Expatriates have been a great source of expertise, experience and capability for the region for many years.

They have tended to be brought in to drive a particular specialist area or business challenge for local and multi-national organisations.

I'm a strong advocate, though, that it shouldn't just be about their expertise and their ability to deliver a specific set of outcomes associated with a particular role or project; it's much wider than that as far as I'm concerned.

I see that expatriates have a valuable role in terms of sharing and upskilling those colleagues around them with their expertise and insights.

I believe that they should be leaving a legacy when their assignment comes to an end, not just leaving after having completed a series of tasks or change project.

Having said that, expatriates need help as well and I'm not sure that that support is always as forthcoming as it could be. There is a lot of adjustment that an expatriate has to deal with both on a personal and family level as well as learning how to be effective in a diverse, complex and demanding environment such as the Gulf.

Maximising input

I was talking to some local HR managers in the region recently and talked about the role of coaching and mentoring expatriates so that their organisation could maximise their input during their assignment.

The response I got was "Isn't that supposed to be their job to coach and mentor their colleagues?" It is of course, but I talked through some of the challenges they can face and how by supporting their expatriates it would make them more effective, more quickly.

After all, assignments of two or three years sound like a long time but "time flies", and before you know it, you are thinking about handing over their work to someone else. Some organisations offer support or coaching to expatriates as a matter of course but in a lot of cases a coach or confidante is only sought out because things aren't going well.

Here are some of my perspectives about how support could be provided. At times, some inter-cultural differences may be at the heart of what is perceived to be generic work challenges.

It's about raising awareness of culturally based reactions and considering other behaviours that can help the expat deal with those differences.

Not discussing these aspects is not helpful.

However it's important to ensure that any new responses or behaviours don't significantly change the identity of these individuals.

After all they were recruited for what they could bring to the organisation, their expertise, and capabilities. Common derailers revolve around personal aspects of the change, whether it is social integration outside work or making strong bonds within the working environment.

A coach could help the expatriate find support from other people who have experienced the same challenges so that practical help can be provided.

I've seen all too often how an expatriate and an organisation can forget an individual's strengths and capabilities and focus upon the "difficulties".

Working on how to utilise their strengths is likely to provide quick returns and help build credibility with colleagues. Expatriates are a part of any talent pool and if coached, they can be a powerful addition to any workforce.


The writer is Consulting Director of Kenexa EMEA and Director of Kenexa HR Institute.