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Employee Spotlight: Hope Massey

Posted By: SGK February 05, 2019

Hope Massey, engagement manager, client solutions at SGK explains her expatriate assignment in Chicago — the good, the bad, and the not so ugly.

In an increasingly global economy, having employees that are fluent in the ways of the world is not a nice to have for organisations, but a competitive necessity. The most effective way to create a worldly workforce is to expose your talent to the nuances of working within different regions. This is something that many organisations are realising, ‘nearly 80% of midsize and large companies currently send professionals abroad - and 45% plan to increase the number they have on assignment.’

Let’s start with the basics. An expatriate assignment is a way for organisations to send employees abroad, on a short to long term assignment, whilst still remaining an employee of the home country. Such an assignment is full of opportunities for both the organisation and employee and is considered to be a ‘rite of passage for many future leaders’. However, this life changing decision should not be made lightly as it can come with many obstacles.

To truly challenge yourself to grow, both personally and professionally, it is important to step outside of our comfort zones. Theodore Roosevelt famously said ‘we must all either wear out or rust out, every one of us. My choice is to wear out’. So, when the opportunity presented itself to undertake an international assignment, I was ready and excited for the challenge.

The good.

It is no secret that expatriate assignments are an investment and like all other business decisions, there needs to be a return on that investment. So, why should companies bite the bullet and invest?

Competitive edge: Such assignments help funnel new perspectives, ideas and business practices across regions to develop a competitive edge. Having employees immersed in new cultures boosts creative problem solving and will make for a more effective workforce.

Strength in diversity: Optimise the ambition, flexibility and enthusiasm of talent to work across borders and invest in developing the diversity and skills to support regional business needs.

Employee development: A massive “70% of companies believe offering expat assignments increases staff loyalty,” combined with providing clear career development opportunities, organisations will retain existing talent.

Succession planning: According an article in Forbes, many companies fail to give the matter sufficient attention, even though the need for in-house candidates with essential skills to lead the organisation may be greater than ever. Organisations should be investing in the future by developing existing talent to meet succession planning objectives and international experience plays a significant role.

What about the benefits for the employee? An expatriate assignment can pose substantial disruption both personally and professionally; so, why would someone move to a foreign country, away from their home comforts and loved ones?

Career development: International exposure provides many opportunities to expand knowledge and expertise, from working with different market demands, different people and within different cultures. A significant “23.7% of returned expats are promoted in the first year of repatriation.”

Seeking new challenges: To develop and grow you need to experience new challenges that others may perhaps shy away from. Such assignments offer challenges both personally and professionally which can positively influence your development trajectory.

Enhanced exposure: Working within a different region will give you exposure to a new network of people, internal and external to the company, and will expose you to a host of new experiences, market insights, client organisations and ways of operating.

“Diverse networks foster new ways of thinking.”

Making memories: Let’s not forget that life is all about making memories. Such assignments will open up new opportunities for you to travel internationally, experience different cultures and develop relationships from all over the world; combined with a job that you enjoy will lead for a fulfilling lifestyle.

The bad.

Although these assignments have many benefits, it may not be all rainbows and butterflies. There are some significant lessons that both organisations and employees should sit up and take note of to avoid failure and disappointment, or worse, unnecessary cost or loss of talent.

Clearly defined objectives: It isn’t a secret that most expatriate assignments are a direct investment from an organisation in the development of their talent. Clear objectives and expectations are critical to instil a fulfilling sense of purpose for the employee, thereby ensuring that they are fulfilling the needs of the business and the expectations of their Leadership.

Strong support network: Moving abroad isn’t easy. It is challenging and at times scary. The only consistency the employee has, during that transitional time, is with their job and with their leadership. A strong support network creates a sense of security that enables the employee to settle quickly and more effectively within their host country. It also instils a level of trust between the employee and the organisation that will inevitably boost motivation, morale and loyalty.

A defined repatriation plan: “Most executives who oversee expat employees view their return home as a nonissue” but organisations lose up to 40% of returned assignees within the first 12 months.

So the question is why?

It appears that inadequate career planning and support during repatriation is a key driver of this turnover. Companies that recognise the struggle of repatriation and provide guidance and coaching on how employees can put their international experience to work, have higher degrees of retention and post-assignment career success.

The not so ugly.

I have talked about the lessons learned, identified when researching why both my company and I should invest in an expatriate assignment – so what is my story?

I work within SGK’s Client Solutions team, a consultancy function that delivers transformational results for our Clients by focusing on driving improvements within marketing operations.

In 2017, I was approached by the Vice President and Director of Client Solutions about undertaking an expatriate assignment in the Americas. Following an exciting initial conversation and a number of discussions later, I made the move from Manchester, UK to Chicago, US in June 2018.

Simply put by Louis Pasteur: “fortune favours the prepared mind.” Preparation is absolutely essential to maintain focus, from the physical move and first day in the office to the cultural challenges and language barriers… ok, slight exaggeration on the latter. Being away from your home comforts isn’t always easy.

There is much to organise both at home and abroad, accommodation (and everything that comes with it), visas, banks, government permits… and at times it can be quite overwhelming and frustrating, trust me. So, like anything, the key is to take it day by day, piece by piece and lean on the support network around you because when you finally make it through your never-ending list of ‘life administration’, the fun will commence.

Eight months into my assignment and so far, it has been a success. Professionally, I have expanded my network and have had the pleasure of working with different teams, across different projects, exposing me to many new ways of working.

“I don’t believe it’s a cliché that the greatest asset of a company is it’s people. As a function we are committed to supporting the development of our talent. These assignments are new to us but the success of Hope’s experience to date encourages us to continue down this path – to the benefit of our team and our company.” – John Lawrence, Director of Client Solutions, SGK

Personally, I have settled into my new way of life in Chicago. I live in the heart of the city, met some amazing friends, settled into my local yoga studio and have been experiencing the best that Chicago has to offer.

I have been extremely focused on ensuring that I embrace all opportunities, personally and professionally, and so far it has gone well.

My motto: say yes to everything that you haven’t already experienced... within reason.

SGK has opened up many opportunities and supported my on-going development, which has enabled me to progress into the role I have today. I hope that my experience will inspire and motivate others to seek out and embrace such opportunities in support of their own individual development and growth.