Why the talent function needs to work more closely with global mobility


International assignments play a positive role in career advancement, so why is global mobility not linked more closely to talent initiatives, asks Andrea Piacentini? 

We all know that talent management is critically important for the success of individuals and organisations.

However, data from the RES Forum’s 2016 Annual Report shows that about 80% of global mobility functions are completely independent from their talent management functions.

For companies who see their customer base and their competition as global, it follows that stronger integration of these areas in an organisation with an international workforce is key.

It is also crucial for career advancement. Individuals not only increase their business capabilities, networks and self-awareness during international assignments, but they continue to benefit from this for a long time in their post-assignment careers.

Indeed, research shows that as soon as professional staff have moved beyond entry-level jobs, global mobility increases dramatically in importance for more senior roles.

While global work experience does not guarantee a senior job, it seems to be increasingly one of the enabling conditions for an executive career.

Working together

The RES research showed that more than one-third of mobility leaders wanted more responsibility in the future for the talent function.

However, the vast majority of mobility teams are currently independent from their talent functions and almost half of mobility experts did not agree that people from mobility and talent interact or shared similar goals and objectives.

Does it matter that there is a strong misalignment between mobility and talent?

The answer is very clear: 83% of respondents to the survey felt that a strong and fair relationship between the two areas is moderately to extremely important.

There is, however, much work to be done in terms of coordination, mutual understanding and relationship building between the mobility and talent areas.

Unfortunately, 37% of organisations stated that team meetings between the two areas would never or hardly ever occur.

Those companies that have these meetings more frequently (22% meet at least once a month) will have a better chance to improve coordination. Given the aspiration of half of the mobility experts to also play a talent role, more frequent communication would help.

Managing performance

Local objectives count for the guidance and performance management of international assignees.

It is not surprising, then, that almost half of organisations use performance criteria based on assignment objectives, which are defined by the expatriates’ local hosts. Two out of five use goals that are jointly agreed between local and international operating units.

The research also shows that one-third of organisations appraise their assignees’ performance at least twice a year and two-thirds once a year. A more frequent appraisal process allows quicker interventions and more “check-in points” for decisions such as repatriation or objective adjustment.

Within the report there were several performance questions that rated assignees’ performance while on assignment, compared with those that had not been offered a global placement.

Overall, the data shows that expatriates perform highly; two-thirds of expatriates on career development assignments were rated above average.

Where the principal assignment goal was to fill the position, 62% were rated as above average. Even individuals on control and coordination assignments had a good chance (54%) of performing better than their peers.

Any concerns around low performance on assignment due to the culture shock or problems adjusting are unfounded, and expatriates tend to become more successful in their role over time.

More than one-third of organisations said team meetings between the [global mobility teams and the talent function] would never or hardly ever occur.”

International assignees tend to have fewer behavioural issues when working abroad. However, they may still suffer an emotional and cognitive “culture shock”.

So how can organisations mitigate the impact of this? In the RES survey, 71% used “high touch” HR support and worked with assignment mentors.

Doing this was far more popular than the more control-oriented assessment of performance. Nevertheless, it appears that many companies still have room to improve their expatriate support.

Coming home

Research shows that global assignees’ superior performance, compared with most of their non-expatriated peers, should have positive effects on the career progression. But what about the risks associated with “coming home”?

The data from the survey shows a mixture of career implications. While around a quarter of respondents were not sure, 37% thought that the careers of repatriates unfolded better than those who had not had a global assignment. Only 10% indicated that repatriates had worse careers than their domestic peers.

It is far from easy to capture all the beneficial effects for the organisation, which could include a range of direct indicators such as: assignment/business objectives achieved; expatriate performance; career progression; retention; professional and leadership development.

There are also many indirect effects if one looks at a framework that incorporates home and host effects, human capital developments, knowledge generation and diffusion activities, innovation and social capital expansion.

The author Stephen King once said: “What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work”.

Much research has indicated that this is true of international assignees, who tend to work longer hours and see this as an investment in their own careers with lots of positive effects for both the individual and the organisation.

Linking mobility with talent management is likely to raise the attractiveness of working abroad, increase integration within HR and help focus the work of HR professionals across the organisation. As such, we can only expect it to be ever higher on the agendas of large multinationals.


About Andrea Piacentini

Andrea Piacentini is Head of Reward for UK & Europe at Standard Life and a co-founder of the RES Forum
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