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As more U.S. companies expand their business overseas, the need to send employees on international assignments will increase.

Many companies use overseas assignments as a means to assess which individuals should be promoted to top4evel positions. Unfortunately, up to 40 percent of expatriate managers terminate their assignments early, costing their companies between $50,000 and $150,000 and derailing their careers. Moreover, 50 percent of those who do not terminate their assignments early function at a low level of effectiveness. Why do so many expatriates fail? Primarily because they neglect to prepare for such assignments. Despite the high failure rates and associated costs, most companies do not train managers for international assignments. So what can a manager do to prepare for an overseas assignment? This article contains practical suggestions for designing a personal training program. Learn the Language and Etiquette of Your Host Country An understanding of nonverbal communications will help you avoid costly errors and aid in your analysis of business transactions. For example, in the U.S. we tend to rely heavily on the spoken word. However, in cultures such as Japan, China, and the Middle East, less emphasis is placed on verbal communication. In these cultures, the external environment, situation, and nonverbal behavior are crucial for understanding communications. Failing to understand the importance of nonverbal and environmental cues can reduce an expatriate's effectiveness. Etiquette differs from country to country. For instance, although the French, Germans, British, and Italians will discuss the general details of business over lunch, the Swiss instead use the time to strengthen relationships and do not discuss business. A knowledge of verbal, nonverbal, and business etiquette helps expatriates avoid embarrassing themselves or offending their hosts. Before departing for your international assignment you should at least have a basic knowledge of: * acceptable greetings and the accompanying body language (bow, handshake, smile); * the proper use of business cards; * the country's dress code; * the country's concept of time; * proper dining manners; * gift giving protocol; and * religious and political taboos Many companies don't train individuals for international assignments because they believe, "If you're effective in New York, you'll be effective in Hong Kong." This is a myth. Although excellent technical skills are a must, expatriate managers must also be able to work with diverse groups-including foreign governments, labor organizations, and foreign employees of subsidiaries. To work with these diverse groups, they must recognize and accept business and societal norms quite different from their own.

.Second, you may wish to take a course that provides you with information about a particular country's geography, sociopolitical history, stage of economic development, and cultural institutions. This type of course will dispel stereotypes and increase empathy. For example, some of these programs begin with a training exercise called BaFaBaFa. In this exercise, two teams try to trade with each other without knowing the negotiation rules. Most participants in this exercise make inaccurate attributions about the other team's behaviors and motives. This exercise encourages trainees to reserve judgment about other cultures until they have more information. In addition to taking courses, it is helpful to meet with foreign nationals and expatriate managers. These individuals can give you first-hand information about your host country. They can provide you with valuable information about local customs, business practices and ethics, and common mistakes made by visiting foreigners. Expatriates can also share with you some of the pitfalls and opportunities of working abroad. Develop Stress Management Techniques Expatriates often experience disillusionment and culture shock. Most people find it difficult to adjust to a culture that seems very alien. Unfamiliarity with local practices and the inability to speak the language are usually sources of embarrassment and anxiety for new expatriates. Additionally, expatriates often encounter situations they do not understand or that they believe to be ethically incorrect. For instance, many expatriates are distressed by the extreme poverty in some developing nations, especially in comparison to their own relatively lavish accommodations. Almost every part of your life will change while you are on an international assignment. You will need to relocate and establish new work relationships. Simple daily tasks, such as grocery shopping or commuting to the office, may become frustrating and difficult. Even if you hire people to perform these tasks, you may be uncomfortable managing a household staff. Stress management training can help you cope with the uncertainty of an international assignment. Some common techniques that have been used by expatriate managers for coping with stress include: * regular physical exercise; * meditation and relaxation techniques; * expressing anger and frustration in a diary rather than to host country nationals; * checking into a home country hotel for the weekend; * going to an international club and only speaking with people from one's home country; * watching videos in one's native language; * focusing limited energy only on the most important tasks.

