond the ordinary. Coach Menhardt points out that whether you have a multicultural onsite team, or people spread out all over the world on a virtual team, you need the communication skills, and the cultural awareness, to bridge both the national culture, and the work culture of all the employees, in order to be successful. 

What is Coaching and how do you Build a Strong Coaching Culture?

Coaching programs vary depending on goals and resources. Some organizations use descriptive and guided development programs, where there is mandated reading material and milestones to reach, for example. Other executive coaching is based on the individual as the driving force and the one who sets the agenda. The coach is the facilitator in each instance, making sure conversations move forward, and that goals are kept in sight.

A strong coaching culture starts with the corporate leadership recognizing that coaching is a strategic business driver and a critical management tool. In addition, there needs to be clear ownership of the program. ICF’s survey reports that 82 percent of companies have HR as the originator of executive coaching programs.

The Coach

Most corporations only hire executive coaches who are ICF certified. In addition, some coaches have specialty skills, such as training in assessment tools like Myers-Briggs. Also notable — a coach hired as a benefit to the employee is effectively in the position of having two equally important clients: the buyer (the employer), and the coachee (the employee), making confidentiality an important issue.

The ethics guidelines from ICF clearly state that information shared between a coach and a coachee is confidential. Confidentiality is important because it ensures the employee can bring all aspects impacting their professional life to the table, whether those are personal issues or work-related, without fear of judgment, or career implications. 

Evaluating Success

To some employers, the issue of confidentiality may seem like a hurdle in evaluating the success of an executive coaching program — if you can’t get information about what’s going on, then how can you determine its progress? Traditionally, ROI is measured and presented in neat numbers. In executive coaching, there are additional aspects to consider.

Although surveys measuring 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.

Any organization interested in retention and long-term development of employees should be interested in executive coaching as a tool, not just for executives, but for emerging talent as well. 

By: Felicia Shermis


TED Talk, Atul Gawande



The Psychologist

The Balance Careers

What’s Creating a Buzz in the World of Global Mobility in 2019?

The biggest factor impacting global mobility is perhaps the most obvious: globalization—of society and business alike. But, there are other factors at play as well, such as research showing multicultural teams being more creative and productive compared to monocultural teams, and, younger professional generations increasingly expecting to get opportunities to work abroad at earlier stages of their careers. Looking forward, it’s clear that global mobility will have a continued impact on a company’s business growth and talent retention. These are some of the issues creating a buzz in the world of global mobility in 2019:

World Affairs Have an Impact

Reading about global mobility, and trying to learn what lies ahead for the globally mobile community, one thing is clear—world affairs can’t be ignored. Most professional publications and polls have Brexit as the leading cause of uncertainty. So, while no one knows exactly what’s going to happen, there is a consensus that the ramifications of Brexit stretch way beyond the UK borders. Whole industries might have to shift the way they do business, how and where they move people, and where they are located. 

Brexit isn’t the only world affair impacting global mobility, there are other big shifts happening that have the potential to reshape and disrupt how people move and work in the coming years. Tightening immigration policies in many countries, including the US, is a big issue, as are power shifts in countries like Germany. 

The currents of nationalism and the tightening of borders around the world make moving a global workforce more difficult. So, while travel across the globe has gotten easier and cheaper over the years, the process of relocating for work hasn’t necessarily followed suit. That’s why immigration and immigration policy continue to be important issues that have a significant impact on a company’s approach to global mobility. 

Cross-Border Mobility Redefined

Even though current world affairs come with a measure of uncertainty, it still appears that many companies are expecting the demand for cross-border mobility to increase. AIRINC’s most recent Mobility Outlook Survey (2018) reports that 54 percent of companies anticipate an increased demand for cross-border mobility this year. However, the types of mobility are not all the same, as companies, and assignees, continue to expand the way cross-border mobility is defined. Short-term assignments, developmental assignments, and commuter assignments are all on the rise. 

There is no clear-cut definition of what a commuter assignment is. EU law defines cross-border commuters as those who live in one EU country but work in another and return at least once a week. Others define a commuter assignment as living in the work location Monday through Friday, or some variant in between, but permanently residing elsewhere. 

