Tag Archives: FlyMe!
This is for all our readers who have not yet enjoyed the Global Mobility Workbook or any of our courses on intercultural transition. 

 

The Global Mobility Workbook by @angieweinberger (2016 Print Edition)

by Angela Weinberger

Tom Jones, 32 is an expatriate in in-house consulting. He came to Zurich, Switzerland from New York in August 2011. Tom sits on the balcony of his overpriced apartment, overlooking the Grossmuenster on a Sunday night, while he types a letter into his laptop. He is writing his resignation letter to Star Bank AG. The Human Resources Business Partner Urs Schwarzkopf has reminded him that he had to resign in writing. Otherwise, the bank would not accept his resignation.  The final date to hand in his resignation is tomorrow, and he must take his resignation to HR personally to make sure that he is not making any formal mistakes this time. As Tom reads through the letter once more, he recalls some of the incidents that took place since his first encounter with Star Bank.

 

Part 1 – The first project

 

Tom was hired as a Senior Consultant at the bank’s in-house Consulting Group. He was working for McKinsey in New York when a headhunter contacted him. As he was looking for a new challenge and was promised some interesting projects within the bank, he was excited about joining. One of these projects was to build up a strategic consulting group that would target consulting senior managers on strategy implementation because the Executive Board seemed worried that some of the future strategies required this type of support.

 

Tom’s Swiss boss, Dr. Peter Schmidt (an original “Zurcher”) had been hired from Boston Consulting Group to build up the new strategy group. Peter hired consulting talents from major multinationals and Tom was the one who received the best package. Once his offer was finalized Tom agreed to move to Switzerland on June 1, 2012. When he arrived Peter explained that he was resigning as he had been offered a challenging position at another major consulting firm.

 

Tom was surprized to hear this in his very first meeting in Switzerland. The Managing Director responsible for in-house Consulting, Dr. Rainer Schultz, told Tom right away that the offer still stood and there were no other changes, even though there would probably not be a replacement for Dr. Schmidt for the next few months.

 

On his first day at Star Bank, he had a meeting with Urs Schwarzkopf, his HR contact who was very nice and gave him some important documents and the B-permit that they had requested for him. He also mentioned that the Swiss social security card (“AHV-Ausweis”) would be sent to his home address and was needed for payroll. Tom would also have to open an employee account immediately. He also sent him to the “Ausweisstelle” where he had to have his picture taken in order to receive a security card.

 

At the end of the meeting, Urs Schwarzkopf said: “Mr. Jones, if you have any questions, please call me”. Tom was wondering why Urs? had called him Mr. Jones, although Tom had requested he was called by his first name. He soon realized that many people called each other by their last names when they spoke German even when seemed appropriate to use their first name.

However, sometimes he got stuck when people shook his hands and said “Schwarzenbach” as a way of introduction, or even fairly complicated names like “Kreisweiler-Glass” because he was not sure whether they were giving him his full name or first and last name. Most of the time he would ask for a business card so that he could see the written name.

 

When Tom went to a central branch of the bank to open his employee account, no one was able to explain the system to him in English. He had to fill out a German form and was asked for identification. He assumed that there was only one type of account that he could apply for and that this was because you remained loyal to your employer. He had heard that people in Switzerland would stay with one employer for more than 10 years and that they still had lifelong employment he had also heard that most people received their salary without problems and that performance was not compensated with a bonus.

 

The people in the branch seemed quite rude to him. He was slightly shocked to wait in a line while one of the clerks was working at her desk and did not attend to waiting customers until she had finished what she was doing. As she could not speak English he had to wait for another 10 minutes for an “apprentice”. Her English was acceptable but he was worried that she had no idea what she was talking about, as an apprentice in a bank seemed a very bizarre thing. In the USA apprentices are generally used in manufacturing but not in banks. He finally got an account and his account number and called Klaus Schwarzkopf to let him know the account number.

 

Tom raised his concerns, “Klaus, Are you sure the girls down there know what they are doing? I just had to wait 30 minutes and then was served by an apprentice because no one could speak English. I hope I did the right thing and filled in the forms correctly. I think I might have a slight problem in the future when I try to call them to get things done for me. What if th e apprentice is not there?” Klaus replied by telling him to be patient and that he should start to learn German as soon as possible because this would be the best way to integrate.

