Expat Executives: Three Brutal Truths (Opportunities!) for 2021

Cranberry’s Expat Executive Network provides extensive real life experience to help guide through the journey to becoming a successful expat exec.  These stories are constant reminders that we should be diligent, proactive and self-aware in moving into a new country with new responsibilities, a new team and enormous expectations.  Today we reached out to several of our members to discuss 2020…and how it will affect 2021 planning and execution.

2020 has offered us many surprises and setbacks. Plans are delayed, sometimes changed, sometimes just cancelled. Teams are struggling to work from remote locations using new technologies and more flexible time. Teams are also fraught with worries about their families, their careers, their kids’ progression through school and on and on.

“A decade of sought-after change happened in three short months.”

We reached out to our Expat Executive Network to get a sense of what was on leaders’ minds as they work through the sometimes-brutal truths leading into 2021. Specifically, we asked them to talk about the current hardships and the potential opportunities that will be heading their way.

Chaos continues. Be deliberate: These days, just getting through the day was a victory at times. A central thought on our executive panel’s mind was how to be as deliberate as possible and missing no hidden opportunities. One of our panelists stated that the change we see now, while unprecedented in its speed, is the change that many have sought for a long time. “The ability to nudge the evolutionary process a bit faster is rare. This crisis and its aftermath have given us new rules to play with, stretch and test.” Critical to the nature of the change is using the team to help plan the change…and being hyper-conscious to drive results. “It feels as if our teams are in constant deep dive, assessing what we can do better and how to fine-tune our processes with our new rules,” said one of our members from big 5 Europe. “We know that if we don’t deliberately dedicate time to this challenge as we go, we won’t capture every opportunity.”

Prepare for the “Age of Ambiguity”:  Our panel also indicated that there was no real choice but to discuss the coming “Age of Ambiguity.” Changes we feel now will continue. Changes we experience in 3, 6 and 9 months will be different and drive even deeper change. Teams and individuals are feeling pressure to understand what their futures will look like. “Careers, livelihoods and well being are at stake. How will we integrate our learnings into the new business norms? What mix of home/office will we experience? How will I be better because of this crisis?”  Teams are also asking questions about consistency and sustainability. How long can we go forward as we are? Are we iterating and changing enough to maximize our businesses and projects? What are we missing?

Our panel indicated that the heightened speed of change is now even more a part of how we operate. So, it’s important to maximize every opportunity for positive change.  “We are using this time to engage discovery work on business culture transformation…focusing on autonomy, new forms of collaboration, and training needed to thrive in what we believe will be a better endpoint for many employees.” 

Remember all those longterm “evolutionary” projects?  Go!  Some organizations were hesitant or slower in adopting new technologies and platforms for business in the past decade. The panel was almost unanimous in it’s feeling that the time to dive into digital transformation, emerging 5G+, “smart-er” phones, and connected technological advances is NOW.  “There can be no debate that 5G, new platforms and resulting capabilities is about to disrupt how and where we operate. These evolution/revolutions have become part of the ongoing ‘crisis-to-normal conversations’ we are having.”

“…evolution/revolutions have become part of the ongoing ‘crisis-to-normal conversations’ we are having.”

The panel suggested strongly that if your team is not turbocharging it’s efforts to transform to new platforms and technology now, the tempo of the pandemic-fueled momentum will cause you to lose valuable opportunities.

 “My teams are doing pretty well but the question is whether we are prepared and equipped for the transformation that this period will bring,” an Asia based leader sighed. “I believe we are, but uncertainty has our leadership checking and double checking. We have to stay focused but there is certainly upside to all of the tumult and chaos. We will come out of this better.”


Cranberry Leadership is a coaching, learning, and discovery organization for expat executives living and working abroad.  Through science + experience + you, we help expat execs achieve success, faster. 



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