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| 2 minutes read

What is an inpat and why are they so valuable?

There is a lot of jargon specific to the world of international assignments. "Balance sheets", "equalization", "secondment", "global comp accumulation", "home housing norm deduction", and "hypo tax" are examples that spring to mind. But this article from Tilburg University focuses in on a specific type of assignment, referred to as an "inpatriate assignment" or an "inpat". Let's tackle defining what an inpat is and then explore why they're so valuable. 

Often the term "expatriate" gets used to stand for anyone on an international assignment. This is a bit of a misnomer, because an expatriate is specifically an employee moving from a company's headquarters to one of the company's subsidiaries abroad. Expat assignments are useful in a number of ways, but often part of the goal is for the expat to transfer organizational knowledge and culture to build stronger connections between HQ and the subsidiary. So, what's an inpat then? Per SHRM, "An inpatriate (inpat) is an employee who is transferred from a foreign subsidiary to the home country headquarters of a multinational company." However, frequently the goals for both expat and inpat assignments can be quite similar. 

Sebastien Reiche is a researcher who has studied inpat assignments for years. Over 10 years ago, he wrote an article, "The value of inpatriates: Some managerial implications from my recent study" after conducting a large scale survey of inpatriates that took assignments to the headquarters of German companies. Taking his research into account, it seems to me that companies could do a better job of leveraging inpat assignments. Many organizations could benefit by increasing the level of support for inpats, and by helping their headquarters staff be more aware of the what inpats can bring to their work. Reiche's research pointed out that HQ staff could do more training and mentoring of inpats, and everyone benefits when a framework of mutual learning and valuation is in place. 

In this latest from Professor Reiche, and researcher Heejin Kim, they explore the value inpats bring to foreign subsidiaries' performance and evolution after they return from assignments. In fact, the authors state that "successive inpatriation is thus critical to enhance subsidiary performance." Their study highlights the value of inpatriates as knowledge agents, and it reveals the process through which inpatriates transfer knowledge between HQ and subsidiaries. They also gain a more nuanced understanding of the micro-foundations of knowledge transfer processes within multi-national corporations. In their discussion, it is worth grappling with their "managerial implications". A great example is that inpatriates can combine HQ-based knowledge with rich knowledge regarding the host country. This can make inpats more effective upon return to their subsidiary than an expat who had taken an assignment from headquarters to support the same subsidiary. 

Strategically using inpat assignments can create a long-term impact on the positive development of subsidiaries. In many ways, overseas subsidiaries can benefit more from sending inpats to the company's headquarters than from the headquarters sending expats to them. Knowing this, our researchers argue that inpatriation is not merely a staffing method that is complementary to expatriation, but that inpatriation is (or could be) a key practice in its own right to support subsidiaries' growth and performance. For more, this Forbes article tapped the research is worth the read: To Transfer Knowledge, Multinationals Should Flip Expat Strategy 

Intra-company knowledge transfer is a key source of competitive advantage for multinational companies (MNCs) and this knowledge is usually embedded in individuals. Drawing on organizational knowledge creation theory, we explore how inpatriation contributes to knowledge transfer and, in turn, subsidiary performance. Inpatriation involves the international assignment of employees from an MNC's foreign subsidiary to its headquarters. Despite increasing attention to the role of inpatriation, we lack a clear understanding of whether and how inpatriates provide value to their subsidiaries after returning from headquarters. Through a qualitative case study of Japanese MNCs, we demonstrate the process through which inpatriates' knowledge transfer contributes to subsidiary capability building and subsidiary evolution over time, and explain why successive inpatriation is thus critical to enhance subsidiary performance.


inpat, inpatriate, expat, expatriate, global mobility, international assignment, knowledge agents, subsidiaries, headquarters, knowledge transfer, strategy, talent management, engagement