 

At the office the first week went very well. Tom got a laptop and a mobile although he had to ask his boss how to get one. He would have expected these technical details to be sorted out before his arrival. He did not have access to any systems immediately but was promised by the group’s secretary that he would have access by the end of the second week. His group consisted of four consultants who had all lived and studied abroad. One of them was Turkish, two Swiss and one came from the Singapore office. As they had all started on the same day, Tom would have expected that they go out on Friday to have a few drinks together and get to know each other a little bit better.

 

When he brought up the idea they all said that they had plans for the night but that they would definitely go out one night soon. Tom went for dinner alone. By the end of the next week, he still had no access to the systems and he was waiting for a project. By the following Wednesday, Peter asked him to work on a concept for an offshoring strategy for the compliance division. Tom asked a few preliminary questions and wanted to know who the client was. Peter said “We have to show a concept to the Management Board (MB) next month. Please integrate the others especially your colleague John Woo as he is an expert“. Tom was pleased to be involved in such a high-level project immediately so he did his best and looked for input from the group.

 

When the presentation was ready he sent the first draft to Dr. Rainer Schultz (also Swiss). Tom learned quickly that he was supposed to address Rainer as “Dr. Schultz”. He did not get any feedback on the presentation and so assumed everything was going well. He gave Dr. Schultz a call finally and left a message with his secretary. The next morning Dr. Schultz called him into his office. “Tom, I have looked at your presentation. Could you please change the things I marked in red and give it back to me by tonight. I have to prepare myself”.

 

Tom was a little taken aback. There was no word of praise and it seemed very obvious to him that Dr. Schultz was not very happy about the presentation. He also got the feeling that he was no longer involved in the project. Tom was disappointed. In his opinion, he had done a lot of research and given a very professional presentation. He was appalled when he saw that Dr. Schultz had added comments with a red pen. Somehow he thought that Dr. Schultz did not take him seriously and that he had used his input to give the presentation himself. He was also not happy about the lack of feedback generally.

 

After the presentation, Dr. Schultz came into Tom’s office to let him know that everything went well and that the Vorstand had approved the budget for the project. Tom was still angry that he had not even been invited to join Dr. Schultz to the presentation and said “Honestly, I do not understand what my role in this project is going to be so I do not really know whether I should be happy about the approval or concentrate on some minor project where I am fully responsible.” Once again Dr. Schultz did not react but replied: “You have the budget and the project plan is approved. I would like you to go ahead. I have marked some milestones in the project plan and if you report to me on time I will not bother you in between. I expect you to discuss all HR-related decisions on the team with me and if you would like to have any amendments to the budget please schedule a meeting with my secretary.”

 

Questions:

  • Which cultural dimensions do you recognize here?
  • Describe briefly the differences between US and (German) Swiss cultural dimensions here.

 

Part 2 – The culture clash

As of then, the project went ahead pretty well. Tom had to change direction several times but the group was following and delivering high-quality results. Tom had to get used to the fact that it took a longer time to get things done compared to the States. When he changed the project plan after week 3, some people on the team seemed to be confused but they got used to the new direction quickly.

 

The Turkish colleague gave Tom a hint “Look, you have to involve us before you decide any major changes in direction. We would like to participate in what is happening”. By week 6 Tom got a call from Dr. Schultz saying, “I actually expected your report yesterday. I assume you have been too busy. Can you come to my office at 3 p.m. and give me an update on milestone 1.” “Sure I will,”, Tom said wondering what milestone 1 actually was.

 

Then he remembered the original project plan. He had totally forgotten that Dr. Schultz had taken his first project plan very seriously and even marked out some milestones. From previous projects, Tom knew that his best plan would never match reality. However, he usually did a weekly status check on Friday so decided to email his status check off from the last week to Dr. Schultz with a brief explanation. “Rainer, FYI – Let’s discuss later, Tom”.

When Tom came to Dr. Schultz’s office his door was closed. Tom had learned by now that a closed door was a sign of privacy. He had to pass the secretary. He didn’t want to wait because the older lady stated something in German (“Dr. Schultz ist am Telefon. Sie dürfen nicht stören.”).

 

Tom did not understand enough German but could read the expression on her face. When Dr. Schultz finally asked him to come in he even apologized for Frau Meier’s behavior.

Then he got very serious, “Mr. Jones, we have to talk. First of all, I would like you not to send these important documents via email. I do not want it to get into the wrong hands. Secondly, I would prefer it if you could address me properly next time. I do not remember the two of us going out for a beer and becoming close friends. I am afraid I have not explained clearly that the project plan is already approved by the Management Board. You cannot change it after approval.”

