Developmental Assignments Teach Leadership, Keep Assignees Relevant

By Dennis Clemente

Not too long ago, multinationals run global offices like nobody else’s business. They hired people from every corner of the world, if they were not setting up shop at least. Then the new tech economy happened and introduced many new players, all eager to make their mark in and navigate a more complex global marketplace. Initially, the jobs were meant to fill vacancies or supplant the lack of skills and expertise in organizations.

International assignments have become more standardized. As more and more people are moving around, relocation and emigrating to different countries, especially in the United States, organizations have improved and offered more lucrative packages to potential employees, whether locally or from abroad.   

So beyond head counts and job expertise, international assignments have become development and leadership vehicles. Developmental assignees, as they are called, are molded to become leaders, better employees with new skillsets to keep them relevant.

More established companies have these developmental assignments to entice talents everywhere to make the leap, assuming their expectations are met. International assignees may just have higher expectations if the assigned location is considered a highly coveted location..

Developmental assignees tested for potential leadership positions can be rotated in various places—offices, departments, countries – in the hope that they can gain more professional skills and be primed for leadership or mentorship roles upon their return to their home base or offshore office. In some cases, they are given the choice to stay in their adopted country.

An assessment of their performances both in and outside of the corporate structure is mandatory in some companies in the United States. This means volunteering in a charity or non-profit organization, all in company time. Some compassion is needed in leadership. It helps human resources or global mobility professionals see how they their assignees work under pressure in different settings. More than ever, employers also need to assess if they are flexible with the challenges presented to them of if they have become set in their ways to the point that many of them shirk additional responsibilities.

Some have observed how international assignees can be intimidated by their new environment or by their new peers who may also, in turn, feel threatened by their mere presence. The important thing an assignee should never forget is to have his immediate supervisor clear about his responsibilities with the people he will be working with at the very beginning, so any untoward incident or conflict can be mitigated.

Establishing rapport with peers in an assigned location is crucial as many of them are required to give feedback to an assignee’s progress. Still, assessments are clearly better off undertaken by an immediate supervisor he reports to. In some companies, employees are fortunate to be reporting only to their supervisor before his move and even in his new assigned location.

If you are a global mobility specialist, you clearly know how important developmental plans are for international assignees being groomed for leadership positions, and that assignees need to comply with certain challenges and additional responsibilities before they head back home. It’s common to hear any of the following, simplified here but clearly more structured when the offer to move comes along and assignees have to do them.

  • Assign him to work with a colleague on how to improve a work process, but have them closely monitored
  • Have them coach a troubled employee
  • Let them manage an event — in our outside of the office setting
  • Observe how they lead and delegate work and give them feedback
  • Have them work on a tight deadline with a team
  • See how they can resolve conflict at the workplace
  • Give them the opportunity to train other staff
  • See how he performs across departments
  • If he volunteers for work, even better

The important thing about developmental jobs is that the learning process allows assignees to keep their job if he has added new skills. It’s about staying relevant, but it also has to be in line with his interests. He also had to have a supportive supervisor or manager to guide him. (DC)