How Knowledge Transfer in Reverse Works for US Companies

Global mobility managers usually hire assignees for the long-term, a contract lasting at least a couple of years which will have the foreign national work like an employee of the organization in practically all aspects. But, according to Human Resources Online, one emerging trend in 2019 is the short-term hiring of assignees with the sole purpose of transferring their knowledge and skill to the talents in the home office.

This trend effectively reverses what passes for status quo in the global mobility sector. Usually, the assignee works closely with their American or the homegrown colleagues to achieve a common goal; in these cases, they are the ones who immerse themselves in their region or country of employment, learning new skills and possibly radically different work cultures in order to adapt and be productive. That kind of acculturation is required if they are to work together with the rest of the employees as a team.

However, the aforementioned trend changes the game entirely. This time, the assignee flies in for a brief spell, e.g. six months, and acts like a consultant to the organization’s employees. They teach them the skills and competencies needed to succeed in another part of the world. They show them the cultural nuances, idioms, and workplace etiquette that are more prevalent in Asia or the Middle East, for example. Then they can train their American counterparts how to apply their expertise in a startup in India, for example, or a multinational corporation that has just gotten a foothold in Russia.

This particular type of assignee is responsible for one thing:  the transfer of needed knowledge and skills — which are usually global or international in nature — to a U.S.-based company that is about to expand its wings into a new continent.

The transfer of knowledge, especially from one cultural context to another, is not simple and can take months, if not a year. It is also essential for the global mobility manager to gauge that the transfer is effective, and that the team in the main office has learned what they needed to learn from the assignee in the prescribed amount of time.

Here are a few factors that must be considered, if not invested in, to ensure that the process works.

First, determine the point of documentation and the method of transfer. Documentation or the recording, visual or text, of the resources that are being transferred is non-negotiable. Given that the assignee will only be onsite for a limited period of time, none of what they share must be lost. Aside from the usual online notes, a visual digital recording that would be transcribed later is vital.

Now as to the method of transfer, there are no hard and fast rules here. The American Management Association lays out a dozen of these tools and platforms, but ultimately the selection of which ones to use will depend on the personnel and assignee sharing in the experience of knowledge transfer.

The assignee, who is a senior-level executive, might feel more at home mentoring their charge in a classroom setting. However, their mentees, who are Gen-Zers, would be more eager to learn if the instruction was being passed down through a podcast, a blog, or a webinar. In a case like this, a compromise must be reached, one that would be amenable to all and which would boost productivity.

The cultural gaps must also be bridged, says The Real KM. Even though the assignee is onboard to pass on their knowledge of their native country to the American team, learning laced with cultural sensitivity goes both ways. The assignee themselves must be able to find common ground in the American culture and setting with which they can build understanding and collaboration.

Differences in approaches to religion, gender orientation, family structure, and organizational hierarchy must be regarded as lessons in diversity and not as potential points of contention.

The assignee cannot impart their knowledge from a top-down strategy or as a teacher lecturing younger and less experienced students. Instead, they must also become a force of collaboration who can motivate the group to become a more cohesive team, proud of their American heritage, and yet open to and accepting of the new culture they are learning.

That kind of respect for diversity has made wonders in places like Northern California; assignees and global mobility managers designing knowledge of transfer programs can follow suit.