An article today in WSJ’s CFO Journal by Kimberly S. Johnson (Career Booster for CFOs: a Stint Abroad) discusses the opportunities that exist for finance executives in taking an overseas posting on their way to the CFO chair. The article is well written and researched, and has many positive points to consider for finance executives on the rise.
You may remember playing snakes and ladders as a youngster. The article makes it seem like an overseas posting is a ladder to get you to the top. I have seen instances that it has been such a ladder for up and coming finance executives.
But beware. What very well looks like a ladder could be a snake that gets you to slide down and out.
In my experience as executive search consultant, I have spoken with a number of disillusioned finance executives locked out of the most senior roles in an organization because they took an overseas role thousands of miles from head office.
From my perspective, one of two things happened. These finance executives either lost the opportunity to move up by being so far away from decision making, or they were pushed there because senior management did not consider the executive the “A” player they thought they were.
Opportunity or Kiss of Death? Ladder or Snake?
Here are some pointers.
Have the conversation – know what is expected of your time overseas. Listen and ask questions, especially for what comes after the posting. Only hearing vague promises of great things after your stint is not enough. You need to understand what is expected of you during your tour of duty, and what the plan is after. Also, have the conversation as to what knowledge, skills and experiences you should obtain during your expatriate experience, and how they are needed to “complete you” for your next tasks ahead. Oh, and get it in writing – who you speak with about the plan to leave and return may no longer be with the company when it is time to come back.
Stay close – In Guide to CFO Success, I discuss the importance of relationships to your success with your employer. Your Relationship Map will be a key tool to ensuring that you continue to manage the important relationships needed for your success overseas. Being in the corporate loop is difficult enough when everyone you need to speak with is down the hallway. Being an multiple times zones away makes staying close that much harder, and critically more important.
Impact your success – Use this as an opportunity for to impact your three critical career success factors (discussed in my recent book). Plan how this new posting will impact your Brand. Network inside and outside your company is more important than ever, and maintaining your visibility takes a lot planning and effort.
If you are offered an overseas move, don’t just jump at the offer. Make sure the move will land you on a ladder, not a snake.