International HRM: Expatriate Selection, Training, Assistance and Repatriation Strategies on International Assignments to Japan
Selecting the wrong person for any job can lead to failure and cost the company money. But the stakes are higher for expatriate assignments. Doing business abroad always requires extra care in handling different cultures, politics and business practices. And critical to their success is sending the right people abroad. For many companies, especially SMEs, candidate selection still consists of a manager pointing at a competent employee and saying, “We need him to go to X.” However, no one can make a good decision when under the gun and feeling uncomfortable with the situation. That is why planning is so important in creating a successful international assignment program.
In addition to planning, the company should try to find a good match between the skills, the management style of the person and the way business is conducted in the country. When you are selecting someone within a country, you are choosing them based on the skills. But it is a whole different ball game overseas. The differences between business cultures can be enormous. For example, you could have a top salesperson in the United States who is aggressive and a high achiever, but who will fail in Japan for the very reason he’s a success in the United States. To choose someone only based on race might also be wrong. An employee may be a second-generation Japanese, and an HR manager will think he is great for an assignment in Japan, but culturally this person is a foreigner and doesn’t necessarily have any better chance of fitting into that culture than anyone else at the company.
Among the top reasons cited for assignment failure are family issues, an area that should be dealt with during the selection process. “It’s a big distraction if the family doesn’t want to be there,” as an foreign expert notes. “We’ve had a couple of divorces occur while employees were on assignment,” he adds, and that can be very disruptive to the company. To assess the situation, it is recommended to invite the spouses of candidates in for interviews. Failing to screen a spouse can have a major impact. One foreign company investigated admitted that they sent an employee and his family to a small province in Japan without vetting the wife. She grew unhappy and the couple divorced while on assignment. Locally, it became a major scandal and one that rubbed off on the company.
Many expatriates also complain they were not prepared adequately for an international assignment, and during their assignment they cite poor coordination between local-country and home-office Human Resources departments. To secure the productivity of employees sent on international assignments, companies should support their expatriates during their assignment and relieve those employees’ fears about what is going on in the mother company. Expatriates who believe they are not getting enough information usually have less peace of mind and feel less productive. In addition, with growing tensions around the globe, employees on overseas assignment feel increasingly overwhelmed by health and safety concerns and think they are not being provided with the preparation and support they need. According to interviews with expatriates, they want their employers to (1) provide cross-cultural and language training for employees, and offer cultural assistance to employees’ families; (2) communicate on health and safety issues as well as on the situation in the mother company; (3) provide benefits packages tailored to their individual needs; (4) help executives balance personal and professional responsibilities while on assignment.
Finally there is the difficult task of repatriating employees after foreign assignments. Some companies investigated have figured out a way to keep the repatriated employee happy and challenged at home. Such organizations learned that if you don’t find a way to do those things, unhappy returnees often wind up working for the competition. But even the most forward-thinking companies may be missing out on a major benefit of sending people abroad: the skills and experience that repatriates bring home. A returning executive is likely to have a wealth of knowledge about the culture and the market conditions in the territories in which he or she has served. With some planning, an organization should be able to create a workable database of such knowledge. Companies that have begun to focus on the issue of repatriation often see it in terms of organizational politics: how best to reintegrate the employee with a minimum of disruption. Such attitudes may represent progress – but only limited progress. To survive in an increasingly competitive environment, organizations need to make full use of every possible advantage. And among its most valuable, and easily accessible, resources are the collective skills and experience of returnees and expatriates out in the field.
[Peter Ackermann] Interkulturelles Management und Geschichten um das Sitzen (Intercultural Management in Japan)
In: Peter Ackermann (Ed.) Japan: Selbstbild - Fremdbild. Zürich: Offizin Verlag. p. 57-63.
[Deutsche Industrie- und Handelskammer in Japan] Die Auslandsentsendung aus der Sicht der mitreisenden Familie. Teil 2: Verbesserungswünsche und Empfehlungen (Managing the Overseas Assignment from a Family Perspective. Part 2: Requests and Recommendations)
In: Deutsche Industrie- und Handelskammer in Japan (Ed.) Japan Markt, Februar 2005 (Wissenschaft und Praxis). Tokyo: Deutsche Industrie- und Handelskammer in Japan. p. 22-25.
[Deutsche Industrie- und Handelskammer in Japan] Die Auslandsentsendung aus der Sicht der mitreisenden Familie. Teil 1: Umzug nach Japan (Managing the Overseas Assignment from a Family Perspective. Part 1: Moving to Japan)
In: Deutsche Industrie- und Handelskammer in Japan (Ed.) Japan Markt, Januar 2005 (Wissenschaft und Praxis). Tokyo: Deutsche Industrie- und Handelskammer in Japan. pp. 22-25.
Personalerhaltungsmaßnahmen im Niederlassungsmanagement: Die Entgeltgestaltung als zentrale Größe (A Question of Remuneration? How to Keep Your Workforce in Foreign Subsidaries)
In: Japan Markt, Dezember 2003 (Wissenschaft und Praxis). Tōkyō: Deutsche Industrie- und Handelskammer in Japan. pp. 17-19.
Die Qual der Wahl – Personalauswahl für den Einsatz in Japan (The Question of Choice – Personal Selection Instruments for International Assignments to Japan)
In: Japan Markt, April 2002 (Wissenschaft und Praxis). Tōkyō: Deutsche Industrie- und Handelskammer in Japan. pp.13-15.
„Crisis“ oder „Honeymoon“? Die entscheidenden ersten Wochen der Auslandsentsendung (Crisis or Honeymoon? The Crucial First Weeks of Expatriates’ Assignments to Japan)
In: Japan Markt, Dezember 2001 (Wissenschaft und Praxis). Tōkyō: Deutsche Industrie- und Handelskammer in Japan. pp. 17-23.