Category Archives: Global Mobility

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.

 

 

 


By Brooke Faulkner

As the world becomes more connected, many businesses are dreaming of expanding into other global markets. In fact, 54 percent of US companies already have some foreign market involvement, according to statistics from Rutgers University, and a whopping 80 percent of business executives agree that U.S. companies should expand internationally for long-term business growth. Increased digitization may make foreign expansion seem like a piece of cake, but in actuality, many factors contribute to realizing success as a truly global business. Here are three things to consider when conducting business abroad:

Invest in Workforce Diversity and Hiring

The HR component of a business is often looked at as a follow-up measure after the integral team has established a presence in a new market. However, when doing business abroad, it is vital that HR and hiring processes are a part of the globalization vision from the very beginning. Since it’s critical to find the right balance between international structures and local processes, senior leadership must give due importance to HR systems and hiring processes.

Global success is a product of culturally knowledgeable leadership and management teams. Thus, diversity of board makeup is very important. In fact, “83 percent of executives believe that diversity has enhanced brand reach and reputation.” Diverse leaders and employees are integral when expanding overseas — not only to connect with local consumers, but also to understand local rules, regulations, and traditions. For example, the board of directors at MasterCard include executives from the United Kingdom, India, the United States, Mexico, Belgium, and Hong Kong. It is often more prudent to use talent from overseas to lead teams working within a specific region. 

That being said, businesses must be aware of the visa, work permit, taxes, and social security procedures required for individuals to live and work in another country. To be globally efficient, a company must have a Global Mobility Team that is agile and adaptive.

Have a great Global Mobility Team

Consider the example of London-based Diageo, a premium beverages company with offices in 80 countries and a presence in about 180 markets. Diageo has created the appropriate Global Mobility Team for different markets by using a customized shared services model. This model provides consistent service to employees and can easily be adapted to adhere to local market requirements. The company’s two centers in Europe and North America serve as virtual hubs,  providing faster service to employees in terms of processing paperwork, legal requirements and more, wherever they are.

Within Europe, crossing borders seem easy but cross-border workers might trigger immigration, tax and social security risks for the company. It is therefore vital to work with service providers who monitor all cross-border activity. 

International Marketing Campaigns

Marketing campaigns change drastically when doing business abroad. It’s not enough to simply transpose a campaign used at home to another country. When taking a brand overseas, one must remember that what works for one set of people might not necessarily work for another.

Consider this Procter & Gamble example of doing business in Japan: When the company started selling Pampers in Japan, it used the image of a stork delivering a baby on its packaging. This image worked wonders in the U.S., but not so much in Japan. The company later found that the Japanese market was quite confused by this imagery, as stories of storks bringing babies aren’t part of Japanese folklore. Rather, the Japanese stories center around giant floating peaches bringing babies to parents. Had Procter & Gamble chosen culturally relevant imagery for their campaign, they would probably have had more success in Japan. Thus, it’s very important to know one’s audience, and thoroughly research culture and traditions prior to executing an international marketing campaign.

Check the Risks of Technology

The role of technology cannot be ignored when it comes to globalization. For one, technological advancements allow for rapid, real-time communications enabling customers to purchase products made anywhere around the globe. This, in turn, allows for pricing and quality information to be available to customers at the click of a button, resulting in very informed buyers with high expectations. Keeping the impact of technology in mind, business leaders must understand that they will lose pricing power — especially the power to set different prices in different global markets.

Secondly, it is technology that makes virtual hubs like Diageo’s possible. Two of the many benefits of digitization, especially relevant to doing business abroad, is the ability for employees to work remotely and the capability for global collaboration. So in case of a work emergency, where it isn’t possible to quickly hire local help or relocate an entire team to another country for a short-term assignment, cross-continental telecommuting makes for a viable solution. 

It can also help with retaining workers. Employees are more likely to stay at a job that allows them to live their best life. Better retention rates mean decreasing knowledge drain and less money spent on new employees.

However, this ease of access as gained through technological developments does come with its set of risks. Borderless workforces might be convenient, but the constant online communication and exchange of data put the company and/or customer information at risk of being stolen or hacked into. In fact, a new report by IDG Connect and Cibecs has highlighted that 50 percent of companies have “suffered data loss during the last 12 months.”

With this in mind, Ontrack recommends endpoint-focused data protection and data recovery investment as something all firms with a remote workforce or online capabilities should invest in. recovery budgets, with regularly-updated plans in place to restore lost data in the event of a mishap. Whether it’s simply selling products and services online or safeguarding sensitive internal data, effective data management and security is an absolute must for doing business abroad.

While expanding a business internationally may yield high profits and return on investment, the challenges in going global must not be overlooked. Therefore, it is vital for management to be well-versed with the multiple factors that come into play when conducting business abroad. A strong partner in the process is vital. For an early exploration of Global Mobility sign up to Angie Weinberger’s free upgrade of the “Global Mobility Workbook” (v3) here.

