Warning Signs of a Communication Problem Between HR and Expatriates Even the most well-intentioned communications can miss the mark, and the further we get from face-to-face, one-on-one communication, the more opportunities for “slippage” come into play. The tone of a written message is left to the interpretation of the reader and may be misconstrued. With spoken communications—such as those disseminated during a company-wide meeting—speakers may inadvertently change the gist of a message when delivering it through their own words or may forget to mention supporting points. Even unrelated information that the audience receives at the same time can affect how a message is received. So how can you know how successful your communication efforts have been? And how can you avoid problems with future communications, specifically with expatriates? Hitting the mark A variety of indicators can help you determine whether an attempt was on target. Some are more tangible and obvious than others, but all are important when judging the effectiveness of a communication effort. For example: Pay close attention to the tone of any responses received, not just the words used, as individuals react to e-mails, memos, and announcements. Consider the source of any feedback you receive. Did most of the positive or negative reactions come from within a specific department? Or a particular level of the organization? Note the responsive actions taken—or not taken. For example, was the goal of the communication to get the audience to fill out a form, attend a meeting, or be aware of a deadline? Did the communication actually result in the desired outcome? Or, was the intent of the communication solely to educate? Is the audience now aware of the matter? More importantly, does the audience understand the details of what you were trying to transmit? Empathy is important One of the most common downfalls is not approaching a subject matter empathetically. Position the communication—each individual message, as well as the overall statement—from the target audience’s perspective. Your communications may lack empathy or an understanding of your expatriate audience if: Your expatriates are always complaining that no one understands what they are going through. You constantly hear the same questions/complaints from expatriates. Expatriates don’t believe that all assignees are treated fairly or equitably within or across business lines. Expatriates are never satisfied that their pay is appropriate or do not believe their pay is based on real data. If, despite the fact that your organization spends significant resources on the international assignment program, you feel that it is not appreciated. Your expatriates feel like they are in a black hole once they are abroad. Each time compensation is updated, your phone rings off the hook or your e-mail in box fills up. Expatriates and families don’t know about, or take advantage of, programs for cross-cultural training, school selection, settling-in services, and security. You don’t feel that you have a reliable and efficient way to communicate regularly to expatriates, send notices, post announcements, and distribute time-sensitive messages. Specific warning signs Positioning your announcements from the audience’s perspective—rather than the communicator’s viewpoint—can greatly improve your communications. And having a solid communication strategy in place can avert problems, particularly when: You lack the time to handle all the questions you receive, brief new assignees, or coordinate with those repatriating, due to administrative cuts or general department overload. You have a lot of early repatriations, or most expatriates leave the company after their assignment is complete. Your company is planning to send a large number of employees on assignment over the next year or so. Your policy will soon undergo major changes (and you are worried about potential backlash). Many expatriate candidates turn down assignments due to family concerns, which you suspect may be (1) excuses to mask the true reason for refusal, (2) the result of policy gaps in family support, or (3) due to misunderstood or unknown offerings within the international assignment program. You or your staff are burdened with cleaning up after expatriates because they don’t follow procedures (for example, for relocation, security, or expenses). Many “special deals” are cut, costing the company money and increasing the administrative burden. Corporate or field administrators fail to correctly or consistently administer policy because they lack proper documentation or training. Management needs reassurance that the program and policies are administered appropriately. Monitoring the factors described here gives an opportunity to transform negative feedback into positive, effective future communication. A responsive, proactive, sensitive communication plan is a “win-win” for all parties involved with the expatriation process—the assignee, the family, program administrators, business line managers, and executives alike.