In previous posts, we’ve talked about foreign employees and productivity. Of how moving countries can affect a person’s productivity.
However, besides us and the people we hire, we need to consider the effects that bringing someone from another country, onboard, can have in our current team.
There are common and effective techniques to ease everyone, even yourself, into the process.
I have been in every corner of this situation. I have been the boss, the newcomer, and an individual in a solid team as well. These experiences helped me detect some common errors. Since I didn’t want to repeat them, I went on and researched how to correct them when possible. With this in mind, I write this post, in hopes of providing you with some useful advice on how to deal with the adaptation process of each party when bringing a newcomer, from another country, on board.
This seems to be a common topic on this blog, and there’s a good reason behind it. As we’ve mentioned in other posts, expectation management can make or break a team. In this particular situation, the hiring party should express their expectations first to help the other relax. After that, the employee needs to be reminded that going abroad can be challenging, especially if it’s their first time. This might sound contradictory to want to hire someone. It could appear as a discouraging move, but it’s not.
When a person has firmly decided to move abroad, they tend to crave for more information about the place they are headed to. It’s as important for them to learn about the place, as it is to learn about you. The more they know, the better prepared they are.
This first expectation setting starts with you, alone, being honest with yourself. Ask yourself the following questions and answer as brutally honest as possible:
There is no need to share your answers verbatim with anyone, or for you to change your mind. The importance of being brutally honest is to be completely aware of your motivations so that you don’t get any surprises, even from yourself. The other positive side of this is that you will know what to look for and choose an ad-hoc profile.
Once you know what you’re looking for, it’s time to talk to the team.
Now, teams are not to be considered a logical entity, but an emotional one. Depending on the size of your company, you’ll need to talk to certain people or all of your team. If the team is big, then choose strategic members, if it’s small, take your time and call for a meeting with everyone.
You could go from an “I’m telling you this and that’s it” approach to an “I want to hear your thoughts and feelings” approach. You know your team, you know which style they would prefer.
If you won’t hear any thoughts, just let them know someone new is coming, and from another country because -insert some of the answers to the questions above-. If you will listen to thoughts, take note: Most people are uncomfortable with change. This will make most team members talk about their concerns rather than their expectations. Concerns respond to a particular situation and tend to go away when that situation disappears. Expectations tend to come from a more personal place. People tend to bring their expectations to all parts of their lives. Pay attention to the concerns but don’t let them steer the decision. Start worrying if you see people still having that concern after 3 or 4 months.
Once your expectations have been laid out and you’ve spoken with the team, it’s time to talk with the new employee. You can do this anytime during the interview process. Just keep in mind that it’ll be easier if you cover this during a more personal interview, rather than a technical one.
In order for the other person to trust you and be open, you need to do that first. During the interview, give this person a heads-up on what to expect from you, the team, the workplace, the city, and other elements you consider worth discussing. Then, share your expectations about him/her joining. Remember, these are your expectations, not the other person’s. It’s unfair to let the weight of our emotions fall onto another’s shoulders, especially in a professional setting.
Once you’ve shared your expectations, you’ve paved the way for the other person to share. You’ve done two important things:
This is an “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” situation, but you need to show yours first. That is expectations, trust, and honesty.
If a person has never lived abroad, they really won’t know what to expect. They’ll base their expectations on what they’ve heard, seen, or read, from external sources. If they have visited your city before, but never lived there, they might have touristy expectations of it, for example. Listen carefully, take note, notice the words they use and see which ones are constantly there, which ones they could’ve used but didn’t. That says a lot about a person.
Please, try not to contest or challenge any expectations at first. Rather listen and let the other person talk. Challenging their expectations can cause them to “withdraw” and start saying what they think you want to hear.
Now, if you decide to challenge them, don’t do it to prove a point, this is a job interview, not a training session. Challenge or clarify expectations only if you like the candidate. Also, don’t try to change their minds, just clarify reality in case they expect something impossible.
Setting expectations prepares people for what’s coming. It reduces stress by giving everyone involved the necessary concepts to face an unknown situation. In other words, once a mental image of a situation has been created, it becomes easier to deal with it. Think of it as a mental rehearsal. When people are faced with that particular situation that has been run in their heads, their surprise will be highly reduced. This allows them to be more natural.
First, look at this graph:
It reflects the common stages faced by someone going through culture shock.
In essence, people are a bundle of nerves before their departure. They are visited by excitement and anxiety simultaneously. Then, when they get there, depending on their experience (this is where you and your team kick in) they can get into the honeymoon phase. They’ll fall in love with everything new and everything going on around them. Yes, they can find some things overwhelming, but if they have a nice welcome and they can relax about the most basic things (house, banking, commuting, job description, job schedule, food, salary, and immigration), then they’ll proceed to enjoy and work productively.
