Tag Archives: International Assignments

Global Mobility Policies are biased

Traditional global mobility policies written by Western companies with their outlook on taxation, international assignments and a home-based compensation approach do not fit today’s world any longer. They had a cultural understanding of a nuclear family and terminology from the Army.

We Global Mobility Professionals often sound like we are at war. We speak about home and host country, expatriation, repatriation or hardship as if our patria or home territory was the only island of happiness in the world.

We coined the term “home leave” to suggest that only “at home” we can relax and enjoy our life, while at the foreign outposts in Mombasa and Rio de Janeiro we are at war with the local population.

As Global Mobility Professionals we are surprised that the stream of inbounds and outbounds has changed. These days the main expatriation routes are no longer going out from Europe or the US. We see assignees from China going to Switzerland, India to Sweden and Indonesia to Holland. We managed London to New York and now it is Casablanca to Mombasa or Caracas to Madrid.

A lot of moves and a lot of different cultural assumptions question the traditional models.

What is “fair” in a global team?

It is hard to say what is “fair” in a global team. Will you accept that your colleague from India gets paid about 50% of your salary? Do you find it ethical that your passport qualifies you to a better standard of living? Is the home-approach still feasible in a non-colonial, non-hierarchical and skill-based “eco-system”? Are we innovative enough in Global Mobility or are we repeating patterns of society that are as outdated as the suit I’m wearing to work today?

We’ve known for years that expats discuss their benefits but they used to do it secretly back in the nineties. I’m pretty sure now there is a WhatsApp-Group to discuss your benefits package by location.

Why should you believe your employer is giving you the best package possible? Why should you believe that the policy applies in your case when everyone up in the higher ranks seems to get an exception?

Generation Y populates the workforce. The “I”-Generation is more individualistic and used to instant gratification. This generation does not accept a one-size fits all principle. Policy segmentation is a start but I think we need to customize our proposals to assignees and their families even further.

Coming from an egalitarian culture, being fair and giving fair chances to everyone has always been important to me. Over the years I have learnt though, that the assignees with the best negotiation skills have the best packages. Female assignees and assignees from less assertive cultures on the other hand often accept what they have been offered. Their request for amendments is quiet and not understood.

Senior management can request anything and often is it granted. For them “policy” is almost like a red flag that needs to be challenged.

We assume that assignees need financial incentives and that financials are the major consideration point when deciding whether to go on an international assignment or not.

We should consider skill development, learning opportunities, living conditions and extra services and build them into the benefits matrix. Providing these will also give more equity in the host country. I also believe that the classical home approach won’t last very much longer. Until we can fully customize packages we will need better GM Technology, engaged Global Mobility Managers and above all HR leaders with an international mindset.

Angie Weinberger

Here you can download a detailed whitepaper by Crown on a related topic:

https://www.crownworldmobility.com/en-us/blank_page/perspectives—the-pros-and-cons-of-core-flex–

If you would like to understand #GlobalMobility better, I’d advise you to take the Master Course on “International Human Resources and Global Mobility” with Expatise Academy and Erasmus University in Rotterdam.


Sometimes when we are living the expat lifestyle, we have to take difficult decisions and they are not always to the liking of our partner or children, especially teenagers can be quite difficult when they find out that they have to leave their friends.

Corporations approach talents for roles abroad and once you are not a single anymore, your career might have an effect on more than one life.

You might argue now that your partner knew when they married you, that you had an international outlook on your career and that you love the challenge of starting a new job in a new environment. You would argue that this person always loved your sense of accomplishment when you got a challenging job done within two to three years. You will probably also tell me, that your company will not ask you twice and that you basically do not have a choice.

We both know, that married life is not that easy and that the person you married five years ago might have changed while you have changed as well. Your spouse might have career aspirations or is just up for the next promotion.

Once you have children, your global flexibility might be even more challenged. Your kids might not want to move to another country and make new friends. Maybe they already have two native languages and do not feel like learning a third or fourth language.

