Mobility challenges: exploring best practice

Those at the forefront of managing international assignments are dealing with growth and change as their businesses extend their global reach. Fiona Murchie shares case studies from Symposium Events Expatriate Management and Global Mobility Forum.

Those at the forefront of managing international assignments are dealing with growth and change as their businesses extend their global reach. Fiona Murchie shares two recent case studies from Symposium Events Expatriate Management and Global Mobility Forum.We all know that managing assignee populations in a new country is challenging. As well as getting the type of assignment right, there is the tension between cost control and the need to respond to global demand and business growth.Policy and practice are having to move towards a more flexible approach in order to deploy talent overseas and respond to commercial needs. Equally, there is a shift in compensation and benefits from balance-sheet to more responsive types of compensation package.Getting it right in terms of compensation and the quality of talent is critical. But now, owing to demographics and an ageing population, there are fewer middle managers with families willing to undertake assignments, mainly because of concerns about education.Far fewer children now go on assignment, and this isn&#x;t helped by the shortage of international school places in many regions and the cost involved. Concerns about health, together with heightened anxiety regarding security and safety in some regions, are also part of the mix.Add to this resistance from partners and spouses to go on assignment because of concerns about their own career paths and remuneration, and one can see that the role of the HR global mobility manager or overstretched HR team is not easy, particularly against a global background of increased compliance across tax, social security and immigration.General Motors: coping with difficult locationsManaging assignments in difficult locations was brought to life at the Symposium Events Expatriate Management and Global Mobility Forum by Richard Pennington, General Motors&#x; head of global mobility for the EMEA region. He shared some of the things that went well, as well as some of those that didn&#x;t, and lessons learnt from moving employees to Uzbekistan. This came about when the company took on a new engine manufacturing operation in the capital, Tashkent, as well as an existing manufacturing plant in Andijan.The objects were the same as for most global mobility projects: to get the right people to the right place at the right time for the right cost. The general approach was Action &#x; Plan &#x; Do &#x; Check.Richard Pennington urged his audience not to be over-reliant on the internet and, if possible, to go and see for themselves. &#x;Nothing beats going to a location &#x; particularly a harsh location &#x; yourself. Get out from behind your desk and go and assess the place for two weeks if you can.&#x;It was crucial to be able to identify and nurture reliable local sources of information, Mr Pennington said, to be able to listen to them carefully, and then to suspend judgment, to ensure you made the right decisions. He also emphasised the importance of selecting suppliers on the ground carefully, even if you already have a network of existing suppliers.Strong relationships in the host location are of paramount importance. In difficult locations, it is particularly important that the local HR, finance and legal staff work with you proactively, as making payments at the right time can be critical. Equally, cultural training and language providers are essential.Man with a planIn terms of making the plan, Richard Pennington recommended being prepared to think differently and not be drawn into familiar patterns. General Motors works with stakeholders to produce a very comprehensive plan, which includes nearly 150 items.Procuring property had been difficult, and things could take a long time. Tackling employees&#x; reservations and nervousness, particularly around health and security, had been overcome by formulating a worst-case-scenario plan that offered reassurance regarding medical and security evacuation. This built and sustained trust.Hard measures of success are needed. In General Motors&#x; case, the measure of success was to be 60 per cent uptake.Good communication is essential, and documenting the process flow gave people confidence in the move. It takes time in such circumstances to gain trust, but honesty is crucial, and trust was built by encouraging questions.Mr Pennington felt that it was very important for the local global mobility managers to be empowered and to have some flexibility to act in the region. This can be difficult to negotiate, but he saw it as being essential to doing an effective job in that location.He also advised that it was very important to be able to distinguish the &#x;noise&#x; from the genuine issues. In difficult locations, he warned, there could be a multiplier effect, so get things validated and don&#x;t just rely on what you hear from assignees.Another piece of sound advice was to visit the assignees regularly. Lessons learnt had included underestimating the power of local landlords, the legal environment and cultural issues, and perhaps focusing too much on the assignees and not enough on their families. Looking under the surface had resulted in some pragmatic remedies, such as problems with internet and expense being overcome by issuing flatscreen TVs and a ready supply of films, plus extra money for Skype and upgrading kitchens.Assignees&#x; origins can be important. General Motors was seeing increasing numbers of inexperienced assignees coming from developing regions of China and India. Family issues regarding dependants and schooling, as well as problems with landlords, were of a different nature, and culturally the assignees were reluctant to talk about problems.This required those responsible for global mobility to think in a different way. By carrying out a detailed formal review every six months, they were able to identify a range of issues, take immediate action on some, and delay action on others.Richard Pennington&#x;s overriding advice was not to make assumptions, because the devil is in the detail and more time spent on planning will pay off. He advised his audience to be prepared to spend more time on difficult and small locations, to act decisively if required, and to enjoy the challenges!Diageo: enabling global mobilityDavid Wells, director of global mobility at drinks company Diageo, spoke about his experience of bringing the company&#x;s polices up to date to serve its population of 350 international assignees in 61 countries.With 36,000 employees across 80 countries and around 40 per cent of its business in emerging markets (primarily in Africa and Latin America), the company was reviewing its policies to align better with the business strategy and to accommodate changing international assignment demographics.Emerging markets are expected to contribute 50 per cent of sales by the end of 2015. With the overarching ambition to create &#x;the best-performing, most trusted and respected consumer products in the world&#x;, there was the desire to drive down cost, invest in growth, and guarantee growth plans with the right people with the right capability. Inevitably, this meant implementing policies which promoted global mobility.The principle of being bold in execution, which was highlighted in the company&#x;s performance ambition agenda, gave clear direction. The policy choices needed to be clear and to provide the tools to allow the right choice&#x; to be made first time. Administration of polices needed to be simpler while enabling 100 per cent compliance.The policy review resulted in a change from eight policy types with unclear guidelines and definitions of how to apply, plus inconsistent treatment of transfers, to four simple policy choices. A clear decision tree ensured that the policy choice was right first time and global mobility took ownership of international transfers with a clear IT policy.Diageo has also made the shift from all benefits being provided in kind to a flexible arrangement based on individual circumstance wherever feasible, which fits the needs of its diverse international assignment population better. By moving from a generous above-market benefits package to median benefit provision, in line with the market and competitors, the company succeeded in saving &#x;3 million in costs, which is being used to underwrite growth plans and ensure the right talent is benefiting from global mobility experience.As David Wells said, &#x;We provide global mobility polices which guarantee our plans with the right people and capabilities; mobility plays a key role in achieving what talent must do. Fulfilling the company&#x;s ambition to &#x;act like owners&#x;, global mobility were empowering international assignees to own their international assignment package and, at the same time, enhance the overall international experience.No doubt Diageo&#x;s shareholders will drink to that!&#x;&#x;