The organisation I currently work for is reaching an inflection point. Global mobility programmes have traditionally been used tactically, to facilitate the movement of employees to specific locations to complete defined project work, the objective of which was easily understood in margin/quality terms. Now there is an appetite to set-up a permanent presence in selected locations, the initial establishment of which being achieved through secondments from the Home location to oversee the start-up. The traditional measures of assignment success no longer suffice...or do they?

Beyond the tactical project-based assignments, we are entering the territory of the successful assignment paradox – what makes an assignment successful from the Home location perspective, does not necessarily make it successful from a Host location perspective.

Setting up a permanent establishment in another location requires a ‘host-based’ perspective, which an assignee should be able to adopt; be selected for; and the success of the assignment measured on, I protest. The response I am met with calls to mind the principle of Cuius regio, eius religio (whose land, his religion) - the Host location should be a carbon copy of the Home location.

This raises questions. Does the expatriate manager teach or learn? Should they be a conduit for knowledge transfer adjusting the working practices of the Host organisation to those of the Home location; Or should they instead be adept at adapting to their location and context, ensuring what were dictats can instead be shaped to accommodate pluralism?

So how do we more usefully define parameters that allow us to select the right assignee and measure their performance and the success of an assignment. The selection procedure will need redefined (to focus on personality?). The short-term tactical measures of margin/quality are still relevant, but now we need harder to define, potentially longer-term, measures (talent acquisition, retention and development?).

I sense I need to influence what up until now have been linear decision processes, moulding them to become lateral. Moving to a wider assessment of the successful assignee; capturing learnings to be usefully applied for the organisation’s benefit in the future.

What got us here, will not get us there! But getting there will be an interesting journey. I look forward to the day when the first question I am asked isn’t “what is that in Pounds?”!

Written by Christopher Gilsenan, Reward Business Partner at Doosan Babcock based in Scotland, UK in May 2015

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