Author Archives: Angie Weinberger
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.

Sometimes we all experiences phases in our lives when everything seems to drag along or harder than usual. In other times we are full of energy and ready to take life by storm. You probably understand already that your energy level and exhaustion does not always correlate to a number of hours you work.

Sometimes you might be drained by other factors. It might even be your personal life that is creating an imbalance. In my experience, most of the issues we face are born in our head. Once we learn to control our thoughts, we can almost control the universe (almost…do not try to challenge me on this one).

Do you remember the last time you almost had a nervous breakdown over a small error you made or the last fight you had with a loved one for something that seemed meaningless in hindsight?

Are you sometimes asking yourself what triggers these emotional reactions when you explode or break into tears out of nowhere? The issue is simpler than you think and at the same time more irrational than you think. It’s probably related to your early childhood. Unless you want to go through a long deep therapeutic process I want to advise you to observe your behavior and your judgment.

There are also a few actions you can take to rid yourself of unnecessary blockages.

Clean up your home and office space

Sometimes we feel blocked because we lost touch with ourselves, with our priorities and our purpose. In that case, it is useless to sit in front of a white sheet of paper ruminating about what we would like to do with our lives. It is better to shift your focus to cleaning up your home and office space. Throw out anything you don’t use or if you feel you will use it again try to put it in your cellar.

https://globalpeopletransitions.com/how-to-get-rid-of-clutter-in-five-steps-spring-cleaning-for-more-productivity/

Use Housework as a Meditation Practice

Create more balance between your head and your body by going through your household tasks with dedicated Zen-like attitude. Focus fully on the task at hand, let your mind enjoy music or listen to a podcast while you iron shirts, clean the bathroom and do the dishes. You might want to take up a regular practice such as meditation, yoga, aikido or golf.
http://www.agility3.com/blog/learning-golf-rememering-rilke-and-the-secret-to-a-perfect-lawn

Battle Stress by Looking at the Root Cause

If you constantly feel anxious, get too little sleep or you seek distractions with medicines, drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, work and other additions you might want to seek a therapist. In the long run, you will benefit from going through this rough phase but you probably won’t manage alone or without a support group. Maybe it will also help you to follow our advice on how to get in control again when stress weighs you down.
https://globalpeopletransitions.com/when-stress-weighs-you-down-three-quickies-to-get-in-control-again/

Kind regards
Angie Weinberger

PS: If you feel you only need a few small optimizations to claim back your diary you might want to try these seven tips.

https://globalpeopletransitions.com/my-favourite-productivity-hacks-seven-tips-to-claim-back-your-diary/

With temperatures at summer highs, I felt obliged to tell you about the Swiss recruiting summer downtime and how to best prepare for it. With the start of international and Swiss school holidays, many recruiting processes slow down significantly. If you are looking for a job right now you probably feel that you are coming late to the table. I would say that is true, but it does not mean that you should spend July and August in a coma in the next “Badi”.

1) Write your personal career story

My advice is that you finalize your personal branding. You need to have your three professional “labels” ready and know how you will introduce yourself to a new contact. You should write a story that explains why you chose the profession you currently have, what you like about it and where your next step should take you. You should also have your personal business cards printed. You might also want to revisit why a personal brand is important and how it links to your seven work principles.

2) Build more personalized professional relationships

Summer is a good time to build new and catch up with your current contacts because they might feel less pressured than normal and the nice weather is encouraging your contacts to spend more time outside. Why don’t you take them for an ice cream in the sunshine after work? Why don’t you request an early morning walk by the lake combined with a cold coffee? Or you could offer to take over their recycling runs as you have enough time at your hands at the moment for half an hour of them sharing career tips with you. A personalized request is key here.

3) Set yourself a weekly target for meetings with contacts

I think it is also helpful if you set your targets for the meeting low but ask to be introduced to three more professional contacts in your field. If you have doubts about meeting your contacts you probably have not written down your “purpose” yet. Please read this post on “Purpose, Preparation, Presence, and Promises…” and ask me about it in case you feel it is still too hard to go out and meet professional contacts.

4) Book a holiday for your family and yourself

This is also the best time to be away from Zurich if you are looking for a job. You will probably not miss much and in emergencies, companies could also interview you by phone or Skype in your holiday home. I would advise that you charge your batteries and get out of the city for a minimum of two weeks. Your children and partner/ spouse will probably love it that you have time for them.

5) Book your next coaching sessions up until 22 July now

We are also going to profit from the summer downtime by taking a break and I would like to ask you to book any coaching sessions until 22 July as soon as you know your holiday plans. We currently offer appointments on Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays. If you know anybody who would profit from a career consultation this is a good time to introduce them to Global People Transitions. Your contact will receive a free first consultation if they mention you.

During the summer my team and I will work on projects and learning programs and we will need to retreat for that. We will not be available for private clients from 24 July until 4 September 2017.

What are your committed actions for this week?

 

Kind regards

Angie Weinberger

 

PS: I enjoyed this post on why relationships fail from the Huff Post.

