An international assignment is among the most complex, expensive, and strategically important process a business can undertake. They not only involve stakeholders from current business production processes, strategic development, and talent maintenance and growth, but also require a variety of support programs and personnel and several levels of management participation. Unlike domestic assignments, the employee’s family is an integral part of the process. Done well, they provide a sustainable competitive advantage in business success and talent development. Done poorly, they become expensive sinkholes, replete with hidden costs, failed objectives, lost opportunities, organizational conflicts, and departing talent. This paper provides a practical, management-action oriented candidate readiness approach to building an expat preparation and support program. It combines research findings, common sense, technology, and solid management thinking to provide a blueprint for an assignment’s success, both professionally and personally.

This paper provides a practical, management-action oriented approach to candidate readiness: Building an expat preparation and support program.

So What’s the Problem?

The early days of international assignments were characterized by a salaried, typically male employee, either going alone or accompanied by a “trailing spouse” or a family willing to make significant (but also well compensated) sacrifices for the corporate enterprise. Starting in about 1980, the nature and composition of the expat population began to change, with more families and women in the expat workforce. As late as 2005, however, only the most prescient and involved companies were struggling with the problems arising from expensive failures and compromises of expat assignments.

Employers were aware of the issues presented by entire families struggling with new cultures and environments as well as new issues (such as dual careers). In addition, the accumulated knowledge was scattered, clinical (that is, from individual cases rather than groups), and not well documented or measured. Then, in 2006, the now-classic GMAC study confirmed what some had been sensing: the issues around family adaptation were paramount to an assignment’s failure or success.