Traveling Abroad

I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to work internationally, and my recent trip through Germany and Belgium has been, as always, an education in human interaction.  I am a big believer in the developmental value of such trips.

The issue that seems to be forgotten is what happens to our internationally experienced team member or expatriates when they come home.  Slotting them into a role that doesn’t leverage that knowledge and experience is like showing them a clear path to the door.  They have more to offer than we sometimes realize, and it’s important to take advantage of it.

There is some interesting data from Workforce Management on expatriates.  It doesn’t talk about turnover rates, though.  Older studies have tagged expat turn rates at double the overall rate, and claim that 76% of US firm experience high than average turnover in this populations.  (Turnover in this case is referring to any expat who leave the position prior to completion of contract, be it for another job or to return to their home country.)

So we have a group of highly skilled, motivated, flexible professionals who bolt at higher than average rates, taking all that knowledge and skill with them.  Can you think of a group more in need of your attention?  Here’s a few thoughts on what you can do to keep them engaged…

Team Leadership

Once you have the experience of working with an entire team of people from somewhere else (especially when you are the visitor), interpersonal dynamics become easier to read and leverage.  Don’t hide your travelers in the back of the room.  Put them in the front.


I’m always energized when there are issues that arise on projects and I’m able to say, “Hey, I know [insert name here] in [insert country here] that might be able to help.  Let me make a call.”  Like the song says, people who know people are the luckiest people in the world.  Or something like that.  Leverage those networks.

Global Perspective

Recently we discovered a big gap in one of our key projects.  While we were adapting the core application for country needs, we suddenly realized there were small parts of the sister applications that needed to be reviewed, and forgetting them could open us up to significant liability.  The conversation that led to the discovery was not part of the “primary” objective, but rather a casual conversation about support needs.  That led us to some on the spot investigation and troubleshooting.  If we hadn’t been thinking about how local needs can differ from the US platform in the details, we might not have learned it until it was too late.

Appetite for Change

Don’t forget that the people most likely to accept overseas assignments or travel are the ones most likely to be flexible and adaptable.  Change leaders are hard to come by, and these people are flying their flag high for you to notice.  Don’t miss the opportunity to tap into that mindset, and don’t smother them with sameness.

I’m sure there are more great ideas out there, and would love to hear them.  Any success stories to share?

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