Moving towards a closer strategic partnership

Corporates and suppliers have their sights set on a closer strategic partnership to address the changes and challenges of 2017, as Fiona Murchie discovered at the Worldwide ERC Symposium in Washington DC.

Mick Ebeling Not Impossible Labs at Worldwide ERC conference 2016
An inspiring keynote at Worldwide ERC’s Global Workforce Symposium, held in Washington DC in October, showed how companies could look beyond the branding power of 'doing good' and make a real difference in the world.A recipient of the Muhammmad Ali Humanitarian of the Year Award and countless other accolades for his charitable and corporate and social responsibility work, Mick Ebeling is CEO of Not Impossible Labs, a multiple-award-winning social innovation lab and production company whose mission is to develop creative solutions to real-world problems.Probably one of the best motivation speakers I have heard, Mr Ebeling made a powerful connection with his audience. Working with a wide variety of Fortune 500 companies, he shares the important message of creating "technology for the sake of humanity", and encourages others to do the same.His book, Not Impossible: The Art and Joy of Doing What Couldn’t be Done, recounts his career in the film industry and the life experiences that led to the founding of Not Impossible. It describes the science of consciousness, explained simply as changing lives by doing good. The mission of Not Impossible Labs is to change the world through technology and story. It is all about the power of story – and what powerful stories Mick Ebeling has to tell. By focusing on one person and thinking strategically, you can help many. Mr Ebeling’s message was to commit and then figure it out. A celebrated street artist he knew, was struck down by the progressive fatal neurological disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Determined to help, he surrounded himself with smart people he thought could, together, find a way to help, and invited scientists and programmers to join him in solving how the artist could be enabled to draw again by movement of his pupil. Thus the Eyewriter was created, the achievement went viral, and Not impossible Labs was born. As Mick Ebeling pointed out to his audience, "Name me something that is possible today that wasn’t impossible first."From there, the innovative work continued with another high performance team Project Daniel, building a prosthetics factory in Africa utilising Intel technology which won a number of humanitarian awards.

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Doing good is good branding and good business, Mr Ebeling explained. Organisations already know this, but there is an opportunity to scale up from self-interest and do something good for the world.Back in the USA, the team has gone on to build up muscle memory for a child with cerebral palsy using technology from gamification and off-the-shelf automobile parts. Another project involves the deaf experiencing music without their ears. All these things have been achieved with no credentials and no training. Failures can lead to success.Mick Ebeling urged his audience to keep telling their own stories because this could lead to helping many people. #Helpone.HelpMany. He put out the challenge, "Who is your one, who could start that spark for you?"

Sharing the load

There was plenty in the two-day conference to satisfy the thirst for global mobility knowledge among the 1,800 delegates from 50 countries. Topics covered everything from whether traditional assignments were dead to the compliance risks around business travel and managing a global workforce.There were factual sessions, such as the dos and don’ts of entering a new country or region. Corporate benchmarking is always popular among the HR audience, and, for suppliers, this year saw a new initiative whereby knowledge gleaned at the HR global mobility think-tank-style roundtable discussions attended by 200 corporate members were shared with suppliers the next day, to enable them to support their clients in an informed way.Jim Carroll, of the WestRock Company, which moves 350 domestic relocatees and 50–70 international assignees per year, led the benchmarking feedback session with humour, energy and a sense of commitment to this new sharing approach.To those outside the global mobility sector, the reasons for barriers in the sharing of information have been a mystery. In sectors like engineering, construction, energy and pharmaceuticals, suppliers are very much seen as part ofthe team, with a 'we are all in this together' approach that is fundamental to solving problems and facing challenges.As this is a sector that shows every sign ofcontinuing to outsource, with WERC reflecting the drive for mobility professionals to be strategic partners at the decision-making table, this can only be a good thing.Topics of concern were no surprise, with immigration and compliance featuring strongly. Of course, there are no definitive answers to 'how do you educate business partners when you feel the advice you are giving is part of the roadblock?'Pondering how to be more strategic, Jim Carroll threw down the challenge to suppliers to help in providing the roadmap. "We don’t necessarily know it all," he explained, "but we have to figure out how to get it done."The conversation flagged up that assignees’ needs were also changing, with employees pushing for flexibility. For example, some now needed four visits home, to take care of ailing parents. There were also lots of split families.Flexible policies allowed the business to pick different tiers and be flexible to the employee. Employees could select what was important to them, whether they wanted four home leaves or had lots of goods to shift. Now, if two people were going, they might both get a half package.Of course, things vary from company to company, and from industry sector to industry sector. However, there was a strong feeling from the corporates that, in reality, we lived in the world of core-flex and if we couldn’t be flexible, then the project, talent initiative or assignment wasn’t going to fly. Clients knew this made life difficult for suppliers, but that was the reality.The suppliers needed the same mindset as the client, it was felt. There shouldn’t be a fear of lump-sum arrangements. In general, corporates didn’t introduce these to save money, but rather to cut down on exceptions. However, it was clearly possible to manage some parts of lump sum."Suppliers are trusted partners" Jim Carroll said, "You [vendors] are extensions of us. But we really can’t feel guilty about making the supplier’s life difficult. We have to align with objectives of our company, and if we don’t do that, we have no reason to exist. We need some solutions, and need help with that."Relationships between HR and global mobility specialists and their suppliers seemed to be edging closer to a more strategic partnership. This could only be good for both parties, good for businesses, and good for the employees and families they were moving.Where the management of talent was concerned, it was felt there was the textbook approach and there was reality. Ultimately, the HR objective was to get the assignee or business traveller from A to B with as few problems as possible.Certainly, there was a need to provide information and data to help manage talent, but most of HR felt they were already at the decision-making table. There was a call not only for everyone in the relocation and global mobility industry to take responsibility for the move from A to B, but also for suppliers to be strategic, because that was wanted.

