Developing Mentoring Programs for International Assignees 04.7.2021 | Laura Levenson

mobility mentoring

Companies have long sought ways to secure a solid return on their workforce mobility investment, and the pandemic has certainly made it more challenging to motivate, develop and support global talent. The desire to achieve results without adding cost is omnipresent.

One topic that has come up in recent discussions I’ve had with clients is mentoring — specifically, what are the benefits of mentoring programs for employees embarking on an international assignment?

Traditionally, organizations have relied on technical, job-related skills as the main criteria for selecting candidates for overseas assignments. But to ensure a successful assignment and the highest ROI, assessing a person’s adaptability; flexibility; and ability to influence individuals, groups and organizations beyond their home country’s cultural perspective is equally — if not more — important. Especially since international assignments are increasingly valued as key components of employee development.

Research conducted by the likes of McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group as well as top cross cultural and leadership development firms points to attributes international assignees need to possess to perform successfully on assignment. It stands to reason that mentoring programs would set individuals up for success by improving communication, formalizing goals and employing metrics to measure results:

mobility mentoring

While the primary emphasis of the Global Mobility function is to ensure assignees get from home to host country in a compliant, safe and cost efficient manner, there’s typically not enough direction provided by HR managers to help assignees navigate cross-cultural differences. Moreover, it’s widely agreed that the common causes of assignment failure include an inability of the assignee to adapt to the host country culture, lack of social support and feelings of isolation. Together with logistical support during the move and ongoing assignment support, mentoring can enable an employee to thrive and succeed in their new role.

COVID has taught us to work smarter and to leverage technology in so many ways. Virtual mentoring enables mentors to serve as invaluable resources to employees worldwide, offering global perspectives on business issues and sharing company knowledge on a global scale. Also, because much of the communication in virtual mentoring is written, it can help strengthen an employee’s ability to write in a foreign language.

While formalizing a program makes sense from a consistency perspective, not everyone will want to participate; therefore, piloting assignment mentoring with a small group of enthusiastic volunteers is a good place to start.

Below are 5 of our clients’ best practices for developing a mentoring program for international assignees:

1. Define eligibility and ensure a mutual commitment. If you are starting with an elective pilot program, create and implement a self-guided questionnaire to establish eligibility and for pairing purposes, if mentees and mentors have not already paired up on their own.

2. Set pragmatic goals and actions. Include a timeline with target dates for completion.

3. Establish meeting cadence. Mentoring should last for the first year or possibly the length of an assignment.

4. Monitor and evaluate results. Many HRIS systems track the careers of those who have participated, and observe whether they have higher promotion or retention rates upon repatriation than those who did not?

5. Establish closure or next steps, post assignment. Reflect on the assignment, including what worked and what could have been done differently. Consider a long-term plan for ongoing mentoring for the next role or assignment.

Perhaps one of the most often-asked questions is “who makes an ideal mentor?” In my experience, it can be someone who is on assignment, someone who was on assignment (preferably in the same host country as the employee they’ll be working with) or someone back in the home office who can help the employee continuously focus some attention on their long term career aspirations. It depends on the individual and what they most need in terms of support.

Setting up a mentoring program is a lot of work for all involved: Managers, Global Mobility Leaders, Talent Management and, of course, the participants. But when executed correctly, the bottom-line results can make it worthwhile.

If you’d like assistance with your program or with developing self-guided mentoring questions, please feel free to contact me.

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Written by Laura Levenson


Laura Levenson is a Practice Leader in Weichert Workforce Mobility’s Advisory Services group. She has worked in management capacities for workforce mobility and Big Four firms, and is well-versed in bringing clarity to the most pressing global talent deployment challenges. She brings over 25 years of experience to her role and is a frequent speaker on the mobility conference circuit.

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