What Factors Influence International Assignment-Success?

Often, an International Assignment is something that has been a possibility for a long time. When the offer arrives, it's important to do a few "calculations" to ensure that this is really the right offer at the right time - for you and for those transferring with you.

According to the Harvard Business Review, the following 2 factors should be taken into consideration when pondering the possibility of an international move.

1. Evaluate your Human Capital

Human capital is everything that you bring to the table: your technical skills, your work experience, your interpersonal skills, your relationships, and your networks. It's your ability to do your job well. However, those abilities do not don't guarantee success in your assigned country. A new language, a new etiquette, a new management style, different procedures, new regulations, -- all offer challenges to your effectiveness/success.

What are the success-metrics?

Do your research into how the job would differ from, and be similar to, your present job. Are you expected to mentor local team members? Does your new team want you to train them to work with member from your native country?

How does the local culture differ/resemble yours?

Research, the culture of the new location, just as if you were joining a new company.

What systems does your company have in place to support you?

Ask about the kinds of support will you get from the local management and HR. Will you have a cultural mentor? Is there a group of community of expats that you can turn to for help and advice?

How will your new experience and expertise be rewarded?

Ask about your job prospects when you return. Plan to keep in touch with valued colleagues, HR, and up to date with what's happening in the home office.

2. Consider your Family's Human Capital

Your spouse and children will be affected the most from your assignment. Unlike you, they don't have a new project or a promotion to balance/mitigate the effects of the change. For them, everything changes. This "lack of continuity" in their lives, in their relationships, job, school, and networks is unsettling. It's your job to help them make this assignment a success for them too. Work with them to lay out a road map for how to get the most out of this new adventure.

What's new?

Family success is maximized if spouse and children have the opportunity to expand their qualifications and interests by learning new skills. They can study subjects specific to the region, take up a new hobby, learn a new language, or explore the culture of their new home.

What's familiar?

Research the new area together. Use your networks to find out about expat clubs, religious institutions, athletic facilities, and other interest and activities that they pursued in your home country. Show them how to connect to their new culture and learn the native language through their existing interests, passions, and hobbies.

Where would they like to live?

Secure a look-see visit with the entire family to scout neighborhoods, schools, potential homes. Ask older children for their input on schools and neighborhoods. Look for recreation and networking opportunities with them.

3. Get help from an expert

In international assignments, culture is often taken for granted. But the failure of such assignments is usually not caused by an employee's lack of technical skills or proficiency. It results from cultural dissonance. If an assignee can't get along with his international team, the work doesn't get done.

Cross-cultural experts and intercultural trainers can greatly reduce stress and speed up your integration into your new community. These professionals can help navigate the inherent conflicts of your native cultural and that of your new community. Because they live and study culture everyday, having either recently "been there, done that" or are "still there, doing that", they can provide information and tips customized to your specific needs. They can also be used as arbitrators when cultural norms are breached or a misunderstanding occurs due to cultural differences.


An international assignment presents you and your family two challenges: learning a new job and learning to live and thrive in a new culture. Be smart. Approach both of these with same amount of rigor and thoroughness. Do your research and use the resources that are available.

From an article by Boris Groysberg - Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School - posted in the Harvard Business Review 2/13/14.

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Intercultural Training and Consulting


Sophie Simons

1-281 433 5254  Sophie@EncounterCultures.com

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