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4 Reasons Why Global Assignments Fail and How to Prevent It

5 min read
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Understanding the core issues that lead to a failed assignment is the solution to your mobility program’s success.

Mobility professionals understand the weighty cost of a failed assignment; the price tag of an unsuccessful assignment may amount to five times or more than the employee’s salary. Failed assignments also affect a mobility program’s positive ROI, diminish retention rates and available talent pools, and negatively influence future program budgets. With so much on the line, what can be done to facilitate higher assignment success rates?

Employees will face various challenges throughout their assignment term. While there isn’t any one-size-fits-all solution, understanding these common difficulties can help your mobility program make the necessary changes to reinforce assignment success rates.

A lack of spousal and family consideration in the relocation

An assignee’s family plays a consistent role in assignment success rates, as a partner or spouse’s dissatisfaction with relocation is one of the most common causes of assignment failure. Causes for family discontentment include inadequate accommodation for children in the relocation process, insufficient cultural and language training for the household, and a lack of career support for spouses.

Organizations are beginning to recognize the value of providing family support by extending relocation assistance to their employee’s partners and families. If an assignee’s family is pleased with their relocation experience, the employee can focus more on their work, ultimately improving the likelihood of assignment success. 

Mobility program benefits should address the many stressors of a family’s cultural adjustment when moving abroad. Family language training, spousal career aid, and assisting with children’s education arrangements are a few suggested family support benefits. 

Ill-matched employees and relocation assignments

Many globally mobile companies neglect to formally assess candidates for assignments, leading to poorly matched relocation roles. Unsuccessful international assignments are often due to faulty candidate selection. Mobility programs can combat assignment failure rates by investing in an assessment process to identify appropriate candidates.

Too many companies overlook the importance of maintaining a candidate pool for global assignments or lack a process for employees to declare their willingness to work abroad. Providing a method for employees to self-identify their interest in international assignments can help companies expand their talent development pool. For example, during an initial interview, include opportunities for a potential employee to communicate an interest in relocation.

Providing additional assignee assessments, such as self-guided family and personality assessments, is also recommended to ensure you’re pairing the most suitable employee with a relocation role.

Minimal or no cultural awareness training 

Though multi-level cultural competence leads to assignment success, companies often neglect to offer cross-cultural training as a core policy benefit. Some may only provide minimal training to cover fundamental tourist protocol issues. As a result, an inability to adapt to the host location is a frequent reason for global assignment failure.

Performing a role successfully in a foreign location requires understanding and acclimating to the host country’s culture. Responsibilities such as following a goal-setting process in the host country can be a significant challenge for candidates if language and cultural barriers aren’t adequately addressed through training. While mobility programs are under pressure to reduce overall costs, cross-cultural training is one area that shouldn’t fall on the budget chopping block. 

Failure rates are closely tied to an individual’s ability or inability to integrate and adapt to a new culture successfully. Through cultural training, assignees are better equipped to succeed in their new roles as they’ll be comfortable experiencing the culture of their host country and embracing the local community.

Unmet role and relocation expectations

Unmet job expectations are a prevailing cause of assignment failure. A lack of clarity in expectations and unclear goals can quickly lead to strain on foreign assignees. If an employee feels that their expectations aren’t being met, it could lead to frustration and even resentment.

We recommend documenting the reasons for the relocation (such as a business need and/or professional development) and the employee’s and manager’s agreed expectations. This discussion and documentation gives both parties a reference point regarding future check-ins or performance reviews.

Before addressing expectations with an employee, mobility counselors should ask themselves: “If I agreed to go on a global assignment, what would I expect?” Higher wages, new skills that will benefit you in the future, or advancement in your career? Empathizing with an assignee’s relocation experience will help you better understand how to improve the process and extend adequate support.

Supporting global mobility programs for over 20 years

With decades of experience in global mobility solutions, we’ve learned that seemingly small things can significantly impact the success of your mobility program. Contact us today to discover how Ineo can support all aspects, big or small, of your mobility program with our comprehensive TechSuite mobility software, expense processing, tax services, and more.

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