Leadership Series, Part 2: Maximizing Your Best International Asset — Your Employees!

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Previous articles have suggested some things individuals can do to improve their global skills and learn to be more effective when working international, across cultural boundaries, even within the US. However, if businesses are serious about increasing diversity domestically or operating effectively on an international stage, they also have some responsibility to see to it that their employees are helped along the way to develop these skills.


Here are a five steps HR departments can take to capitalize on the assets that employees with these skills bring to their company and help others develop:

  1. ID-100223613Take active steps to identify those employees that have potential to excel in global roles. Notice individuals with an interest in other cultures, who speak multiple languages, or who have travelled on their own for fun or school. These are the individuals that are most likely to excel globally. Others may have personality characteristics or personal or professional goals that conflict with the variables involved in international work. It’s much more efficient to spend the time necessary to identify employees with real potential and invest significantly in their long-term development than it is to waste time and resources on those less able or less willing, who would perhaps be better equipped for domestic roles.
  2. ID-100237710Provide feedback intensive training programs. Helping employees clearly identify development goals and actively work towards them is an extremely effective approach to building the kinds of skills global workers need. Goals should be set before employees leave for assignments, and thorough debriefing should occur again when they return. A word of caution is needed, however: training approaches must be culturally appropriate to be effective. The same methods that may work very well for a US American may not be valid for a Japanese worker, for example.
  3. ID-10034835Actively utilize the experience of workers returning from expatriate assignments. Research has shown that the overwhelming majority of employees returning from expatriate assignments are dissatisfied with the way their companies have handled their returns, feeling ignored, devalued, or professionally derailed. Workers returning from such assignments have developed extremely useful skills that can be leveraged to grow the company in a powerful way, in every area from business strategy to administrative policy.  This type of dissatisfaction causes the employees who may be the most well-prepared because of their past experience to become unenthusiastic about taking future assignments or seizing other opportunities to grow. All the resources previously invested in these employees are wasted if their skills are not effectively utilized.
  4. ID-100253201-2Purposefully choose assignments in a sequence that build experience. Whenever possible, HR departments can work to deploy workers in a way that consciously allows for their development. Allow workers who may have global potential but have no experience to host or entertain visiting foreign associates and participate in domestic diversity assignments, for example. Business trips and long-distance assignments are a good next step. After that, employees can work up through cross-cultural team membership, expatriate assignments, repatriate assignments that leverage skills built, and finally begin to experiment with international management opportunities.
  5. ID-100273630Provide opportunities to build ethical awareness. Employees operating internationally face more challenging moral ambiguity than that experienced by domestic employees. The intensity of the ethical issues global workers face is increased on both the personal and societal level by cultural differences and complicated situations. Allowing opportunities for employees to participate in the development and implementation of ethics codes, for example, is a great way to build complex moral reasoning skills.

Companies that are serious about international success can utilize all of these suggestions to maximize one of their most valuable global assets. Both the employees who have the potential to do well in future international assignments and the employees who already have some experience working abroad have much to contribute and, when properly tended, can help a company grow exponentially.

— by  Desiree Beauchamp

(based on Dalton, M.A. (1998) Developing leaders for global roles. In C.D. McCauley, R. S. Moxley, and E.V. Velsor, (Eds.) Center for Creative Leadership handbook of leadership development. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.)

To read our full Leadership Series, start with Part 1 here:

Part 1:  Global Leadership:  What it is, what it takes, and 5 simple ways to get there. 


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About The Author

Desiree Beauchamp

Teacher, trainer, coach, consultant. Find out more about me at: About Us