Tom was puzzled. Dr. Schultz sighed and shrugged, “I have the feeling that you are doing whatever you want to do and you do not have any respect for me. If you continue to work like this I will have to send you back to America. You are very expensive and you are overstretching my budget. I had very high expectations of you and after the first presentation I thought that the project would be a great success but now you have changed everything without consulting me and I am inclined to cut off your budget. Why did you not follow the plan as we had discussed it?”

Tom was very confused and angry as well, “I do not know what your problem is Dr. Schultz. The initial project plan was not meant to be final. It was a starting point for the first two weeks. I did not even know whether we had a budget when I drafted the plan. Also, I had no idea about the resources that are available. So I had to factor those into my initial plan. Some people here have a very low work attitude. It takes ages until things get done and no one even apologizes. We spent far too much time in meetings, at lunches and coffees without doing any real work and I assume this is because you pay those socialist wages to people and do not reward good performance. How could I have known all these things at the beginning? You did not give me any explanation nor did you put me in touch with the right people. Why are you so keen on sticking to an old plan?”

At the same time, Tom was thinking to himself: “I do not understand you. Maybe it is because I am not a doctor. I only have an MBA from Princeton but I assume that this is not good enough in this country.”

Dr. Schultz was very quiet. Tom could tell he was thinking about the conversation and took a sip of water to calm down. Then Dr. Schultz finally said: “OK, I understand we have a different approach to planning and budgeting. Next time you change something I would like to be informed about it. Otherwise, I look bad in front of the MB members as if I have no control over my team.“

He knew that Tom would manage to get the outcome the MB wanted but he found him very arrogant and very American. Tom started to send Dr. Schultz a weekly update, a crisis was averted and the project seemed to be progressing steadily.

Questions

  • How could Tom have improved his situation?
  • What could Dr. Schultz, Urs Schwarzkopf, and others have done to support Tom’s transition?
  • Why do you think this is a typical Global Mobility case?

 

 

Part 3 – Getting organized

 

After four weeks, Tom finally started to organize his private life in Switzerland. He was looking for an apartment with the bank’s relocation service, Ms. Ulrike Apfel. Ms. Apfel found the nice and expensive apartment in the Niederdorf with its bars and pubs. Tom liked the place immediately. Ms. Apfel called him and explained him the details of his lease contract in English. The contract was in German and his German was enough to order a beer but he certainly did not understand any of the legal languages. He asked for a translation but Ms. Apfel said that the translation could not be paid for by the company. He would have to pay the translation out of his own pocket. So he signed the contract trusting that Ulrike Apfel was authorized because she was a reliable and service oriented.

Personally, life seemed to improve after a few months. Tom met a few other expats but gave up on the idea of meeting Swiss friends. They had a good time and spend a lot of weekends watching the Swiss ice hockey team and the soccer championship. They enjoyed the highlights of Swiss culture (skiing, hiking, carnivals, street parades, opera). The only Swiss person he spent time with was a man who had lived in the US as a student, who was very open and showed Tom some nice hikes in the Swiss national park. However, Tom got fed up with being a tourist and he could not see any added value in being in Switzerland. In-house Consulting might as well hire a Swiss in his opinion, to get on with the project. Tom had left his girlfriend in the US to come to Zurich and now he started regretting that career decision.

For Christmas, he flew back to the US and met her but she still could not understand him. She wanted to have a serious relationship and she had no intention of giving up her career for a man living in a foreign country. His mood worsened after he flew back to Zurich in January. The weather was miserable and he was not really enjoying his job and felt useless. Then he found out that the payroll department had made some adjustments in his personal account. Again he was very angry about the fact that things had been changed and that he had not been informed. Urs Schwarzkopf said. “You were on vacation I could not reach you in the office”. Tom could not understand why he did not send an email but he was too angry to reply in a nice manner so he hung up the phone.

Tom’s anger exploded the next morning when he found out he could not draw any money from the cash machine because his account was overdrawn now. He called Klaus again “Klaus, what the hell is going on with that payroll? Now I cannot even get any cash. Can you explain this to me?” Klaus replied: “Well, they have asked you several times to hand in your AHV-Ausweis and you did not hand it in. There was a correction necessary for all the social security you had not paid yet basically August to December 2011. If they had waited, the correction would not work in our system any longer.”

Tom thought that this was a joke. He had totally forgotten about the AHV-Ausweis. He found it in a pile of letters from his early days. Ashe had never understood the letters and as nobody had given him a clear explanation, he had assumed that the AHV-Ausweis would be sent to his employer directly. He was getting very frustrated and complained to the other expats about HR. Others had similar experiences and they decided that coming to Switzerland was a very difficult move.  