Brooke Faulkner

Brooke Faulkner is a writer in the Pacific Northwest who has conducted business all over the world. You can find more of her writing on Twitter via @faulknercreek

The Global Mobility Workbook

Global Mobility Professionals,

Since 1999 I have worked in the Global Mobility and international HR space and there is not one day where I do not learn anything new! In the year 2000, I sat in the last row of a very expensive Global Mobility seminar in Berlin. I was about three months into a role that was at least one shoe size too big for my experience but I must have made a big impression in the interview (and my future boss was probably desperate) so I landed my dream job which was to be the “HR International Advisor for the Asia Pacific responsible for around 80 assignees and representatives of a large global bank.

The seminar was a waste of money on me. It was far too specific and detailed. The cases were more the exceptions than the general rule and I am happy that at least I remembered when to apply the “183-day-rule* in a case of double taxation and when not even to bother.

We are NOT relocation professionals even though we often engage them. Later in my Human Resources career, I noticed that there is really not a lot of good advice out there for international HR professionals PLUS if you say you work in Global Mobility a lot of people think you are doing the relocation only.

When talking to other HR Professionals and senior managers they often underestimate the complexity of Global Mobility and one of the remarks that still makes me angry is when Global Mobility Professionals are called “ADMIN” because what we do requires an enormous knowledge and skill set.

If you are one of my colleagues you probably share my view that Global Mobility Professional have to be

  • Highly analytical (you are a comp and cost expert).
  • Highly technical (you are an expert on tax, social security, immigration, employment law).
  • Highly experiential (you have to have moved 200 expats to know your job).
  • Highly sensitive (you work with talents and their families in a phase of high stress).
  • Highly intercultural (you speak at least four languages and deal with numerous cultures).

One of our challenges globally is that there is no formal Global Mobility education. As mentioned in my recent article in the International HR Adviser, Spring 2018, we need to build up our own professional standards while we need to learn to work more in line with the businesses and clients we serve.

We need to step up and become real consultants. We have come a long way already and I wish to guide you further.

Sign up for the free upgrade of The Global Mobility Workbook, 3rd Edition (2018). You’ll also be the first to know when the book will be published.

Kind regards

Angela Weinberger

 

International Relocation is usually stressful. It ranks among the top 10 stress factors in life. I have worked as a Global Mobility Manager and I regularly consult expats and their spouses on career choices and one of the lessons I had learned is that you cannot take away the stress from international relocation completely but you can make it easier by following those seven rules I will share with you now.

1) Organize your move into smaller tasks with a checklist.

It is all about organizing yourself and all those relocating with you. Try to break down the move in as many steps as possible and work those off day by day. Better one baby step a day than a huge step in a week. I’m a fan of an online and an offline checklist and you can use our checklist if you find it helpful. Shortly before the move, I would rely on hand-written notes and post-its. Kanban-style visualization helps in any kind of project.

2) Reserve time to get tasks done

You can set aside a time in your diary possibly early in the morning where you get 1 or 2 relocation items off your checklist. You will instantly feel better for the rest of day. If you are a couple make sure that every one of you as a block of tasks bundled that make sense together. For example, your spouse might clean out closets while you check the exact moving allowance and contractual agreements with the moving company. You might take charge of selling household goods that are no longer needed while your spouse writes to insurance companies and other authorities.

3) Work with the relocation company from the beginning

If you work with a professional relocation company clarify expectations early. Find out what their service includes exactly so you don’t do superfluous work. Usually, they will do the packing but not the unpacking of your boxes. Get an understanding of the volume your company will pay for you to relocate. If you move internationally for the first time you will not know how much a container holds. Invite the relocation consultant to your home as soon as you know about the relocation. The relocation consultant will tell you exactly how much of your furniture and stuff will fit into one container. The less “stuff” you have the better. You also don’t want to take valuable furniture into a climate that is tropical. Make fast decisions about what needs to be stored. In my last move, I used colored stickers to help me identify which picture will go into which building. You can use stickers for everything that will go into storage. Also, make sure that the relocation company will be authorized to dispose of anything you don’t want anymore.

4) Separate important documents

Sometimes the most important customs documents or your child’s passport end up in a moving box. Important documents need to be separated and best kept outside of the apartment during the packing process. Scan all of them and put them in an electronic folder like Dropbox where you can access them at any time. Moving companies tend to have a “red box” for all items that should not go into the container. Request it with the consultant’s first visit.

5) Plan at least two days for arrival and unpacking

My mum once had to unpack all my boxes because I needed to start to work. It took me quite a while to find out where everything was. Some of the things my mum put away nicely are still where they were three years ago. Try to make sure you have enough time to unpack. With children, you need to plan extra time too.

6) Make sure people have enough to eat and drink

Moving is a physical exercise too and if you are a nerd like me you probably hardly carry out that much. You don’t use the stairs so many times normally and you will feel exhausted from answering a lot of questions. You can create a good atmosphere with the movers by providing enough food and drinks to get through the packing. You should also tip them generously. So have enough cash with you at the location you depart from and the location you are moving to. Since an overseas shipment will take at least 6 weeks there is enough time to prepare for the moving day in the host location. Remember also that you should stay in corporate accommodation until you are positive that your consignment will arrive on time. In emergencies, relocation companies will rent out furniture to you but it is an unnecessary hassle.

