Identifying and Maximizing BAM Success Factors Part 2

By Paul Harrington

In this new series on ‘BAM Success Factors’ we invite guest authors to share what they consider the key factors contributing to success and growth for BAM practitioners. To open up the series, Paul Harrington gives us an overview of the most important BAM success factors he has identified through research. Read Part 1 here.

BAM Success Factors Part 2: Interpersonal and Relational Considerations

In the first part of the two-part series on the factors that determine success for BAM practitioners, we looked at the professional and technical characteristics that research shows help determine the likelihood that a BAM practitioner will meet the goals which were established for the enterprise. Many of the factors that indicate future professional success for BAM practitioners are similar to those for small business owners and include:

  • Training and/or experience in operating small or medium-sized businesses,
  • Technical and professional capabilities
  • Cross-cultural norms and skills in the context where the BAM enterprise will operate,
  • Spiritual skills both in and outside of the cultural context of the BAM enterprise, and,
  • Mentoring, support resources and capital.

There are a separate set of interpersonal/relational factors which also affect the likelihood of success for BAM practitioners. Most of these factors are shared with expatriate workers as well as missionaries and other non-profit or religious workers. Multinational companies generally spend much more on sending and supporting their workers than religious or non-profit organizations, although many of the same risk and success factors have been identified with both groups of organizations. 

Language Learning

The first group of interpersonal/relational factors generally are associated with cross-cultural adaptation. Companies and religious/non-profit organizations all recognize the importance of learning the language in which the worker will operate in order to be successful. Most require that the worker engage in language learning using organizationally provided or worker-provided resources, depending on the type of organization.

Successful completion of language learning at a pre-defined level may be required in order to remain in the assignment. BAM practitioners along with other types of expatriate workers might be required to learn and operate in more than one foreign language if the official government language is not the trade language for the area where the BAM enterprise operates. As with other types of cross-cultural workers, successful language learning is generally not optional. Potential BAM practitioners should have experience learning a second or third language; demonstrated success in beginning the process of learning a language as an adult can be predictive of success if someone has never learned a second language. Language learning skills, including understanding the structure of how languages work and the sounds which form most human languages, may be provided as part of pre-departure training and can facilitate the process of cross-cultural adaptation.

Cross-cultural Skills

Cross-cultural skills also include understanding and successfully living in the host culture including the norms of behavior and conduct as well as key spiritual principles. The most successful expatriate workers including BAM practitioners have gained personal experience and may have training in the cultures in which they choose to work. Understanding cultural norms might also include concepts such as relationships between people of different socio-economic groups and genders, the use and value of money, and the relationship of the expatriate and BAM practitioner to the government and its authorities. Many of these and other cross-cultural principles apply to both the professional and personal lives of BAM practitioners.

Success in managing cross-cultural adaptation often involves understanding general norms before arriving in the host culture and then being guided through the process of adaptation by a person or group with experience and similar cross-cultural backgrounds as the BAM practitioner.

Family Factors
Adequate Budget and Financial Reserves

The second group of factors that are predictive of success involve family issues. The first factor in this group involves whether the worker and his family have enough money for the standard of living which they expect. Expatriate workers of all types often do not know everything involved with the cost of living in a location based on their own spending and lifestyle habits until they actually live there. Global macroeconomic changes including in exchange rates between countries has created financial stress which has ended cross-cultural assignments. Best practice shows that cross-cultural workers including BAM practitioners should have a financial reserve above their host country personal budget to minimize difficulties based on differences between a budget and actual expenditures.

Family Unity and Purpose

Family issues involve more than money and include ensuring that each member of the family unit, particularly the spouse, has a sense of purpose in the host country. Spouses of BAM practitioners might be involved in the business, might focus on their own endeavors, or might be focused on providing for the family but research across all types of expatriate workers highlights the importance of both adult members in a family having a sense of purpose to ensure a successful cross-cultural experience.

Educating children is frequently a major consideration in an expatriate assignment and the BAM practitioner should ensure that there is understanding and agreement within the family about educational options and decisions, particularly if there are special needs or resources required. Care of extended family in the home country can lead to early termination of an assignment and expectations should be established about an expatriate workers’ ability to assist if requested. International travel can not only be expensive but it can be impossible for a BAM practitioner who may not be able to leave his or her business.

Support Structures and Resources
Support Team or Network

The final group of strategies involves the support structures and resources that help ensure success in a BAM endeavor. The most important principle for a BAM practitioner is that it will literally take a team of people to ensure the success of a BAM enterprise and practitioner as well as the success of his/her family.

The BAM practitioner should be prepared to avail himself or herself of the resources necessary to maximize the likelihood of success. Many BAM practitioners are part of practitioner groups or networks which provide professional and personal support for the practitioner and his/her family; support might also be provided by mission organizations or specific churches. Research validates that success in a cross-cultural endeavor is enhanced when a support system is used by expatriate workers. In addition, BAM practitioners who work as part of a team have higher rates of success than those who work alone.

Conflict Resolution and Risk Management

Support systems within most organizations that support BAM practitioners and missionaries can provide assistance in resolving conflict within an expatriate worker’s family and with coworkers of the same organization. Many also provide assistance and training in resolving cross-cultural conflict in the workplace although resolution might be left to the BAM practitioner.

Finally, most organizations that work with cross-cultural workers understand that there will be a certain amount of attrition. For a BAM practitioner that has invested his/her own resources into a business, the price of failure can be very high. Avoiding failure for a BAM practitioner often requires that the BAM practitioner develop his/her own plan to overcome difficulties.

There are similarities in the keys to success for BAM practitioners with missionaries and expatriate employees of multi-national companies or non-governmental organizations. BAM practitioners who are facing challenges in one or more aspects of their business might find research and support in the same areas for other types of expatriate workers.

BAM practitioners can maximize their likelihood of success by being technically and professionally, spiritually, emotionally, financially, and cross-culturally prepared before undertaking the endeavor. Once on the field, a BAM practitioner should avail themselves of the support systems and resources that are designed to maximize the success of the BAM enterprise and the people involved in it. 

< Read Part 1: Professional and Technical Considerations 

Paul Harrington mobilizes and mentors for the BAM movement in a cross-cultural setting.


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