 

 

Back from the SIETAR Europa Congress in Dublin, I would like to share a small story with you. I wanted to tell you how I started to become an intercultural practitioner. Picture the island of Crete, Greece. It’s a hot sunny day and you see me at the age of 9 years. First I play in the sand. Then I decide to take my air mattress and go into the water despite the jellyfish and other small monsters in the sea.

I observe and hear a girl in my age talking and I recognize that this is a different language. I assume she speaks English and my father confirms this assumption. Since I am really bored of playing with my little sister all the time I try to confront the alien.

I make eye contact and we begin to talk. We play in the water and exchange useful information on our families. This is one of the happiest holidays in my life.

At the time my knowledge of the language was very limited as we only had a pre-course in English. At primary school, we gave ourselves funny English names (I was Judy) and sang songs in English such as Old McDonald’s had a farm. My new friend was Nancy from London. Singing songs was a good start but we wanted more. We became pen friends. Funnily, we wrote each other letters for years. We both got into horse riding and she became a real friend. (This was obviously long before we had social media, the Internet and all that…).

Nancy and I never met in person afterward even though I spent a long time in London after High School. One day, we just lost track of each other. I often wondered what happened to her and what is doing now, if she is still alive and if she is happy.

For me, Nancy had been a strong motivator to learn and improve English. Foreign languages came easily to me because I saw the benefit so early in my life.
So, first of all, I want to thank Nancy for that and I want to thank my parents for exposing me to international people so early in life. We also had a Turkish foster child and traveled to many countries in Europe.

Secondly, I would like to tell you that you might be “Nancy” to someone else. When you help another person from a different culture improve your native language such as French or German, when you speak up against racist remarks or when you are simply that one friend that is a bit different than all the others. When you stick around and stay in the relationship even though it might have become a bit stale or when you are the one who picks up the phone or writes the letter to the friend, who thinks you have forgotten all about him and her.

Tell me if you have anyone in your life that you would like to re-connect with across borders and how it felt when you did.

Kind regards
Angie Weinberger

Guest post by Lucie Koch

Lucie Koch has joined Global People Transitions for an internship and will be sharing her internship experiences in a regular blog journal. 

While I have driven all the way up to the North of England during my last bachelor year with only six months of countryside driving experience (let me assure you, the stress was intense), I, and it seems to be the case for many young people of my age, have never felt as anxious and simultaneously excited at the prospect of starting my professional career.

My internship at Global People Transitions  started a little more than one month ago and, for now, I still have one foot in the academic system and the other one in the professional system. Knowing that I am about to step out of the apparently safe bubble of the academic world is becoming more real every day. However, I know that this apprehension is a globally experienced side-effect of change and I am going to be fine.

This said, the professional discovery experience is an exciting (and scary) experience, especially when starting in an international or foreign company, or when considering how young Europeans of my generation have been reminded for years about the high unemployment rates and economic crisis. Writing about my experience may help students about to take their first step in the professional world to feel less stressed about the change and professionals understand the young interns.

The first challenge I faced was intercultural. Indeed, while I am of Swiss nationality, my ideas about work, are mostly shaped by the French education system and experience through personal relations in France. Therefore, I was quite insecure about the professional culture proper to Switzerland.

Secondly, there is the fact that the Global People Transitions team is very diverse in its cultural backgrounds. However, due to my intercultural experience and interculturality centered studies, it was easy to adapt to this.

The real intercultural shock for me was more about academical vs professional culture. Indeed, the differences in behavior, expectations, jargon and directness, are always a challenge to adapt to, especially in a secondary language. I would argue that it might be harder or at least as hard to adapt to a new ‘working’ culture than to a new national culture, especially in a global environment. It is especially complicated in a digital work team, as one can’t rely on tone and physical expression hints.

Culture Shock Theory, which is used to explain and educate people about the social, physical and emotional challenges which people face during and international mobility, could be used in my case too. Indeed, there is the initial ‘honeymoon’ phase, when one is excited about more autonomy, earning money, meeting new people, moving to a new place. Then come the first stressful situations, negative experiences, the disappointment of big expectations, or the nostalgia of old habits, life and friends can lead to a low (more or less hard depending on everyone’s experience). Adapting to the new environment is essential and it is not limited to a change of country.

However, what I discovered in the first month of my internship, is that there is no need to be anxious and that some intercultural communication failures are bound to happen, may it be because of a nationality difference, a professional culture difference, or even a generational difference. The apprehension is normal but the growth that one gains in the professional experience is worth the harder parts.

I hope that you enjoyed this read!

Write you next month,

Lucie

Lucie Koch - Global People Transitions

Lucie Koch is intern at Global People Transitions since April 2017. She is about to graduate from an Intercultural Management Master study, which led her to study in Dijon, France, a city she was already familiar with and in unfamiliar Finland (for one semester). Previously, she studied one year at Durham university (UK) as part of a Bachelor Erasmus Mobility program. She was born in 1994 to Swiss expat couple in France. She grew up in the French countryside, around horses. She’s a self confessed introvert, fascinated by different languages, cultures, science (especially astronomy and biology) and philosophy. She also likes to spend time drawing, painting or in cinemas.