The most difficult challenge for an expat executive like a country general manager is to be able to find congruence between various opposite interests in a highly complex environment (see picture above).
The expat executive must be able to deal with local issues such as specific regulations and laws then explain clearly the specificity of local markets and “sell” his decisions vertically and horizontally. Be able to dismantle silos in a matrix-type organization, managing up with board members, making internal alliances with peers and encouraging bottom up initiatives from multicultural cross-functional teams.
As an expat and multicultural team leader who lived and worked for 20 years in more than 10 countries for various industries and different management functions, I have seen many successful expat executives sharing same characteristics that for me are key skills to look for when considering sending people to international assignments or hiring locals at senior management level :
1- Attitude: Look for people who are leading by influence, able to federate people across cultures, able to lead trans-functional and virtual teams worldwide. Suitable personalities have high EQ and are pragmatic, open, curious, learners, risk-takers, negotiators, diplomats.
2-Cultural Intelligence: Knowledge about local customs,cultural traits,norms,social and business etiquette. Basic “survival” language skill is enough in most cases as business is often conducted in English. Don’t make the mistake to hire a local manager because he can speak English, check his leadership and technical skills.
3-Mentoring and Coaching Skills Usually an expat is sent from the HQs to share some technical knowledge or implement global processes such as performance evaluation. In each case make sure the person is able to “glocalize” or adapt locally the company’s global vision, mission, values and principles, One very good example of “glocalization” of corporate culture is Starbucks
The challenge for global companies is to be able to have the right process to assess people globally both for internal succession planning, talent management or hiring new managers. Three components should be considered:
- Technical skills: operations, finance, markets, regulations, innovation, HR etc.
- Leadership style: Top-down, bottom-up, influence, networking, lobbying, foster creativity
- Cultural intelligence: Group or individualistic cultures, knowledge of cultural dimensions, able to create a third culture team