“There’s so much freedom in between the things you think you have to do.” --Moonshots, Shaky Ground
Most of us have heard the expression, “Ready, willing and able.” Originally applied to legal contracts, it now refers to a broad range of situations, and every HR director wants to know if a person assigned to a task is ready, willing and able to do the task the employer needs done. All the more so if the task is an overseas assignment.
What do we mean by “ready, willing and able” in this context? Let’s take the third word of the phrase first: “Able.” Is the person capable of carrying out an overseas assignment? How can we tell? There are many assessments, including one my company provides (the Global Readiness® Profile) that can help. But even without an assessment, HR can check on “capability” by asking the candidate and colleagues a few questions, chief among them: “Tell me about an overseas assignment you have taken in the past?” The best predictor of future performance is past performance under similar circumstances.
So in asking about a past assignment, you will learn about the challenges and solutions the candidate was able to find. A good model to follow is the “STAR” behavioral interviewing technique, where you ask the candidate to describe the Situation under which they were assigned overseas, the Task (or Tasks) they were supposed to carry out, the Actions taken and finally, their specific Results. You can ask the candidate him or herself, and then their supervisor and people who worked with the candidate on the assignment, using the same STAR method. This will give you some idea of whether or not the candidate is capable of doing well overseas. But how about his or her “willingness”? We can attribute much of their willingness (or lack thereof) directly to how the company treats its employees, both on their overseas assignments and upon their return. How valued are overseas experiences by the firm? Often, a younger, less-experienced candidate will embrace the chance for adventure, whereas a more seasoned veteran will see the post “detour” from his or her route to the top. This isn’t always the case.
One Japanese executive we’re working with recently returned from Europe, where he was engaged with several international projects. Now back “home,” he can hardly stop talking about how much he preferred the work he was doing overseas. Let’s say you’ve figured out the candidate is able, and willing, to take on an overseas assignment. How “ready” is he or she? Readiness includes capability and desire, but in addition explores issues that interweave with the other two: timing, family, health, energy, language abilities, other “soft” skills. Most capable and willing candidates can (and will want) to do more to “get ready.” Books, websites, lectures on the place where the assignee will be going is a start. Language training (just 10 minutes a day can go a long way, given the right program), and individual coaching and/or mentoring all can help increase both “capabilities” and “willingness,” thus leading to greater overall “readiness.” As the quote at the start of this article implies, there’s always time if the issue is important.
The difference between being “ready” and “not ready” is huge—both to the candidate and to the company. You’re familiar with the costs associated with “mis-hires,” (that can be many multiples of a person’s salary). Sending the wrong person overseas, or the right person at the wrong time, can be even more damaging to a firm and the candidate, for often such assignments require a lot virtual management with more responsibilities and less back-up.
So do what you can to choose the right candidates for overseas assignments, and then help them prepare, because globalization is now coming on faster than ever, ready or not!