Mentoring: a step towards successful repatriation

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With a trusted mentor to turn to for information and support during their assignments, expats will have an easier time coming home, while the repatriate mentor will welcome the chance to share their insights.

Repatriation, in fact, means much more than coming home. Expats need to be managed when they are on international assignment - not an easy task. It's wrong to assume the assignment is career development enough. Also, what expats have learned needs to be captured.

The expatriate fears loss of visibility and that isolation from the parent company will adversely affect their career path - who can blame them. Therefore, the most effective way of monitoring international career development is through mentoring.

In my research, I asked a group of expatriates, who varied in seniority, age, and sex, about the usefulness of having a mentor in the home country -- and 100 percent believed it would be extremely useful.

Creating a mentor system

A mentoring system would need to be informal since a very formal system could be too time consuming and possibly fail. The contact would be at least once a month.

The mentor would ensure the assignee was kept up to date with structural changes, promotional opportunities and general company knowledge. Although available for support, the mentor would not serve as a teacher to the assignee.

Both the mentor and the assignee would give written feedback to HR on a monthly basis. The assignee would visit the mentor during home visits. Once the assignee returns, the mentor would speed up the integration process by helping them make the best use of their strengths.

An ideal mentor
The mentor, based in the home country, would be senior and experienced, and ideally have international experience. They would be amiable, approachable and committed.

The mentor would be credible and influential, and would help the assignee find a suitable job six months (if possible) before the planned repatriation.

Successful implementation
A mentoring programme suitable for employees can succeed only if the following are observed:

- Commitment from senior management.
- Creation of a programme that has some flexibility and not too much formality.
- Training for mentors that helps them to support rather than teach assignees.
- Understanding that mentoring needs to fit in with senior employees' heavy workloads. Premature returns or ineffective performance can have far reaching effects on a company. A mentoring programme, in addition to helping prevent these situations, would not be difficult to implement.

Appreciating the new skills and insights of repatriates

And, most importantly, international assignees would welcome it and would make ideal future mentors. Research carried out by Cranfield school of management in cooperation with PriceWaterhouseCoopers, confirms this.

"For repatriates, being able to communicate their experience, the important things they have learnt on assignment, would give them "a high degree of satisfaction" as well as being a cost-effective and is useful way to communicate essential information to people who are about to embark on international assignment says Michael Dickmann, Director of Cranfield School of Management's Centre for Research into the Management of Expatriation.

Pauline Cowell / Expatica

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