In April 2012 the project was at a stage where the MB found that they had expected more savings from offshoring of the compliance processes. Tom had been wondering why nobody had questioned the business case earlier. When his assignment was complete, he handed it over to Dr. Schultz in June and waited for his project bonus. The project bonus was paid in July in addition to the regular bonus payment in February. For Tom, the amount of 15’000 CHF seemed ridiculously low. At this point, Tom decided that there was no point in staying. Dr. Schultz was fine with the decision, as he had to get rid of the highly paid consultants. The budget was reduced and there was a crisis in sight.

However having missed his close friends and his girlfriend, Tom tried to find a new job in New York. When he discussed his plans with the relocation service, Ms. Apfel alerted him to the fact he had a rental lease for three years. This was obviously a problem. Tom called Urs Schwarzkopf because he was sure that the bank would pay for any double rent but was told,“ Sorry Tom, this is your problem. You have signed the contract and the bank cannot be held liable for your personal matters.”

Tom could not believe what he heard.

—-

The Global Mobility Workbook

Exercise

3)   Put yourself into the shoes of Tom and write a letter to a good friend about your situation. Observe your emotional reactions and reflect on them.

 

Wanna buy the Global Mobility Workbook?

We have published updated and enhanced the print edition: ISBN 978-39524284-1-2.

You find it at your favorite bookseller or here: Amazon.com.

More than a year ago, I held a talk at the Forum for Expatriate Management event in Rotterdam. Every word is true in 2017. I am nowadays more involved in operational global mobility topics than I ever was and while the constant filling of payroll instructions, hypo tax calculations, and balance sheet updates reminds me of the Sysiphus tasks I mentioned in the talk, I have learned a great deal over the last few weeks.

I am contemplating that even expatriate payroll is so much more interesting than normal payroll and that we need professionals with intercultural competence to ensure that the expats get paid correctly. You would think this is easy but believe me in 2017 with all the technology, processes sometimes seem more complicated than in 1999. At that time we used to calculate net payments on paper.

In the last few weeks, I used a calculator every day and excel became my second best friend. On a few occasions, we don’t seem to get it right in the first attempt. The bonus is wrong, the expat unhappy and we get a new calculation. Then we start again. The third time it’s easier.

In a case from the UK, I notice that the pension contribution has changed from the previous year. In one from Madagascar, a figure was not transferred automatically into the next record of the assignee. A lot of checking and cross-checking is needed.

Once you think that you finally have created the right balance sheet you send it to the assignee and they tell you that it is a joke. They challenge your figures and you need to go back to the provider and explain why the tax system in the UK reduces your personal allowance once your salary reaches 100k GBP so that your bonus is taxed at an unimaginable tax rate. Or why the INR has devalued against the EUR and how that is reflected in the Cost of Living Adjustment. Then they ask why the COLA is calculated on spendable income only and how we came up with that figure.

You need to see every step along the way as learning towards what you can contribute to the world. If you don’t enjoy this process, tell yourself that it is only once a year and it pays your rent. I see exciting challenges for the GM Professionals but even if you are in a different field you might relate to these topics too. Here are seven current issues that seem to be examples for GM Professionals around the world

  1. We solve issues with manual workarounds that we cannot seem to handle with technology.

  2. We need good working relationships with our colleagues and the expats around the world to solve those dilemmas.

  3. We need superior technical skills in tax, social security and immigration and other subject matter areas so we don’t lose oversight of the full process.

  4. Without the experience of at least 200 cases, it is really hard to see patterns in your problem-solving approach as every case poses a different country combination and needs to be tackled individually.

  5. We need high levels of focus and productivity to deliver excellent solutions.

  6. We work too many hours and it is hard for us to keep healthy.

  7. Many of us are women and at a career and pay level that is way below our background, competence, and qualification.

One of the reasons why I started my company Global People Transitions was to help Global Mobility Professionals develop further. I would like to encourage you and support you with advice on how to get your develop your global competency further. You can check out the Global Mobility Workbook for further explanation, apply to become a tester of our Global Career App and you can book coaching sessions with me under the FlyMe! Program. You can also find Global Mobility job offers here and if you follow me on LinkedIn.

