When people take the time to ask repatriates about their international assignments, the repatriate knowledge gained during their experience abroad is often a surprise. There is enormous transformational potential in an expatriate experience — for many people, it is the most significant experience of their lives. Our research shows that an international assignment is often a time of heightened learning, challenge and adventure—but repatriate knowledge needs to be broken down and understood by the expatriate and the organization to take full advantage of the experience.
4 Parts to Repatriate Knowledge
Expatriates return home with four types of knowledge assets that can serve as a competitive advantage for their companies:
An international assignment can change one’s frame of reference from a local, company, and country-specific focus to a more holistic, international, and globally interdependent focus. As your view shifts, you have a different view of things and ways to look at them. You learned how to present things in different ways so those around you could accept it. As a result, repatriates are often better at decoding situations and avoiding cultural and ethnic mistakes.
Expatriates build networks of international contacts that enable them to acquire global knowledge and be successful. Social and personal skills are crucial. “I built a huge network of probably close to 300 people that I met and did business within all of Europe and Africa, which I still use today.”
If repatriates are allowed to maintain, utilize, and leverage their international networks in reentry jobs, they can serve as valuable boundary spanners, sources of knowledge, and the “glue” that holds large global organizations together and gets things done.
Expatriates often learn that there is no one right way to do things. As a result, they might become more open to seeing and accepting new ways of thinking and behaving and adapting to cultural differences. This new way of looking at the world carries over when returning to one’s home country. “One of the most important things I gained while overseas was an understanding of the underlying reasons for the different behaviors and the subsequent ability to modify the way I did things in order to minimize conflict.”
Increased global mindset makes for greater cooperation and synergy among parties, which is the basis for good global management, as well as good diversity management.
Repatriates often report that they changed for the better on an international assignment. They developed greater self-confidence and resilience to challenges, became more pro-active with a ‘‘can-do’’ attitude, and in general, increased their skills at motivating, planning and executing decisions.
This list shows why the transformational aspect of an expatriate experience is such an effective springboard to accelerating your development as a global leader. Repatriates have a great deal to teach us – if we are ready and willing to take in their lessons.