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Senior leaders in multinational companies need special mentoring and training to avoid culture shock and be able to perform well in overseas postings, Ghassan Freiwat believes.

Commercial director of an air-conditioning business unit of Ingersoll Rand’s Middle East & Africa Region based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Ghassan conducted research into this issue for his MSc in Management from the University of Liverpool. He studied online and graduated at the official ceremony in Liverpool in July 2016.

“Multinational companies need senior leaders with a global mindset, particularly in highly diversified emerging markets in the Middle East and Africa,” said Ghassan. “For example, in Dubai you have over 100 different nationalities. If a leader is not capable of dealing with all these nationalities, then it becomes a big issue. Without sufficient cultural knowledge, this leader can cause a lot of damage during a 3-5 year posting abroad.”

Research findings

Ghassan conducted both quantitative and qualitative research for his masters dissertation, interviewing about 15 people face-to-face and another 25 through an online survey. He found that most multinational companies were not preparing senior managers well enough for overseas postings.

“The expat managers were making the same common mistake: they didn’t understand the local culture. This meant that they and their families could get culture shock, with the result that their families might not integrate well into the local community and would be less able to give the leaders the support they needed,” said Ghassan.

“Tagging people was another issue – basing decisions on first impressions. Without the cultural knowledge, that could be a very wrong impression, leading to difficulties in relationships – and to disengaged staff. The cost to a company can be enormous.”

4-step solution

Ghassan came up with a four-step solution involving professional coaching and mentoring of senior leaders, an induction course on culture and language, and an exchange of information between professionals who have been chosen to go abroad and managers who have already successfully completed an overseas posting. The four steps cover the period both before and after the leader is relocated abroad; an appointment should only be made official once the candidate has completed all four steps.

“This solution is based on real life examples. I think it can make a difference, providing companies with a significant return on investment” said Ghassan, who is now interested in expanding the research with a view to publishing his findings as a book.

Dissertation title: Change Culture in International Management: The need for leadership with a global mindset in emerging markets.

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