Cultural Agility – a key factor of International Assignment success

Picture this scenario…

You have identified a knowledge gap in the delivery of a project, and after revisiting your strategy, a candidate in a different region has presented themselves as the perfect fit to fill the space.

Now we know all too well the factors to consider when planning an international assignment, to ensure the effectiveness of the assignment, ROI and employee engagement must be maintained throughout the relocation and assignment process.

  • Global Mobility Policy?
  • Host or Home payroll scheme?
  • Relocation packages?
  • Dependents?

The list of moving parts to coordinate is endless!

In this quagmire of logistics, it is easy to get lost in the numbers, policies and the technicalities of international assignments, but what about the tools necessary to equip the assignee with, to ensure the successful outcome of their tenure? I don’t mean a crash course on the local lingo (though this can play a vital role in enhancing integration) – I am referring to Cultural Agility!

What is Cultural Agility and why is it important?

Cultural Agility is defined as ‘the skills necessary to work comfortably and effectively, in different countries and with people from different cultures’.

Although the employee relocating to a new location may be a member of the same global brand/organisation, the host region they are locating to may be very different in terms of culture. For the assignment to be successful, it is vital they hone their skills of cultural agility, to gain trust and build relationships effectively and efficiently.

Cross-cultural competencies:

These are some of the key attributes to either look for or hone within an international assignee, denoting their ability to be culturally agile…

Comfortable with ambiguity

Culturally agile individuals will be relaxed in scenarios that are unfamiliar to them. They will be enthusiastic and extroverted in conversation, and not afraid to attempt fractured local dialects or talk with people whose English is their second, or maybe even third language.


Typically, culturally agile people are novelty seekers that enjoy travelling for leisure and trying new things (such as new activities or cuisines), enabling them to learn about new cultures.


The culturally agile person will bounce back quickly when things go wrong, particularly in unfamiliar surroundings.

Develop relationships

When connecting with people from other cultures, culturally agile people are sensitive and actively look for opportunities to learn more about new cultures. They usually form effective relationships quickly and easily.


No matter how brilliant they are in their field, an assignee will never be effective unless they understand the culture and context that they are operating in. A culturally agile person will be asking themselves the question “how am I going to be effective here?”

Ability to have perspective

Understanding that different cultural norms have value and meaning to those who practice them. Culturally agile people will be naturally very respectful of diverse viewpoints. Where required and appropriate, they will ask respectful questions about people’s perspectives and cultures.

Is the employee relocating to Australia, or one of the Nordic countries, where an Egalitarian culture is present and leaders are open to being questioned publicly, with no real emphasis on status and benefits? Or is the employee relocating to Africa or Asia, where there is more emphasis on hierarchy and delegation with a clearly defined structure and a more delegatory employment relationship?

Either way, it goes without saying that companies must conform to the legislative elements of the country their employee is relocating to and these complicated elements can be overcome, but the need for cross-cultural competencies cannot be overemphasised.

Written by Royden Walters – Recruitment Consultant at Alchemy Global Talent Solutions.