International Relocation: A Global Perspective. By Wendy Coyle and Sue Shortland. Butterworth Heinemann; 264pp; £14.95.
Most management books are prescriptive - they tell you how to do it. Some are descriptive - they tell you what happened. This one leans towards the latter formula, and no bad thing either. Sure, there are tables and checklists aplenty in these pages, often called from other sources, for the authors are quite sensible prepared to use - and to credit - second-hand material. But the essence of the book is to be found in the case examples.
Relocation is that kind of subject. Coyle and Shortland are not concerned with the state of the commercial property market in Milton Keynes nor the convenience of a site just off the M4; nor yet with the techniques of managing an office move. Their theme is the recurrent one of how to pick people up and set them down in some strange part of the world - where customs, assumptions and the behaviour of the local inhabitants are almost certainly unfamiliar even if the language is not - and to do this without damaging their effectiveness.
The problems are all human ones; the solutions can be as multifarious as human beings themselves. But there are certain rules and precautions it is wise to bear in mind. In the Third World, the authors note, "dealing with local nationals can .. require a sensitivity sometimes lacking in the egocentric corporate high-flier". An ill-chosen and ill-prepared posting abroad can "devastate a promising career", and destroy a manager's marriage along with his (or her) usefulness: "The spouse's reactions can make or break the assignment. To exclude the spouse from the interview process is short-sighted". Indeed, "the transferability of a family should be considered before any job offer to relocate is finalised".
Yet some individuals survive the most unsettling treatment. Take the splendid and resilient Angela who supported her husband while he completed his PhD, before they left the South of England for the North East. There "the whole culture was very different and this was something of a shock to me". Greater shocks were in store. Having adjusted once, and spent "three happy years" teaching history in the North East, Angela accompanied her husband to Tokyo. There she found work at an international school, though most weekends she was a "company wife" entertaining fleeting visitors.
Repatriation, the authors warn elsewhere in the book, can be a further dangerous shock. Back home there were no teaching posts available. Angela took a job of sorts, and the couple bought an old house which they intended to "do up" themselves. Then, unexpectedly, they were off to the antipodes. After a tricky start, they enjoyed Australia. Angela had a lucky break: a full-time job in a good school. The second repatriation came suddenly. Still not work at home, except supply teaching. At least the rennovations could proceed.
Korea next, and more of being taken for granted as a company wife. But Angela also landed an interesting job teaching at the university. The third homecoming was traumatic. Her husband was transferred to London, so the house in the North East had to be sold in a depressed market. After sundry disappointments, she found a job with an educational organisation. "I now class myself as being on the job market, not the career market," she says. Many women would not be so accommodating. The wife (or husband) of the expatriate executive needs to be counselled, briefed and above all considered at every stage, advise the authors.
Other cases are presented from companies (British, American, Australian - in manufacturing, retailing, hotels, communications) that have had to relocate numbers of people at a time. Case histories are wonderfully good at providing insights. One possible disadvantage of the method is that certain subjects may recur, more than once, in different contexts. However, there is a serviceable index. In any case, the right way to treat this volume (published in association with Management Today) is to turn the pages over. They don't take long to get through. Group chief executives and human resources directors might like to take note.