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Preparing Your People For An Overseas Assignment


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Whether you are expanding your current operations into a foreign country or have partnered with an existing company to service your overseas customers, it is probable that some of your key people will need to travel to your overseas operation. Depending on the complexity of the operation and the amount of hands-on supervision required, an overseas assignment could last two weeks, two months or even two years. Certainly you will need to take a great deal of care when choosing the people you send overseas – particularly for extended periods of time. Factors such as age, health and family situation will all need to be taken into consideration; as well as the individual’s ability to get the job done without direct supervision from your home office. But finding the right person among your staff is only the beginning.

As I have written in previous articles, for the most part it is usually both more convenient and more cost effective to hire people locally rather than relocating your top people for considerable periods of time. Unfortunately, as I have seen time and time again, this is often simply not possible. Particularly in businesses which require a high level of specialized skill sets or are hands-on in nature, it is frequently not possible or practical to manage things smoothly from half a world away. Time zones and possible language barriers aside, there are simply some businesses that need a qualified executive from the home office supervising a satellite office – whether that office be in Milwaukee, Bangkok or The Hague. At the very least, many expanding businesses must have some of their key people in their overseas offices to train their local hires for periods ranging from two to six months.

While the last decade has certainly seen the rise of globalization both in business and – to a lesser extent – culturally, it is important to remember that relocating even temporarily overseas is not the same as relocating within the United States or Canada. There are dozens of major and minor details that the people you send overseas will need to be aware of – everything from local regulations regarding what sort of identification foreigners are required to carry on their person, to the fact that in many countries (including most of Europe) the personal electrical items your people bring over with them might not be able to be plugged into the wall sockets in the place they are housed. While it is certainly a simple matter to check out these well in advance of sending your people and take measures to make the practical aspects of the transition as smooth as possible, there are additional things you should consider doing to prepare your people for an overseas assignment. These include:

• Basic Language Training: The odds are quite good that you will have hired a sufficient number of English speaking local employees to make it relatively simple for the people you send overseas to communicate efficiently at the office. However, much as you might like them to, your people will not be spending all their time at the office – or, probably, with their co-workers. Socialization is an important part of adjusting to an overseas assignment and having at least a rudimentary knowledge of the local language – even as little as a few words or phrases – can go a long way towards aiding in this. Particularly in Europe, a significant amount of the population will speak English, but some will likely resent it if your people expect them to be able to. By making certain that your people have at least some basic training in the local language – and at least make an effort at communicating with the locals in it – they will be likely to find that people are more friendly, outgoing and helpful, which will improve their off-work time considerably.

• Learning Local Culture and Customs: Going hand in hand with a basic knowledge of the local language, understanding some of the local customs and culture is crucial not only to off-hour socialization, but to actually doing business. While many cities and countries in the world look and almost “feel” like they are part of the United States, it is critical that your people understand that they are guests in a foreign land, and that based on that nation’s cultural evolution many of the basic customs we take for granted here could be considered rude or offensive in other countries. For example, in some cultures it is considered rude to offer to shake hands before your host has offered first. Of course this is, in and of itself, a minor thing and unlikely to cause any major business or social consequences – but it does have the potential to send the message that your people are not sufficiently interested in the people they are dealing with to even make the effort to have good manners. Again – as with basic language skills – it is doubtful anyone will take the occasional faux pas very seriously, but having your people make an effort to understand local customs will make their time overseas more pleasant and, quite possibly, more profitable.

• Blending In: Sad to say, there is a great deal of anti-American sentiment all over the world, and terrorist acts specifically targeted towards Americans overseas have never been a larger concern than they are today. While it is going to be almost impossible to hide the fact that the people you send overseas are indeed Americans, it is prudent – and in many nations even advised by the United States Department of State – that they not blatantly advertise the fact, particularly in public places. How much of a concern this is will, of course, vary greatly depending on what nation or nations your people are assigned to work in, but attempting to blend in with the local population – or at the very least not standing out – can have not only an impact on their personal security, but also actually enhance their experience of living abroad.

An assignment overseas – whether it is a prolonged one or only for a week or two – can be an exciting and rewarding experience for your employees. However, as with any other part of any other job, preparation is a key factor to success, and should not be taken lightly. It is important that your employees invest the time and effort in learning as much about the place they will be assigned to as possible, and not merely jump on a plane and assume they will touch down in a place that is exactly the same as what they are used to. It won’t be.

About the Author

Steve McLaughlin is available for consultation and can be contacted directly by Email: or Phone: 352-26364921. Additional information is located on his website:

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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2006-11-26 16:53:24 in Employee Articles

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