Short-term assignments can be as brief as four to six weeks and are a way to attract younger talent who have grown up seeing themselves as citizens of the world, and for whom the traditional international expat assignment of two to three years is not an attractive option. 

Developmental assignments are also largely a response to attract younger generations wanting to work abroad as part of a greater desire to learn and network in an international setting—not just because it’s good for the career, but because it’s good on a personal level. Matthew Maclachlan writes in a Learnlight Insights article: “The Modern Assignee is keen to exploit the opportunity of travel to learn about other cultures and to develop skills that give an immediate return on the international stage.” 

Employee Experience (Ex)

As recruiters are struggling to find flexible talent to meet the challenges of modern businesses, as well as attracting and retaining talent, Employee Experience (Ex) is becoming a catchphrase. According to AIRINC’s study, 89 percent of companies are looking to improve the employee experience. What constitutes a “good experience” varies, spanning everything from offering flexible benefit options, to providing a sense of autonomy, to streamlining the employee’s point of contact, and offering more flexibility in type of assignment. 

Online Accessibility, Please!

Younger generations are used to accessing information whenever and wherever, which means that most everything needs to be available online: assignment descriptions, policies, travel arrangements, destination information, as well as personal and social interactions. Digital and virtual channels are becoming increasingly important in attracting a global workforce.  

Analytics to Report on Success of International Assignments

Gathering information to measure how assignments are working out—for the business and the employee alike—is an important goal for many companies. While the AIRINC study shows that many companies collect data to measure employee satisfaction and performance during an assignment, very few continue to gather data after repatriation. Using metrics gathered post-assignment can provide vital information needed to make adjustments for future assignments. Currently, only 12 percent of companies in AIRINC’s study say they regularly use analytics to report on assignment success. However, 48 percent report that they intend to add analytics to track success rates in the future. 

To Conclude

The demographics of the global workforce is changing, as are the circumstances for how we access and relay information, what we define as an international assignment, as well as what an assignment is expected to provide. What hasn’t changed in the world of global mobility is the need for communication and awareness—from an organizational level down to the personal level, regardless of origin and destination, duration and scope. 

By: Felicia Shermis




Worldwide ERC:

Insights Learnlight:


How do You Want to Manage Your Multicultural Team in the New Year?

It’s well established by now that multicultural teams, and collaboration across borders is a boon to innovation and productivity. However, the boon can just as easily be a bust on a multicultural team that lacks clear leadership and understanding of the individuals that make up the group. While common sense good management practices apply to multicultural teams in much the same way as they do to a “regular” team, it’s also the case that a multicultural team tends to require more attention to the individual, as well as a greater awareness of the composition of the team. Leading a multicultural team means being more deliberate and active, and it all starts with good communication. 

Since the beginning of the year tends to be a good time to look over what it is that has worked/not worked in the past, here are some ideas for areas to reflect on:

  • Who are the individuals on my team?
  • What do work/life balance needs look like on my team?
  • How can we improve team building?
  • How can I communicate more effectively — with individuals, team as a whole?

Individuals make up the group

Because cultural background impacts everything — from how you see your role in a group, to how you make decisions, to your understanding of hierarchy, and how you give and receive feedback, it’s important to listen to the individuals and then forge a plan for the group as a whole. For a multicultural team to function well, there must be clear expectations and rules, the goal being that there is a shared understanding of how the group functions. For the manager setting the course, this means staying away from cultural stereotypes while acknowledging the fact that there are cultural differences.

As a matter of fact, in multicultural team management, it’s not uncommon to hear the need for spelling out what the ground rules are — as in writing them down for the whole group to see, and agree to. This can include everything from hierarchical structures to communication flow, to rules for bathroom cleanliness. 

What about work/life balance?

Another big-ticket item on the multicultural team is work/life balance. Living and working in a foreign country means being away from your regular support system at home, all the while trying to adapt to a new society and way of life — that’s not always easy. Add language barriers and practical matters, such as setting up house in a place where you don’t know how things work, and the stress is real. If there is an accompanying partner/family, there are even more considerations in this area. 