Later, after some months, they might start noticing the bad and feeling homesick, it’ll pass. This phase then turns into the adaptation phase, which generally takes over after 6 months. When someone is in this phase, they feel at home. They know how everything works, they’re autonomous basically in everything, so they get comfortable and life takes a routinary course. Although we’ve been taught to run from the word routine, we know that routines help us to be better at life and work.
Another useful tool would be to help your new employee make a life-career alignment. The most common is known in some places as the “brown paper process”. The color matters in the context that, for the most part, it’s easier to acquire a tall roll of brown paper over any other color, imagine a papyrus.
Well, the nature of this process is to trace one’s goals backward. So, you start with the end and then go backward. Now, when I say “the end”, I mean the ultimate best scenario provided that the person reaches a set of goals. That set of goals is what we will map down in that paper as we unfold into success.
For example, let’s say that one scenario would be having a gorgeous wife, 3 successful children, a beautiful retriever, a massive home in Mexico and a flaming car. Before addressing this, you need to decide how deep you want to go. You can get “personal” or strictly professional. In this example, we’ll get “personal”, and I quote it because it actually isn’t so, but some people might perceive it that way.
Going back, you start with that scenario and then trace back “milestones” that could get that person to that place. For example, with the wife: What do I need to do to get this gorgeous wife? Then, you trace it. Being physically active for 2 years? Improving nutrition? Taking therapy over certain situations? Making more money? Learning to dance? Learn another language?
This is something that the other person should decide, you just trace it down. Let’s say that they choose: Getting fit, going to therapy, and learning how to dance.
Now, before tracing back, they need to decide on how many years they want to see that goal happen. Say they choose 7 years, consider 1-2 years of dating, so that gives us 5 years in total, that’s plenty of time. Once that’s settled, then you make a timeline, preferably by years, with enough space to fit the goals and start with the current year: What can you do starting tomorrow? Let them choose, make it easier for them to decide, but don’t decide for them. Let’s imagine they phrased the following: “I’ll join a gym near my place by next week, hire a personal trainer, and gradually improve my nutrition.”.
Then, you just have to align that with work. It can be something as cool as paying for their gym membership, or as nice as having someone research good gyms in the area and sharing the recommendations, or as simple as flexibility with schedule. You’d know what’s within your capacity.
In essence, it’s a reverse timeline/ linear process mapping.
You can learn more about it here: https://www.ifm.eng.cam.ac.uk/research/dmg/tools-and-techniques/process-mapping-brown-paper/
So, the person is there, you’ve taken the time and given attention to his/her needs, but you want to know if it’s working. The first indicator would be how comfortable you would feel asking this person for a one to one session. If you cringe at the sole thought, then that’s a red flag. Second, ask the person directly. During this one-to-one just drop the questions you feel you need to ask. Remember, being straightforward and honest from the beginning sets the mark for how the other person can behave around you.
Also, ask the other teammates. Go around, feel the vibe, ask them how they feel, what they think of the new guy’s performance.
Another great way is by looking at their performance after their learning curve has passed. If their performance is constant or growing, maybe things are OK. If, however, performance is dropping, that’s your red flag. Sometimes a high performance can point to stress or isolation, you will only know that if you talk to the person directly.
This person might speak your language but not understand it as you do. When speaking to a non-native speaker, try to be as clear as possible, puns or jokes might be difficult to understand.
Also, expectations matter. If you don’t know them you are allowing an important force to crawl in the dark and, maybe, appear when you least need and expect it. Bring them to the table, discuss and negotiate them, don’t toss them aside. Unknown expectations are like a thick fog on the road.
As well, most people can’t just block emotions. If you can’t handle people’s emotions, that’s fine, just don’t dismiss them, most people behave according to their feelings. You don’t need to sit down and allow them to pour their heart out, but while unknown expectations can be as thick fog on the road, not paying attention to how people feel would be much like driving in a different country without speaking the language and no navigation device.
Well, mainly because yours truly lacks skills to make it seem easier. However, it’s really not much work, nor is it difficult. If you read carefully, you could summarize this post like “Talk to everyone involved, even to yourself and pay attention. Then, help the newcomer have basic things already settled so time and energy are focalized to work and life rather than bureaucracy (Coderslink does an amazing job here). Let a pair of months pass and see what happens, then you can decide how to proceed”. This proves two things: It’s easier than it sounds, and two, I do have the skills.
If anything else fails, remember the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Hope this post was helpful.
Happy hiring! Good luck!