Hina: international working and client needs
Restructuring Associate Director Hina Patel spent six weeks on secondment in the Seychelles in 2019. Having previously spent five and a half years on a secondment in a previous role, she felt prepared but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t without some issues to overcome.
When the opportunity for a secondment with a client in the Seychelles came up, I knew straight away that I wanted to take it up. I had previously been on secondment to Bahrain before I joined Grant Thornton which started as a six-week secondment but ended up lasting five and a half years, so I knew the value a secondment could bring to me personally and also the firm.
One of the most important things to me whilst away was to make sure that I stayed connected to my team back in the UK. Things can change so quickly in business, whether it’s keeping up with knowledge or knowing about changes in UK laws, being able to keep in touch with the team helped to make sure I wasn’t falling behind with technical knowledge or networking. You are learning and develop a lot whilst on a secondment, your team may be expecting the old you to return, so having those check-ins whilst you are away helps them to see how you are evolving and growing.
I think that, on returning, finding the time to discuss things you have learnt during your secondment can be very valuable for the team and adds extra value to the business for your time away.
Be prepared for change
While living abroad, you will learn more about yourself in six months than you would have learned about yourself in four years staying at home.
It's a steep learning curve because everything is new, and for most people, you are out of your comfort zone. Whether it’s navigating public transport, or having the confidence to make friends and ask for help, you need a certain strength to be by yourself and I don’t think that comes naturally to everyone but it’s certainly a skill you build up when on a secondment. One thing I would say to anyone going on a secondment would be to not rely too heavily on the expat communities in the country you are in as you will get so much more from your experience if you embrace all of the new opportunities, situations and people. I had that curiosity and it enriched my life so much. You make great friends, you experience different values, different ways of life and different points of view.
It wasn’t without it’s challenges
I think one of the biggest struggles I found on the secondment was the IT. Though the Seychelles is a beautiful part of the world to have the opportunity for a secondment, the IT infrastructure is not the same level as the UK. The Wi-Fi and broadband speeds I was used to, just weren’t possible and whilst I had our IS team for support, I was in a different time zone without the usual IT capabilities – so it certainly added a level of complexity. This experience really brought home how much we take technology for granted and that the quality of technology is not consistent in other countries we might be working with.
Since returning, I can see that my increased cultural awareness has helped my work in terms of understanding what other colleagues and clients might feel and being sensitive and flexible to their needs. From conversations to pitches, being aware of these differences and values can really go a long way. You could give a pitch that shows you fully understand someone’s business, know all of their financials and have done extensive research, but if you act in a way that offends them or clashes with a cultural value of theirs, that negates all of your work and this will be difficult to repair because it will have effected them on a personal level.
If I am doing a pitch to a client in Saudi Arabia, I will not use the colour purple in my slides, as this is a Qatar colour, so will offend the clients before I have even started. I will also list my credentials as, though it may be seen as pretentious in other parts of the world, clients in the Middle East will want to know your qualifications. Similarly, going straight into business with no small talk would be seen as very rude, but for German clients, I know they would prefer to skip small talk. So, it’s all about understanding these differences and making subtle changes to better meet the needs and expectations of your clients.