The JGM BitBlog: Politically skilled – no benefits spilled! What do self-initiated expatriates need political skill for?

Journal of Global Mobility

Alexei Koveshnikov, Aalto University, Finland

Heidi Wechtler, University of Newcastle, Australia

Miriam Moeller, University of Queensland, Australia

Cecile Dejoux, Cnam, France

Imagine yourself deciding to change your life and relocate to a foreign country. As a self-initiated expatriate desperate to have a pleasant and fulfilling experience in the host country, you, most likely, would need to find employment. You might well have the skills and competences of interest to host country organizations. But, without support of the home organization – remember you decided to do it on your own and as such carry the term ‘self-initiated expatriate’ – you will have to cope with the novel organization and national environment by yourself. All you can count on will be your skills and your willingness to settle down and start feeling psychologically comfortable in the host country. What can help you as a self-initiated expatriate adjust better while abroad? What competences and skills you may need to possess and how precisely these skills may help you adjust?

Against the body of extant research on various skills and capabilities that might support and facilitate expatriates’ cross-cultural adjustment, we focus on the role of political skill, which captures expatriates’ ability to be socially effective both at work and outside of it - through social astuteness, interpersonal influence, networking abilities, and apparent sincerity. We see such ability to deal effectively with numerous stakeholders in the host country environment, whether they are host country nationals, co-workers, supervisors, or employers, as a critical skill that is likely to enable self-initiated expatriates to navigate the new work and non-work environment. Importantly, we posit that political skill is likely to help self-initiated expatriates to adjust by allowing them to secure the vital organizational endowments, often explicitly and implicitly specified in these expatriates’ psychological contracts, that the expatriates acutely need to adjust to their new context.

The paper analyses a sample of 209 self-initiated expatriates and yields several important results. First, it confirms the vital role of political skill for self-initiated expatriates by showing that political skill facilitates all three – general living, interactional and work-related – dimensions of their cross-cultural adjustment. This suggests that the self-initiated expatriates’ ability to persuade, influence and control others in their work and non-work environments is beneficial and functional, ultimately allowing them to proactively adjust better. Second, the analysis also attests the mediating role of the host employer’s psychological contract fulfillment in the relationship between expatriates’ political skill and cross-cultural adjustment. It means that political skill enables self-initiated expatriates to apply interpersonal influence and be socially effective in interactions and negotiations with employers ultimately ensuring that employers fulfil sufficiently and adequately their psychological contract obligations towards expatriates. Fulfilled psychological contracts then translate into better cross-cultural adjustment among self-initiated expatriates, most specifically in relation to general living and work-related adjustment.

Our analysis indicates that to ensure adequate contributions of self-initiated expatriates and benefit fully from their skills and knowledge, host organizations need to be proactive in investing into developing these expatriates’ political skill. An effective way to do so is mentoring. Experienced mentors can help expatriates to acquire important pieces of contextual information and are likely to support their experiential development needed to build up their political skill. Host organizations are also advised to use the political skill measure as a selection criterion to identify and recruit self-initiated expatriates with high potential. At the same time, given that politically skilled expatriates can use impression management tactics to influence their performance evaluations by the supervisor, host organizations should be cautious in how such evaluations are used for important organizational decisions, such as pay increases, promotions, responsibility allocation, involving the expatriates in question. In such situations, expatriates’ evaluations are better to be done collegially by several decision-makers rather than individually by the supervisor.

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

Koveshnikov, A., Wechtler, H., Moeller, M. and Dejoux, C. (2022), "Political skill and cross-cultural adjustment among self-initiated expatriates: the role of host employer's psychological contract fulfillment", Journal of Global Mobility, Vol. 10 No. 3, pp. 312-331.