Managing global mobility in a fast-changing world

Posting employees globally offers them invaluable experience and breaks down borders in organisations. But how can employers keep up with such a dynamic global market? Professor Michael Dickmann, professor of International Human Resource Management at Cranfield University, explains.

For the last five years I have had the opportunity to write the annual report for The RES Forum, an independent community for global mobility (GM) professionals

Based on research among its 1,500+ members from over 750 multinational organisations in more than 40 countries, it charts the major mobility trends and explores how GM departments can increase their reputation and success while preparing to tackle a dynamic future.

Key to this are the various roles that effective mobility departments should successfully practice – those of strategic advisor, global talent manager, expert on due diligence (including programme development and compliance) and global people effectiveness expert.

One of the key findings of this year’s report was the burgeoning demand for the strategic advisor role.

Adapt to survive

Mobility leaders need to develop agility to align and support their business and HR strategies, to develop value and to adapt quickly to changing organisational needs.

Technological advances, and the need for new skill sets and dynamic operating models, are all expressions of the rapid changes in the business environment. This makes it necessary to find feasible ways to adapt to them and to harness the opportunities for the organisation.

Constantly changing requirements, which are already varying among different stakeholders, make it necessary to provide flexibility for international assignments.

The data indicates that almost all mobility leaders feel that they need to be highly strategic and agile (94%). However, many thought there was still a substantial gap to achieving their vision – while the data for 2015 and 2018 shows that while many mobility leaders have worked towards becoming more strategic and agile, many are not there yet.

Aligning mobility to HR

The key value of global mobility is related to broader business and HR objectives. On a strategic level, it is crucial to align the two in order to enable and support the business in creating value.

This involves key objectives such as the control of the business units, cultural integration across borders, knowledge creation, transfer and application or enabling certain work activities through filling positions.

If they are to push forward the agility and flexibility of international work in organisations, GM professionals need to fill the role of strategic advisor, understand their organisation’s strategy and the diverse mobility avenues that could be pursued to realise their company’s ambition.

Mobility for the future

In practice, this means that GM professionals have to identify ways in which mobility strategies underpin organisation-wide strategies, and create business cases for change.

This might mean, for instance, creating flexible governance approaches that allow room to manage exceptions. This agility goes a long way to make your mobility strategy future-proof.

Agile mobility means planning for crisis responses – developing scenarios and approaches to refine the corporate reaction to events such as terrorist attacks or natural disasters – or, maybe, a cost saving scenario or the plans for potential group relocations (in the light of Brexit perhaps).

Mobility professionals must stay close to the business and major stakeholders to understand their changing needs and future aspirations. The bottom line is to be prepared as much as possible for potential future demands. Agile mobility strategies, structures and policies enable organisations to shape the future successfully.

For this, mobility departments need to move out of their comfort zones and out of their silo mentality. They urgently need to understand organisational and HR strategies and should engage intensively with the business.

How can mobility functions become more agile?

  • Understand the massive and rapid changes that define the GM world. Technological advances, automation, AI, new competitive pressures needing new capabilities and dynamic operating models create pressures for learning and paradigm shifts.
  • Use ‘SMART’ objectives as you might for other initiatives, to create specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused and time-bound mobility objectives. This benefits both organisation and assignee.
  • Use strategic advice. Objectives need to be based on the corporate vision, business and other strategies and need to be scalable and flexible to react to dynamic competitive developments.
  • Flawless programme leadership should include high quality compliance and vendor relationship management. Successful tracking of assignees and sophisticated data analytics can enable mobility professionals to analyse their activities and improve them.
  • Efficient global people effectiveness approaches need to understand, attract, motivate and fairly assess the performance of mobility candidates and assignees.
  • Seek the individualisation of the GM relationship through smart global talent management and efficient global people effectiveness approaches. This means that GM professionals need to understand the key drivers of assignees and develop expatriate talent sourcing, move, management and repatriation approaches geared to the specific needs and motivations of their global talent.
  • Mobility leaders need to continue working towards building on the key roles of GM departments, becoming more strategic and value-focused while bearing in mind their manifold stakeholders and their interests.
  • Factor in broad talent flow, diversity and inclusion issues. Discrimination in global mobility leads to frustration, early return and/or expatriate turnover challenges.
  • Find the shared purpose of being globally mobile. Beyond using the organisational interest, employers should also of course think about the interests of assignees. This ‘mutual purpose’ is likely to motivate and energise global workers, resulting in better performance, retention and commitment.
  • Focus on assignee experience. Staff increasingly seek meaning in work and life and good assignee experiences should be valued by expatriates as they are likely to enrich their private and professional lives.

Shaping change

Multi-nationals are embedded in massive change and are undertaking substantial internal transformations.

Mobility departments and professionals need to understand and help shape these changes. Focusing on the purpose and experience of someone working abroad needs sensitive, sophisticated and agile treatment if both parties are to benefit.

This is a short summary of some of the findings from the 2018 Annual Report from The RES Forum entitled “Global Mobility of the Future: Smart, Agile, Flawless and Efficient’.

You can find more information on the full report on The RES Forum website here.

Prof. Michael Dickmann

About Prof. Michael Dickmann

Professor Michael Dickmann is Professor of International Human Resource Management at Cranfield University.
No comments yet.

Leave a Reply