Selecting employees to work abroad and establishing suitable career paths for foreign staff is just the tip of the iceberg. Equally important is the training and preparation that they and their families receive before and during an assignment.

If a high failure rate is to be avoided, as well as poor performance, certain guidelines must be followed. In particular the awareness of two of the most common problems:

o Misguidance that does not take into account differences in individual perceptions of environments abroad.

o Organizational diffusion that afflicts any expatriate placement system that does not integrate the functions of selection, orientation and repatriation into a conceptually and procedurally cohesive system.

individual perceptions

Technical skills and professional knowledge are not in question here: Of the majority of expats who fail jobs abroad, studies show that around 80 percent fail due to poor personal adaptation rather than technical or job skills. inadequate.

However, for all levels of employees, the costs of erroneous expatriation include initial hire costs, relocation expenses, bonus compensation, repatriation costs, and replacement costs, as well as the tangible costs of poor job performance. However, an evaluation of the reasons for failure abroad and a review of the burgeoning literature on this topic indicate that an important “first principle” of human relations is ignored or insufficiently considered. That is the fact that individuals differ in their perceptions of the same reality.

This is, therefore, the single most destructive aspect of the current cultural preparation of expatriates. Unfortunately, the information is delivered in a video or a day-long talk by a self-described “expert,” all of which fit perfectly into the quick-fix American mentality, and therefore have enormous appeal. Unfortunately, these programs usually do more harm than good. They tend to leave behind individuals conditioned to respond to stereotypes rather than think for themselves. Rather than trying to convey “the truth about Tokyo,” orientation programs should make it clear that employees and family members will experience their own Tokyos. No matter what they have heard or read, their experiences will be unique. Consider how difficult that could be. be to describe the essence of America to a foreigner who has no reference points. How do you explain New York versus California or the South? If the right people are selected, they will take the time to study the country, its history, and moreover, they will find that local nationals, sensing genuine interest, will go out of their way to help their understanding. In the long run, this is the only cultural orientation that is effective because each family assimilates it at its own pace and from its own perspective.


In the system suggested here, the normally separate processes of selection, orientation, and repatriation represent a continuum through which employees are identified, oriented to their new assignment, and, when appropriate, prepared for their return to the US. Repatriation in this system it is functionally integrated with the selection/orientation process. Allow those who help identify employees for overseas assignments to calibrate their judgment by knowing the “who, what and why” of returnees: failures and “success stories.”

As noted in a previous article, overseas assignments should be part of a company’s well-planned and well-communicated overall career development program for certain pre-screened employees, rather than a “prune” available only to a select few or an interruption. of the race suffered by the unfortunate. .
In light of the perception issues discussed above, the counseling program should consist of three elements, all designed to provide the right mindset. This would include:

an initial orientation

or Culture

An overview of the country’s traditions/history; government/economics; and living conditions, all designed to give an idea of ​​the country and its people with a strong emphasis on flexibility rather than rules for specific situations and the (often erroneous) opinions of others.

or Assignment

Job requirements and expectations, duration of assignment, expatriate benefits, including salary/allowances; tax consequences; repatriation policy.

or Relocation

Clothing/housing requirements; health requirements; visa requirements, shipping/packaging of goods to be shipped abroad, storage of household items in the United States; Disposal/Rental of US Homes, Foreign Homes

A pre-departure orientation

Because the initial orientation often takes place a month or more prior to actual departure, a pre-departure orientation is recommended. This is to provide employees and their families with the information they will need in transit and upon arrival, as well as to emphasize material previously covered. Also covered:

o A basic introduction to the language, more likely to be remembered when the opportunity to use it is near.

o Additional reinforcement of key behavioral values, especially open-mindedness.

o Information en route, emergency and arrival.

Arrival orientation.

Upon arrival, the employee and their family must be met at the airport or other embarkation point by an assigned company sponsor to facilitate the transition during the first month in the country.


Too often, expat orientation programs and policies lose sight of the fact that ours is a culturally pluralistic society made up of individuals with an almost limitless range of attitudes and reactions to what they see, hear and experience. The very experience in the foreign environment without an overwhelming and often misleading orientation program will ultimately determine the attitudes necessary for a successful and productive adjustment.

Within this conceptual framework. An effective overseas staffing system has been suggested that unifies the objectives and functions of selection, orientation and repatriation. Such an approach allows management to take advantage of the fact that all three processes are related and each substantiates the effectiveness of the other.

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