Black et
al. revealed in their Global Assignment Success Cycle
five steps that they found to be essential for successful international
assignments. The first step builds the selection of expatriates, taking not
only professional skills into account, but also competencies that are
supporting the assignment’s objectives. For instance, if the assignment has
mainly a control function in the host organization, loyalty to headquarters and
long-term experience in the company might be considered in selection, while
expatriates that are supposed to foster knowledge transfer with the foreign
subsidiary might require outstanding cross-cultural communication skills.
Gender should not play a role in selection as a research by Black et al.
confirmed findings from previous studies that women performed as expatriates
neither better nor worse than men, even in male-dominated societies. The second
step of the success cycle according to Black et al. has to be ‘effective
training’, meaning that cross-cultural trainings are designed by considering
cultural, communication and job toughness that the expatriate will experience
in the host country. Helping expatriates adjust to the cultural challenges in
the host country and a successful repatriation are the third and fourth steps
to assignment success, and will be discussed further in paragraph 2.2. With the
fifth step ‘building global leaders’, Black et al. see the strategic planning
of future positions for the expatriate, further development and valuing the
international experience as important factor to keep “the best global managers as
strategic assets” (Black, Gregersen, Mendenhall, & Stroh, 1999 p.236. Therefore, an organization’s global leaders build
a talent pool from which IHRM can benefit in candidate selection for further
assignments.

In
addition, according to the study of Konanahalli et al., assignment success is
not only a result from the expatriate’s skills and abilities considered in
selection, but also from the support and assistance of the organization during
the assignment. Their research also found an increased need of organizational
support for Western expatriates that are assigned to less developed or politically
unstable regions than those in countries with less extreme (cultural)
contrasts. (Konanahalli,
Oyedele, von Meding, Spillane, & Coates, 2012).

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Compared to
the above mentioned scientific sources, some press sources represent a more
general point of view on how to achieve assignment success. An article by Haufe
names the ‘deadly sins of expat management’ to be avoided, which are, amongst
others, the use of a learning by doing concept which lets expatriates jump
right into the new cultural setting, the neglect of intercultural trainings,
and not taking stress of expatriates seriously (Haufe, 2014). A Forbes
magazine article sees the personal motivation of expatriates as the key factor
for assignment success. According to the author this motivation can be achieved
through various means such as promising a great experience or a career
advancement to the expatriate (Vorhauser-Smith, 2013). Disagreeing
with that, Kühlmann warned of marketing assignments to potential candidates
with empty promises and advises companies to rather give realistic information
on the job and career opportunities as well as the assignment destination (Kühlmann, 2004).

 

2.2 The Importance of Cultural Adjustment

 

2.2.1 Culture Shock and Cultural Adjustment

 

The
US-American anthropologist Kalervo Oberg explained already in 1960 a model of
four phases on how people adjust to a new cultural environment when being
abroad for a long time such
as soldiers or civil servants on deployment as well as migrant workers and
expatriates. Since then, his model of cultural adjustment was modified
by many scientists and researchers but remains valid in its main concepts.

As illustrated in figure 1, Oberg
described the first stage of arriving in the foreign country as ‘honeymoon
stage’ where the assignee feels more like a traveler and is fascinated by all
the new impressions, being in euphoric mood. After some time, the assignee
slides into the next stage, probably without noticing. Suddenly, his behavior
turns more hostile towards the new country and its culture, trying to reject
some of the new customs and norms that seem foreign and wrong, while enhancing
the own culture. This is the stage of ‘culture shock’, a result of human
anxiety to lose familiar structures and social behaviors. However, Oberg was
certain that every person will reach the stage of recovery, when opening
towards the new culture by learning the language or simply getting around. He
said the phase of adjustment will be reached if the assignee accepts the
culture he is surrounded with and doesn’t feel anxious anymore. In order to get
faster to the recovery stage, Oberg suggested that meeting people of the
host-country should be encouraged. (Oberg, 1960, p.142ff)

 Figure 3: Phases of cultural adjustment according to
Oberg, 1960 (author’s illustration)

 

