Intersango Global Mobility Consulting

With 220 million people living abroad, we can’t get around the fact that we’re living and working in a globalized world. Not only multinationals are sending their employees abroad on expat assignments, more and more organisations internationalise because they find the skills and competences they need in foreign employees. With Intersango Global Mobility Consulting I would like to assist companies in this challenging and dynamic area, to help you support your international employees as well as possible so that they are enjoying life in the new country and are able to do their jobs well. I offer both consulting with regard to global mobility issues and coaching of individual expats who would like to be better prepared for working and living abroad. Intersango also offers a 10-week course where you develop your intercultural competence.

Willing to go the extra mile: Understanding work engagement among expats

In recent years, many companies have been focusing on work engagement as a more positive way of working with employees towards business success. Work engagement has proven to be very valuable for organisations, but it has hardly been investigated in an international setting[i]. With a new study I’m conducting together with Mette Strange Noesgaard of Ålborg University, we would like to learn more about how expats experience work engagement while living abroad.

What is work engagement?
Work engagement is defined as “a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind that is characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption”[ii]. In other words, engaged employees tend to exhibit high level of energy, being completely immersed in their work and show high level dedication to their work they perceive as meaningful. Engaged employees have been associated with important organizational level outcomes. Among others, work engagement is often reflected in lower turnover intentions[iii], better business-unit performance[iv], organizational citizenship behavior[v] and higher levels of profit[vi].

Why this focus on work engagement of expatriates?
Expats are ‘expensive people in crucial positions’[vii]. They are often at strategically important positions, and there are high direct and indirect costs associated with their assignments. A multinational depends in a high degree on expats’ willingness to invest themselves in their work, be active and perform their best on their own initiative due to the distance between headquarters and the location where the expat is posted. Expats need to be engaged to be successful, and, thereby, contribute to the success of the organization.

Would you like to participate?
We are currently looking for expats who would like to participate in an interview via e-mail about work engagement while working abroad. We are looking for expats who are sent abroad by an organization on a temporary assignment. We are particularly looking for Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Icelandic and Dutch expatriates, who can be based anywhere in the world.

The interview will take place through an e-mail correspondence in the space of about a month. Each week you will receive an e-mail with 3 open ended questions to which you reply when is convenient to you, and then we will continue with the next round. There are three rounds in total.

We would really appreciate your participation. Your answers will be confidential, and we will, of course, inform you about the results of this study (through this blog and through e-mail). You can contact us at msvb[at]sdu.dk.

Picture of the walking man by David Reid and of the pavement by Ann Lusch, via Flickr.

 

Sources

[i] Lauring, J., & Selmer, J. (2015). Job engagement and work outcomes in a cognitively demanding context: The case of expatriate academics. Personnel Review, 44(4), 629-647

[ii] Schaufeli, W. B., Salanova, M., González-Romá, V., & Bakker, A. B. (2002). The measurement of engagement and burnout: A two sample confirmatory factor analytic approach. Journal of Happiness Studies, 3(1), p. 74

[iii] Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W. B., & Leiter, M. P. (2001). Job burnout. Annual Review of Psychology, 52(1), 397-422. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.52.1.397

[iv] Harter, J. K., Schmidt, F. L., & Hayes, T. L. (2002). Business-unit-level relationship between employee satisfaction, employee engagement, and business outcomes: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87(2), 268-279.

[v] Rich, B. L., Lepine, J. A., & Crawford, E. R. (2010). Job engagement: Antecedents and effects on job performance. Academy of Management Journal, 53(3), 617-635.

[vi] Xanthopoulou, D., Bakker, A. B., Demerouti, E., & Schaufeli, W. B. (2009). Work engagement and financial returns: A diary study on the role of job and personal resources. Journal of Occupational & Organizational Psychology, 82(1), 183-200

[vii] Brewster, C., Bonache, J., Cerdin, J.-L., & Suutari, V. (2014). Exploring expatriate outcomes. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 25(14), p. 1921. doi:10.1080/09585192.2013.870284

The performance management revolution in Denmark

In 2016 Harvard Business Review published an article entitled The Performance Management Revolution that showed how more and more companies are moving away from the traditional annual review towards a system which favours giving people instant feedback. Companies in Denmark are also rethinking their performance management – as the NOCA meeting on the 28th of November showed, where Nets talked us through how they have been changing their performance management system in the past two years.

