Inside Aperian Global: Darcy Roehling
Q: Darcy, you are entering your fifth year with Aperian Global. But you have more than 25 years of global business experience. Looking back, what led you to the cross-cultural field and Aperian Global?
There were two defining moments in my life that sparked my curiosity about other cultures. The first was when I was seven years old and a Japanese exchange student stayed with us for a summer; I was fascinated by everything she shared with us (foods, her kimono, the language, origami, etc.) and when I finally learned how to write a letter in cursive handwriting, she became my international pen pal— which was way cool for a young kid, since most of the kids I knew were writing to someone like their grandparents who lived in a nearby state. A few years later my father told me I could dig a hole to get to China, so I enlisted the neighborhood kids. We dug, and dug, and dug until my father finally told me that it was not going to happen and thanked us for digging the hole so he could plant a tree. Always the jokester! Ten years later, my father passed away and I used the money he willed for me to study in Beijing, China, in 1986. This experience, and my father’s influence, truly changed the course of my life and has led me on the journey of living in seven different countries, marrying a French man, and raising two Third Culture Kids.
Q: After spending the past 23 years in Asia Pacific and heading Aperian Global’s APAC operations for the last four years, you have taken on the role of overseeing our Global Mobility services worldwide. What trends do you see in the global mobility space, and are there regional differences in the needs and demands of our clients?
Through my experience as a veteran expat and now as the MD of our Global Mobility line of business, I see three trends that our clients face today:
- The desire to link talent development to global mobility
- Lump sum expatriate packages
- Increased client demand to provide various learning delivery methods for international assignees
Certainly the most discussed trend in global mobility today is the need to link employee talent development and international assignments. I have attended several global mobility conferences that address this trend. However, most have missed the mark due to one reason: The conference attendees are all from global mobility, with seldom any attendees from talent development. In the five years that I have worked at Aperian Global, I have only once attended a meeting with the heads of both talent development and mobility at the table together. In fact, on that one occasion, the two department heads even sat next to each other in the office! For this French-listed company, the deployment of global talent was planned and strategic; all international assignees were selected from a talent pipeline based on skill set, career development, and cultural fit, thus ensuring a successful assignment and retention of the employee when returning home.
What makes Aperian Global so unique is that we are a talent development and global mobility company. That is simply what we do.
One example of how we help companies bridge the gap between global mobility and talent development is the launch of our Global Readiness Development Assessment (GRDA). The GRDA utilizes validated instruments and a behavioral interview to assess the readiness of an employee being considered for an international assignment. In order to minimize the risk of a failed expatriation, and to support an organization in making informed choices, the tool helps to confirm and prepare candidates for assignments that require a global mindset profile.
There also continues to be the trend of providing international assignees with a “lump sum” of benefits that can they can select from. While this offers the assignee flexibility, it can also have an adverse effect when an important benefit such as cross-cultural training is not selected. In many cases, our clients call us after a misstep has happened, when the assignee/family are having difficulty adjusting, or when an important project deadline goes astray and the assignee’s credibility in the host country is questioned by local staff— and perhaps even HQ!— both of which can have adverse effects on the success of the assignment. Our Thriving in a New Culture session prepares the assignee well for how to work effectively in the receiving host country. You can say that we help “shorten the learning cycle” and guide busy executives to become effective as quickly as possible.
The third trend addresses clients’ and assignees’ demand for various learning delivery methods for international assignees. In my experience, I’ve found that individual and organizational needs greatly vary. Therefore we’ve created solutions that address long-term international assignees and their families, short-term assignees, rotators, and high-potential employees on developmental assignments. Thriving in a New Culture for long-term assignees, for example, can be delivered face-to-face over one or two days, a half day, or virtually. For short term assignees who may be on assignment for a project, we offer our Virtual Country Briefing. All of our global mobility solutions also include 24/7 access to GlobeSmart, our flagship web tool that offers a self-awareness component (the GlobeSmart Profile) as well as country-specific information for over 90 countries on over 50 business topics, including how to manage, build credibility, provide feedback, communicate and so forth. Our blended approach, various delivery methods, and the opportunity for continued learning are why many of the world’s leading organizations turn to us for their global mobility solutions.
Q: You recently relocated to France with your family. What was your experience of personally going through an international relocation? What were the main challenges you faced as a family?
Both of my children were born in Singapore, so this is the first move as a family we have had and I must say, it has not been easy. Even though my children are bilingual and fluent in French, the impact of moving from a big, multi-cultural, international city has been an adjustment for them… and me too. We live in a small town, close to the French-Swiss border, that is ideal for year-round outdoor sports. One challenge for the children is that the kids in their school have known each other their entire lives. Breaking into a group and finding the right friends has been slow. Of course, they miss their friends in Singapore who they have known for their entire lives. Both of my boys enjoy sports, so the first thing we did was to enroll them both in tennis and soccer. This has helped them meet kids and is slowly aiding them to form friendships.
As for me, after 23 years of living in Asia, I have an extensive network of friends and colleagues. However, here in France, I need to start all over again to expand this network locally. I have tapped into my university alumni, Linkedin contacts, and always follow-up with anyone who invites me to meet for a coffee. I know it is up to me to build friendships and to capitalize on all opportunities. The other challenge that I face is that I know the only way to become fully integrated is to speak French, and my French needs a great deal of work. Even though all of my clients and colleagues are English speakers, it sure is nice to be able to speak to my kids’ teachers, shopkeepers, and our neighbors.
Q: With your wealth of knowledge in the global mobility space as well as the personal experience of an international relocation, what best practices do you recommend all companies take onboard when moving their employees and families around the globe?
Considering that the expense of a two year assignment can run well over $1M, we have found that companies that consider global mobility strategically and try their best to marry talent development with strong and consistent support for the assignee and their families (from selection, preparation, and on-assignment support and development to repatriation support) develop happier, culturally sensitive, and globally minded employees. This also includes investing in the local nationals who are the receiving end of an assignee! The end result is retention of experienced global talent who, rather than seek a new opportunity within a year after repatriating (statistics show that 25% do look for a job in a new company), become excellent global leaders within the organization. So my best practice advice is to think of international assignees as an investment that you nurture, development, embrace and learn from. They are your global future and strategic success.
Q: Finally, if you don’t mind, could you share something we don’t know about you yet?
I feel so very lucky to have found a company that I am passionate about and I’m privileged to work with talented global colleagues. If I was not working at Aperian Global and had the luxury to fine tune my craft, I would like to be a photographer. I love looking through a lens and finding the unusual and unexpected… very much like the life I live as an expatriate.