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The art of management in emerging markets - diving into the unknown, Part 2

by Alan Royal

Becoming a better manager is like looking at hidden pictures. At first you take what you see at surface value, then someone explains what is really going on. From that point, the more you look at, the quicker you spot the secret.

I have a process of management competence progression, which takes the expatriate (or executive operating in a complex culture) from a position of irrelevance, not being able to see hidden meanings, to fully engaged: from outsider to insider. Here are four of the competencies we'll be exploring in this series:

These competencies were developed based on my own experience, and extensive interviews with expatriates who were successful in their emerging market assignments.

Danger, Will Robinson

One thing we all hold true: managers either react to the strange and unfamiliar by reshaping their practice of management to become an evolving art form, or they hold to their learned management practice as a science, which is largely unsuccessful.

So, before we explore competencies, let's start with some home truths. You maybe ready for the unknown, but are your family? And you know some places have a very different attitude to sex, right?

It's not a vacation

Oxford Dictionaries defines an expatriate simply as "a person who lives outside their native country". For the purposes of this series, I'm expanding the definition to include "and practices management outside their native country in an emerging market context".

(I hold that complex corporate environments are similar in complexity to emerging markets. Going forward, I assume this correlation to be accurate, but will leave the validation of this assumption to be self-evident, and not refer to the correlation again until the end of this series).

While this series focuses on job performance, the expatriate experience very much includes your family and family life. It does not take a research study to imagine how dramatic a change one's family undergoes in moving to an emerging market, where often language and culture become barriers to every day existence.

Many expatriates experience assignment failure simply based upon their family finding it too much. Something as simple as going to a grocery store can be a daunting task, let alone children being put into international schools, where academic performance can be far higher than that of one's home country.

Lastly, consider your own moral fabric. While this topic is not likely to be found on any bookstore shelves, it can lead to total family melt down. If marital fidelity is found to be a challenge in one's home country, taking up an expatriate assignment in an emerging market is ill advised. As one expatriate notes: "there were drive-through gas station-type garages where, on your way home from work, you could pull your car into a garage, have sex, and 15 minutes later be on your way home to your wife."

Man or woman, if opportunity equals deviation from marital norms, an emerging market is the last place one wants to be.