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Taking a job abroad

Taking a job abroad

A move abroad constitutes a challenging time. Cultural differences, especially, are manifested in a more complex way than foreseen. How can one decipher their impact more effectively to succeed in this job transition?


Acquiring international experience is important for managers who aspire to senior roles. Indeed, few companies today operate strictly in domestic markets. And even when their markets are inside their national borders, they frequently work with foreign partners. Companies hence increasingly seek managers who can adapt to different cultures. This isn’t easy. According to studies cited in Developing Global Leaders, 76 % of leaders surveyed state that their company needs to develop intercultural competencies, while only 7 % consider they are actually accomplishing this! And no less than 30 % of U.S. companies admit missing out on opportunities for lack of staff with international skills.

Working with other cultures is undeniably difficult. This is proven by frequent cases of individual failure or burnout. Finding one’s bearings in another environment is time-consuming and often stressful. What was acceptable, and even valued, in the culture of origin may be completely inappropriate in the host culture—and this often without being clearly explained. Only once the damage has been done is it possible for managers to take stock of the differences in the practices of the two cultures. And supervising teams faced with intercultural environments is undoubtedly even more hazardous. Indeed, senior executives tend to be more exposed to international situations than their subordinates are. So they may easily tend to underestimate the fact that most employees interact from day to day with people from their immediate entourage and thus remain firmly anchored in their national culture. When differences arise, these leaders don’t always perceive the underlying cultural adaptation issues and blame problems on professional shortcomings or a lack of engagement, for example.

How can one more effectively decipher the impact of culture on behavior, in order to prevent cultural differences from undermining professional performance? The point is not to become “global”— a distraction according to the experts—so much as to help managers understand their own cultural filters and those of their subordinates. This understanding makes it possible to openly recognize differences and find a modus vivendi acceptable to everyone.

In this synopsis:
- Become aware of your own “cultural programming”
- Five tips to manage the initial period of culture lag abroad
- Some exercises to better understand the local culture

Synopsis n.233b


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