Let me know if you see yourself in the issues I mentioned and what you will do as a next step to move forward.


by Angie Weinberger

We work with a lot of highly motivated Global Mobility Consultants but sometimes we feel they should get their act together and feel more passionate about their work.global-606828_1280

Most GMCs I know are well educated at least to Bachelor degree, speak several languages and have good business acumen or psychological understanding. Some are tax advisors or immigration lawyers. What unites us is that we breathe Global Mobility and we are approachable people with a big heart. But what I don’t get is why I still meet people in this profession who complain about the job.

It’s hard to work in GM if you are not passionate about global people

Once in a while though you might feel a bit frustrated. It could be because you just worked so hard to fight through a contract and did overtime to have the assignee on host payroll on time…when the business line manager calls to tell you that the assignment is off.

Or you spent hours in conference calls to work out a good compensation package for an assignee…when you are told by your manager that the assignee stays back in home because she or he just negotiated too hard.

And these are only the slightly annoying days

Remember when you fought for keeping policy and then the boss of your manager overruled your decision with a simple “Don’t overcomplicate everything…”.

Or when you were told by an assignee that they had the best moving experience and then your key account manager tells you that the assignee was adding moving goods after the quote which will make it impossible for them to work at the price they had quoted you. Or that day when an assignee called you to tell you that she had just moved into a hotel but her visa and work permit process did not seem to have been approved yet and you help her find a hotel as you feel bad even though the delay had been caused by the authority.

As GM Professionals we deal with a lot of issues every day but often we don’t get the recognition we deserve.

When I was at the start of my career I had a folder where I placed “positive feedback”. I got really lovely emails and printed them. This folder I collected for the rainy days…but nothing prepared me for the days of real frost.

Winter is coming

The “winter” (as GoT-fans might say) in my career came fast. One of my assignees died in a car accident, another one had a heart attack and one of our US assignees died on September 11th. All within about two years. You are so close to your assignee population that losing an assignee is the worst that can ever happen in your professional life. I became an expert on death in service. Then I moved into another role (with other challenges…).

Fast forward to about 10 years later I was sitting at the hairdresser on a Saturday morning. I read everything on Twitter related to #Fukushima. We had a crisis in Japan.

With the support of SOS International and three hours later my assignee with spouse and two small children were on the way to Tokyo airport. Our assignee was back on his desk at “home” on Monday. Many other assignees did not find the time to leave Japan on time during the Tsunami as their companies were not prepared to deal with emergencies. Even though I was criticized by our CEO for what he thought was an “emotional” and hastened decision in the end I knew I did right. I will never forget the moment when I met our assignee afterwards.

Maybe this event is one of those reasons why I will never leave Global Mobility. Once you get sucked in into this world it is hard to leave. Another reason is that the colleagues you meet they are also big-hearted people.
For me GM is one of the most interesting areas of HR. Our work can be critical to the business and we are subject matter experts. No one will say “Oh that balance sheet…I could have calculated this with a bit of common sense…” (which is a typical reaction you get as an HR person when you want to implement a new idea).

Advice to my less experienced colleagues in Global Mobility

Dear junior colleagues I advise you to pick your battles wisely. Use your energy to support your assignees and your business line managers but remember that most of your discussions are not life and death situations. Learn to focus on solutions not problems.

Invest in personal relationships to your assignee population. You are more effective when assignees trust you blindly.

Prepare yourself for emergencies of your expat population so you know how to react to such a situation like a robot. Ask for security training from your corporate security. Go through the same training as your expats. Learn everything about high-risk countries and how to deal with natural disasters, political turmoil and health issues of assignees.

Attend intercultural trainings as often as possible to understand the host cultures and your HR colleagues in those countries better.
Manage at least 200 cases in your early career so you understand the breadth of the work. Then find a focus topic that you are interested in and deepen your expertise there. Examples include tax, social security, immigration and employment law.

Build up a strong professional network of GM colleagues as they will be able to have advice when you deal with a new country or when you deal with a special topic that you did not encounter yet. Your network will also encourage you and help you gain perspective in case you ever feel frustrated with the work.

And if all else fails you can always call me. We offer a new program for GM Professionals called “FlyMe!”. Reach out to me if you would like to discuss anything.

 

 

Do you want to start a career in Global Mobility? Do you want to become an even sharper and wittier consultant on top of GM Trends and well networked? 

As of February 2015 we offer “FlyMe!” – A career program for Global Mobility Professionals and those to be. The programme contains nine one-hour coaching sessions with yours truly and the GM Workbook original manuscript for the price of CHF 2’400 + VAT.

If you decide to buy this programme before 19 December 2014 please contact monika@globalpeopletransitions.com. You will get the early bird rate of CHF 1’900 + VAT. (Codeword: Samichlaus)