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Coaching Expatriates For Success

By Keith Warburton

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By Keith Warburton

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The challenge

You have a group of expatriates who arrive in your country every year and remain in position for two, three or maybe even four years.  They are often senior level executives from a range of functional disciplines who are expected to ‘hit the ground running’ as quickly as possible.  Although all the expatriates are extremely professionally capable individuals it is likely that they will encounter a range of cultural challenges when asked to undertake their new roles in an alien cultural environment.  From experience you feel that these challenges could be an impediment to the expatriates’ ability to be as effective as possible as quickly as possible and that a high-quality training coaching expatriates for success programme could be greatly beneficial for both the individual and the organisation as a whole.

Maybe your previous efforts to raise levels of cultural fluency within the expatriate community have resulted in an uneven take-up of training opportunities and therefore a new approach might be needed.

Your Objectives

Simply put, your main objective is to ensure that expatriates are able to integrate as effectively as possible into their new roles and work seamlessly with their local colleagues.

Although this objective is easy to describe it is more challenging to achieve.  To achieve this goal expatriates need to internalise three key fundamentals of cross-cultural working:

  • To gain an awareness of how their actions impact on local colleagues
  • To develop a deep understanding of the cultural values, expectations and motivations of local colleagues
  • To utilise this newly acquired awareness and understanding to ensure effective ongoing collaboration

The Solution

The most effective way to ensure that expatriates are able to meet these objectives would probably actually be through a short but relatively intensive series of coaching sessions shortly after their arrival in country rather than a one-off training intervention. This coaching-style approach is most effective if the expatriates start the coaching sessions about 6 weeks after their arrival to allow them to gain on-the-ground experience of the challenges they might face – and this forms the real-life bedrock of the coaching sessions.  This way, any interventions reflect reality rather than looking at these issues theoretically and is therefore much more effective that any training done in their home country prior to departure.

Coaching Expatriates for Success as the Solution

We suggest a coaching solution to address this challenge rather than a one-off training intervention because we feel that this approach is far more likely to have the impact which your business is looking to achieve.  A one-off training intervention can deliver some knowledge to expatriates and that might be of some use to them – but a coaching intervention should be able to make them:

  • Analyse and understand their own approaches to key business-related situations and the impact that they might have on new local colleagues
  • Dive more deeply into local cultural norms and expectations with a view to working out strategies on how to use this information in their day-to-day activities
  • Explore the best way to deliver on key objectives and how to ensure the best co-operation with local colleagues
  • Analyse some real-life situations they have experienced since arriving with an impartial third-party
  • Reflect on the challenges of working as an expatriate (who will often be a bridge between the local country employees and the Head Office)
  • Develop strategies for the next 6 – 12 months to ensure rapid integration

This approach requires commitment from the expatriates and a high degree of knowledge, understanding and flexibility from the coach.  The coach will need to not only understand the cultural challenges of the situation but also needs to have experience in what it means to be a senior expatriate in a foreign country.

It will be important that expatriates see the coaching programme as an essential part of their ‘expatriate journey’ and as an opportunity to develop their skills and knowledge bank.  They need to be ‘sold’ the programme.

A Suggested Coaching Programme

Our approach is usually a package of 6 x 1 hour coaching sessions per expatriate.   Ideally this process should begin about six weeks after arrival and the sessions should take place at two-weekly intervals (ie over a three month period.)

These one-to-one sessions are run through a webinar technology which allows for the maximum flexibility in terms of diary commitments for the expatriates.

Coaching sessions content:

  • Session 1: An initial session getting to know the expatriate, their role and business objectives.  This initial session allows the coach to develop a detailed agenda for each of the following 5 sessions and is therefore a vital step.  It also enables the coach to build credibility with the expatriate which is a critical part of the process
  • Session2: A deep dive into differences in approach to key business-related issues which can be found between the expatriate’s home culture and the local culture.  One of the key objectives of this session is to ask the expatriate to analyse how their own approach might impact on local colleagues.  (There is no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ here – only differences – the differences are where any frictions are likely to occur.)  Issues covered could be:
    • Local motivations
    • Meeting styles
    • Decision-making
    • Information flow
    • Attitudes to risk
    • Hierarchy
    • Expectations from a leader
  • Session 3: Effective communication with local colleagues is key to achieving a successful expatriation.  This session would explore in detail issues such as:
    • Local communication style
    • Giving instructions
    • Managing conflict
    • Feedback
    • Written or spoken communication?
    • Body language
  • Session 4: Working as a senior expatriate.  How does the expatriate view the role of a senior expatriate?  How should senior expatriates best work with local colleagues?  Is it dangerous to remain too tightly connected to a mainly support network of people from your home country?  How can an expatriate best influence local colleagues?  How can an expatriate work as a bridge between the local country and Head Office?
  • Session 5: Key objectives.  How can the expatriate use their new-found cultural fluency to ensure they can motivate local employees to help them meet their key objectives?  This session usually focuses on 3 different objectives and works through each of them
  • Session 6: The final session is used as a wrap-up session to revisit some key learnings and address any outstanding issues.  It is difficult to give a precise overview of this final session as it depends on the output from the previous five sessions but is intended to bring the process to a positive conclusion

The Coach:  Keith Warburton

Keith Warburton is an internationally recognised expert on the impact of global cultural differences when working in cross-border cultural environments.  He works with some of the world’s great companies as well as professional service firms, governments, and Higher Education establishments.

Prior to starting his organisation, Global Business Culture, Keith worked internationally for almost 20 years.  During this time, he had P&L responsibility for local business units and acted as the bridge between the local subsidiary where he was stationed and Head Office – so he understands the dynamics of working as a senior expatriate.

Areas of expertise include:

  • Global cultural differences & business
  • Coaching expatriates for success
  • The dynamics of multi-cultural teams
  • Coaching senior leaders on cross-border challenges

About the author

Business Culture Training Live - Global Business Culture