Mendenhall and Oddou later argued
that overcoming the culture shock is not as easy as Oberg described it and published
their model of four dimensions that they found to be related to successful expatriate
cultural adjustment. Their first dimension of ‘self-orientation’ refers to the
ability of the expatriate to stay confident and mentally healthy. This should be
accomplished by helping the expatriate to find substitutes of his interests in
the host-country, reduce stress and ensure that the expatriate has the technical
competence that is needed in order to perform at his new work place. The second
or ‘others-oriented’ dimension is giving importance to the interaction with
others in the host-country. Expatriates who are open to social encounters with
locals and willing to communicate are more likely to successfully adapt to the
new culture. Mendenhall and Oddou suggested that development of relationships
in the new culture can be achieved by a helpful mentor who helps the expatriate
with information and advice. The willingness to communicate however, has to
come from the expatriate himself and does not need language fluency but the
confidence and desire to communicate and relate with the host-country nationals.
The ‘perceptional’ dimension considers the willingness of the expatriate to change
his perceptions and stereotypes as essential to cultural adjustment. ‘Cultural toughness’,
the fourth dimension influencing cultural adjustment, stands for the gap
between home and host culture. Mendenhall and Oddou were assuming that some
cultural environments make it more difficult for the expatriate to adjust than
others. (Mendenhall & Oddou, 1985, p.40-43)

 

Figure 4: Factors impacting cultural adjustment
according to Mendenhall & Oddou, 1985 (author’s illustration)

 

In 1991, Black et al.
revealed their findings of factors that were positively related to expatriates’
cultural adjustment and that, for the most part, can be influenced by IHRM. In
their model, the researchers differentiated between in-country adjustment
during the assignment as well as anticipatory adjustment, which should set in
before departure and can be driven forward by the right selection and training
measures. Therefore, already the selection of the expatriate should focus on
finding a candidate who is able to adjust to the new cultural setting where the
work assignment takes place. Black et al. suggested to use broad selection criteria such
as personality traits or previous intercultural experience instead of basing
selection only on job-related issues. A pre-departure cross-cultural training provides
the selected candidate with accurate expectations of the host culture and helps
to prepare the expatriate for cultural challenges in the host country.

The
in-country adjustment was described by Black et al. as a combination of individual,
job-related, organizational and non-work factors. The organizational culture
was found to be an important parameter, as social support from other employees
in the host country boosts work adjustment but also cultural adjustment when
the support continues outside of the workplace. The idea of support from local
employees was already part of the ‘others-oriented dimension’ in Mendenhall and Oddou in 1985,
where the use of a mentor was suggested to promote relationship development in
the host-country. The acknowledgement of cultural toughness was also adapted
from prior publications and the authors approved that culture familiarity makes
it easier to adjust. Black
et al. were also drawing attention to the accompanying family and found
out that family adjustment and especially spouse adjustment is positively
related to the expatriate’s adjustment. Role clarity and autonomy at work as
part of the ‘job factor’ were found to predominately affect work adjustment but
also helps the expatriate to feel comfortable with his assignment in general. (Black, Mendenhall, & Oddou, 1991, p.303-312)

In a later
publication by Black,
Gregersen, Mendenhall and Stroh (1999), the authors came up with a model
of only three dimensions that influence cultural adjustment, basically
summarizing their previous findings (see figure 5). They found the dimension of social adjustment to
be the most difficult for expatriates but at the same time the most important
to achieve cultural adjustment. The dimension of environmental adjustment,
which includes adapting to the general conditions in a new country such as
cuisine, the transportation system or infrastructure, living conditions or the
weather, was found to be easier for expatriates than the social dimension, but more
challenging than getting along with the new job. Work adjustment included the
general experiences at the new position the general experiences at the new
position but also adjustment to the different working mentality and
organizational culture at the host company. (Black, Gregersen, Mendenhall, & Stroh, 1999) p.108-111 While
work adjustment is mainly affected by the host organization’s frame conditions,
the authors found social and environmental adjustment among other factors to be
dependent on the expatriate’s previous international experience as well as the
degree of cultural distance. (Black, Gregersen, Mendenhall, & Stroh, 1999,
p.109f)

