MANN+HUMMEL is a global company with 16,000 employees across more than 60 locations. The success of this global business model relies heavily on a dedicated group of expats, comprising German employees living abroad, colleagues from around the world working in Germany and a growing number of employees moving between the company’s foreign subsidiaries. There are currently around 100 MANN+HUMMEL expats spread across the globe, building bridges between the world’s markets. And that figure does not include all the staff who regularly travel long distances for work or are temporarily posted abroad for projects lasting up to several months.
The aims and models might be changing but despite all the advances in telephone and video conferencing, the number of foreign postings is on the rise. Why? Because these postings are a vital way to exchange knowledge and expertise. When it comes to arranging those foreign postings, MANN+HUMMEL works together with ICUnet.AG.
As head of the Stuttgart office, I myself have been closely involved in shaping developments in this area. In my experience, the main change in recent years has been the increasingly professional approach to foreign postings. Ten years ago, expats had to make most of the organisational arrangements themselves, visiting countless different authorities and spending hours standing in line (just to register their car for instance), rather than getting on with the job itself. Today, they receive a well-designed and comprehensive package, devised according to a well-structured policy that is applicable worldwide. And hats off to MANN+HUMMEL! As an expert in this area, it’s clear to me that many other global players based in Baden-Württemberg are nowhere near as forward thinking.
It is certainly true to say that the organisational side of foreign postings now generally runs smoothly, even if there are sometimes delays caused by national holidays in the destination country, spontaneous changes to immigration law and confusing housing markets. Naturally, expats need to be unruffled and flexible in the face of last-minute changes.
I would, however, like to highlight three areas which, in my experience, often cause more difficulties than the basic organisational arrangements, namely developing an individual business strategy, maintaining family life and managing the return home. To this end, I have put together three hints for extended postings abroad.
Hint 1: A checklist doesn’t cover everything
When preparing to relocate to another country, many people still rely on a checklist of ‘dos and don’ts’. If you know the etiquette for greeting people and introducing yourself and are familiar with their customs and traditions, then you can’t fail to succeed, right? Unfortunately, the reality is less straightforward. What you really need as an expat are strategies and instruments to achieve your business goals. Your approach will differ significantly depending on the local corporate culture and the market situation. Ask yourself: What are the customers’ decision making processes? How does the local aftermarket operate? How does my role fit into the company strategy? What styles of management are most effective? How can I best communicate my expectations and convince colleagues to adopt ideas from head office? How much ‘local flavour’ am I prepared to accept in the corporate culture? What new solutions can I myself learn from my new team? How do I prepare my successor to take over from me in good time?
Greeting conventions and table etiquette used to take centre stage but, as you can see, these questions are now far more important.
During preparation sessions for foreign postings, we work together with MANN+HUMMEL to lay the foundations for developing individual strategies. The importance of this knowledge really must not be underestimated. An employee who is professionally very successful in Germany will not necessarily be able to replicate this success abroad. Generally speaking, those who are rated 80% at home, but who have the right instincts, are more successful than those who are rated 120% at home but are unable to get their new team on side for various cultural and interpersonal reasons.
That said, it is possible to develop the right instincts and hone this skill provided you are keen to learn, willing to try and genuinely interested.
Hint 2: A detailed planning helps both you and your family
Many expats have families and naturally they want to relocate together with them. An amazing number of expats are working dads aged between 30 and 40, as this is often the age when people’s careers really take off. If families are willing to make the move, then they have to find a way of living abroad that works for all of them. This is possible and many families have a very positive experience; the majority of children love attending international schools and many expats fight to extend their contracts abroad when renewal time comes around. However, in order to avoid any frustration and unexpected surprises, it is vital to manage expectations in advance: How and when will we spend time together as a family? How can my partner make the best use of their time in the new country? What opportunities will our new home offer (and what opportunities will we miss out on)? To make sure these questions are addressed, MANN+HUMMEL rightly ensures that partners and (where applicable) children are involved in the preparations for any foreign posting.
Hint 3: Don’t forget to prepare for your return
Managing expats’ return home starts from the very first day of their posting and is the shared responsibility of both company and employee. It is essential to maintain contact with head office, and MANN+HUMMEL has systems in place, such as mentors, to make this as easy as possible. The company also runs reintegration processes. Nonetheless, the extent to which both the company and the expat themselves will change during their time away should not be underestimated. Foreign postings are not guaranteed ‘career springboards’; the process of returning to your old workplace and building your career afterwards varies from person to person.
It should also not be forgotten that all MANN+HUMMEL employees, including those based in Ludwigsburg, Marklkofen and at other sites in Germany, are international employees. With every video conference with Brazil and every email sent to China, they are interacting directly with people around the world.
Every day offers new opportunities to take advantage of the global nature of MANN+HUMMEL’s operations: Ask your colleagues who have spent extended periods abroad what useful tips they can pass on. Their experience is an invaluable resource and they are sitting at a desk just metres from you right now. Alternatively, take the time to get into conversation with your new international colleagues – be patient with the language barrier and ask lots of inquisitive questions.
Or simply read a few more blog entries to discover more stories from around the world.