Thousands of repatriates have a vast amount of valuable global knowledge that few companies make any attempt to systematically harvest lessons from. Instead of treating them like a valuable competitive advantage, these repatriates global knowledge is often ignored and they are assigned roles that are completely unrelated to their international experience.
This prompts some of them to go work for competitors, which, given the high cost of expatriation, is a double whammy. Only 18% of companies in a large global mobility survey had a formal repatriate strategy tied to career management and retention, and only 19% had initiatives to provide greater opportunities for repatriates to utilize their international experience.
Who’s Responsible For Sharing Repatriate Knowledge?
The duty for sharing this global knowledge lies almost solely on repatriates themselves. Here’s why this is so challenging:
- Many repatriates have a diminished home-country network due to downsizing or transfers – fewer managers and colleagues know and trust them as a trusted source of knowledge.
- Some domestic work units view repatriates as outsiders who have to prove themselves before gaining their acceptance and trust.
- Some coworkers cannot put repatriate knowledge into any context – “it’s Greek to them” if they have no international experience and, therefore, no sense of its value.
- Some workplaces lack a global mindset and are not curious about global knowledge – they don’t see its relevance to their strategy and work goals. In the most extreme case, work units may be xenophobic and devalue any knowledge that is Not-Invented-Here.
How To Successfully Share Repatriate Knowledge
- Know thy new self. Understand how you have grown, what new skills and knowledge you have acquired, and how these assets could be utilized within the organization.
- Communicate to key people your accomplishments and relevant experience in the international assignment to hasten the development of credibility and trust.
- Make the effort to quickly integrate yourself into the work unit so that your colleagues see you as an in-group member.
- Be patient—don’t expect to be able to transfer knowledge until the work unit trusts that your knowledge has positive payoffs.
- Avoid creating a ‘‘Not Invented Here’’ backlash by overwhelming the work unit with global knowledge every time something occurs to you. Consider instead how much information coworkers are capable of absorbing and limit your suggestions.
- Learn to recognize the right moment to share knowledge. Timing is crucial.
- Avoid being an arrogant global ‘‘know-it-all’’ who transfers knowledge to gratify his or her own ego. Look for issues where your knowledge might be relevant and helpful for the work unit.
- Be persistent—knowledge transfer is not something that you try once and give up if no one listens.