Figure 5: Factors of Cultural Adjustment according
to Black et al. 1991 and Black et al. 1999 (author’s illustration)

 

A research
study in 2005 by Shimoni, Ronen and Roziner with expatriates in Israel confirmed
the model by (Black, Gregersen, Mendenhall, & Stroh, 1999) that expatriate
adjustment was influenced by the three dimensions of social, environment, and
work adjustment.  A relationship between
cultural distance and the difficulty of adjustment was not verified by their
research. The results suggested that the perception of cultural distance is
subjective and that nationalities do not necessarily reflect a specific cultural
dimension. (Shimoni, Ronen, & Roziner, 2005) p. 307-308

In the
recent HSBC expat survey, respondents said, that ‘making friends’,
‘understanding the local culture’ and ‘successfully using the local language’
were the top three reasons that made them feel at home in their host country (HSBC, 2015, p.27). All answers are part of the
social dimension in the model of Black et al 1999, indicating again that this is the most
important dimension and therefore the key to an overall feeling of belonging or
comfort to the new culture.

 

2.2.2 Re-entry Shock and Repatriation

 

In various
publications, the Oberg model of cultural adjustment was supplemented by a
fifth stage, the re-entry or reverse culture shock. This implies that the
expatriate will encounter another culture shock on return to his home country,
especially if cultural adjustment to the host culture was very successful and
the expatriate adapted several routines and habits from it. Studies even found
out that in most of the cases (between 60-80%) this re-entry shock is even
bigger than the initial culture shock abroad (Black, Gregersen, Mendenhall, & Stroh, 1999, p.204), depending on
the length of the assignment and the cultural distance that had to be overcome (Stroh,
Black, Mendenhall, & Gregersen, 2005, p.209). For
expatriates who have lived abroad for years, coming back home can feel like entering
a foreign culture, and the fact that they feel like strangers in their home
country often results in feelings of frustration, discomfort and being out of
touch with their social environment (Moran, Harris, & Moran, 2007, p.279f).

Reasons for
the re-entry shock are almost the same factors that made the assignment
challenging in the beginning and cause the first culture shock. Most
expatriates do not expect the re-entry shock to come up since they are
‘returning home’, to a culture they were raised with or at least spent a lot of
their lifetime with it. Before expatriates come home, they are making mental
adjustments in their mind according to memories of their life before the
assignment. However, during the years the home country, the organization and
the expatriate’s social environment has probably changed a lot. As the
expatriate is in most cases not aware of these changes, he is returning with
incorrect expectations and realizing soon after that these are not met. Another
frequent disappointment is the fact that colleagues and friends at home are
normally not interested in the expatriate’s stories from his assignment,
because they were not experiencing it themselves. In addition, most expatriates
show changes in personality and perception as a result from living and working
abroad, which makes them return with changed routines and a broadened mind.
(Stroh, Black, Mendenhall, & Gregersen, 2005,
p.192-194; Kühlmann, 2004, p.26)

Other
factors that can cause repatriation problems for expatriates are the
discontinuation of allowances and benefits, the decrease in administrative
support by the company, the feeling of going backwards when the position by
return does not equal a career jump, the family’s re-entry shock as well as the
overall loss of the expat prestige among colleagues. (Wietasch, 2012)

A similar
phenomenon to the reverse culture shock is the ‘overview effect’ that is regularly
experienced by astronauts after their mission. Due to the fact that they had
seen the planet earth from a great distance without national borders, every
problem back on earth seems trivial and they suffer from heavy psychological
and sociological problems after return. The overview effect can also hit
expatriates who have been abroad for a very long time or in several countries.
If one has experienced living on the other side of the globe or in an
undeveloped country, problems at home might seem irrelevant and people appear
to be narrow-minded. (Moran, Harris, & Moran, 2007, p.280)

Black et al. talk about high-risk
repatriates as those who return home from a country with a high cultural
distance and suggest that organizations have to target them specifically. (Black, Gregersen, Mendenhall, & Stroh, 1999) In any case, IHRM
managers should be aware of the fact that returning expatriates suffer from a
more or less intense re-entry shock after their assignment and should take
measures to prevent the organization from consequences of failed repatriation (see 2.2.4).

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