Broadening international mentoring: involving host country nationals

Mentoring is a key HR practice to increase knowledge transfer and can guide the individual professional development of expats and host country nationals (HCNs), and, in doing so, contribute to MNC knowledge management and organization development. With my colleagues Vlad Vaiman, Charles Vance and Arno Haslberger, we just published an article about mentoring in an international context in the Journal of Global Mobility. This blog post summarizes our main contributions.

Intercultural mentoring

Many more mentoring relationships nowadays take place in an international context, often between individuals from different national cultures. This intercultural mentoring can bring along several extra challenges, such as cultural differences and language barriers. It is important to pay attention to the role of culture because it can influence expectations of the mentoring but also cause communication issues. Training can help reduce barriers to the development of the intercultural relationship, and should focus on understanding cultural differences, increasing communication skills of both parties and encouraging the setting of ground rules to enable open communication, and providing opportunities for the mentor to solicit feedback from the mentee.

Including HCNs as a key global talent category

Organisations should be aware of the various global talent categories within their organization that could benefit from a mentoring relationship. In our paper, we broaden the current narrow focus on traditional company-assigned expatriates to include HCNs – both as mentor and as mentee. We outline various mentoring roles of HCNs, inspired by the host country national liaison model, which may promote local adjustment and improve knowledge transfer. For example, upon arrival the HCN mentor can guide the expat through the initial challenges of country and organizational acclimatization by introducing him/her to colleagues, the local organization, and cultural norms. HCNs themselves should also not be forgotten when setting up mentoring programs, which can improve retention and build the organization’s professional and leadership talent pool. To successfully compete in the face of growing global competition, MNCs must be open to all employee sources in the attraction, development, and deployment of human talent, including HCNs.

Facilitating mentoring

Organizations that acknowledge the important role that HCN employees in the foreign subsidiary can play in MNC knowledge management should make sure HCNL role components are taken on by the HCNs surrounding the expatriate. At the very least, organizations should ensure that their expatriates are aware of the important liaison roles that HCNs can play, so that they can invest time and energy into soliciting HCNL support and building up the right local network. An attractive way to encourage this approach is to appoint one person as the HCNL – similar to a buddy or local host – and prepare that person for this role. It is also possible that HCNL roles can be taken on by several people, similar to a developmental network.


van Bakel, M.Vaiman, V.Vance, C.M. and Haslberger, A. (2021), “Broadening international mentoring: contexts and dynamics of expatriate and HCN intercultural mentoring”, Journal of Global Mobility, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.

Pictures via