Given Cartus’ vast client base, my conversations and engagements with clients span a broad spectrum in terms of business and company needs and requirements. Even so, since the latter half of 2010, I’ve noticed one area that stands out in terms of requests for information and program/policy guidance: emerging markets. This isn’t surprising, given that Cartus’ recent data shows that of the top 20 emerging markets, only four have figured prominently among traditional destinations for global assignments. Over the past few months, I’ve worked with companies that are dealing with a host of issues, ranging from evaluating which new locations would be the best fit for their organizations to assessing and evaluating “red flags” before they even consider assignment packages; and then, of course, how to best prepare their employees and families to live in an undeveloped location.
Even those multinationals that have a well-oiled, smoothly running program need to do their due diligence when sending staff into a new location that lacks the appropriate infrastructure to host expatriates and families. Even when the benefits that make up their global policy are still appropriate, the timing and application of those benefits may need a closer look. And speaking of benefits, companies that don’t feel candidate assessment and/or cross-cultural programs are necessary for their traditional population should definitely think again when they are considering emerging market locations! It’s one thing to send a family into a foreign location that has a welcoming infrastructure for expatriates; it’s quite another to ask employees to take their children to live somewhere where they’re required to live in a secure compound, where they are not allowed to drive because of poor road maintenance and security issues, and where a failure to understand the cultural norms regarding how to dress and communicate in public can lead to an even more difficult time adjusting. If assignees do not have the opportunity to learn about the features of the host location and understand in advance how these might impact them, then the company is risking a failed assignment.
Furthermore, some of our clients are currently looking at cities that have infrastructure but are also experiencing shortages, such as locations with top-quality international schools but no available spots in them. This can make hosting a family unit extremely difficult, and employees who bring their families into the country may be better off with a split-family assignment, on which the assignee lives in one location and the family in another. That means that the company will need to look at incorporating other components into their program, such as frequent travel for the employee that allows family visits throughout the month.
Most important for companies to realize is that looking at emerging market locations—regardless of the specific market—does not start with the assignment program. It starts way before that, in what we identify as the pre-location decision phase. In this initial phase, companies can lay the proper foundation by addressing the overall question of whether a specific location is the right place to establish business operations or projects. This is the time to research macro issues, such as labor market maturity, housing and education conditions and availability, taxation, and cultural fit. Post-location business considerations come into play once the company has decided on a destination location, and the action has moved to setting up operations and moving employees. These considerations can involve immigration requirements, compensation, and on-the-ground support for assignees and families. Last, the services needed to support employees effectively must be identified, sourced, and implemented. The right policy and program structure is then established to ensure that talent management and company goals are achieved. An effective blueprint for this approach can be found in Cartus’ recent piece, Unlocking Emerging Markets.
By putting the correct pieces into place, companies widening their global footprints into these new emerging locations can get it right—for their businesses and their assignees.