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Much is written about the expat selection process but little about the difficult decisions involved in the repatriation of expats. Finding a suitable position for returning expats provides an organization with the opportunity to leverage the expat’s global experience and a way to obtain a ROI in people and organizations. However, too few seem to be willing to address this issue effectively.

The question at hand is: What should be done to ensure the expat experience is valued and used to the advantage of the organization and the expat? Long before the return of an expat, a plan for suitable job placement should be developed. The plan should include options of reorganizing, the promotion or transfer of personnel, terminations of marginal performers and even new hires. In those organizations that have a good number of expats overseas, this planning amounts to an “HR chess game” of moves and counter moves that result in the placement of an expat in a position of expanded responsibility and authority and job opportunities that make a difference. This global chess game should also be a continuous and ongoing process which is the very essence of managing talent. The absence of such planning may result in increasing the potential for both losing expats and forfeiting significant amounts of financial resources.

In order to put all of this in proper perspective, expat selection, return policies and global succession planning should go hand in hand and become an integral part of a corporate strategy that will generate a competitive advantage to the organization as well as increase the value of the expat experience for each individual. Expat repatriation should never be considered a separate and unique HR problem but a part of managing the overall talent of an organization. If this is the case, why do companies insist on spending huge amounts of money hiring talent from others instead of investing in the development of their own?

Factors that influence the planning process for repatriation are the size and scope of a company, the amount of financial resources needed to support expat programs and the hidden agenda of the willingness of senior executives to support these programs. C-suite executives must be committed to losing and/or gaining talent as a part of a corporate HR strategy. This is a business reality. Companies without a global succession plan run the risk of building a cadre of ‘expat gypsies’ or those who return and then take another expat position in order to remain with the company. This is unnecessary and a costly business practice to be avoided.

In the end, it appears that the best approach in dealing with repatriation is to have a written expat policy, or at minimum, corporate guidelines, supported by the CEO and other C-suite executives which are more holistic in scope and which include the expat program as a part of an integrated development plan of global proportions. Studies show that organizations with global succession plans are more profitable than those without. Therefore, the failure to utilize the talent of returning expats may be viewed by some corporate boards and stockholders as failed corporate strategic planning as well as a costly business decision.

Prepared by: Ronald C. Pilenzo, PhD
President & CEO
The Global HR Consultancy

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