Miracles cannot be expected but if you ensure movers have enough to eat and drink it usually helps the mood.
Miracles cannot be expected but if you ensure movers have enough to eat and drink it usually helps the mood.

Abu Dhabi Mosque

7) Keep all receipts and expect Murphy’s law

Sometimes moving goods get lost at sea or damaged. If you care too much about granny Susanne’s old kitchen cupboard you might need to consider to store it. If it is valuable to make sure you get proper insurance. Keep all receipts of expenditure you had due to the move even if you get a lump sum cash allowance to cover your relocation costs. You might need them to claim insurance. You will have a packing list and you can take photos of your important furniture and paintings for example. Otherwise, you might not have proof of damage. Most relocation companies are very generous with handling issues (unless they are not adhering to industry standards). Before you get into a fist-fight with the relocation company it is best to escalate the issue to your in-house Global Mobility Manager.

These are seven small tips for keeping sane during relocation.

If you liked this post please share it with a person who is currently relocating to another country.

Kind regards

Angie Weinberger

PS. If you wish to have a chat with me you can book a call with me here.


I promise you 10 life-saving rules from my experience as a Global Mobility Coach when you embark on your Expat Journey. Moving into another country poses a lot of challenges. Too often we all rely on our employer and hope that they will make sure everything is done properly.

When we get an indication that an international assignment could have challenges because we talk to other expats, we might not take those so seriously or we might think that certain issues do not apply to us. You probably also think you can outsmart everybody else, correct?

Still, here are 10 rules you should follow when embarking on your Expat Journey.

  1. Host Market Salary: Often the salary in the host country is determined at “peer” level. However, it might not be very transparent what that exactly means. Often there is room for negotiation. Familiarise yourself online with the cost of living especially for rent. Try to budget your spending in the first months as you might not have a good feeling for the currency yet.
  2. Host Grade / Title and Role: All too often we accept an offer that does not totally match our experience level. Try to find out what your role entails and address your expectations early in the process. Get a written role description.
  3. Repatriation or Transition Plan: I have seen many assignees who never clearly articulated what they would like to get out of their international assignment experience. They also do not know how the experience would lead to a new role in the home entity. Formulate a plan for your repatriation before you go on the assignment.
  4. Immigration, Tax and Social Security: Usually assignees see those three areas as burdensome administration. However, mistakes in immigration, social security or tax can be costly. Follow the instructions from your employer closely. Make sure you have understood what the assignment conditions are in these three areas. Do you know what is expected of you and when you have to meet certain deadlines? If you are not getting supported by your company seek external help.
  5. Life Partners & Spouses: Many of my assignees discuss the assignment with their life partners and spouses and rely on their consent to come along with them. Often though I get the impression that the decision is a wish of the assignee and the other partner has to decide to come along to maintain the relationship. Often this puts a high strain on the relationship because in the host country your spouse or life partner is on his or her own, does not have a network and even worse does not have a meaningful job like you have. Get coaching and find communities on the internet before you embark on your journey. Building up a network in the host country is key.
  6. Kids and Teens: I do not have children myself but I can imagine the strain of having to take your child out of school and moving to another place since I was one of those children too. It is hard and your children might need more attention than usual. Often they have to learn a new language and make new friends. Work with your spouse/life partner through the issues, find out how easy an international education will be in the host country, discuss with other global parents and most importantly listen to your children’s needs too.
  7. Parents and elderly family members in the home country: Before you embark on your journey consider what to do in family emergencies. What can you do if your parents need help or have an accident? What about your old auntie or uncle who was always there for you and is all alone now?
  8. Emergencies in the host countries: We all believe that we will live forever but there are moments in our life when we are suddenly in the middle of a bomb attack, civil unrest or exposed to a natural catastrophe such as a Tsunami. Have an emergency plan ready. Discuss with your partner and friends at home what to do in case of you getting injured or dying. Learn the emergency services of your companies and their phone numbers by heart so you can call them. Enrol on their websites.
  9. Global Mobility Experts: Accept that there are professionals in the field who support expatriates all the time. Seek their advice and support. Be nice to them! We usually have very good relationships with our assignees. We know a lot about your personal concerns. For us, an assignee is a human first. So if you are nice to us we will gladly help you through all your topics and hold your hand when the going gets tough.
  10. Make friends for life: In our global world today it is easy to feel at home in most places once you have established some meaningful relationships and once you have had a chance to see the country you moved to. Work is important but remember: Work will always be there. The moments you will remember later are those you have either shared with people, been to places or doing special activities.

All the best for your adventure.

If you find this post helpful please share it with all your expat friends.

Angie Weinberger

The Global Mobility Coach
Angie Weinberger