Assignments

I have just read a German textbook on intercultural competence by Juergen Bolten. While this book has a few good ideas for intercultural trainers and coaches, as a Global Mobility Expert I was surprised to read, that Bolten claims that we have less international assignments, more commuters and short-termers today than ever. In the industries I work with this is only one side of the coin. Most Global Mobility reports in the last five years showed indeed an increase in short-term assignments and project workers. There are also more “commuters” (Monday to Friday in one country, the weekend in another country especially in countries that are next to each other such as France and Switzerland). We also see more international recruitment on local host contracts, but the classical long-term assignment is still prevalent in most international companies.

You know why? You actually need to be on the ground in person and immerse in the culture in order to perform certain roles such as business development, any managerial roles and especially in relationship-oriented cultures such as Latin America or India, you have to be in the country if you want to be successful. Two years in my view is generally a bit too ambitious, three years often the minimum. In reality, a lot of managers stay up to five years in the host country.

Any day now you could be asked to go on a three-year assignment to Mombasa or Mumbai. What would you do?

How do you come to a decision about an international assignment when taking all aspects into account? Over the years of working with expats and their spouses I have seen a lot of bad decision making so this is an attempt to give you guidance while not knowing everything about your personal situation.

Focus on the learning you will gain from the role more than on the financial incentives.

A lot of expats base their decisions largely on package and numbers and forget to understand more about the role and the learning of the assignment experience. Ask yourself what kind of learning you will take away, what will your spouse learn and also how it will develop skills in your children. Have an open discussion about this at the dinner table.

Show your spouse and kids how they will live by taking them on a look-and-see trip.

If you have never lived in Mumbai or Mombasa or Stockholm it is hard to imagine what daily life will be like. Going on a look-and-see-trip still seems to be the most effective way to show your partner and family what will await them in the foreign lands. Expose them to the host language too by watching movies in original language, explore and discover basic facts about the host country together.

Consider the international assignment as a family adventure and make sure that you are ready.

If you went on a hike to Mount Everest or a challenging world cruise in a sailing boat, you would expect everyone on the trip to be fit and willing to work as a team. Your relationship should be stable, both of you fit and healthy, your children well adapted in school and in general you should have an interest in your host location.

Take advantage of all programs such as intercultural training, language classes and spousal assistance programs that your company offers.

Too many times assignees tell me that they did not really know about what their company offers in terms of support. There are a lot of reasons for this and you need to take responsibility when it comes to claiming intercultural training, language classes and spousal assistance programs. If you rely only on the communication you receive from HR or Global Mobility you might miss out on some of these benefits as during your decision making phase and in preparing for the new role you might not hear all the detailed information. Speak to assignees, who have been in the host location for about a year. They will give you good tips what type of support they received and what they only found out later in the process.

Once you are done with fact-finding, make sure that you listen to all the concerns that your family raises. See if you need further help in addressing some of the concerns. Then once you decide to leave your comfort zone, you will see what a great experience an international assignment can be for your whole family.

Global Mobility Talk held on 25 Jan 2016 for the Forum of Expatriate Management Event in Rotterdam hosted by Expatise Academy

“Mobility is at an interesting crossroads right now and has the opportunity to leave the shadow of the HR functions they traditionally form to become a more strategic player in the company. For some time, we have maintained the mind-set to link mobility with talent. Now, with workforce planning and analytics requirements, mobility is coming more into its own as a separate function.” Simon Rogers, Senior Director, Global Mobility at ResMed

Over the last twenty years in Human Resources, I noticed that a lot of international talents were frustrated in the process of moving to another country for work. It was not only because their companies paid them another package than what they expected. It was also because a lot of international assignees underestimated the challenge of moving to another country.

For example, expats moving to Switzerland often think it will be easier to find affordable childcare, high-quality apartments and a job for their “trailing” spouse. Most expats believe it will be easy to learn the local language (or they even think we speak English). Most expats believe that they are going to have a great career step after their repatriation. I have seen a lot of anger when assignees went to another country and when they returned home and did not get that promotion or the role they were hoping for.

Regularly, I have clients break out in tears because they feel overwhelmed by the international assignment experience. When I worked in India and when I moved to Switzerland from Germany it was not always just “Cricket & Bollywood” or “Cheese & Chocolate”.

