Are there any potential expats in the room?
Abstract goal: following a shakeup in its share ownership, an oil company faces an aggressive internationalization process.
Project: to carry out a cultural audit so as to select with some guarantee of success the executives with true expatriation potential.
Outcome: the company has integrated the model into its international mobility processes.
Year by year, internationalization within companies is on the increase. The reasons are diverse, and range from a stagnant internal demand to the pressure of a globalized market, but regardless of the explanation, for some time now, our businesses have been leaping national boundaries.
Before the global crisis, it would have been difficult to imagine that 70% of companies within the stock market, such as the Ibex 35 in Spain, would originate from outside their own country. That was, however, the reality by the end of 2014 and means that 20,000 Spanish professionals are currently working in other countries with different markets and cultures.
In the same way that Spanish companies were foreign to the international environment until recently, so were the requirements arising from that environment. One of the most important concerns is the correct selection of executives who can expatriate successfully, replicating the brand’s culture in new locations, whether in acquired companies, or in new branches or subsidiaries.
The global marketplace
In this case, a change in key stockholders demands that the company initiate a fast growth process through acquisitions. This, in turn, sets a new requirement – executive leaders able to work globally in any part of the world and in such varied markets as Canada, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan or United Arab Emirates.
The company is aware that choosing the right professionals is of critical importance to its future. The executive that moves to a recently acquired subsidiary must liaise between the new team and the company, conveying the company’s values, and making sure that there is compliance with its agreed goals… so far this is nothing new! However, what is less usual and more important than anything else, is that this change in management must be done without hurting the local culture and sensitivities, and should show utmost respect for the existing team and its traditions.
In many companies, with the best of intentions but mistakenly, the selection process for expatriations has hinged around volunteers, professionals fluent in foreign languages or individuals trusted by the board. A failed expatriation, however, may have dire consequences, and is not a rare occurrence with 41% of them going wrong.
Professionalization of the expatriation process
For the above reasons, this company embraces an internal process focused on professionalizing expatriations. This involves choosing and training in advance the executives best suited to take up the challenges posed by internationalization. The goal is to ensure success in these maneuvers and to minimize risks, especially in the area of relationships with the local partner.
The project had two stages. The first one focused on working with the global leaders already identified by the company as able to adapt to significant cultural changes and to lead very different types of team in diverse markets. An initial assessment was carried out with this group using a cultural leadership model to establish gaps in their ability to function properly in their destinations their gap in accordance with their destinations.
Based upon the results of this model, a tailored project was created for each professional, covering their knowledge of the destination market and to identify potential points of friction with the new culture in which they would be working.
After that, a personal coaching program was made available to the expatriates from the time when they were assigned to the position and then throughout their first year in post. Sessions were initiated before the expatriation to prepare for the first and subsequent journeys, and once they had settled into their new positions to help in resolving doubts or conflicts. It was the cultural coach who helped the executives develop key skills such as how to understand a different culture, how to gain the flexibility to adapt or how to develop empathy by listening to and drawing together the existing teams.