Talent Management has the potential to change the way in which international assignments are practised, not just because it is associated with a reduction in the pay and support the assignee receives. This is because organisations often see a talented employee as one with a global mindset.
An individual with a global mindset is one who can travel the world with ease, unhindered by cultural differences in both their professional and personal lives. This is an individual who is not constrained by nationalistic ways of thinking, that their way of doing business is the best, but can negotiate and adapt where necessary. Having this type of skill is important for two main reasons. First, the increasing globalisation of organisations means that work is no longer confined to national boundaries. Second, and relatedly, there is a increasing diversity of contemporary workplaces. Having this type of skill to work internationally becomes a prerequisite for future global business leaders.
This links to international assignments as one of the ways in which a global mindset can be developed is through international experience. Working abroad then becomes an opportunity to engage—and learn from—other cultures.
This contrasts to what we can see as the traditional expatriate model. Rather than a developmental opportunity, the traditional expatriate is sent abroad to set up and run subsidiaries, transfer corporate culture or fill skills gaps. Here, the way in which expatriation is practised works to compensate the expatriate for the perceived difficulties of being abroad. With policies such as the hardship allowance, fees for international schools, and club memberships, the expatriate was given the means not to engage with the local population. With being abroad seen as a hardship, the expatriate needed to be protected from difference. Cultural engagement and adaptation are minimal.
Discussions about global mindset have the potential for a sea-change in the way in which international assignments are practised, changing the way in which the abroad is understood from a hardship to an opportunity. Yet, this change has not happened. Being abroad is still practised within global mobility as being a hardship.
Simply working abroad cannot be seen as the development of a global mindset—a meaningful engagement with different cultures needs to be encouraged. We need a change in rhetoric within organisations about how the abroad is portrayed—it needs to be seen as an opportunity. First, organisations need to stop focusing on the difficulties of being abroad and look for the many positives—the adventure, the new experiences, the chance to see the world differently. Second, the support that organisations offer their employees should focus on supporting the development of their employee rather than acting as a shield against difference.
By Dr Sophie Cranston
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