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The unknown executive

The setting: Any meeting room in corporate Australia

The situation: Executive committee meeting

The room dynamics: Hearty conversations interspersed with nervous politeness

The issue: Who is that executive at the table no-one knows?

Sounds familiar doesn’t it. Welcome to the world of the repatriated expat.

Unfortunately many senior executives face challenges on return to the corporate office after years abroad leading the operations of an off-shore subsidiary or working in the overseas office of a global entity. It’s probably not surprising that nearly 90% of returning expats leave their current employer within 12 months of returning to Australia. The result is a major loss of experience, expertise, corporate knowledge and business networks that may have taken years to cultivate… not to mention the negative internal employee relations.

How can that be when the executive is offered and relishes the time to build his or her career and gain invaluable international experience? They run with the opportunity to learn new skills and develop the expertise critical to the ongoing growth of the organisation. And their family experiences a life changing experience in a different culture, education system, social environment, and diverse expat and local community.

Wind the clock forward as the executive rings up corporate head office after a few years of stellar performance in the international operations. “My time is up and I would like to discuss coming back to Australia…” pregnant pause “…we will come back to you.”

In the meantime, the executive office has been restructured, key executives have moved on or into new roles with different responsibilities, the business model has changed dramatically as new strategies start to re-shape the business, and the competitive environment has become intense. All of a sudden all the experience and expertise captured overseas no longer appears to be as valuable as previously expected. So what to do?

When that international opportunity opens up, executives can do well to consider three possible options, and plan accordingly.

    1. Three years or less: the most promising, although least likely. The executive will complete an international role, have constant contact with the corporate office and key executive sponsors, and plan a return well in advance; in a very small number of cases, plan a return before they start the international assignment.


    1. Usually longer than three years, and most likely. The executive armed with new skills, experience and expertise plans to return to Australia with a new employer and that process starts well in advance of a return (potentially 12 months in advance).


  1. The long-term assignment where the probability of a return to Australia becomes less likely after five years or more.  The executive’s thinking starts to divert to alternate employers in the country of choice or indeed other countries. Financial and family issues take on a whole new degree of planning and execution in order to fully capture the opportunity.

In conclusion, plan with the end outcome in mind and update on a regular basis and don’t be the unknown executive in the room.

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Posted in The world @work

Snakes and Ladders or Game of Thrones?

As significant as the Iron Age and the Industrial Revolution, the Technology Age has heralded complexities into business environments. Likewise the emergence of new management disciplines, constantly evolving business models and other destabilising challenges to the status quo could be forgiven for having fostered a generation of conservative leaders preoccupied with maintaining a semblance of business as usual, and a justifiable obsession with risk management and control.

Is the traditional leadership model and its hierarchical organisation chart still relevant? While plotting a course for the future, most organisations are preparing for a highly evolved leadership model. The next generation of leaders were exposed to technology when it was reborn as a great business enabler.

Traditional command and control leadership certainly puts on a good show, but to be effective in modern times leaders must continue to evolve. They must have exceptional people management skills, often gained from highly individualised coaching and mentoring. They favour outcomes-based communications and team-based performance, with decision-making informed by data analytics and business intelligence – structures that are embedded in contemporary business practice.

Our next leaders, however, like those greats of the past such as Julius Caesar or Abraham Lincoln, will be far more visible in the community, have a bigger profile inside and seek greater exposure outside the organisation. They will embrace communications technology considered ‘disruptive’ by their predecessors, such as cloud-based solutions, mobile technology and social media, as effective means for targeting both broad and specific audiences. A new set of competencies will accompany this need breed of business leaders and those of us involved in executive search are already working with leading organisations to define them.

Furthermore, our future leaders will rely less on external parties for strategy. For executives, understanding the constantly changing nature of the role and responsibilities as part of the leadership team, will be as equally important as encouraging the development of new talent and opportunities.

No matter how you roll the die, culture continues to dominate the leadership discussion. The greatest challenge (and opportunity) for management in the twenty-first century, cultural fit is in the DNA of the organisation. In our TRANSEARCH Executive Search practice we see the acquisition of talent becoming more and more competitive every day. Those with leadership talent need to engage with an organisation’s culture to give purpose to its activity. Dynamic future leaders will in turn, attract others like them to the organisation. A recognition system (not Knights and Dames) that encourages collaboration and knowledge transfer may just prevent them sliding back down the corporate ladder.

Does your organisation have the ‘right’ future leaders? Is your leadership team driving holistic company performance?

Featured image: Knight and Horse by Hartwig HKD, Creative Commons licence and copyright

Posted in The world @work