There is no doubt that in today’s global economy international career experience is an enormous asset for both individuals and businesses alike. However, too often there is a lingering question: How effectively are these experiences, insights and networks leveraged and maximised by both parties?

As the demand for globally experienced leadership continues to grow, many organisations recognise the importance of providing international opportunities to their employees. It is a way of attracting, developing and retaining the most talented people in the market place. But it can also offer significant competitive advantage in how and where organisations do business. 

However, industry statistics suggest that up to 24% of returning expats leave their organisation within the first 12 months and up to 30% within the first 2 years of arriving home. So, it's no wonder this loss of potential future leadership is concerning many business leaders.

Moreover, many who do remain often struggle to re-engage and meaningfully apply – let alone leverage – their experience. Which means the impact can be even more costly. Then there's the enormous amount of untapped experience from those employees whose lives and careers have been established independently of the organisation. The loss of opportunity is almost unfathomable.

A clear need for career planning

Most repatriates cite loss of meaningful career opportunity as the number one reason for their departure. It is apparent that there is a misalignment between individual expectations and the organisational reality. It would be unrealistic to expect organisations to guarantee a particular role for expats upon their return. But, the value of transparent career discussions throughout each stage of the assignment can go along way to help with the transition ‘home’.

There is clearly a need for a more robust talent management process for managing expatriate careers. However, the recent 2016 Brookfield Global Mobility Trends Survey found that only 10% of organisations surveyed reported an alignment of the global mobility function with the wider talent agenda and actively engaged in workforce planning and people effectiveness.

Furthermore, only 23% of organisations had a specific process for engaging in career planning after an assignment had been accepted. And most were only re-engaging with an employee 3 – 6 months prior to their return. As CEOs and individuals continue to seek out international career experience, there is a strong need for pragmatic, forward-thinking conversations. Conversations that allow for both parties to leverage these unique insights and experiences for mutual benefit.

3 tips for managing global careers:

  1. Establish career partnerships:

    As with any successful partnership, a clear understanding of common goals, responsibilities and ownership are clearly communicated and established early. Meaningful and purposeful plans can only be enacted when individuals and organisations truly understand each other’s objectives and ambitions.

  2. Formalise career development plans:

    Not only does a formal development plan demonstrate commitment and value in the employee it also helps drive career ownership, motivation and engagement. It affords both parties with the opportunity to remain informed, relevant and proactive in identifying mutually beneficial opportunities.  

  3. Build a repatriate induction program:

    With most organisations, business units and teams undergoing regular change, it is dangerous to assume that a repatriate can simply ‘slot back in’ to the way things operate. Not only are there often significant ‘people changes’ to be navigated but also potential operational, regulatory and industry changes to be considered. Repatriates are returning to a different business and bringing with them newly acquired knowledge, skills and networks, all of which need to be recognised. 

    When organisations and individuals engage in meaningful career and leadership discussions from the outset, both parties stand to reap the benefits of international experience and global thinking long after the assignment has finished.