Why Transform Global Mobility

Ten commandments for the global mobility manager

Over the last twenty years in Human Resources, I noticed that a lot of Expats 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”.

The Five Major Challenges

SELECTION and SUCCESSION PLANNING: Expats are often selected on an ad-hoc basis and intercultural competence is hardly ever taken into account in the selection process. Female Expats and Rainbow Talent are still greatly underrepresented. Our HR systems have reinforced systems of patriarchy. We need to come to a more data-driven selection process and talent selection with less bias.

CLARITY of the BUSINESS CASE and DRIVER: Expats need to take charge of their business case, clarify the assignment drivers, and develop measurable targets, expected gains, growth opportunities, and a repatriation plan with their line managers and sponsor before the #GlobalMobilityManager calculates and advises on the right package.

STANDING and BRANDING of Global Mobility: #GlobalMobilityManagers need to be considered strategic partners of the business line managers, not an extended arm of HR Business Partners. They are often just seen as administrators of the process while the decisions about who is going where are taken solely by the business. These professionals have a lot of insights into the complexities of the host locations and also understand the immigration process, timelines, and tax traps.

USE an INCLUSIVE APPROACH: The Expat Family is hardly considered in the Global Mobility policy and processes. Only a few forward-thinking companies offer spouse career support. I have not seen any company that helps with educational considerations and advice for the Expat Children. Parents need to be supported in their school choices as the child’s academic career could suffer immensely if the choice is wrong. Also, be inclusive in that you accept other family models, one expat might need to take their mother. Another might have a dog or adopted kids.

DATA and DASHBOARDS: If we want to be serious about change we need to get better at using data and build dashboards that show us if we are heading in the right direction. The number of assignments is a silly KPI. It does not say anything about the quality of the learning of the expats. Think about Expat Experience, their learning journey, the skills they develop on assignments or international projects and add that to the mix.

Global Mobility Budget Cuts

The financial impact of the global coronavirus pandemic has yet to be fully calculated, though McKinsey and the BBC have presented an analysis based on the available datasets and the outlook is bleak. Combine that with the fact that the world was still recovering from the worldwide financial crisis of 2008 and you realize how deep the effects are. With both crises, it has been observed that travel and expat budgets get reduced to a minimum. The current pandemic, especially, has left Expats stranded, with their support system from the employer vanishing. The Expat Experience coming out of this COVID-19-driven financial crisis – will get worse.

Many Expats and Repatriates are finding themselves unemployed in their respective home countries. We also see that companies are struggling to sustain, with even large organizations filing for bankruptcy (like Virgin Australia). More are merging or getting acquired. Even those that have managed to transition to a work-from-home structure have had to downsize, with the working employees not guaranteed fixed working hours, which means 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 allow their workforce to work fluidly and flexibly from anywhere. Cherished and spoilt expats dwell on the verge of desperation because they have been made redundant, even if they may not be at the end of their contract.

Local Plus is the New Black

Other expats receive a local contract without really understanding what that means for their social security and 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 consider all the risks these moves entail because many business decisions in the last ten years are driven by controllers.

 

Unpacking the Shortcomings of Lifestyle Expats

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.- There is certainly a mismatch and gap between demand and supply. There are several 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.

 

Recruiting Fail Could Easily be Avoided

Health and Security Concerns Hinder Free Movement

Security concerns are growing in Global Mobility. 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, Iran, and Afghanistan to name a few make it hard to convince families to work in these countries. Each terrorist act — 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.

Global Migration Challenges

Look back to 2015, the year 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 since 2015. While I am personally concerned about right-wing propaganda, I do understand that the intercultural and societal challenges of integrating refugees at least temporarily are considerable. – I am concerned about discriminatory practices in Recruiting and Global Mobility. In 2020, global migration faces another challenge in the form of the travel restrictions that have been imposed on the entire world by the highly infectious COVID-19. Many countries are not letting in any people, especially those on temporary visas (such as temporary work visas). Delays in paperwork processing due to shutdowns, mandatory quarantine periods and more means that a highly qualified international workforce has been robbed of all mobility.

All of this has led to Global Mobility being flawed, expats not being able 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 Global Mobilitytasks have been outsourced to Third-Party Service Providers and Shared Service Centers, or put on indefinite hold for those organizations that have stood down their employees and halted operations.

Working in Global Mobility used to be a career dead-end and a Sisyphean 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 or who we are. 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.

We see the change in Global Mobility.

The more complex our global markets become, the more we need to reevaluate our assumptions of how we run Global Mobility

We need global leadership competency in our international talents 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 expats to learn the local language and coach them through the Expat  Experience. Intercultural briefings are not enough anymore.

We need to ensure that there is a Global Mobility Business Case showing assignment drivers and targets, expected gains or opportunities, assignment costs, and a repatriation plan. I explain this at length in “The Global Mobility Workbook (2019)” and my lectures.

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 are appropriately reflected in their following role and repatriation plan. We also need to ensure better handovers to their successors in the host location.

We need to upgrade the GM Profession and the 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.

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 crises such as marital issues. A helpline to professional counselors 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 Expat Experience is linked to assignment targets, an international assignment business case, a repatriation plan, and also to the Human Touch.
  • 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 post-crisis and are valued more 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 multilingual at the end of their school life, they have to cope with identity loss and loss of their roots.

What is our Solution?

Here is more about our solution to those dilemmas and please reach out if you need a customized proposal.

 

Expat Coaching via the RockMeApp

 

 



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