 

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Five Gaps in the Global Mobility Approach

There are five gaps in the Global Mobility approach and I think this is true across industries and countries.

  1. Assignees are often selected on an ad-hoc basis and intercultural competence is hardly ever taken into account in the selection process. Female Assignees are still greatly under-represented.
  2. International assignments hardly ever have an international assignment business case showing assignment drivers, measurable targets, expected gains, growth opportunities, assignment costs and a repatriation plan for the assignee.
  3. Most companies lack succession plans where repatriates could be included with their future roles and often expats are overlooked when it comes to filling roles in headquarter or when promotions are due.
  4. Global Mobility Professionals are hardly ever considered strategic partners of the business. They are often just seen as administrators of the process while the decisions about who is going where are taken solely by the business.
  5. The Expat Family is hardly considered in the Global Mobility Approach. Only a few forward thinking MNCs offer career support for spouses. I have not seen any company who helps with educational considerations and advice for the expat children. Relocation companies only give minimal support and hardly understand the concerns of globally mobile parents. Most relocation consultants have never moved to another country in their lives.

There are also five global trends that have made Global Mobility more difficult in the last 10 years.

Trend 1 Financial crisis led to budget cuts

With the global financial crisis, we have also experienced travel and expat budgets being reduced to a minimum. That led to a number of local moves and assignee experiences, in general, got worse. Also, repatriates often came back to receive a severance package and were unemployment in their home country afterwards. We also see that companies merge, acquire, outsource and offshore so that job security for all staff is non-existent. Especially in the EU, many countries are new to this kind of unstable job market and do not yet have the tools and systems in place to have a fluid and flexible workforce. Cherished and spoilt expats dwell on the verge of desperation because they have been made redundant at the end of their contract.

Trend 2 Local Plus is the new black 

Other expats receive a local contract without really understanding what that means for their social security, long-term pension and often they do not know that their work and residence permit depends on their employer too. Employers find “Local Plus” convenient but they do not really consider all the risks these moves entail because many business decisions in the last ten years are driven by controllers.

Trend 3 The Talent Gap

We now lack the critically needed talent in important growth areas. Programmers and engineers are examples of professionals that are in high demand. In Germany, I heard that it is also hard to find lower qualified staff such as hotel staff. There is certainly a mismatch and gap between demand and supply. There are a number of reasons related to the sourcing process as well. Recruiting has become a science and needs to go through a transformation. Recruiters need to learn to cope with the demand and supply in a globalized market of talents. Language is still one of the main barriers to an influx of highly skilled migrants in Europe. Even though we launched the green card and blue card initiative we have not managed to attract the potential and talent needed within the EU for example in IT.

Trend 4 Health and Security concerns hinder free movement

Security concerns are growing in international assignments. Expats frequently face acts of terrorism, natural disasters, mugging and burglary as well as health issues. While often the issues are normal in the local environment they can also be inflated disproportionately in our media. The images we have of countries such as Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan to name a few make it hard to convince families to work in these countries. Each terrorist act in the last few weeks in Istanbul, Jakarta, Tunis, Paris or Beirut will reduce the willingness of expat families to move into these cities even though expats probably have the best security support you can have in these locations.

Trend 5 Global Migration Challenges

2015 has been a year where global migration became pop culture. The term “refugee crisis” was coined in Europe. Even though we have had proportionately more refugees coming to Europe since the Arab spring started in 2011 in Tunisia, we all had more interaction with refugees in 2015. While I am personally concerned about the right-wing propaganda, I do understand that the intercultural and societal challenges of integrating refugees at least temporarily are considerable. As an HR Manager, I am concerned about discriminatory practices. Example: Geneva airport security personnel.

 

All of this has a led to Global Mobility being flawed, expats not wanting to go on international assignments anymore and overwhelmed GM Professionals who feel the pressure from all ends as they are in the firing line of assignees, business line, talent, HR and Finance managers. In addition to having been undervalued, overworked and squeezed by their interest groups classical GM tasks have been outsourced to Third-Party Service Providers and Shared Service Centers.

