FIRST CLASS COACH

FIRST CLASS COACH - I've been offered the chance to work in another office of the company in Europe. It seems a good career move, but I'm a bit anxious about the upheaval and not sure how easy it would be to integrate.

by MIRANDA KENNET, managing coach at The Coaching House(www.coachinghouse.com) and a founding partner of The Management DueDiligence Co
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I've been offered the chance to work in another office of the company in Europe. It seems a good career move, but I'm a bit anxious about the upheaval and not sure how easy it would be to integrate.

With the world getting smaller daily and the growing importance of achieving an international perspective, it becomes increasingly desirable to have experience of working abroad.

Andrew Truslove, a director of strategic research firm Wardle McLean, who has worked as general manager of the Czech office of an international advertising agency, believes 12 or 24 months spent working abroad should be compulsory. 'The benefits it brings to the individual can be profound - experiencing a different culture and working approach; seeing things from a non-Anglo Saxon perspective; developing aspects of one's character - all have a positive effect on one's confidence subsequently.'

Before you commit yourself, however, there's a good deal to think through.

Don't dream of going somewhere you wouldn't consider a suitable destination for a fortnight's holiday. If you have a partner, and particularly if you have children, choosing the right place is crucial. However well you are doing at work, having a 'trailing spouse' who is miserable is a recipe for disaster.

It is not true that every foreign assignment is a boost to the career.

Not all destinations are equal: although Truslove felt his time in the Czech Republic personally and professionally worthwhile, he found on his return that prospective employers did not share his view that this was time well spent. Try to choose a posting that is in some way significant to your organisation.

Andrew Harrison, UK marketing director of Nestle, who has worked for Procter & Gamble in Portugal, has seen many peers suspend their critical faculties when offered overseas roles, accepting assignments when they would have rejected the British equivalent. 'They feel morally obliged to accept what they are offered. They don't realise how valuable they are to the company.'

He suggests visiting the proposed location - with your partner if you have one - to help make up your mind as to its suitability.

Both Truslove and Harrison recommend using relocation experts for advice, not just for help with removals and local employment law but also to set a suitable salary level, based on the cost-of-living index and relative pay levels for other expats. Even if you try to live like a native, there are likely to be costs associated with your lifestyle that natives don't incur, especially if you have children and want them to attend an English-speaking school.

All this is before you start work in your new office, and much of it advice directing you to experts so that you don't have to reinvent the wheel. However well you've planned, you will be on your own when you get there, just as you would be in any new job, and you will have to find ways to understand what the rules are, what's expected of you, and where the power lies.

Rather than making assumptions, keep your eyes and ears open to what seems to be going on. You are unlikely to be judged badly for staying quiet or asking intelligent questions, but you will be if you wade in with a set of assumptions developed in a different culture with different norms. Use your experience of observing new people joining companies you have worked at to refresh your awareness of what works well and the potential pitfalls.

It certainly helps to learn the local language. Even when English is the official language of work, you won't know what's going on if you can't understand the water-cooler conversations. Harrison listened to language tapes as he drove to work, sent e-mails internally in Portuguese and asked his colleagues to correct them and translate them into informal speech. He made sure he delivered formal speeches in Portuguese. He also had to accept that, however fluent he became and however well he got on with the locals, he would never be truly integrated.

Clarifying expectations will also be key: those that your local boss and your international manager have of you (which may well differ); and those you have of yourself. Identify some markers by which to assess your progress, since many of the ways in which you normally judge your achievement may not be available.

Your new role will require a greater degree of self-management than normal, but this makes the challenge worth undertaking. Once you succeed in taking responsibility for yourself, personally and professionally, you will be much better equipped for life.

If you have an issue you'd like this column to cover, e-mail: management.today@haynet.com.

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