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How to maximise the benefits of undertaking an international assignment

26 April, 2017Phil Renshaw

Research has shown that there are certain steps that will help you whilst on assignment. So what are these steps, and how can they be used to maximise the benefits of an international assignment?

As discussed in my earlier blogs, when you are on an international assignment you need to think about all the different parties who might benefit from it. This includes you, the organisation or department you are working for during your assignment, and the organisation and department that sent you. You need to identify all the goals you believe each of these parties is seeking and demonstrate you are achieving them.

Working in an international environmentIn addition, research shows that your performance will improve if you take proactive steps to understand the new cultures you face. Not simply the international differences, but also the organisational culture and departmental cultures that surround you. For international differences you should seek cultural training to help you be aware of the possible issues as well as to understand and respond to them. You should take steps on your own to read and learn about the different cultures you are interacting with.

Next, you should work hard to build relationships and networks with those people where you have been assigned, but also vitally with the people you left behind. International assignments are notorious for situations where the assignees lose their relationships with the organisation that sent them. So much so that when they return they are unable to find suitable new work opportunities or indeed acknowledgement of the value that they are bringing back. Maintaining and growing this network can be tricky especially if your role as an assignee does not actively involve working with the home organisation. Nonetheless it is vital to create a plan of action with regular contact.

Another powerful route to success is to find mentors. People you can approach confidentially to ask questions about the challenges you face - from work issues to where to find the best coffee! It is useful if this includes someone who has experienced similar challenges and is familiar with the cultural differences you face. Remember this means both organisational culture and international culture. You might consider choosing a senior leader in the country you have been seconded to, and a peer in that same country or indeed another country, as well as people from similar technical backgrounds. In each case they could have your nationality or a different nationality.

You can also play an important role as a mentor (or buddy) to others. You do not need to have been on assignment for long to gain insights that will help colleagues. Reaching out to offer them help, even when no internal system exists for this, will help with your network, your reputation and indeed your learning as you will undoubtedly hear different experiences to your own.

In summary,

  1. Identify, clarify and meet the objectives of your assignment for all parties
  2. Take steps to understand the cultures and ways of working that affect success and normal behaviour in your host country
  3. Build networks locally
  4. Maintain and build networks at your home organisation
  5. Find mentors
  6. Act as a mentor

This blog is part of a series on the importance of international assignments in the finance and banking industries. View all blogs in the series 

About the author:

Phil Renshaw is an expert in the value of international assignments, and is pursuing research in this area within financial services for a PhD at Cranfield University and as a Henry Grunfeld Research Fellow. He also leads the Leadership in Banking module in our MSc in Banking Management and Practice. You can contact him directly at phil.renshaw@edu.libf.ac.uk