 

Working in Global Mobility used to be a career dead-end and a Sisyphus task. We roll up the stone assignee by assignee only to see it roll down again. We run KPI report after KPI report only to be told that no one knows what we are doing. We are often managed by HR Directors who don’t get us. We are online 24/7, involved in GM improvement projects, listen to depressed spouses in our evenings and do not get the promotion or salary we deserve.

 

But there is hope. I am not willing to give up. Yet.

There is a need to change the approach to Global Mobility.

The more complex our global markets become, the more we need to re-evaluate our assumptions of how we run international assignments.

1 We need global leadership competency in our international assignees and if they do not have it yet we need to send them out on long-term assignments earlier in their career. We should force assignees to learn the local language and coach them through the assignment experience. Intercultural briefings are not enough anymore.

2 We need to ensure that there is an international assignment business case showing assignment drivers and targets, expected gains or opportunities, assignment costs and a repatriation plan.

3 We need to implement succession plans and add our current assignees as potential successors. We need to ensure that the knowledge, skills and network they gain while on assignment is appropriately reflected in their following role and repatriation plan. We also need to ensure better handovers to their successors in the host location.

4 We need to upgrade the GM Professionals and the GM function needs to sit closer to business development and potentially move out of HR. We need to up-skill the case managers and train GM Professionals for a consultative approach where they can work as trusted partners with the business line managers. (I have extensively explained this topic in an article last year for The International HR Advisor).

5 We need to consider the Expat Family in the process more by providing spouse career support, elderly care and educational advisory. We also should offer 24/7 support to our expat families in crisis situations such as marital issues. A helpline to professional counsellors is needed.

What I believe in and what makes me get up in the morning:

  • I believe that Western managers of my generation and the baby boomer generation have to develop their relationship-building skills before becoming effective leaders of global teams. The performance of most global teams can only improve through higher global leadership competency following a holistic global competency model.
  • I believe that a great assignment experience is linked to assignment targets, an international assignment business case and a repatriation plan.
  • I believe that companies will focus more on creating succession plans and ensure that roles are filled in a more structured manner, handovers improved and teams will function more self-managed going forward. Leadership itself will change significantly.
  • I believe that GM Professionals have the potential to become critical players in the international growth of businesses and should be valued as the subject matter experts that they are. They will move out of HR and be closer to business development.
  • I believe that assignees and spouses need to have a valuable intercultural experience and both can further their career and life vision together. Expat children need support in moving from one culture to another and even though they might be multi-lingual at the end of their school life, they have to cope with identity loss and loss of their roots.

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Advice for #GM Pro’s for 2016:

Continue learning. Network with GM Professionals. Work towards the best assignee & spouse experiences ever.

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Read more by keyword A to Z

Expat Family Issues http://expatpartnersurvival.com/

Female Assignees http://www.changeboard.com/content/5409/making-females-mobile/

Global Competency Model – Chapter 13

Weinberger, A. (2014): The Global Mobility Workbook – A Step-by-Step Guide to Managing international Assignments, Kindle edition, Global People Transitions GmbH. http://www.amazon.de/gp/product/B00P2RR3YW?keywords=angela%20weinberger&qid=1453116745&ref_=sr_1_1&sr=8-1

Global Mobility Trends https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/global-mobility-trends-big-picture-yesterday-today-tomorrow-debner

Health and Security https://www.internationalsos.com/case-studies

Local Plus http://globalpeopletransitions.com/globalmobility-2-surviving-high-growth-markets-on-a-local-package/

http://globalpeopletransitions.com/global-mobility-5-local-plus-packages-going-local-but-with-some-perks/
Recruiting https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-companies-would-hire-people-were-smarter-liz-ryan?trk=v-feed

Repatriation http://www.aperianglobal.com/the-repatriation-dilemma/utm_content=27405667&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter

Return on Investment: http://www.personneltoday.com/hr/measuring-roi-global-mobility-just-numbers/

Role and Function of the GM Professional

Weinberger (2015): The Changing Role of Global Mobility. International HR Advisor, Summer 2015.

