Sending highly skilled professionals overseas has become commonplace. The question of how to adequately prepare these professionals for their new roles abroad has been debated intensely. Shen & Lang argue that these discussions are focusing too much on training approaches. According to their study, short but “real” opportunities for getting accustomed to the target culture – through preliminary short-term assignments and orientation trips – work better than preparatory training programs.
Shen & Lang clearly show that intercultural preparation increases the possibility of success of a long-term assignment abroad. However, their finding moves expatriate preparation away from training towards organization development. Transnational organizations might have to increasingly think about restructuring work design components, especially for key executive personnel. Routine exposure to international experiences has to be built into career development and the leadership pipeline.
Future researchers might want to tackle the weakness of the study. Shen & Lang derive their findings from interviews with senior level managers; it is their perceptions on the better ways of preparing future long-term expatriates that count. This perception might not reflect the truth. Future researchers might want to rigorously measure whether short-term assignments indeed increase the intercultural competence of future expates, more so than training does.
Jie Shen, & Brant Lang (2009). Cross-cultural training and its impact on expatriate performance in Australian MNEs. Human Resource Development International, 12(4), 371-386.