What if a valued customer wants you to do a project or support them from a new location where you do not currently have an office? Yes, research will be needed! But there are so many things that may be important, where would you start? This resource I am sharing is a handy starter-list for the research that HR is often expected to do.
The topics covered in the attached checklist include the following areas:
And in each case, the checklist contains the aspect to the left and leaves you some space to jot down notes pertaining to your company and your plans. (See example below) That way you can quickly create your next-step plans following your research.
Some points to ponder:
Trying to answer the question about how much to pay employees you plan to relocate to the new office – calculate their entire package before you start. Add in all benefits they are getting which may not be cash in their hands i.e. health insurance, pension contributions by the company etc. Considering the full package is the starting point, not the annual salary only.
Look for local tax breaks that may be available to those you plan to relocate. In some countries they may be able to pay lower personal taxes.
If the local language is neither English nor the language spoken at the office your planned expats work now – how can you help them learn the new language? Even if all business is conducted in one language, the planned expats would need to set up their lives locally including trips to the supermarket, making local friends, and finding local information online. Being able to understand some basic words or say some basic phrases in the local language could be very valuable as they get settled there.
How can you minimize the carbon footprint of that new location? Limiting flights in and out of that new office and only placing expats there when the work cannot be done remotely or using modern tools and platforms to accomplish business objectives and outcomes.
The shared resource above is a starter-list and may not include all the aspects you need to look at before mobilizing. It is a great tool for doing a high-level review of a location under consideration for a new office or site.
While you can find a lot of the information you need online, I strongly recommend engaging with recognized experts in establishing operations abroad. Laws change, new trends emerge which have not yet made it into laws and websites are not always updated in a timeous fashion. So do your own research (using the checklist above) to understand the “lay of the land”. If you want to go further, engage with experts who may be able to advise on additional aspects and possible solutions which you may have missed in your own first-pass research efforts.
Stretch assignments are useful for learning and personal growth and development, because they purposefully contain elements that are challenging in areas where the assignee needs to develop. Designed correctly, a stretch assignment confronts one with the necessity to get out of your comfort zone in order to succeed.
The starting point for designing such an assignment can be multiple data sources:
the person’s own development needs compared to established leadership competencies,
key proven areas of mastery that a company requires from their leaders to advance to the next level,
a mindset or mindset shift that is required to move the company and its leaders into a new way of operating; or
to build competency in specific important areas that are or will be important to the future of the company.
A stretch is not defined in a general way, but rather it is very specific to a person. While a stretch could mean that one requirement is for the person (plus family, if appropriate) to move to an international location, it inevitably would also include other job-related challenges. Examples include supervising more people, having financial performance targets (for someone who has only had functional roles in the past) or having more complexity such as multiple geographical areas to manage. The key balance to maintain when designing stretch assignments is to ensure that the assignee is put under a certain amount of pressure to learn and grow, but not so much pressure that he or she fails.
Mitigating failure risks
There are a few things you can implement to help monitor how things are going with each assignee and to provide a “safety net” for an assignee to get support from.
Assign subject-matter experts as coaches – depending on the scope of the assignment.
Assign a leadership development coach to help the assignee reflect on experiences, frame up challenges and cognitively choose best solutions and explore new ways of operating to be more successful in the assigned areas of responsibility.
Set up internal-company networking events for the assignees to meet, have opportunities to mingle and share experiences and also include a pre-determined learning event tied to overall leadership development objectives within the company.
Set up a structure of communication moments with the “home” organization supervisor and colleagues – this is especially important if you plan to return the assignee to the same organization at the end of the assignment. Maintaining ties would greatly improve a successful return and reintegration after an assignment. Communication moments like these can also greatly help colleagues NOT on assignment to learn from the experiences and best-in-class solutions their colleague on assignment is mastering.
New and challenging assignments often cause assignees to experience some stress. Supporting assignees to successfully navigate through the new challenges means you should pay attention to a change in behavior or performance which could indicate that he or she is stuck on the learning curve. Signs that things are going wrong are important to notice early-on to maximize chances of turning things around and avoiding an assignment disappointment and/or incurring an assignee retention risk. Pre-departure training should be provided to both assignees and their coaches to understand and recognize signs that things may not be going well and to understand ways to become unstuck in every situation.
Some warning signals:
Expectations for goal achievement by assignees must be specifically captured in a plan and communicated to an assignee along with available rewards for over-achievement of goals. The specific strategic importance of the assignment should also be highlighted as well as the developmental needs to be addressed during the assignment.
