According to the World Economic Forum (WEF) study to determine the skills needed to face the job market in 2020, technical skills are no longer as required as managerial and behavioral skills. The WEF releases 10 key soft skills for 2020:

Solving complex problems; Critical thinking; Creativity; People management; Coordination with others; Emotional intelligence; Judgment and decision-making; Service Orientation; Negotiation and Cognitive Flexibility

These key skills cross competences already developed by expats executives and managers.

Cultural adjustment, comfort zone and key soft skills 

To navigate in their permanent change environment, expatriates must strengthen and develop some qualities: openness to others, clarity and understanding of one’s own culture and values, ability to question its behaviors and decisions, listening and analyzing its new environment, which are fundamental for the development of tomorrow’s soft-skills.

Open-mindedness and hindsight

The prerequisite for any adjustment in a multicultural environment is the ongoing recognition that different modes of perception and behavior are all acceptable. Each of us apprehends life, situations, contexts in a different way, and different approaches, perceptions and interpretations of the same idea are normal.

Multicultural Collaboration and Building commitment

Key soft skill: intercultural communication

Organizations are more and more horizontal and evolve by project, remotely, internationally. Expatriates are permanently learning to adapt to new structures, cultures, contexts, to maintain the link with the headquarters, to foster cooperation. They develop interpersonal skills, listening, sharing, intercultural communication, distance from their own references and certainties, ability to adjust their natural management style according to situations, language skills …

Go beyond language and intercultural clichés

Intercultural trainings are essential, but can be counterproductive if poorly supported, and reinforce stereotypes! We collaborate with complex individuals, sometimes fed with multiple cultures, and the knowledge of these cultural clichés will quickly be insufficient … The cooperation goes through a deep understanding and a sharing of the values, motivations and objectives of each one.

Management of multicultural teams

It requires a lot of effort, but it is shown that if the monocultural teams are more efficient in the short term (we start right away without having to clarify the understanding of the objectives, operation modes, decision-making, etc.), the Multicultural teams are more effective over time! Still, we must resist the first stage (sometimes very long) of explanations, vision sharing, approaches and practices exchange, choice of a shared strategy …

Digital and remote collaboration tools

Expats are led to remote management of regional teams and learn to use collaborative tools (chat, teleconferences, shared tools). They compensate isolation and distance through the enhanced use of digital means to find relevant information, analyze, filter, but also generate their own content (not just to tell anecdotes on Facebook), and of course keep on training with online programs.

Agility and adaptability, uncertainty management

Fragmented careers, combining periods of expatriation from 2 to 5 years, from one continent to another and from one culture to another, allow expatriate managers to develop a cross-section of expertise, knowledge and these key soft skills. They know how to adapt, are familiar with a helicopter vision that allows them to quickly analyze very different situations. They learned how to get out of their comfort zone and navigate by sight (and stay on course in the turbulence!).

Expatriates are more likely to align and develop their skills on 3 levels: mental (knowledge and understanding of their environment), emotional (management of frustration and uncertainty, navigate outside their comfort zone), action (efficiency, decision-making and achievement of mission objectives).

Creativity and innovation

key soft skill: creativity and innovationExpatriates who successfully adapt (not those who freeze their positions on anger or denial) take a fresh look at both the situation in office and the context and organization in the country. Openness to new cultures offers new ways of seeing, ways of doing things, ways of being. They have to create new solutions and to use approches their are not familiar with.

Leadership, initiative and autonomy

At distance from headquarters, without a peer or on-site partner, expatriate managers are sent to post to analyze, adapt, create and accompany change and transformations and implement strategies. What they do on their own, taking on them, transforming in the best cases isolation in autonomy, they become intrapreneurs, comfortable in risk taking (which can become additive among expatriates: pay attention to the return which seems very bland!) and decision-making.

Networks and influence

Internationally, they are led to develop new networks, influence and political intelligence. The functions abroad are strongly put forward, representative of the organization, the internationals are brought to speak and to embody the strategic choices put in place.

Organizational capacity

Changing countries every 3 years requires great organizational capacity. If only at the personal level, it is the whole family, the house, the administrative that must be reviewed every time. Account opening, registrations, subscriptions, papers, declarations, moving, boxes … They learn to master tight retro-planning, become champions of personal and professional efficiency, time management and priorities.

Learn to learn

Expatriate managers are constantly renewing their skills, questioning their methods, taking a step back from their processes, transferring their skills from job to job, from one team or one organization to another…

Key soft skills and repatriation

Transferable key soft skill

Unfortunately, the end of mission is not always anticipated and when returning back, all these benefits are lost:

  • The company do not know what to do with the collaborator / He wonders what he is doing there
  • There is no suitable position, the organization has changed
  • No assessment or transferability of skills acquired in post
  • The feeling of going back
  • No use of the network in a different setting
  • Disconnecting from the corporate culture
  • Difficulties of repatriation (for the collaborator and his family)

25% of expatriates will leave their companies within 2 years after their return. And I do not speak about the 40% of expatriates for whom the experience abroad is a failure from the very first year (difficulties in adjustment of the manager or his family, misunderstanding of the expectations of the mission and the post, denial of cultural differences or crystallization on the impossibility of deploying locally the strategy imagined at headquarters, are so many pitfalls easy to fall in).

With these lost executives along the way, companies are deprived of essential skills for tomorrow. Remember to anticipate these key skills in your internal or external recruitment grids of your expats! Taking into account from the very beginning the skills to be strengthened abroad has multiple benefits for both the company and the employee:

  • Better retention of executives in the company
  • Better communication of culture and group strategy
  • Transferable adaptability skills at return
  • Access to larger positions and development of HP
  • Strategic international network useful for the collaborator and the organization

To go further, book your seat at our free online conference « How to improve your intercultural skills » on Tuesday 12 December – 12:00 CET

About the author

Isabelle Goyon – Global Coaching for Expats works with executives, managers, expats & partners, men & women all over the world, who want to successfully overcome the high stakes of challenging transitions by improving: Intercultural Management & Communication skills, Leadership development & Women LeadershipCooperation and cohesion in their teams, Career relaunch for partners.