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04/05/2006What 'international careers' want from HR

A new survey finds out what international managers really need from the organisations they work for to reach their full potential.

International managers, who are skilled at working across cultures, have become indispensable for companies to develop and succeed in the global business world. A new survey finds out what they really need from the organisations they work for to reach their full potential.

The study carried out by training and consulting company Global'Ease with the support of Expatica, reveals that international managers thrive when their multinational skills are recognised and harnessed by their companies.

Two words, passion and motivation, were used frequently by the respondents, who note that they appreciate working for a company with 'vision'.

A lack of clear objectives and not being given the space to take the business decisions needed to achieve their goals were seen as demotivating.

How managers see themselves

Respondents were asked to select one out of nine profiles which they felt described them most accurately.  The profile most international managers—30 percent—identified with was 'chameleon'.

This type of manager describes themselves as "blending in and adapting from country to country and doing their best to 'fit in' wherever their business travels take them."

However, as one global manager pointed out when Global'Ease presented the results in Paris last week, there is a gap between international managers' self-perception and the image they convey.

Keep your own values

'Chameleons' also noted that being a chameleon does not mean you should totally 'lose yourself', your own values, while on the job.  Rather, in the words of one respondent, "We should be like a sponge with a little oil floating on water. This makes the sponge float at the same time disseminating oil to the water around it; influencing and being influenced, afloat at the same time."

In joint second place, 16 percent of managers identified themselves as 'bi-cultural managers' and 16 percent as 'serial expats'.

Bi-cultural managers have expertise and knowledge in two countries and feel at ease in both. A serial expat was defined as some one who has lived in many different countries, enjoys it, and cannot envisage returning 'home'.

In roughly equal proportions, the rest of the respondents identified with the profiles, 'locals', 'sedentary managers', who head up a virtual team, 'global managers' and 'exported managers'.

Working in transition

Managers who didn't feel they fitted into one of the nine categories given didn't create a new profile but simply recognised they were in transition between one profile and another.

The survey reveals that those who thrive in an international environment are likely to feel they have more in common with others with the same 'multicultural' mindset than with their families of origin or adopted countries.

Tips from the front line

Be positive, open-minded, flexible, and embrace change, the respondents say when asked to give advice to other 'international careers'.

International managers also advise their peers to take steps to maintain a good work-life balance, something which is a recognised challenge for mobile workers.

What international managers want HR to do

So what can HR do to help this largely autonomous group of individuals who are a vital element of companies seeking growth and innovation?

The survey shows that international managers feel HR needs to work on four levels.

Cultivate well-being

The first step is to ensure the well-being of their international employees, which means sufficient preparation to ensure they are fully operational in their everyday lives.

One international manager said they would like their organisation to, "focus more energy on communications methods and tools to keep the expatriate employee well-informed of corporate thoughts and actions."

Develop international mobility practices

Secondly, HR needs to know how to manage international mobility through implementing effective mobility policies.

Companies should pay particular attention to the selection process, as another  international worker pointed out, "Not everybody can be an expat. Check the skills first."

Promote company diversity

Thirdly, HR should promote diversity in management and capitalise fully on their employees with a multicultural mind-set to increase their company's knowledge.

Change perceptions

And finally, to understand the needs of their international workforce, HR managers need to cultivate experiences similar to their mobile workers. For example, HR managers can seize opportunities to expatriate, or develop cultural sensitivity and an 'international spirit'.

One manager noted that HR should understand that multiculturalism is defined "not only by national culture but also by corporate culture. There are people who are great managers in an environment they know but they need additional skills to work with diverse teams. Help them with specific tools."

According to the survey, out of the three principal areas HR needs to address for their mobile workers—'safety/ reassurance', which is involved with basic preparation and necessary administration, 'comfort', which is to do with having clear points of reference, such as necessary intercultural training, and 'recognition'—HR is least adept at the last. 

Improve recognition

Respondents felt HR was not practiced at recognising the value people bring to an organisation through their international experience. They felt HR could help through working with them to define a clear career path, which includes their role in the company after repatriation.

Taking that final step

Commenting on the results, Nathalie Nowak of Global'Ease said that it wasn't essential for HR to have international experience, as long as they are "open-minded and take a 'knowledgeable' approach in order to deliver the right support to their international employees."

Global'Ease describes the state of 'full potential™ ' of global managers as the next step after the 'third culture', where no compromise is left and where both the international manager and the organisation create an environment of growth.  

"When in the state of 'full potential' international managers no longer feel they have to compromise—such as having to manage a work-life balance which is not ideal," said Nowak, who says that even 'chameleons' note in the survey that they don't feel their skills are fully utilised or recognised by their companies.

Nowak added, "It is a state you can reach if your organisation supports it."

 

 


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