Anglo-French Wines Direct (AFW), a large multinational company based in UK, established a ‘High Flyers Programme’ four years ago in order to develop middle and senior managers of the future to enable the achievement of its global growth objectives. The aim was to send them to one of the international subsidiaries for two years and bring them back for a more senior position in the UK. However, the new Global HR Director of AFW has discovered several problems associated with this leadership programme. More precisely, she identified the following three types of assignment failure:
1. 25 per cent of the expatriates returned home early due to dissatisfaction.
2. Over 35 per cent of the expatriates who remained in post were considered to be underperforming compared to local management’s expectations of them.
3. Around 30 per cent of those who completed their postings, left within a year of their return to England.
These outcomes, however, are not attributable to a particular cause but are rather influenced by a variety of factors which will be analysed more closely in this report. Generally speaking, it can be assumed that the reasons for the present difficulties are mainly due to an ineffective management of the ‘Ideal International Assignment Cycle’ (see Figure 1) which includes the key components recruitment and selection, hiring, preparation, expatriation and repatriation and will be elaborated on below:
Figure 1: The Ideal International Assignment Cycle
illustration not visible in this excerpt
Source: Harzing & Christensen, 2004:620.
Problem 1: Premature return of the expatriates
To begin with, Dowling et al. (2009) state that early returns from postings are mainly attributable to inappropriate selection which might result in choosing managers who are not qualified for the leadership programme. Further, research reveals that the focus in the selection process is often on technical expertise rather than on interpersonal and cross-cultural skills which are crucial to successfully adjust to an unfamiliar culture (Collings & Scullion, 2008, in Dickmann et al., 2008; Sanchez et al., 2000; Sparrow et al., 2004; Tung, 1981). However, other equally important selection criteria are managers’ personal interests, motivation and readiness for the assignment (Sanchez et al., 2000). The lack of these considerations during the selection process is a potential reason for the expatriates’ dissatisfaction with the posting. In addition, the selection decisions at AFW may be based on ‘networking and assumed reputation’ (Harris & Dickmann, 2005:29) rather than on an open, formal process which in turn might lead to a restricted pool of candidates for the international assignment (Harris & Brewster, 1999). Accordingly, it can be deduced that the early expatriate returns are possibly the result of AFW’s inadequate management of the first Assignment Cycle stage, i.e. selection.
A second reason for the premature return could lie in unmet expectations of the expatriates regarding their job role abroad (Brookfield GRS, 2011). As AFW has made only little progress to move from an ethnocentric to a polycentric approach in their international subsidiaries, it can be assumed that most management positions are still filled by British nationals. This fact might have contributed to the dissatisfaction among expatriates whose expectations were to work predominately with locals thereby gaining valued international experience. Furthermore, there may have been an absence of support during the assignment from the home and/or the host country or an anticipated lack of promotion opportunities upon repatriation (Harris & Dickmann, 2005). With that said, it can be assumed that the hiring stage was not effectively implemented by AFW as there is no evidence of prior clarification of expectations and goals between the company and the expatriates concerning the assignment.
Lastly, the ability of the expatriates to adjust to the host environment plays a major role in terms of their intention to remain on the assignment (Briscoe et al., 2012; Caligiuri, 2000; Schneider & Barsoux, 2003). More precisely, there are three different adjustment dimensions influencing the decision regarding the return home: adjustment to the general environment, adjustment to interacting with other host nationals and adjustment to work (Black, 1988). It is probable that one, or even all, of these adaptation difficulties arose for the AFW assignees. One justification for this assumption is that the managers did not receive any cross-cultural or language training before their departure. As cross-cultural preparation is associated with a higher success rate in adjusting to a new culture (Briscoe et al., 2012; Debrah & Rees, 2011, in Harzing & Pinnington, 2011; Hollinshead, 2010), insufficient cultural knowledge probably led to adjustment difficulties (Collings & Scullion, 2008, in Dickmann et al., 2008; Harris & Dickmann, 2005) and created in this way dissatisfaction among the AFW expatriates. It can therefore be assumed that AFW did not take an effective and customised approach to pre-departure preparation in order to create a foundation for successful management development in an unfamiliar environment.