Why it is Hard to Measure Expat Performance
Performance

A study by Learnlight shows that four in ten international assignments are judged to be a failure. And yet the number of overseas assignments continues to rise. Global companies are under considerable pressure to determine what makes a successful overseas assignment and to understand why they so often fail. However, what has been so often overlooked is why it is difficult to measure expatriate performance. Since both assignment failure and success depends on how expats perform on the job, it becomes pertinent to consider how expats perform and why it is difficult to measure their performance. In the following points, I will highlight and elaborate on five reasons why it is difficult to measure expatriate performance.

  • Goals for Expats are often not clearly defined. They are often conflicting as they have to take into account the interests of the home and host company, or headquarters and subsidiaries. It becomes difficult to work effectively when expats are trying to achieve the home company goals while simultaneously trying to fit in the expectations of the host company. More expats would perform well if the goals of the host company align with the objectives of the home company.
  • Performance ratings have been calibrated for years. However, we know that there is an unconscious bias in the data. The first rater is usually a direct manager.  This person potentially judges their own weaknesses less and thinks that the expat is responsible for failure alone. However, often the manager in the host country does not help the expat to solve dilemmas. The home country manager should consider it a responsibility to make it seamless for the expatriate to integrate well into the system. One of the biggest factors that determine whether or not an assignee would be successful is who his or her line manager is. 
  • Cultural concepts of performance are biased. Definitions of “high performance” have been largely influenced by Western values and did not take team performance into account. The gig economy will need stronger team collaboration and fewer individual players. Eastern values and approaches might have an advantage now.
  • Management by Objectives is outdated. We need a new conceptual framework of performance. Even in the past setting annual targets was not always the best method of judging performance (irrespective of expat or local).
  • Expat managers usually lack the informal network and access to the host culture so it is not surprising if their performance drops in Y1. It is quite impossible to know how to navigate in a terrain that you are not familiar with. Also, they are busy adjusting and have a family to integrate into the new life abroad. One might think that we can accelerate the cultural adjustment and then just go “back to the normal way of judging performance” but I would advise against such thinking. It takes time to fit into the system and culture of a new location. Hence, the whole process of cultural adjustment takes its tolls on expat performance.

Expatriate Performance and Potential Assessment

Scullion, Collings (2011) describe the performance assessment system at Novartis which will be used as a generic example for global companies. The system “…grades employees on (a) business results (the “what”) and (b) values and behaviors (the “how”). While the business results are unique to each business area, the values and behaviors (ten in all) are common across the entire firm.” Together with the potential assessment talents are assessed in a nine-box matrix. (Scullion, Collings, 2011, p. 29)

Basing expats’ performance solely on business results may not give the overall picture of all that transpires to make an assignment either a success or a failure. There should be a holistic overview of all the processes that go into cultural adjustment and family acculturation. 

Expat adjustment as a success factor – The Term “Expat Failure” and what it commonly refers to

When discussing the success of an international assignment or project a common way to measure “success” is expat adjustment which in contradiction to “expat failure” is often equalized with completing an assignment for the planned assignment period.

“The authors leave open how long it may take an expatriate to attain the same level of applicability and clarity abroad as at home, stressing that one or two years may not suffice. To reach higher levels, the person may very well have experienced an identity transformation far more profound than passing through a cycle of adjustment.” Hippler, Haslberger, Brewster (2017, p.85)

“A “comprehensive model of success is missing” and Caligiuri’s (1997) suggestion that future studies should clarify what is meant by adjustment, as opposed to performance, indicated the need for definitional and discriminant clarity when examining performance.” Care and Donuhue (2017, p.107)

Talent management approaches in Germany and Switzerland and most of Europe are driven by the U.S.-based ideas about talent identification and definitions and use the “nine-box grid” to select key talents with a halo-effect towards white males. 

Influence of psychological contract on expatriate retention

An issue in expatriation is often the lack of clarity around the role after repatriation. A psychological contract exists between the expat and the company but there is no written agreement or clear understanding of the next role or roles in the process. Expectations are not properly managed and often expats are disappointed with their title, pay or role content in the next role when returning from an assignment.

Two years after repatriation there are several factors influencing retention significantly. 

  1. a) re-entry cultural adjustment, another 
  2. b) role expectation mismatch and 
  3. c) the lack of applicability of the learning from the previous assignment.

