I remember this overwhelming feeling of becoming Head of Talent in a big multinational company in Russia almost 10 years ago. I thought I will be doing things right, I will be following up on every talent process we had scrutinising all the stages: from planning to post debriefing, from creating lessons learned to actually learning from these lessons.
One of the talent management tools I thought I really needed to have a closer look at was International Assignments. We were using them as ultimate development took for our Hi-Pos and getting excited about every assignment we could secure. But once the assignees were out of sight we would conveniently relax and most of the time would be caught unprepared for them when they would return.
Something was not working, I knew it. And I was trying to find out what.
I put together a focus group consisting of those who just returned. And they talked. They were happy someone finally offered them time and space to share what was happening with them.
Most of them were not happy with the way the organisation was utilising their international experience. They talked about being under-appreciated, about not really having a role, but a strange temporary project in the home country, about how it seemed to them that their colleagues acted differently. They were going through a normal reverse culture shock. But no-one was talking to them about it, no-one was helping them to reintegrate.
They did not wine. On the contrary, they were full of enthusiasm to change the status quo, so that those who would follow their steps will have a better return. We started planning…
Some element we put into our wish list were:
- Having firm, agreed and recorded career development objectives and plans for the assignees;
- Starting reintegration discussions 6 months before the assignment was due;
- Establishing a reintegration period for the assignees to reacquaint themselves with the new management;
- Running assignees networking events (both while they are abroad, and once they return), so that they have a forum to talk to each other, share thought thoughts and feelings, provide support to each other;
- Providing reintegration coaching to them.
We all love our plans, don’t we! And then the corporate machine takes over. I myself was sent out on an assignment to London. Talent Management was aggravated to the regional level. People changed, files were not handed over, enthusiasm faded. Many of the assignees from the original focus group actually left the company almost immediately (talk about ROI here).
And the issue of reintegrating assignees is as acute as ever. I was just reminded about it by ‘Not So Happy Returns‘ articles in recent Economist.
There are many ideas of what to do in the article, there are some ideas in this post. All is left now is as simple as Nike’s slogan — Just Do It!
I would be very glad to join an international team to offer my experience to help do it right this time.