Reimagining relocation

Oakwood Worldwide, one of the leaders in the serviced apartment sector, showed the way by facilitating a session to reimagine relocation, led by Kevin Brown, director of account strategy. The session was well attended, and its approach, as a blue-sky canvas to open minds and envisage the future of relocation, must be highly commended, even though the topic could only be touched on in such a limited time.A practical exercise broke the ice. The audience was urged to challenge the norm through the learning that "if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem".To move forward, the global mobility profession must relinquish some of its technical role, take the ‘helicopter approach’ and lead strategically, because that is what is needed, now more than ever before, as the US comes to terms with a new government with a different style, the UK negotiates Brexit, Europe faces the challenges of the growing populism movement and the backlash against authority, and emerging economies jostle for position and surge ahead in global markets.Interesting times for a new approach. With 50 years of responding to change, Worldwide ERC should be in a good position to support organisations and their members as they feel their way forward.The session reinforced the view that something had to change to get different outcomes. If delegates felt a step closer to being empowered to be pioneers and explore what that meant in their particular sector, it was been a job well done. Kevin Brown provided plenty of background reading and guidance for his audience to take back to their organisations.

Developing Millennials

During the conference, I heard the comment, “We’ve talked about Millennials long enough, and they’re not so different. It’s time to stop compartmentalising.” However, an excellent session on the topic proved that there was still plenty to learn.The session provided an interesting take on the Millennial perspective. Chris Johnson, MD of ACS International Schools, spoke to Morgan Wilcox Crosby, VP of advisory services for international research at AIRINC, Becky Woods, director of HR operations at News Corp, Gina Rhee, Americas mobility reporting supervising associate at Ernst & Young LLP, and Sophie Montgomery, a student at Georgetown University and an ex-pupil of ACS in the UK.It was good to hear how someone with recent experience of school and university reacted to the employer viewpoint. This young woman spoke eloquently about her family’s experience of relocating from the US to the UK. She admitted that her mother and the children had been more hesitant to move than her father, who was taking up the assignment. However, on arriving at ACS International School, she had found a culturally diverse environment and a student body filled with young people who had two or three passports and spoke two or three languages.Sophie Montgomery felt the open-mindedness found at ACS helped pupils to excel both inside and outside the classroom and fostered a desire to take up the opportunity to travel and work abroad. Her experience at the school had awakened an interest in international relations and the desire to study the subject at Georgetown University in her native US.Asked what her needs were likely to be in a future global role, she responded that she felt the appreciation of diversity and experience of mobility set her peer group apart. There were both challenges and benefits.Having already experienced relationships with different people and places helped to build up resilience, Sophie Montgomery said. Her peers and Millennials adapted to change and sought it. This was different from her parents' generation. Millennials were eager to move and adapt to cultural transition. Millennial students and their values in many ways epitomised the global and connected world.Sophie Montgomery felt her generation wouldn’t need much hands-on support, having been "built to do a lot for themselves". They had experience of moving but also access through smartphones and the internet to instant information, and this made the need for general information much smaller.This generation would be looking for a more flexible support system, to include housing, search and travel. However, she was emphatic that they would not just want to rely on apps.Gina Rhee, of Ernst & Young, confirmed that Millennials were a hot topic in her organisation, as three-quarters of the workforce was of that generation. Millennials were willing to relocate for a different career experience.Ernst & Young offered Millennials different types of programme, she explained. There were two programmes specifically open to volunteers – from relatively junior levels to middle managers. For example, an employee might want to go to Brazil for couple of months because it intrigued them, not necessarily because it was relevant to their career. This approach meant that Millennials could continue to grow in their careers and have ease of access to travel and the global experience they desired, while Ernst & Young was able to retain and nurture their talent.These focused programmes were seen as drivers to working hard, but they were also about instilling purpose and meaning. There was also something implicit about fairness and responsibility instilled in the organisation’s values that appealed to all demographics.On a note of caution, Ms Rhee emphasised that sometimes people did things from naivety. Yes, employers wanted to encourage open minds, and Ernst & Young offered access to a global mindset webinar. It was very important to