Tips for stretch-assignment coordinators:
Ensure that there is a structure that enables assignees to succeed and always follow-through with the check-in points and feedback activities to ensure all is well.
Ensure that all those involved in assignments are clear on the role of management, role and responsibilities of supporting coaches, the role and responsibilities of assignees and the role and responsibilities of assignment supervisors and “home office” supervisors.
Adequately prepare assignees for their assignments: cultural awareness training (for international assignments), language skills (where needed) and if accompanied by family members – consider a session to discuss the practicalities of moving to a new location with those family members present.
Ensure that the assignees get interim feedback on how their assignments are going -at least 3 times per year, but more often if this can be managed. This provides opportunities to refocus and apply new approaches as needed to ensure the assignment is successful.
Provide assignees and stakeholders in assignments ample notification about the end date of an assignment. This assures minimum surprises and helps everyone to plan actions leading to a well-organized return upon assignment completion.
When assignments are successful in achieving or exceeding on all the objectives, assignees should return from their experiences with increased confidence, leadership skills, and maturity. The personal growth and development they experienced should enhance their ability to make better decisions and build stronger interpersonal relationships with those they lead and follow. Being mindful of how to setup and manage stretch assignments can make all of that a reality.
Your project team is very diverse and you are concerned that this may impact how your project will be executed – will you be able to achieve your overall project goals or will there be a lot of internal strife, misunderstandings and disagreements? Will they work against each other and have the wrong assumptions about each other and the project goals and metrics? If so, this team-building activity may help.
The downloadable resource I am sharing is a team activity you can use to help project team members understand that different groups of people can have different views on the various aspects of running a project and also the relative importance of key project processes. This activity makes those possible disconnects transparent which helps you lead clarification discussions with the team/group. While the activity itself is quite simple, the discussion that comes after the initial assignment is where the value lies and that will take up most of your time.
You can segregate meeting participants in various ways related to the most important diversity aspects you wish to highlight within the team. As a variation you may choose to run the first part of the exercise more than once and each time segregating the group of participants in a different way. Options include: cultures, locations where they are from or live, level of life experience, function etc.
There are several topics listed for discussion towards the end and it would be wise to prioritize them for your own convenience, as a facilitator. If you are running out of time towards the end you can then ensure you are covering the most important topics during the time you have available after the initial portion of the exercise.
Be sure to stress that diversity is a plus for team creativity and finding new solutions. The objective of this activity is to help work out some of the downsides of diversity without marginalizing any one or group or impose judgement.
Non-homogeneous teams may be tougher to manage than homogeneous teams, but the pay-off in creating new and innovative team solutions coupled with individuals learning new skills and perspectives from other team members can be very rewarding. As a team leader or facilitator you just need to make sure you have the right tools, such as this activity, available to help non-homogeneous teams succeed.
In our globalized world it is very common for employees to have regular contact with people from other cultures and they may attend meetings at various international locations. When you are executing projects on a global scale it increases the importance of ensuring that communication and collaboration go as smoothly as possible in order to meet your project objectives.
Cultures and sub-cultures
You may be surprised to learn that even seemingly basic project concepts could have different interpretations across cultures and sub-cultures. This exercise that I am sharing with you focuses on intercultural aspects of international teams and can help by clarifying assumptions and expectations at an early stage of your project.
When I think of different cultures on a project team, I also include sub-cultures such as between different regions in the same country or different functional groups in the same company. (This link can provide context if you want to look at cultures more closely.)
In the exercise, participants answer questions from their own perspective being as true as possible to how things are done at the location or group that they represent in the exercise. Most people who have lived internationally for some years have already adapted to habits and ways that conform to expectations and habits for their new location and how people do things there. If your intention is to highlight the richness of different perspectives you have present at the event where you run this ice breaker – ask participants to think back to a time when they lived in location X or worked with group Y – how would they answer the question then?
The downloadable document above contains several project-related scenarios which can be used to explore differences in approaches and mindsets within your project team. You may also choose to use the topic of diversity and inclusion as an on-going exploration within your team where you could select one of the topics at each of your meetings instead of trying to cover all of them during a team-building event.
This ice-breaker can be a good item to include in a project kick-off meeting or when you are adding a few more people to the team from a different office/location. This exercise also works well when you have team members who are from the same country, but are from different offices. (It is not uncommon for offices/locations to have slightly different approaches).
Early exploration of different mindsets and assumptions among team members can be a valuable foundation to ensure smoother relationships and better collaboration on your project. Feel free to suggest additional important scenarios to consider for discussion after you have reviewed the attachment I shared in this post.