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”.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Advice for #GM Pro’s for 2016:
Continue learning. Network with GM Professionals. Work towards the best assignee & spouse experiences ever.
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/
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.
Trends in Global Mobility