Have you ever moved from comfortable, known surroundings to a new area? This is a very common experience for executives and other professionals (http://www.globalmobilitysurvey.com/) and it can be difficult and even traumatic.
Soft landings programs help to make your move easier and your adjustment more comfortable.
A soft landing program is any range of services that “catches” a new employee, family or business and helps him/her/them integrate into a new situation. It may be preparatory or a single event, or on-going, or “after the fact” – a program that recognizes the many stresses on foreign-born employees (even after years of being in a new country). It can provide almost any types of support.
Basic Business Soft Landings: These programs are usually for companies that are relocating, opening new branches or are entrepreneurial start-ups or incubators. The programs may offer relocation funding, office space, internet connections, mentoring, networking opportunities, research resources, intellectual property assistance, or help with “red tape” issues like visas, import/export laws, permits and licenses. Sites like http://www.nbia.org/member_services/soft_landings/ list many such programs.
These programs help bring new jobs to regions, build a region’s tax base, create innovation, build exports and keep talented and educated people in an area.
Personal Relocation: These programs are for people who come to a new region. Public or private organizations provide support and information regarding jobs, education, medical services, financial obstacles, accommodation/property, transport, and cultural, social and community integration etc. Example: http://www.softlandings.com/ or http://www.korea4expats.com/. (We enjoyed a long brunch in Seoul with the creator of this site.)
Wider Approaches: As regions and organizations see the value of differentness, they are investing in making changes easier for new residents or new members of staff. Their reasons are simple: engage, retain, and let these people add value. People are potential economic engines, so let them get going as soon as possible.
What makes a good soft landing program?
1. Catch people at the beginning. When people are new to a situation, they want it to work, so competent support, information and backup go a long way to selling them on their decision to choose your company or your region. It’s much harder to make them happy later, after some bad experiences, than to catch them at the start, or before.
2. Prepare those around newbies. New people want to adapt. However, people who live in an area (or work in a company) often have little knowledge of other regions and cultures. A new person shouldn’t have to do all the adaptation. Others should also understand their culture, and how if differs from world cultures, and have skills in communicating across cultural boundaries.
This also means thinking about families. If a spouse and kids are not happy, how long will the new talent provide ROI on the reassignment?
3. Celebrate the new perspectives people bring. If you’ve always lived in a country, you assume many things about “the way things are around here.” Your new employee is valuable simply because s/he will see things differently, and ask new questions, which is why differentness is so highly correlated with innovation.
4. Create a culture that understands that differentness is different – not wrong. Be patient with new people – they will get things wrong and be mystified by medical, educational, and other systems that you take for granted. You would do the same in a different environment.
5.Remember that the stresses of coming to a new culture do not end after six weeks or six months. One may see the shadow of a merger over a company five or more years after an acquisition (if no help is given). One sees immigrants struggling (from time to time) years after coming to a different culture. Good companies work continuously to support all talent, and to educate people about cultural differentness.
6. Try to remember that good people have other options. David Heenen, author of Flight Capital: The Alarming Exodus of America’s Best and Brightest assessed US progress on recruiting and retaining immigrants (and how it’s hurting American companies) and said:
“On a 10-point scale, in terms of national incentives, we’re at about a one. The U.S. policy is basically, let the market decide. If people want to come here, whoopee, good for them. In fact, a lot of our immigration attitudes and policies keep people out.”
The “immigrant advantage” is the history of the USA. When new immigrants enter, there is a well-documented pattern of their joining existing citizens and creating explosions of wealth, innovation, jobs and competitive advantage. (The odds of a company being successful sky-rocket if it has at least one immigrant founder.)
Other nations know that their best and brightest can succeed anywhere. Governments and corporations in places like Taiwan, Ireland, Singapore etc offer incentives for top talent to return to their motherland, where a soft landing awaits. The USA is still competing with many other economies for talent.
Big corporations keep people in a simple way. If you’d like to work in your home country, and you prefer your own education system for your kids (a major issue for many immigrants), then that’s fine. They have large offices there and will transfer you rather than lose you.
Reference on feelings when in a new environment: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22764986?goback=.gde_972477_member_247365325
3. Article on understanding America – suited to those with an anthropological background: http://www.psmag.com/magazines/magazine-feature-story-magazines/joe-henrich-weird-ultimatum-game-shaking-up-psychology-economics-53135/