understand cultures and what was OK or not. The education aspect was critical.News Corp's Becky Woods recounted how, in the past, Millennials had been moved on developmental assignments, but now they were filling critical business needs. This had thrown up issues about operating differently.The first thing was technology. Millennials were used to seeing peer reviews and looking for peer validation. For example, they saw a website with corporate housing and wanted to get a review showing what others thought.News Corp was also reviewing how people wanted to contact it, and had found that Millennials preferred to text or message rather than email or phone. Social networking was also an important aspect. The organisation had discovered that it could do a better job of networking via social media and shared experiences demonstrating how others got on in a particular location.The other big thing was being able to track. For example, in immigration, if assignees could see how many steps there were in the visa process, everyone would be happier. Organisations needed to work harder at matching the online experience we received in our daily lives.However, Becky Woods cautioned, compliance risks were fundamental. Global mobility professionals needed to educate the business and employees that there was good reason to be cautious.Cultural understanding and savvy might be missing, she said. Sometimes, the employer’s role was to be "a bit of a parent".Morgan Wilcox Crosby, of relocation management company AIRINC, offered pragmatic advice, having developed responses to some of the company’s clients’ and Millennial assignees’ ideas. In her experience, clients increasingly wanted to develop policies for those in the early stages of their careers.It was important, she emphasised, to create a succession plan for all assignees, including Millennials. However, the policy had to match the programme. In the past, policies had sometimes been extremely prescriptive. Now, Millennials wanted to throw out the rigidity and were looking for more flexibility.Of course, for employers, it was still extremely important to take care of their employees while somehow offering the Millennials freedom, flexibility and purpose. Millennials might want to bring a friend to the overseas location they were working in to experience what they were experiencing. Organisations needed to be a lot more thoughtful if they wished to retain and develop young talent.This logically flows through to technology, Morgan Wilcox Crosby explained. However, the client still needed to spend money on the individual. Millennials liked to see equal access to benefits, and that was something that was really meaningful to them.Service providers could play their part by improving their technology to meet the needs of the millennial generations. There would inevitably be compromises. The company, for example, might be willing, under its policy, to pay for an airfare and temporary living, but Millennials might want to spend the equivalent amount on Airbnb and destination services.The company might have concerns about compliance and duty of care if employees stayed in an Airbnb apartment, but these could be allayed by thorough vetting of the selected property.

Accelerating women in leadership roles

The session on women’s leadership was facilitated by Lauren Herring, CEO of Impact Group, with contributions from Emma White, employee mobility director at global power company Cummins.Ernst & Young has an equally forward-thinking approach to gender balance and diversity. Director and global mobility leader Andrew Walker explained that 38 per cent of its expats were female, and that men’s and women’s expectations were different. This was one part of the wider gender parity agenda, and was about the whole organisation.Clearly, there were issues with unconscious bias about who wanted to go on assignment – an assumption, for example, that a single mother with a child wouldn’t wish to do so. Organisations, Andrew Walker felt, needed to take a proactive stance. EY had been at the front with its Women Fast Forward approach.He asked how we could accelerate and make equality in the workplace happen much faster. There were things that kept women back; they had to do with flexibility and visibility of opportunities.Emma White explained that Cummins took a best-in-class approach to female assignments. Its policies were designed to help assimilation into the host country and were financially supportive. They also offered accompanying spouse/partner benefits, in the belief that help with employment for dual-career couples aided retention.This was something that Lauren Herring endorsed. Her organisation specialises in supporting spouses and partners, and recommends needs assessment during the crucial initial stages of an international assignment offer.Ernst & Young sees gender parity as an economic imperative for business in general. It argues that an organisation with 30 per cent female leaders could add up to six percentage points to its net margin. There is a lot of useful information on the website. See also Twitter #WomenFastForward.As the Ernst & Young website says, "To accelerate achievement of gender parity, we need purposeful action by both men and women to recruit, retain and advance women in equal proportion to their numbers and commensurate with the limitless potential they offer the workplace."This is a topic we will revisit in 2017. We’ll also explore developments and trends in supporting women on assignment.

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