We need a Finance Manager in Beijing, yesterday.

Posted on October 22, 2012 by


We’ve had a busy couple of weeks recently with guest blogs here at The UP Blog…and long may it continue! It’s great to be able to hear opinions and views from experts in different areas.

So without further ado, this week we are pleased to welcome Jane Innes, Managing Director of Investing in Nomads.

Jane’s post advises on the various issues which might arise when an international assignment isn’t planned correctly.

We need a Finance Manager in Beijing, yesterday.

Eight weeks later, just before Christmas, Mike, his wife Jill and their two teenage sons arrive in a serviced apartment in Beijing.

Eight months later, not even a quarter of the way through the three-year international assignment, Mike, a high flyer, who had been with the company for eight years, has left.  He has just taken up a new position, back in Aberdeen, with a competitor.

So what went wrong?  What are the costs to the company and to Mike and his family? Could this situation have been avoided?

So what went wrong?

  • No one anticipated Mike would have problems adapting to an international position.
  • Mike came under enormous personal pressure and stress as his family experienced trouble settling whilst at the same time he was trying to get up to speed with the requirements of his new job and was struggling to adapt to the new working environment.
  • The position hadn’t turned out to be what he had expected at all.  He found the Chinese way of doing business incomprehensible and he was also constantly away from home travelling between different Asian capitals including spending nearly two months in Shanghai following the takeover of a competitor.
  • Jill, who had worked as a lawyer in Aberdeen, found she was spending all her time trying to purchase mundane household items and she hated having to ask Mike for cash all the time.  From being a respected professional she felt she had become an incompetent nobody overnight.
  • There were difficulties adapting to the new school curriculum for the boys and Mike’s younger son couldn’t get into a school at all for the first four months.
  • The reward package had been “sold” to Mike as competitive.  This had been his feeling too when he first looked at it, but he soon discovered that the cost of living information he had been given was out of date and in the rush to pack up and leave he hadn’t done enough research into the financial implications of various property and other considerations back home.   Also when he found out what was included in some other expat’s packages, he felt he had been cheated by the company.

What are the costs to the company?

  • A highly rated employee has been lost to a competitor.
  • Project delays have resulted from Mike’s unscheduled departure.
  • Mike’s position in Beijing has to be filled at short notice.
  • Mike’s stress and difficulties during the 8 months he was in Beijing impacted not only his performance but also that of his colleagues.
  • The costs of relocating Mike and his family, recruiting a replacement and then training and inducting them into the organisation have all impacted the bottom line.

What are the costs to Mike and his family?

  • The experience has put a strain on the whole family; leaving them stressed, feeling let down and generally lacking in confidence. 
  • Mike’s new position is at a lower level and is less well paid than his previous job in Aberdeen.  He used to feel he was a key member of the management team, whose opinions counted.   He now feels peripheral and cannot see much scope for career development in his new role. 
  • Jill, still exhausted from the trials of the past few months, feels isolated and disconnected from old friends, who can’t relate to her situation.  She’s concerned about the boys and fears she won’t be able to get another job; the market is tight and she has yet to get an interview.
  • The boys are struggling to settle back into life in Aberdeen and their school work has suffered.  The younger son is repeating the school year having missed four months of schooling when they first arrived in Beijing.  This has separated him from old friends and left him resentful towards Mike, who he holds responsible.
  • Further months of disruption lie ahead.  The family rented out their home when they left for Beijing.  It is still occupied, so they are living in temporary accommodation and many of their possessions are in storage. 
  • Their unscheduled early return has led to a hefty tax bill caused by their reverting to UK resident tax status.  Other unexpected costs have included their repatriation, a car, temporary accommodation, storage and insurance costs.

Could this situation have been avoided?

  • Employee readiness training before assignment identified:The family had little time to research, plan or reflect before they accepted the position in Beijing.  Independent readiness training before an assignment or location had been identified would have helped manage expectations, identify personal, family and practical implications and given Mike and his family the opportunity to consider their suitability for an international assignment.
  • Employee support once assignment identified:  Independent and confidential support would have helped with specific issues such as the implications and options for Jill of not being able to continue with her legal career. It would also have helped them address the multitude of career, personal, educational, financial, host country, logistical and home country issues created by the assignment and the family’s circumstances.
  • International assignment strategy review:  Sudden unexpected moves like the one made by Mike and his family are at times unavoidable.  However, the greater the alignment between business strategy and resourcing strategy, the better assignments are planned, organised and structured.  Also, maintaining a pool of potential assignees that have been through assignment readiness training, allows organisations to react more effectively if an international position requires to be filled at short notice.  An independent review can assess whether an organisation’s international assignment strategy is effective, up-to-date and aligned with the needs of the business.
  • Core HR processes and procedures audit:  If the reward package had been structured to reflect the reasons for the assignment and the location, and had been relevant and flexible enough to match the needs and circumstances of the family, this could have helped maintain Mike’s commitment as he struggled to adapt to the new environment.   An independent audit, covering not just reward packages but also recruitment and selection, appraisal and career development and human resource policies, can ensure core HR processes and procedures appropriately address or have been adequately adapted for international assignments. 

 A little about Jane

Jane is the Managing Director of Investing in Nomads Ltd. She is a Business Studies graduate and a Chartered Accountant and previously spent 14 years in Professional Practice in a “Big Four” accountancy firm as well as 10 years living overseas. She has experienced, first-hand, the complex issues and often conflicting demands associated with staffing international assignments as a senior manager, as an employee, as one half of a dual career couple, as a trailing spouse and as a parent.

About Investing in Nomads Ltd

Investing in Nomads is a human resource consultancy practice based in Aberdeen, Scotland, helping businesses with the key international assignment challenges: moving the right people, safeguarding employee performance, ensuring employee commitment and retaining key employees.