International assignments

Published on February 29, 2024   13 min
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Hello again, I'm Helene Tenzer, Professor of International Management at LMU Munich School of Management. As part of our course on International Human Resource Management, in this segment, we will zoom in on international assignments.
What exactly are international assignments? Well, imagine a scenario where a company sends an employee from their homebase, let's say France, to another country, perhaps China, for work-related tasks. This is an international assignment in action. While there are various types of international assignments, our discussion will center on expatriates. This term originates from the Latin phrase "ex patria", which means 'outside one's home country'. Expatriates are individuals who are relocated to a foreign branch of a multinational company for a set duration, commonly ranging from 2-5 years. For example, consider L'Oréal assigning a financial controlling expert from their French headquarters to join their Shanghai subsidiary for three years.
But why do companies send employees abroad? Firstly, companies have specialized roles in foreign subsidiaries that local talent can't fill. Imagine the Aluminum Company of America requiring a maintenance engineer with specific expertise for their plant in São Luis, Brazil. With no local talent meeting the precise criteria, they have to dispatch an expert from their Pittsburgh headquarters. Secondly, these assignments play a pivotal role in grooming managers for future roles. By immersing them in global settings, managers cultivate a deeper international perspective. This will be incredibly helpful once they take over leadership positions in foreign subsidiaries or at headquarters. Siemens, for instance, views itself not merely as a German entity, but a global powerhouse. By rotating that talent globally, they aim to craft a management cadre with a worldwide perspective. Lastly, international assignments foster organizational development. They help socialize both expatriates and local managers into the company's overarching culture. Moreover, these assignments build strong communication networks, creating invaluable bridges between subsidiaries and the headquarters. As you can see, international assignments aren't merely about filling a role, they are strategic moves with multiple layers of benefits.