As with so much else in the world of multicultural collaboration, the topic of work/life balance also comes down to communication. Do you know what the needs of your team members are? What kind of support does the company offer its global talent in order to facilitate both the process of settling in a new location and then living in that place? What flexibility can you as a manager offer? Perhaps the most important question of all here: are your team members aware of resources and support available to them? 

Team building

Yet another area to consider is team building. Team building can be tricky, especially if part of the team is working remotely, or if there are cultural barriers to how colleagues view one another and the workplace. In some cultures, eating several of the day’s meals together with your coworkers is commonplace, whereas in other cultures sharing meals is limited to an occasional social event or celebration. In some places, getting together with colleagues after work is par for the course, elsewhere this is hardly ever done. What’s your office like? More importantly, how can team bonding be improved based on the composition of your specific group? 

Communication and feedback

Being an effective manager also means giving feedback and making sure your talent is living up to their potential. In order to give feedback effectively in a multicultural environment you might need to spend a little more time learning about the cultural background of your employees, and how where they come from informs their style of communication and their work habits.

The way feedback is given and interpreted varies widely in different cultures. Erin Meyer gives a classic example in her book The Culture Map where she tells the story of a French manager working in the US at an American company. When receiving feedback from her American boss during a performance review, the French manager hears only positives and is under the impression that everything is going great. The American boss has several areas of concern that he feels he communicated clearly during the review. How come they have completely different views on what was said in the performance review? Erin explains that there is a cultural disconnect between how the French and Americans give feedback. She says: “In a French setting, positive feedback is often given implicitly, while negative feedback is given more directly. In the United States, it’s just the opposite. American managers typically give positive feedback directly while trying to couch negative messages in positive, encouraging language.”

To someone accustomed to the French way of giving feedback the impression would be that everything was going great and that there is no need to make any changes. The American boss, on the other hand, thought he had outlined several areas that needed improvement. In this example, not knowing the cultural background and communication style has a direct effect on the performance of the individual, which in turn has consequences for the team she is leading. 

How a team is managed can have a great impact on the success and health of the individuals on the team, as well as the productivity and output of the team — in the end, how a team is led is what sets the course — to success, just plodding along or even failure. The starting point in multicultural team management is always communication. As Erin Meyer says: “When interacting with someone from another culture, try to watch more, listen more, and speak less. Listen before you speak and learn before you act.” 

By: Felicia Shermis

Managing Multicultural Teams During the Holidays

Managing a multicultural team presents its fair share of challenges and hurdles in the best of circumstances. What makes the holidays extra tricky is the fact that there are so many personal feelings, expectations, and traditions involved. It’s easy to forget that not everyone feels the same way. Depending on personal and cultural background, what is quaint and festive to one person can be highly offensive to another, making the pitfalls many. The basic idea in the multicultural office is to not mix religion with business celebrations and to be sensitive to diverse cultures and traditions.

It’s probably not surprising to anyone that most issues in the workplace, whether holiday related or not, come down to communication (or lack thereof) and assumption. Being an effective manager means taking the time to understand everyone on your team — knowing what makes them tick and figuring out how they can best contribute. It also means knowing something about their cultural background and traditions, and how that translates during holiday season.

Ignoring the differences that exist in a diverse group is always a mistake. Relying on stereotypes is equally treacherous when trying to figure out how to best mark the holidays around the office. So, what to do?

A good place to start is to simply get input from as many groups as possible. And agreeing to stick to a few basic rules can help ensure an inclusive holiday season. However, knowing how to set the ground rules to help everyone understand what to expect in the office is not always easy, and during the holiday season this may require some extra consideration — making sure the ground rules are relevant and truly act as an equalizer — that they are not based on false assumptions or stereotypes. This is where insights into your team members’ cultural backgrounds become important.

Another aspect to keep in mind when trying to create an inclusive office is time off during the holidays, and what that means to different people. For example, if you are from the US, you wouldn’t typically expect to have to work on Thanksgiving or New Year’s Day. As a manager, you should know which holidays around the world affect your team. This is true whether or not they’re based in the same physical office as you.