Informal check-ins between manager and employee
The core of the new performance management system at Nets are the regular check-ins between managers and employees. A check-in is a forward-focused dialogue where the employee sits in the driver’s seat. The focus is on helping the employee perform as well as further develop. These check-ins are facilitated by several one-page guides for both the leader and the employee about how to set priorities, give feedback, and talk about development. A key difference with the former process is that it is no longer dictated top-down; instead, it is the employee who takes the initiative.

How to ‘formalize the informal process’
Since the check-ins are key to this new approach it is essential that the employees have a high-quality dialogue with their manager. Managers need to be able to ask the right questions and employees need to be able to drive the process. So, Nets trained both parties – in some cases together. Other factors that contributed to the success of the new approach is that Nets first did a pilot study in one part of the organisation. This also helped them convince top management of the value of this new approach. When the new approach was then rolled out in the organisation, HR focused on communicating the new approach – something you can never do enough of. Finally, Nets recommends learning from others (e.g. Adobe) and see what would work for your own organisation – after all, context is important!

Going abroad to play: Motivations, challenges, and support of sports expatriates

With the world becoming more and more interconnected, many professional athletes also spend a part of their career abroad. As they move abroad, they encounter many of the challenges that business expatriates face, as well as some that are unique to the sport industry. A paper written by myself and Susan Salzbrenner from Implement Consulting Group has just been published by Thunderbird International Business Review [1]. In this blog post I give a short summary of this article, which is based on data collected by Susan in her work for Fit Across Cultures.

Why a focus on sports expatriates?
Professional athletes who move abroad are a vulnerable group; they are young, under high performance pressure from the day they arrive in the host country, and face a career with a short life-span, that can end from one day to the next. This emphasizes the importance of supporting this group of self-initiated expatriates. Better support of sports expatriates would not only benefit the professional athletes themselves, but also their clubs who are facing increasing competition for the best talent.

Why do sports expatriates move abroad?
The main motivations to move abroad were an interest to experience life abroad, followed by the search for new challenges. Financial motives are not the most important motives to move abroad; the emphasis instead is with personal and career development.

“And the best way to [prepare for a professional league] was to go overseas. But on top of it, not only was it a good way to propel my basketball career, but it also gives me a chance to travel”. Marissa K.

What challenges do sports expatriates experience?
The most commonly mentioned challenges were the different coaching style and communication, both within the team and outside work. This includes language, which can complicate things if you have to attend practice in a language you do not speak.

“A lot of it was just trying to get by, and figure it out on my own, which is not an ideal way to do it. But I definitely got the hang of it, after a few weeks.” Ryan

How were sports expatriates supported?
Support was mainly informal; the most common sources of support were colleagues, club management, and coaches. Very few were supported by external professional providers such as a relocation agency or an agent. When asked about the areas they felt they needed the most help, the athletes would like to be better integrated. Almost half of respondents wished to receive more help with translation and language skills and learn more about cultural differences. In light of the challenges that sports expatriates face both with regard to playing and living abroad, it could be worthwhile for clubs to offer more support to their expatriates, especially since they would like their athletes to perform at their highest level the day after arrival.

“I hate the first couple of weeks. Everyone already knows everyone, and you’re usually just thrown in.” Marisa F.

Picture of the basketball hoop by Eddie Welker and of the volleyball player by Farmington Strength, via Flickr.

[1] This paper (Van Bakel, M. & Salzbrenner, S. (in press). Going abroad to play: Motivations, challenges, and support of sports expatriates. Thunderbird International Business Review) is included in a special issue on “Opportunities and Challenges in International HRM” which came out of the third Global Conference on International Human Resource Management in New York in 2017.

Highlights of the European Academy of Management 2018

Last week I attended the European Academy of Management conference in ‘cold but beautiful’ Reykjavik. This year was the 10th year that the Expatriate Management Track was part of EURAM, and it was again filled with many interesting presentations. Here are three highlights.

