Global Mobility Refined

Grasping the Opportunities that the Shift from “Before COVID” (BC) to “After Despair” (AD) can bring.

An illustration of people standing below a world map
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to major upheaval in the global mobility (GM) space. In fact, many GM practitioners and assignees are confronted by huge challenges when transitioning from the ‘GM BC’ era (GM before COVID) to a ‘GM AD’ time (GM after despair). As the world moves towards living with a managed pandemic it is crucial to refine, maybe even reimagine, our GM approaches. This article will depict the challenges to global mobility that are currently experienced by multinational companies (MNCs) and their staff. It will outline how companies can strengthen their GM approaches to attract a global work force. Based on recent RES Forum and GLOMO work, it will distinguish strategic and operational aspects and will develop some recommendations.

Challenges and Barriers to Global Mobility through COVID

The disruption to GM has been abundantly documented. Dickmann and Bader (2020a) surveyed senior managers in GM and found that travel patterns were disrupted and that assignees complained about heightened stress, anxiety and well-being concerns. Operational issues regarding health concerns, compliance cases with respect to staff being stuck in some countries and non-intended work-life spill-over effects became key concerns in the initial phase of the pandemic (Dickmann and Bader, 2021a).Since the outbreak, most countries have implemented border closurepractices to slow the spread of the virus, including some regions with established free movement of people such as the EU and ASEAN (Benton et al., 2021). The pandemic also discourages future mobility trends, when a lack of travel options and exit bans disrupted traditional migration corridors even after countries began to open up (OECD, 2020). It has emphasized the role of cross-border travel for migrant workers and the importance of intermediaries (e.g. employment agencies) in facilitating travel, including return migration (Benton et al., 2021).However, with time some more fundamental challenges became clear. For instance, those companies that pursued GM objectives aimed at control, coordination and leadership talent development worried that the effectiveness of their international strategies was diminished. In fact, many GM leaders have over time begun to see the crisis as a wake-up call to refine and rethink their GM goals and processes (Dickmann and Bader, 2021b).

Learning from Lean Management

The recent RES-Forum report on Lean GM advocates to transfer lean management thinking from the production area to apply it in the global mobility space. It argues that GM teams should go through five steps (and ask themselves 10 questions) to re-evaluate their global mobility approaches. These are outlined below: 
  1. Understand the GM customer and their perceptions of value
    • Who are the key customers (such as global workers, line managers, talent managers, GM service vendors, senior managers, external stakeholder)?
    • What do they value? Why do they value it?
  1. Identify and understand the GM value stream for each process (incl. sub-processes)
    • What are the key aims/deliverables of a particular process and how are these delivered by the GM department?
    • What other GM customers are involved and how can interfaces be coordinated? 
  1. Create GM value flow
    • What are the barriers and obstacles currently in place? Where are the bottlenecks?
    • What are the known unknowns (unpredictable/complex/ambiguous elements in the value flow)? What sort of scenario planning/risk management is needed?
  2. Establish GM customer pull
    • How can the value proposition for the customer (identified in Point 1) be communicated to the different groups?
    • What are the priorities when stakeholder interests clash? How can tensions be navigated?
  3. Seek perfection
    • How can the GM processes/approaches be monitored and reviewed? What KPIs are relevant?
    • How can GM processes be improved? What change management interventions are needed to make adjustments?

Towards a new GM ‘AD’

What has become clear in recent conversations with GM leaders is that they are being asked to envision a modified GM approach that is taking account of developments occurring as the world learns to live through and with COVID. The GM ‘customers’ – assignees (and their families), line managers, business leaders, host teams etc. – are highly varied and each new approach should factor in the diverse demands and needs that these stakeholders have. Of course, this means that Step 1 – understanding the customer – is crucial for the start of the refinement and rethinking process of GM. In terms of global talent management, navigating staffing issues in uncertain pandemic times might also necessitate a change of perspective, or at least a parallel strategy with regards to GM processes (Step 5 – seek perfection). In this sense, a novel GM strategy could include the attraction and development of home-country nationals already living in the host country (self-initiated expatriates (SIEs)). SIEs represent an underutilised and yet valuable resource, as they tend to be highly qualified repositories of both home and host country knowledge and networks (Vaiman, Halsberger & Vance, 2015).GLOMO, a multinational, EU-funded research project, explores a multitude of individual, organizational and national GM issues which can help to provide crucial information for GM leaders. While each multinational organization seems to grapple with their specific problems, from our conversations there seem to be some key emergent topics. Individuals seem to seek (and normally value) the experience they gain when living and working abroad. Therefore, organizations would do well to use this perspective to develop an attractive assignee value proposition (Dickmann, 2020), especially taking account of dangerous or unpleasant experiences (Raupp, Dickmann & Parry, 2019).Organizations consider how to streamline their processes and how to use technology to become more efficient and effective while guaranteeing compliance around the world (Dickmann & Bader, 2021c). In fact, an increase in agility and purpose would be highly important for GM departments and senior managers. Defining an attractive and responsible purpose while supporting organizational objectives and being in harmony with grand societal challenges should be the key goal of the future.References:Benton, M., Jeanne, B., Samuel, D. and Timo, S. (2021). COVID-19 and the State of Global Mobility in 2020. Washington, D.C., and Geneva: Migration Policy Institute and International Organization for Migration.Dickmann, M. (2020). The RES Forum Research Report 2020. SMART Global Talent Management and the Employee Value Proposition – Towards Top Class Global Mobility, London: The RES ForumDickmann, M. (2021a). International Employee Engagement throughout and beyond COVID 19. London: The RES ForumDickmann, M. and Bader, B. (2020a). Now, next and beyond: Global Mobility’s response to COVID-19, London: EY and The RES Forum, Special Issue June 2020Dickmann, M. and Bader, B. (2021b). Lean Global Mobility: An International Assignment as a Process. London: The RES Forum
Dickmann, M. and Bader, B. (2021c). International Remote Working: The Emergence of a New Paradigm. London: The RES ForumOECD (2020), International Migration Outlook 2020, OECD Publishing, Paris,, M., Dickmann, M. and Parry, E. (2019). Watch the steps! Towards the Understanding of Unwelcoming Expatriate Work Environments, European Academy of Management Conference, 26 – 28. June, Lisbon.Vaiman, V., Haslberger, A., and Vance, C.M. (2015). Recognizing the important role of self-initiated expatriates in effective global talent management, Human Resource Management Review, 25(3), p 280-286

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About the authors: 
Michael Dickmann is Professor of International Human Resource Management (HRM) at Cranfield University and the Director of the Cranfield Masters in Management. His research focuses on human resource strategies, structures and processes of multinational organisations, cross-cultural management, international mobility and global careers. Michael has published in a broad range of academic journals and he is the lead author of several books on international HRM and global careers. Since 2017 he is the Senior Editor-in-Chief of The International Journal of Human Resource Management.Manh Ha Luong is a Research Fellow at the University of Bamberg (Germany), part of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Innovative Training Network and researcher of the EU Horizon 2020 “Global Mobility of Employees” (GLOMO) project. He holds a master’s degree in Migration and Intercultural Relations, and a bachelor’s degree in International Business and Economics. His research interest includes expatriation, labor migration, diversity and social inclusion.
GLOMO (, is a pioneer project that has received funding from the European Union’s H2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 765355. Researcher from a variety of countries have generated knowledge about the success factors, effects, and implications of the mobility phenomenon. To read more articles generated from the research see (link to section with further GLOMO articles).

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