Overseas job moves can bring rich rewards, but companies and individuals don’t always fully capitalise on assignees’ experience, as Wendy Kendall explains

Cross-border career moves are increasingly common and despite (or even because of) recent political events such as the Brexit vote and the rise of nationalist governments, corporations and people are considering the potential pay off an overseas move could bring. These global career moves are costly, though. The typical cost of moving someone to an overseas position is said to be 3 – 5 times annual salary. This doesn’t include the personal, social and human cost to you as a person and to your family. The key question is: how can you make sure the move is really worth it for you, your family and your company? As your career develops, you can benefit from increasing your ability to developing your strategic thinking, enhance your ability to grow multi-lateral relationships, grow and leverage your networks, develop your ability to think and work innovatively, be exposed to a more global perspective on your industry, and develop your capacity to manage and lead a wide array of people. A cross-border job move can boost all of these elements and it is often this potential for future career enhancement that people focus on as the ‘value returned’. However, it is less common for people to be really clear about the near-term value they can create. It can be helpful to take a Return On Investment (ROI) approach to your global career move but one that takes a wider perspective on the costs and sources of value.
The typical cost of moving someone to an overseas position is said to be 3 – 5 times annual salary.

Potential Costs

Many of the costs of an overseas job move will be familiar to you already. Things you lose in the move include knowledge of your local business environment and your key contacts and networks. You also lose a degree of reputation and credibility, which you will have to re-establish. Your company will lose continuity of relationships with clients and the specialist and individual knowledge you have brought to your current environment. Your family members may lose their career momentum, professional standing and professional and personal relationships. You may be encouraged to take classes or read guides to help you overcome some of these issues, for example language or intercultural classes. But an approach that only focuses on reducing costs is not the most effective way to get an overall Return on Investment. To do that, you should also focus on the different types of value that can be created – and it goes beyond your personal and professional learning.

Potential Value

Contrary to popular thinking, don’t be in too much of a hurry to think and act like the locals and ‘become integrated’. You have a golden opportunity when you move abroad to see your surroundings with fresh eyes and to bring a spark of innovation and creativity to your new working environment. This is incredibly valuable as it helps you to think and act more creatively, like you’re experiencing a living ‘innovation lab’. If you approach your experience with curiosity and openness, a willingness to ask questions and share your different ideas, and a desire to work collaboratively with people around you, you can create immense learning value for yourself. You will develop new skills, hone your talents in new ways, and develop a more strategic mind set and broader business horizons, which will help you to think more critically and make better decisions. You can create value for your colleagues by learning how to bring together diverse international teams and harness those differences so that you unleash others’ potential and creativity. You will enrich your own networks after moving overseas, but in addition if you take the opportunity to connect people in your new place with your colleagues ‘back home’ you will be building even greater ‘social capital’ around you. This can stimulate new business and career opportunities for others, and will enhance your reputation and credibility too. The value you create through your global job move can also be fed back into the wider company in the form of new knowledge or enhanced networks. This is typically an area that many organisations neglect. Companies are leaving millions of dollars of value on the table by not integrating the value their global assignees are creating more widely. For example, I worked with a very successful assignee who on a short-term, one-year assignment to South America helping to establish the supply chain. At the end of the assignment, he returned to head office on promotion – and not one person asked him to feed his experiences back into the company. He had learned valuable lessons in establishing supply chains in emerging economies but all that experience stayed in his head. This leads to another ROI problem for companies: the more they invest in their international ‘talents’ through global assignments, the more valuable those people become to other companies and the more prone they are to leaving. The value to the business is then mostly lost along with the return on investment but this last crucial process means value can still be retained even if the employee leaves.
The value you create through your global job move can also be fed back into the wider company in the form of new knowledge or enhanced networks
As an employee, feeding your experience back into the company creates new value by enhancing your reputation; developing your strategic perspective and helping you understand your value to the company. This may be through:
  • innovative approaches to helping the business grow;
  • seeing new opportunities for reducing costs;
  • establishing new relationships that lead to new business ventures;
  • creating other new opportunities for professional and business growth for yourself and your colleagues.
Finally, it is key to engage your family in discussions about the value a global job move with deliver to them. Figure out how will they develop their social or professional networks. What new opportunities, knowledge and skills will they be able to create? The global move needs to create value for them too.

What We Focus On, Grows.

We are typically very aware of the costs of moving our career overseas but it can make a world of difference to you, your family and your company if you focus on the ways in which you can create value. Remembering the maxim ‘what we focus on, grows’, it is hard to create maximum ROI from a global career move by focusing on cost avoidance and by failing to identify the value you can create. You can also greatly maximise the returns by broadening your perspective to include creating value for your colleagues, your company and your family, as well as for yourself.

Ways to Increase your Global Career ROI

  • Remember to engage your key stakeholders before you move in specific conversations about how they envisage you creating value in your new overseas position.
  • Keep your fresh eyes for as long as possible and focus on leveraging your differences to spark innovation and creativity.
  • Embrace the possibilities that come from not seeing things the way ‘the locals’ see them! Ask, explore and get curious. Challenge the people around you through your questions to see things with new eyes too.
  • The value you create goes beyond your own learning and development, and will include new relationships, new perspectives and new visions for the company.
  • Encourage your company to learn from your global assignment too – take your learning points to the next level and set them in the broader company context.
  • Where you can, note the monetary value that you have been able to create through your global job move and feed this information back to your stakeholders so that they get a picture of the company’s ROI too.
  • Engage your family in a detailed conversation about how they will create new value through their overseas experience too. What will ensure a positive return on their investment in this global move beyond the enhancement to your career fortunes?
This article first appeared in the March 2017 edition of The Treasurer, the membership magazine for the Association of Corporate Treasurers.