Include Your Spouse in Your Training Program Many expatriate assignments terminate early because of the spouse's inability to adapt. Spouses are vital to the success of an international assignment because they may be the most important source of social support to the worker. Therefore, your spouse should have a training program similar to your own. By becoming culturally aware and learning the language and customs of the host country, your spouse is less likely to feel socially isolated and will be better able to help you cope with the demands of your new assignment. In some respects, an international assignment may be harder for the trailing spouse if he or she does not have a career outside the home. His/her life could change more dramatically than that of an "employed outside the home" spouse, who would likely have a job in the new location and be surrounded by people familiar with his/her situation who can offer sympathy and help. The nonemployed spouse will not have this type of support network and will probably have fewer opportunities to meet people and make new friends, especially if the language in the host country is not English and there is not a big ex-pat community in that location. International assignments are fast becoming key components of leadership and employee development. Still, the statistics surrounding many companies' expatriate assignment success rates can be dismal. But they don't have to be. The success of every expatriate hinges on, to a large extent, the person's ability to influence individuals, groups and organizations with a different cultural perspective in the host country to achieve the company's goals. Employers can nurture this "global mind set" in employees by developing certain personal attributes, according to research conducted by the global relocation company Worldwide ERC Foundation for Workforce Mobility and Thunderbird School of Global Management. "It takes a special blend of characteristics to add up to an outstanding expat who can be productive and accepted in an unfamiliar setting," said Cris Collie, chief executive officer of Worldwide ERC, in a press release about the research. "The right combination of characteristics--the global mind-set-is more crucial than ever with the labor pool diminishing around the world and competition for workforce talent at an all-time high. This study provides important insight to companies who wish to hone their selection and assessment processes to ensure a positive return on their investment for global employee assignments."

Mainstreaming Expatriation International assignments are hitting the mainstream as an integral part of the business strategy of today's global businesses. They can represent a significant investment of several hundred thousand dollars per employee. Selecting the right individuals for international postings--those with a higherthan-average likelihood of outstanding performance--will provide a critical competitive advantage for companies that build the competency to identify success potential in their new hires and current employees.

There are three major steps an individual interested in an expatriate assignment should consider.

Self-evaluation--Most individuals who seek an expatriate assignment are motivated by their perception of the glamour, excitement, and adventure associated with such an assignment. However, the frustrations of the actual job experience coupled with the culture shock of being in a foreign environment often make expatriates long for the familiarity of their home country. Generally, about three to six months after the beginning of their international assignment, expatriates have either terminated the assignment early and returned home or have begun to adjust to life in the host country. What differentiates those who successfully complete their assignments from those who return home early? Successful expatriates should be able to work with diverse groups of people in a culture that may be very different from their own. They should be able to recognize and accept societal and business norms that may seem alien or unethical to their own standards.

Before individuals choose an international career, they must determine if they have the willingness and motivation to effectively complete such an assignment. Personal characteristics which include the ability to adapt to different norms and modes of behavior, as well a high tolerance for ambiguity, are prerequisites for a successful international career. General exercises, such as those found in Richard Bolles' What Color is Your Parachute?, as well as more specific exercises such as those found in Nancy Adler's International Dimensions of Organizational Behavior, are valuable self-evaluation tools. Also, it may be useful to read recent publications, such as Gercik's (1992) On Track with the Japanese: A Case by Case Approach to Building Successful Relationships, that illustrate the psychological and emotional effort involved in dealing with a foreign culture.

Many expatriate assignments terminate early because of the spouse's inability to adapt. Spouses are vital to the success of an international assignment because they may be the most important social support to the expatriate worker. Individuals who wish to pursue international careers or assignments should include their spouses in the decision-making process. They should discuss their intentions with their spouses and seek their approval before any further commitment is made.

Once the husband and wife have made the decision to pursue such a career path, both partners should engage in training for the assignment. Employment or educational opportunities for the spouse should also be investigated at this time. Some useful sources of information about busines s and educational opportunities in many countries include the U.S. Government's Post Report and The Wall Street Journal's books on business travel in selected countries.

Preparing for the Job Transition--Most expatriates are chosen for an assignment because they possess knowledge and skills that foreign nationals do not have. Research indicates that most U.S.

companies do not have a systematic way of selecting and training their expatriate managers. Being an outstanding performer in a specific area of expertise is generally the first criterion used to select someone for a foreign assignment. Expertise is a must because supporting systems are usually absent at foreign locations. Therefore, expatriates must have the technical skills necessary to complete the assignment by themselves.

An experienced expatriate manager is usually able to successfully handle any assignment located in any corner of the globe. But for one's first international assignment, it is often better to prepare for a specific region or country. It is important for those interested in an international assignment to find out what foreign locations their organization currently operates in and prepare for assignments in these locations. Potential expatriates should make their superiors aware of their special, countryspecific skills (e.g., knowledge of local language and customs) that will enable them to more effectively complete the assignment. Therefore, a logical step in preparing oneself for one's first foreign assignment is to focus on a specific geographic region.