Tag Archives: Global Mobility Transformation

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.

  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 afterward. 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.

 

 

 

„Mobility is finally making the shift from an international benefit provider to an appreciated strategic partner to the business.“

Chris Debner

 

Like ever so often in Holland events start with a slight delay because of traffic. The Swiss in me rebels but I tell her to enjoy the tropical atmosphere of the Royal Tropical Institute. I check out the remainders of colonialism: masks, spears and painted world maps in white marbled halls. The smell of adventure still hangs in the air. Here we meet the pioneers of Global Mobility, the seafarers, discoverers, and conquerors. At the time with weapons and bribes, now with the promise of prosperity. The UN Global Goals are printed on the beer coasters as if to remind us that we have moved on, that we are now looking for „peace and prosperity for all people.“

Inge Nitsche, CEO of Expatise Academy welcomes the Global Mobility folks to the New Year, launches the brand new Expatise Global Mobility Online Certification Course of the Expatise Academy.

Inge then kicks off the day by setting the scene. Inge poses the question if we are in transformation or being transformed. She asks if we are under siege. Before we get our seat at the table we need to check if we are still on the right track.

Do we still fly up or are we going down or do we have to do a restart in the air to land in a better place?

Key Note

Chris Debner opens the session explaining what a Global Mobility Strategy is made of. The elements of policies, processes and operating model. He shows us the building blocks from business objectives, stakeholder needs, assignment types, talent management & workforce planning, competence and capacity, culture to competitiveness, trends and external influencers.

Chris summarizes the paradigm shift in Global Mobility leading us from a compliance focus to a purpose-driven mobility, improved employee experience and increased outsourcing of transactional tasks and dedicated compliance functions.

Then he continues to explain how the needs of Gen Y (instant gratification, clarity, flexible approaches) will change mobility policies to customized packages for everyone. I also predict that this will happen. What I like about Chris’s presentation is that he is realistic. He knows where GM Teams currently struggle and proposes three key challenges:

  1. Skillset
  2. Time & Resources
  3. Engaging with the business.

As suggestions to work on these challenges Chris sees three points

  1. Invest in your training, education and work with a flexible workforce.
  2. Build the business case for change
  3. Collaborate with other areas outside of HR, invest in change and meet the business line managers to find out how you can provide values.

 

Open Discussion

I get up to facilitate a peer consulting exercise. This exercise helps with listening skills, ideally solves one current issue of a participant and helps participants to build trust amongst each other. Afterwards, we have coffee. I listen in on conversations. I understand that we face similar challenges in Global Mobility here and in Switzerland.

One difference might be the European Union context. It also seems that Brexit is more prevalent in Amsterdam. Companies shift their presence to Amsterdam, rents increase, „knowledge migrants“ flock the city, the ICT (Information and Communications Technology) directive is leading to more migrants and the city seems diverse. What I immediately notice in comparison to events in Switzerland is that I do not feel so old. I am sort of middle-aged here. I see grey, and white hair. I like it.

After the break, we split up into two discussion groups and look at Concerns, Challenges, and Opportunities.

 

Lunch is a standing lunch with sandwiches. What I find interesting is the different types of industries that are present. We see different challenges and different views on GM.

Afternoon Sessions

In the afternoon Bettina Tang presents a tangible step-by-step approach on how GM Leaders can learn to engage with their stakeholders. Bettina brings in the perspective that alignment between legal requirements and managing expectations of the assignee and family.

She also explains that the organizational structure matters. The closer you are to the CEO the better. It important to understand the persons you are dealing with and to know how to build relationships with them. As mentioned she introduced a tangible model, easy to follow.

Bettina also urges us to get the basics right because assignees that are constantly complaining are not helping your credibility. I also took away that if you would like to be invited to the party, you don’t wait for the invite. You find a burning platform, address and solve it and then you claim your seat at the table.

Next on stage is Michael Joyce from AIRINC. He, first of all, apologizes for all the Brits coming to Amsterdam on a weekly basis. Not sure what they are doing but I assume they come to the party. Michael shares data. He claims that the pathway to the seat at the table is hard figures. It seems fine at times of fake news.

He brings examples of clients where either an internal perspective based on data (on housing cost, security, and education)  or an external perspective (a benchmarking that revealed that only 2% of companies in the survey applied negative COLA fully) gave the GM Leader the right to be invited to the table. This means that we all must upgrade our metrics (46% of their clients are doing that just now – you feel the pressure?). He also mentioned that 59% of all companies measure some aspects of assignment success.

A new trend in data is predictive metrics such as the retention rate after assignment, assignee satisfaction after assignment, job promotions and job performance rating after assignment. In an example case, AIRINC was helping the client to show the correlation of these metrics with performance.

And while these correlation factors might not fall within your remit, they are helpful data for management. I would include repatriate retention here.

Finally, Chris Debner concluded with showing that change does not always have to be transformational. There is also incremental change, where you target a specific aspect of your program and optimize that.

The room is full of mobility professionals. When I take my eyes of my notebook, I see eager faces. A few a bit drained of energy but most of us engaged as we want to understand how we can provide value to the business, how we can help the business with its transformation programs and where to start. A few suggestions include

  • Cost reduction
  • Easier administration
  • Improved employee experience
  • Fewer exceptions and conflicts
  • Lower risk exposure and
  • Reaching organizational objectives.

It’s almost 4 pm and I have not connected to WiFi yet. The temptation was there but I am trying to keep fully present. The next group exercise is a marketplace where the workshop on International Business Traveler compliance joins us. I speak to Maarten from PwC about the tax news and he tells me about a risk framework he is taking to customers. I ask him if he is willing to share it.

I smile as I am reminded of the early days in a role I took on in 2007 when I had to develop such a risk framework myself because I did not know where to find it online. Maybe it also did not exist then. Now, it’s just a matter of a short conversation.

The voices in the room with now around 50 professionals do not want to die down. We chat, we like this. Inge Nitsche decides to clink her water bottle and the birthday boy Ernst Steltenpoehl commands our attention. She closes the event on a positive note and invites us to drinks in the restaurant of the Royal Tropical Institute.

And while I order a glass of wine I look at the people of different cultural backgrounds in the room from India, South America, Europe and the Middle East and I’m hopeful that we Global Mobility folks may set an example and that we can help our businesses succeed in any country in the world.

If you are interested in having a conversation about the topic mentioned please let me know.

Kind regards

Angie Weinberger

PS: If you are looking to move into a new role this year, I would like to invite you to an exploratory session of HireMe!