The First 90 Days - Expat Style

Michael Watkins wrote the book on adapting to a new role, “The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter.  In the Amazon advertising page he points out, “While transitions offer a chance to start fresh and make needed changes in an organization, they also place leaders in a position of acute vulnerability. Missteps made during the crucial first three months in a new role can jeopardize or even derail your success.”

If this is true for people transitioning into leadership roles at home, how much more vulnerable are those transitioning into expat roles where not just the role or the organization is different but also the background culture, underlying systems and unwritten rules of relationships? 

In any leadership role the new leader needs to prepare him / herself.  As Watkins says, adopt a learning approach, devise the most appropriate strategy, aim for early wins, build critical relationships with the new boss, new team and the new cohort and keep his / her balance while achieving results.  

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What did you just say?

Have you ever had a moment when you’ve said something you regretted?  The moment the words were out of your mouth you wished you could take them back?

I think we run an increased risk of experiencing those moments when we are living and working with another culture. 

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New Country, New School?

At this time of year many in the northern hemisphere are looking at beginning a new school year.  For those who have relocated globally the challenges of a new school are often compounded by a new location, a new culture and possibly a new language. 

We all know the impact that family issues can have on a successful global transition and that’s why my co-author Rachel and I decided this webinar should be available, without cost, to anyone who is interested.  We are very excited to have our guest expert: Julia Simens. a widely respected author, international speaker and educator, who will be sharing both her personal and professional perspective on...

New Country, New School?

You’ve moved!  A new job, new home, new city, new country – but the greatest challenge is often found in school.  Changing schools can be tough for children in any location.  But add culture, language, different teaching styles, a new curriculum, unfamiliar rules, and no friends to the mix?  This could be tricky!

What can you do to help your child adapt well to their new school?  For more information and to register click here.


“This place gives you a better perspective on life”

Last week I was in Vanuatu.  It’s an island archipelago in the South Pacific with over 80 islands stretching over 12,000 square kilometers and a population around 224,500.  A beautiful place.  Sandy and coral beaches, blue waters teeming with fish of every colour, vivid flowers, fruit laden coconut trees and banana bushes; all were a feast for the eyes and some for the stomach!

So it didn’t come as a surprise when an expat I spoke with described one of the benefits of working in Vanuatu as “ better perspective on life.”  However he wasn’t referring to appreciating the beauty of nature but lessons learnt from the local people.

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When is the best time for cross-cultural training?

I was recently asked about the timing of cross-cultural training for expats, and hesitated to give my answer. You see, in my mind, this question suggests a potentially outdated perception of what cultural training is and its place in the global workplace. 

Historically, cross-cultural training was aimed at expats, the majority of whom were moving from their home nation to another country. It was typically provided to promote greater understanding of the cultural differences between their home and host culture.  It was mostly offered pre-departure, occasionally on arrival but rarely at the three-month stage, when research demonstrates that the greatest need existed. The focus of the training centered on contrasts between home and host cultures and changes the expat would need to make to adapt to the new culture.

With the advent of globalization, we see a more diverse cultural blend, both in the workplace and in the home. These include

  • cross border virtual work teams,
  • frequent business travelers servicing the needs of a global region,
  • second generation migrants who blend values and beliefs from their parents’ and their friends’ cultures,
  • long term expats who are global nomads with little concept of a ‘home’ culture,
  • internationally educated graduates seeking work in their country of education creating
  • multicultural teams of millennials working together and
  • children (third culture kids TCKs) who have never lived in their passport countries   

This globalized world is vastly different today from twenty years ago and the training solutions from that time are no longer as helpful.  Cultural training is no longer just about describing the differences between two cultures; instead cultural training is about increasing overall cultural intelligence. It’s about enabling people to be effective in situations of diversity whatever those situations might be.  It aims to nurture a global mindset that accepts, acknowledges and values diversity and is able to function effectively both as an individual in an unfamiliar environment, and as a contributing, supportive part of a multi-cultural community.

So when is cultural training needed in a globalized world? 

Regularly and often.

For the general globalized workforce, training to increase cultural intelligence can happen as part of a regular professional development and diversity program. Doing so provides the skills and abilities to work well in global teams and to relate to a diverse client base. It enables people to better understand their own influences and preferences, and make conscious decisions about how effective and appropriate they are in their current context - vital in an increasingly diverse working environment.

We recently delivered a series of programs for a government department, which addressed these aspects, allowing them to enhance their internal operational effectiveness and achieve their mission of delivering services to their diverse client base in an accessible and equitable manner.  

In addition targeted executive cultural coaching is vital for senior management in global companies to demonstrate globally relevant leadership, effectively manage their workforce, understand their client’s motivations and retain credibility in complex situations. 

We regularly coach senior managers, using a reflective process to review their beliefs, experiences, behaviors and leadership from a cultural perspective. This leads to increased confidence, clarity and cultural intelligence to make globally appropriate judgements and decisions, in a variety of corporate environments.

But, what about the expats moving globally?  Again, I would advocate for all training to be part of a comprehensive organizational cultural intelligence program. This means all knowledge and experiences can be used to benefit not just the expat's development, but the entire team, both local and global.

This allows the, still-valuable, pre-assignment briefing to integrate seamlessly with existing knowledge, and means that provision can be more flexible, better tailored to the needs of the assignee, family, role and location, and to be part of ongoing in-assignment support.

Over the past six months we have worked with many expats arriving and leaving Australia.  Many of them have had extensive international experience, and often have blended cultures within their homes. All of them valued reflecting on their cultural intelligence and how it informs past, present and future situations and empowers successful adaptation strategies.

On-going coaching and mentoring programs accompanied by virtual support (as we provide through can continue to provide those learning and reflecting opportunities throughout their assignments.

Their cultural intelligence is never lost, and will positively impact on future assignments, whether at ‘home’ or overseas. It has ongoing value not just for themselves and their family, but for their team and the wider organization. 

So when should cultural training happen? 

Any time and all the time!