Culture Shock Case Study

How Culture Shock Can Be Less Shocking for Executives Going Overseas

Many large global corporations have programs where they rotate their executives to positions overseas. These assignments are often essential to the career development of the executive, can be an exciting opportunity for both the executive and their family, and can advance the executive through the ranks of the company.

However, companies have found that overseas assignments can often fail within the first year, primarily due to culture shock. Different countries have different customs and languages, ways of doing business and business etiquette. These nuances take time to learn and understand and for people to adapt. And the culture shock didn’t just impact the executive; it extended to the families as well and created an impact on the entire family unit.

Training and Dialogue About What To Expect Can Ease the Transition

David Couper, a global executive himself, was born and raised in England and has had experience working in and with a variety of cultures globally. This experience, as well as his experience as a leadership trainer and executive coach, led to several Fortune 500 companies hiring David to work with their executives going overseas to set them up for success.

The result became the development of innovative, award-winning, and culturally sensitive leadership and training programs in Japan, England and Latin America for companies that include Nestle, Gap and Arco.

Change Will Impact the Whole Family, Not Just the Executive

In this two-day coaching program, David brought in experts in foreign culture and expatriates who had been through a similar experience. Executives' spouses and family members were also included to better prepare them for the changes ahead. They were coached on what to plan for in the day-to-day challenges of setting up a new home, dealing with schooling if they have children, and what to do in cases where the spouse can’t work because of visa restrictions. Each coaching and training session was tailored to the individual situations of each executive and their family.

As a result of delivering the program, executives were more prepared for the inevitable culture shock and able to stay the course. Having the spouse and family be a part of the program was essential, as often their own culture shock can leave them experiencing a loss of purpose and identity, particularly if they experience their own life changes not working.

Preparing for Change Can Pave the Way for Success

Preparing yourself for the changes to come can help set you on the path to success because your mind has an idea of what it might anticipate. Uncertain futures often cause stress, like, for example, moving to a new country; however, while exciting, the new adventures can also be frightening because the changes can come as a shock if the new culture and physical environment is different from our own. Preparation is the key to empowerment.