Breaking out of the expat bubble
David Guttormsen from BI Norwegian Business School examined the concept of expatriate failure, asking Scandinavian expatriates in Hong Kong what, in their opinion, constituted ‘expatriate failure’ [1]. There has been a lot of discussion about this concept in the literature, especially on how organisations have defined this in the past (e.g. early return from the assignment, which is not a very accurate criterion). One thing that I found very interesting was that 60% of the interviewed expatriates found it a failure not to be exposed to multicultural environments. This highlights the importance of breaking out of the expat bubble and connecting not only with other expatriates but also with host country nationals.

Research on the expatriate family
Several papers focused on the expatriate family which is one of the most important factors that influence the success of the expatriate assignment. Julia Goede from the University of Hamburg reviewed methodological issues with the research focusing on this topic [2] and one of the conclusions she drew was that much research on spouses does not actually ask the spouses themselves. Another conclusion is that there is still very little research on the children; they should not be forgotten. A final aspect to take into account when researching the expatriate family is that the contemporary family is much more diverse than in the past, and that research should take different configurations (e.g. gay couples) into account.

Expatriate IBTs: an extreme form of global work
Yvonne McNulty from Singapore University of Social Sciences drew attention to the specific group of expatriate international business travelers [3] . These are people who are sent abroad on an international assignment but because they take up a regional role, they also have to travel much when they are abroad. For example, an expatriate might be stationed in Singapore but have a regional role for South-East Asia – or even Asia-Pacific – so that he or she has to travel extensively. This means that while living abroad, the expatriate is also away for many days of the year, making life more difficult for the spouse who has to keep family life running.

References

[1]  David S. A. Guttormsen, Anne Marie Francesco & Malcolm K. Chapman: “Revisiting the Expatriate Failure Concept: A Qualitative Study of Scandinavian Expatriates in Hong Kong.”

[2] Julia Goede & Dirk Holtbruegge: ”Methodological issues in family expatriation studies and future directions.”

[3] Yvonne McNulty: “ Expatriate International Business Travel: An Extreme Form of Global Work.”

It takes two to tango: a review of the empirical research on expatriate-local interactions

Recently, my literature review on expatriate-local (E-L) interactions was published in The International Journal of Human Resource Management. In this blog post I give a short summary of this article.

Why a literature review on E-L interactions?

Much of the research on expatriates has had the expat as sole focal point. While this seems quite obvious, it has also become clear that there are other stakeholders that are important for expat success. One example is the partner or family, another example are host country nationals (HCNs). The first calls for research on the role of HCNs date from the early nineties, and, gradually, research has started to take the HCN perspective into account. While some work has been done, much still needs to be explored. This literature review gives an overview of what has been done in terms of empirical research, and outlines various possibilities for future research.

What can we learn about E-L interactions?

Contact with HCNs is generally seen as having positive effects for expats, especially with regard to adjustment but also with regard to culture learning and competence development. Instrumental ties with HCNs seem to be beneficial for performance. Attitudinal aspects are a key aspect in E-L interactions: those who are open to learning and willing to seek support from others establish connections with HCNs more easily, and benefit more from them.

Several factors can help develop the intercultural relationship between expats and HCNs. The most important factor is whether the expat and the HCN have something in common, which can provide a basis on which the relationship can be built. There are also some barriers to the development of E-L interactions, such as (lack of) language skills and cultural differences, but also the geographical location of the expat (for example, whether there is a large expat community). These studies increase our understanding of how contact between an expat and a HCN could develop.

Future research

The article highlights various ideas for future research. Much of the research, for example, focuses on outcomes on the side of the expat (e.g. adjustment); we could still learn a lot about what the benefits are for the HCN, for example in terms of their careers. We also do not know all that much about outcomes at the group level – or antecedents, for that matter. What can organisations do to stimulate E-L interactions, and what are the benefits of those interactions for the organisation?

The paper also shows how important it is to specify what exactly the researcher is looking at: is it the frequency of the contact, the closeness, or the type of support one gets? Is it simply the frequency of the contact that helps adjustment, or does the contact need to be of high quality? This would open ‘the black box’ of E-L interactions and show more specifically the roles HCNs can play in expatriate success. After all, it does take two to tango.

Image of the tango by Graciela Rodriguez, via Flickr.