The Integration of Global Mobility and Global Talent Management

One of the reasons for this lack of synchronization is the missing integration of global mobility and global talent management activities and functions in today’s organizations. The only guidance focuses on academic concepts of expatriate return on investment.

A Holistic Competency Model is Needed

I claim that we not only need a better integration of Talent Management and Global Mobility (hence the term Talent Mobility) but we also need to look at our performance management systems, global competency models, recruiting and talent identification process under a new light. We finally need to advance HR to an interculturally competent function and reduce the inherent bias in all of our processes, tools and leaders. This will be a major task in a post-colonial BANI World.

My Global Competency Model has been an attempt to integrate Eastern and Western mindsets into a model. Our coaching approach builds on Eastern and Western coaching practices. We included the ethics by the International Coaching Federation (ICF). The holistic approach of my coach, educator Drs. Boudewijn Vermeulen, further developed by Dr. Eva Kinast into a holistic, body-oriented and intercultural coaching method. This method focuses on building and maintaining effective trust-based relationships, the body-mind-heart connection and is linked to the psychology of Carl Gustav Jung. 

The model also assumes weekly reflection, regular practices, which originate from Eastern mindsets and concepts such as ZEN. We integrated body learning which was taught to me by Dr. Jay Muneo Jay Yoshikawa in a course of Eastern Mindscapes (back in 2005 at the Summer Institute of Intercultural Communication in Portland, Oregon). Reflected experiences are based on the single-loop and double-loop learning theory of Argyris and Schoen. Also, experiential learning that I first learned from Thiaggi about 20 years ago and have further developed into all of my programs.

Trust and Relationships are Collaboration Glue

In almost every coaching session right now leaders talk to me about the need to get better at building trust (also in a virtual setting) and relationships. Relationships in my view are the glue to working well together within a monocultural but also multicultural environment. Collaboration (as opposed to Cooperation) requires a higher level of trust among project team members. Agile needs it. And Diversity, Equity and Inclusion demand it. 

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR GLOBAL MOBILITY?

“Better alignment between global mobility and companies’ global talent agenda is a precondition for making mobility truly strategic and helping companies achieve a significant return on investment with their international assignments.”

  • Widening the scope of Global Mobility to include international hires, cross-border commuters, international transfers, lifestyle assignments, global digital nomads and other groups of internationally mobile professionals.
  • Reviewing all HR models and processes to reduce bias and White Supremacy should be on the priority list of every HR leader but you can also make it your personal mission. Help us create a world where everyone has a chance and invite those to the table that are often overlooked.
  • Defining assignment objectives up front and tracking progress throughout assignment. You must ensure that not only the home company or headquarters have clear cut objectives for the expat  but also that the host company’s objectives are in sync and align with that of the headquarters. Coach the expat or send them to me for coaching. Help them be a success rather than a failure.
  • Improving productivity by addressing development areas such as communication, process and culture barriers. Key problem areas should be identified. Oftentimes, expats complain about loss of connection to the home company. Nobody from the headquarters or home company is interested in how they fare in the new environment. If expats feel deserted, it could adversely affect their performance output. Proffering viable solutions to pain points of expats, such as cultural roadblocks would help improve expats performance. Give them the vocabulary to speak about their blockers, send them to intercultural awareness training. 
  • Helping coordinate annual talent review of all expatriates. Reviews like this give expats the opportunity to express their perception of the international assignment. 
  • Increase the expat’s self-awareness. Let expats learn more about themselves. We use the IDI (Intercultural Development Inventory) and ICBI™ (Individual Cultural Blueprint Indicator) for example for self-awareness assessment and the outcomes can be a great conversation starter in a coaching session.

You already know that I am on a mission to bring the Human Touch back into Global Mobility and therefore we would also like to contribute to research in the growing body of knowledge around Global Mobility. Our Academic Intern Monica Kim Kuoy is running a research project and I hope you would like to support us by being an interview partner or sounding board for our ideas.

We look forward to hearing from you.

 

RESOURCES

Who is an Expatriate Employee?

https://expatfinancial.com/who-is-an-expatriate-employee/ 

https://feibv.nl/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Master-Thesis_Weinberger-Angela_Jan-2019_Final.pdf

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