Identifying and clarifying expectations
Although the costs of employing and training a secondee are usually less than general recruitment, bringing the secondee into the workplace still incurs logistical and financial costs as well as potential disruption to workflow for the host organisation (Uthmann, 2005). Given these impacts, the host
organisation needs to support and manage secondment programs to maximise any reciprocal benefits for both itself and the secondee.
When a secondee and a host organisation enter into a secondment, there is a 'psychological contract' between them that comprises informal mutual understandings, expectations and obligations regarding work performance (Inkson & King, 2011). Consequently, without firm targets, expectations and goals
to structure the secondment experience, the psychological contract can result in misunderstandings and deterioration in work adjustment and performance. A failure to make the psychological contract clear and explicit has been identified in the literature as a significant barrier to the secondee's progress
and learning (Hamilton & Wilkie, 2001). Thus, the need to negotiate clearly-defined roles and requirements between the secondee and the host organisation is imperative. This typically involves drawing up formal contracts and development targets for secondees while they are working at the host organisation
(Lancaster, Di Milia & Cameron, 2012). The research evidence also suggests that secondees themselves get the most out of secondments when expectations placed upon them in terms of performance and training goals are explicit and agreed (NZ State Services Commission, 1999).
Drawing on clearly defined and agreed expectations and goals for the secondment, the host organisation can provide various forms of support to secondees to enhance the experience. Key means of support may include:
- Initial encounter and adjustment support: To help secondees through the initial transition stages where affective and cognitive loads are highest, host organisations should provide warm, open social support to promote engagement between the secondee and their new colleagues. Additionally, the
provision of learning resources and training are essential to help secondees develop new skills. Support and resources during this time can assist secondees to move from an apprehensive, stress coping mindset to more constructive problem-solving and path-finding orientations (Nicholson & West, 1989).
- Ongoing communication and feedback: Across all stages of the secondment, the host organisation should ensure effective two-way communication, especially in allowing secondees to ask questions freely and resolve any issues (Longden, 1991). During the Adjustment phase specifically, this mutual
communication is an important mechanism for facilitating the positive adaptation of new working styles being adopted by the secondee and allowing the secondee to recommend any innovations in the way they wish to undertake their new role.
- Positive performance evaluation: Measuring and evaluating the secondee's achievements against established expectations, responsibilities and development targets can help the host organisation focus on areas where they may need more training and guidance (NZ State Services Commission, 1999). These
evaluations are also useful for the home organisation, on completion of the secondment, as measures of the secondee's progress and a gauge of new capabilities acquired.
- Encouraging engagement and project ownership: The short-term nature of secondment can be frustrating for secondees if they are working on longer-term projects that may only see results and outcomes well after the secondment has concluded (Bond, 2002; Uthmann, 2005). In this situation, the
host organisation is well advised to encourage secondee engagement and the cultivation of a personal investment in project results, even after the secondee has returned to the home organisation. This engagement and investment in the longer-term outcome is likely to enhance the secondee's learning and
Concluding the secondment
As secondments continue and then begin to wind down, there may be some risk that the host organisation will 'poach' the now highly integrated and experienced secondee and offer to retain them. Additionally, the secondees themselves may seek to stay with the host organisation, particularly if their
sense of professional identity has realigned from the home to the host organisation. The risks of the secondee not returning to the home organisation appear to be correlated with the length of the secondment; any perceived ambiguities in relation to the duration of the secondment and the possibility
of an extension for the secondee (Hamilton & Wilkie, 2001). Placing clear limits on the scope and duration of the secondment is therefore important. Arrangements for return should also be put in place well in advance of the conclusion of the secondment to ensure that the Exit stage is accomplished