http://www.internationalhradviser.co.uk/storage/downloads/The%20Changing%20Role%20of%20Global%20Mobility%20Global%20People%20Transitions.pdf

Trends in Global Mobility

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/spotlight-global-mobility-fernanda-pellegrini?trk=hp-feed-article-title-like

 

***From 21 SEPT 2015 to 25 SEPT we’ll give away the GM WORKBOOK for FREE on Amazon.***

GMWORKBOOKThe Global Mobility Workbook – A Step-by-Step Guide to Managing International Assignments

  • run your international assignments in a strategic way,
  • develop a metric for international assignment success,
  • sort out your assignment policy,
  • have a clear structure on how you can support assignees and spouses through the assignment process
  • develop your competencies as a Global Mobility Professionals
  • know where to go with further questions.

Find the book on Amazon.com.

The #GMWORKBOOK contains five parts.

Part 1: The World of Global Mobility.
We explain trends and classify international assignments according to the drivers and show you how to design the international assignment business case. We explain how to integrate the assignment in succession planning.

Part 2: Making it happen.
This is about the operational implementation of international assignments explaining different assignment types, compensation and policy approaches, roles and responsibilities, compliance and working with third-party providers.

Part 3: The Assignee Spouse and Experience.
Another focus is on the process expatriates and their spouses or life partners go through both on a technical but also emotional level. This includes safety and health of expatriates and their families.

Part 4: Developing your Global Mobility Career.
Global Competency is presented as a key component in the development of Global Mobility Professionals. We explore the areas in which your knowledge and skills can be developed.

Part 5: Case Studies and Tasks.
The seven case studies from our daily practice serve to understand Global Mobility challenges in the real world. You will complete a total of eleven tasks, learn technical terms and find useful links.

ISBN: 978-3-9524284-0-5

Guest post by Martijn Roseboom

Let me start off with introducing myself, I am Martijn Roseboom, 39 years old, married to ‘Bee’, father of a 6 year old girl and 4 year old boy. Since moving to Switzerland I have been a full time stay-at-home dad.

These days most people meet and get married within their social circles. This is the case for us. We met during University where I was studying business economics and my Bee was studying Medicine. I recall discussing for the first time, who would be the breadwinner, as students having some drinks in a bar. When I found out what a doctor is expected to earn and compared this to my own financial prospects, I asked Bee what she planned to do with all of her money. It seemed an awful lot for shopping. The underlying and never questioned assumption underneath was that I would be the breadwinner of the family and take care of all the bills. Bee thought that this was absolutely ridiculous. For me this was one of the core beliefs of what was expected as being a man, and never had imagined otherwise. That was the start of an interesting evening full of (alcohol fueled) heated discussions.

Since leaving University and starting work, we always have been competitive (me mostly) about who would earn the most. In practice we agreed that we would both bring in 50% of the income. When moving abroad for our first international assignment, I had to give up my job and we agreed to combine all our income together. As the ‘trailing spouse’ in Singapore, without a job, I could not do anything without my wife’s signature. This led to the practical situation where I ‘adopted’ my wife’s last name and this was also clearly stated on my credit card and all other bills. This was the ultimate reversal of the concept that I had as a man and being the breadwinner. All of this changed again back to ‘normal’ when I found a job in Singapore. However now that we have moved to Switzerland, I find myself in the same situation, except that this time I at least can use my own last name and can prove this with my credit card.

Whilst it is more common to see that nowadays there are more female breadwinners out there, it is something that remains frowned upon. Whilst on a family level, this is clearly the best way forward for all of us, it is still sometimes challenging. The biggest challenge is the stereotype I have that the man needs to be the breadwinner of the house. This leads to not always appreciating the opportunities it brings. The best thing is being an integral part and see the kids growing up. The only thing I miss is more men in the same situation. It remains socially frowned upon for a married man to ask another woman out for a drink. Even if it is coffee and there are kids running around all over the place. Let’s hope this will be a normal way for dad’s to spend their mornings in the future.

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Martijn Roseboom, President Partner Committee International Dual Career Network (IDCN)

LinkedIn: Martijn Roseboom