By Gary M. Wederspahn, Grovewell LLC
Cross-cultural training and coaching should be a component of every international
relocation package. It just makes good business sense to do the smart thing for the company and
the right thing for expatriates by providing them with the tools they need to deal successfully with
the reality of culture in their host countries.
The risks, problems, and obstacles commonly recognized as part of international relocation
include loss, theft or damage of property during shipping, delays in obtaining visas and work
permits, difficulty locating acceptable housing or schools, finding needed community services,
and even transporting pets. Unfortunately, the most daunting challenge, cross-cultural
adaptation, is seldom on the list...perhaps because it doesn't seem as real as the other,
more tangible factors. Yet, failure to adapt to the culture in the host country has far more
impact on the success of the international assignment than do the obvious pitfalls.
Aware of the stresses of international assignments, many firms
employ intercultural training as a means to ensure the well-being
of expatriate families.
Consider these facts:
- The total cost of a typical corporate international assignment is over $1 million.
However, a 1999 survey by Cendant International Services found that 63 percent
of 300 companies surveyed reported failed international assignments.
- The 2001 Global Relocation Trends survey conducted by GMAC, The National Foreign
Trade Council (NFTC), and the Society for Human Resources Management revealed
that 75 percent of overseas assignees had no previous international experience. Another
survey by the American Society for Training and Development found that 70 percent of
American business people going abroad receive no cross-cultural training and that 59
percent of the companies offered none to their expatriates.
- International HR researchers Allan Bird and Edward Dunbar estimate that 30 to 50 percent
of expatriates function at a very minimal level of effectiveness.
- Settler International, an international relocation assistance company, reports that
the divorce rate among expatriate couples is 40 percent higher than among their
domestic counterparts and that the school dropout rate of their children is 50 percent
higher than in their home countries.
Knowing these facts, some corporations protect the investment in their expatriates by
giving them intercultural training and coaching. The benefits of doing so are clear. A 2002
CIGNA/NFTC/WorldatWork survey found that expatriates who had cross-cultural training
were three times as likely to rate their overseas assignments "favorable" compared to
those without it. A Prudential Relocation International study of expatriates’ satisfaction
and performance twelve months into their assignments reported that 94 percent
recommend cross-cultural training to others.
International relocation and moving companies that help their clients see the reality
of culture and offer them tools for overcoming cultural differences are doing them a big favor.