Mentorship for Expats

By Susan London

Many years ago I started reading Thomas L. Friedman’s book “The World is Flat” highlighting the importance of “free-trade” and “globalization”. Unfortunately I never finished the book. Yet writing this, I am drawn back to some of the terminology referred to in his book to ensure the successful expansion of business – completing the book is left for another day!

We live in a world where mergers & acquisitions and expanding business outside one’s borders has become a norm, although Covid-19 may slow this down. In this regard, the question “is how ready is HR to  lead business in identifying the right people with the right skills and attitudes to ensure that the company maintains its competitive edge in its own and the foreign countries it expanded to”. 

As a strategic partner HR must facilitate achievement of the vision and strategy of the company with programmes for unskilled as well as experienced employees to be ready to become expats in foreign countries. An excellent tool for HR to achieve this is mentorship.

Where to start with your Expat Mentorship Programme:

  • Ensure that a mentorship framework, policy and procedure is in place for a formal programme;
  • Highlight the purpose and benefits of mentorship programmes;
  • Create awareness of the programme, which is great for transparency and for employee morale;
  • Identify the right mixture of A and B players who can fill roles as mentors;
  • Train expats on what is expected from them to help the business to grow and most importantly to ensure that they transfer skills to local talent for a period of 6 to 24 months as mentors and create a handover period;
  • Train expats on cultural diversity and the culture(s) of the hosting country, as well as on how to lead crucial conversations with their mentees;
  • Create learning paths and identify clear objectives of the roles that expats will fulfil. The learning paths will be the blueprint for the mentorship process and will be used to assess the progress of local talent in improving their proficiency;
  • Conduct mentee training for employees who will eventually take over from the expats;
  • Ensure continuous follow-up to ensure that key players meet the objectives of the programme – expat/mentee/manager and programme co-ordinator/manager;
  • Monitor, report and ensure governance of the mentorship programme;
  • Calculate the planned ROI; and
  • Remember to celebrate the success of the programme!

Mentoring is not just an excellent tool for expat management but could also be used to enhance the employee experience and performance of new recruits, graduates, employees identified as successors for key positions, employees who want to explore their development opportunities and poor performers. A good mentorship programme will ensure that expat and local employees stay engaged, transfer/gain skills and help to attract and retain the skills you want in your business.

Shout out to my formal and informal mentors:

Andries Delport – When you don’t know, be honest don’t cook up an answer and when you made a mistake own up to it to correct it

Lydia Cillie-Schmidt – Allowed me to discover my passion and potential without micro managing me – open door policy; pushed me to interact with senior management when I was a junior

Ursula Levitt – Involved me in her outputs as a manager; especially Performance Management

Sandra Schlebusch and Anne Buckett together with Lydia Cillie-Schmidt – for giving me opportunities to refine my skills as a talent consultant

My late dad – always encouraging us to be the best we can

My brother Mike – who is my biggest critic and who taught me to actively listen to others – even family

Susan London
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