Don’t expect remote employees to be available on important holidays like Ramadan, Yom Kippur, Chinese New Year, etc. Likewise, if you are all located in the same office, be willing to give time off so that employees can be with their families or fulfill religious obligations. A good rule of thumb is to not make people work on what would be the equivalent of an important holiday for you.

What about the holiday party, how do you appeal to the different groups and traditions of a multicultural office? Diversity consultant Sondra Thiederman, PhD, and author of Making Diversity Work says “Put the emphasis on celebrating. Focus more on what we share and less on where we differ.” Trying to plan a holiday party that recognizes every culture and religion is not a winning strategy, Thiederman says “Go for neutrality, not specificity.”

Consider the following when planning an office holiday party:

  • Having non-specific decor. This does not mean it can’t be festive, it just means staying away from symbols of a specific tradition such as having Christmas trees or Menorahs.
  • Accommodating diverse palates. Again, don’t make the food specific to one tradition, but rather think in terms of having options for vegetarians and non-vegetarians, for example. If alcohol is offered, make sure to serve festive non-alcoholic alternatives as well.
  • Avoiding Secret Santa or other anonymous gift exchanges.
  • Including the family. This is a good strategy because family is an important component in most every tradition when celebrating the holidays.

By: Felicia Shermis



The Case for Cultural Knowledge in Global Business

If your business success hinges on how you work with people from around the world, then learning about the cultures of your global business partners is crucial. The reason is simple: it makes good business sense. As a matter of fact, failing to understand the culture of your international counterparts can have consequences far beyond simple miscommunications and mild frustrations — there can be long-term damaged relationships, botched projects, and real lost business opportunities.

It’s not news to anyone with international experience that leadership styles vary depending on where you are from, that decisions are made differently in Korea compared to Scandinavia, or that business relationships are forged based on different grounds in countries like the United States and China. However, simply recognizing that there are differences is not the same as understanding what they are, and how they will impact your cross-cultural teams and the results they deliver.

This article is not about international business etiquette (which is important in its own right) but focuses on the importance of understanding how your international counterpart approaches and addresses business decisions and collaborations. The goal is to foster better cross-cultural relationships, and to ensure the best possible business outcome.

In her book “The Culture Map” Erin Meyer outlines eight scales that map the world’s cultures on such traits as communication: is it a high- or low-context country, decision making: is it consensual or top-down, and time: is it a linear-time or flexible-time society. The scales place countries in relation to each other from one extreme to the other — they function as a visual clue to where you are in relation to each other.

One of the most basic examples of how the cultural environment will impact a business collaboration is when a company from a consensus based decision making culture is working with a company from a top-down tradition of decision making.

In simplified terms, something like this is likely to transpire: The company that works by consensus will launch a collaborative effort, where everyone is heard and where different avenues are explored. A decision will come, but not until all information has been gathered and everyone has had a say. Once the decision has been made, it’s pretty fixed and the team moves on to implementation, which is usually swift, as the whole team is already on the same page.

For the top-down company, the process is different. Here, the decision will be made pretty quickly by the person in charge and then as the project continues and more information becomes available, the decision can be revisited or altered — the decision is flexible, which means that implementation can take quite a long time accomplish.

Both of these styles can get the job done. However, were the two groups to collaborate without first addressing their differences, they would be out of sync most of the time over the course of the project. In addition to being out of sync, because they go about arriving at decisions in such contrasting ways, they are also likely to question each other’s capacity for making the right decisions. Also, because they view the roles of teammates differently, their respective communication flows are conflicting, which can cause confusion, uncertainty and hurt feelings.

This is just a simple example. The reality is that these kinds of scenarios play out to varying degrees in international business all the time. They can be disruptive, costly, and damaging to future relationships.

As with most things cross-cultural, awareness and open communication go a long way toward deterring conflict and ensuring a successful collaboration. But, without underlying knowledge it’s hard to know where there is room “to meet”. There are no shortcuts when it comes to cross-cultural knowledge. Doing the groundwork and educating your teams really is the only way to come out ahead, the stakes are simply too high not to. And in a world where cross-border assignments and cross-cultural teams are becoming more and more common, it’s not a matter of if you should invest in this kind of education, but how.

By: Felicia Shermis

Sources: “The Culture Map” by Erin Meyer