The JGM BitBlog: Intercultural mentoring

Journal of Global Mobility

Marian van Bakel, Syddansk Universitet, Denmark

Vlad Vaiman, California Lutheran University, USA

Charles M. Vance, Loyola Marymount University, USA

Arno Haslberger, Middlesex University London, Austria

Mentoring is a key HR practice utilized to increase knowledge transfer. Nowadays many more mentoring relationships take place in an international context, between individuals from different national cultures, especially in multinational organisations. It is important to pay attention to the role of culture in mentoring to make sure intercultural mentoring relationships are successful. Furthermore, many MNCs only focus their mentoring efforts on their traditional assigned expats who are sent from headquarters to a local subsidiary. Broadening this view to include host country nationals (HCNs), can guide the individual professional development of both expats and HCNs, and, in doing so, contribute to MNC knowledge management and organization development.

Intercultural mentoring

Many more mentoring relationships these days take place in an international context, often between individuals from different national cultures. This intercultural mentoring can bring along several extra challenges, such as cultural differences and language barriers. It is important to pay attention to the role of culture, because it can influence expectations of the mentoring but also cause communication issues. Training can help reduce barriers to the development of the intercultural relationship and should focus on understanding cultural differences, increasing communication skills of both parties and encouraging the setting of ground rules to enable open communication, and providing opportunities for the mentor to solicit feedback from the mentee.

Including HCNs as a key global talent category

Organisations should be aware of the various global talent categories within their organization that could benefit from a mentoring relationship. In our paper, we broaden the current narrow focus on traditional company-assigned expatriates to include HCNs – both as mentor and as mentee. We outline various mentoring roles of HCNs, inspired by the host country national liaison model, which may promote local adjustment and improve knowledge transfer. For example, upon arrival the HCN mentor can guide the expat through the initial challenges of country and organizational acclimatization by introducing him/her to colleagues, the local organization, and cultural norms. HCNs themselves should also not be forgotten when setting up mentoring programs, which can improve retention and build the organization’s professional and leadership talent pool. To successfully compete in the face of growing global competition, MNCs must be open to all employee sources in the attraction, development, and deployment of human talent, including HCNs.

Facilitating mentoring

Organizations that acknowledge the important role that HCN employees in the foreign subsidiary can play in MNC knowledge management should make sure host country national liaison (HCNL) role components are taken on by the HCNs surrounding the expatriate. At the very least, organizations should ensure that their expatriates are aware of the important relationship roles that HCNs can play, so that they can invest time and energy into soliciting HCNL support and building up the right local network. An attractive way to encourage this approach is to appoint one person as the HCNL – similar to a buddy or local host – and prepare that person for this role. It is also possible that HCNL roles can be taken on by several people, similar to a developmental network.

To read the full article, please see the Journal of Global Mobility publication:

van Bakel, M., Vaiman, V., Vance, C.M. and Haslberger, A. (2022), "Broadening international mentoring: contexts and dynamics of expatriate and HCN intercultural mentoring", Journal of Global Mobility, Vol. 10 No. 1, pp. 14-35.