Re-imagining Global Mobility

The idea of talent might be maligned in some quarters, but try telling that to the CEOs of some of the world’s largest companies. Surveys increasingly show failure to attract and retain talent is a number one concern for business leaders. Could Global Mobility 2.0 help companies secure that business advantage?

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Relocate Magazine Autumn Issue 2018
This article is taken from the latest issue of Relocate magazine, sponsored by AKA.
– the must read for HR, global managers and relocation professionals.

Put it down to demographic change, historically high employment rates or a skills mismatch rather than a shortage of talent, the fact remains that CEOs regard people as key to their competitive advantage.Global mobility and HR are at the sharp end of providing a solution. This is not a new concept. Strategic talent mobility has been with us for the best part of a decade and is celebrated annually at the Relocate Awards.Yet new research from the RES Forum still finds a number of companies that lack strategic global mobility (GM). Meanwhile, this and other research adds detail to what being a strategic partner means in practice. 
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Early days for strategic GM

Just over four in ten (44%) of respondents to the RES Forum’s most recent annual survey said the GM function always acts as a strategic advisor, down from 51% in 2015. For GM managers, the picture is much more positive: 62% say they always act as a strategic advisor. This compares to 51% three years ago and represents significant progress.The RES Forum’s study suggests that at an individual level, in-house GM leaders increasingly understand and are fulfilling their important role in the talent and wider business agenda. Nevertheless, that’s still at least four in ten businesses not taking a strategic view of talent mobility. Little wonder perhaps the ability to attract, recruit, develop and retain people is still keeping business leaders awake at night. 

Redrawing the boundaries 

Based on responses to its latest survey, the RES Forum’s annual report suggests how in-house GM teams might help HR practitioners design, execute and refine successful GM strategies, structures, policies and practices.With the talent challenge undimmed – and internal GM expertise currently striking effective partnerships to outsource the routine aspects of GM to external vendors – there is an opportunity for GM practitioners to redraw the boundaries of their roles.
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The RES Forum’s report, and others, like the Worldwide ERC’s survey, The Perfect Storm: Talent Mobility Leaders Decode the Future, identifies huge scope for GM to engage with internal stakeholders, and show how mobility can help the business deliver to keep pace with these disruptive times.“We’re moving into a completely new iteration of global mobility,” says Peggy Smith, president and CEO of Worldwide ERC. “It’s faster, more disrupted, and more connected to workforce planning and business outcomes than ever before. It’s an environment that’s going to build our innovative, strategic and technological muscles.“We have a little work to do – we need to raise our analytics capabilities and develop relationships within the company that allow us to bring mobility into earlier workforce planning. But one of our best advantages is that we’re well-positioned to see the workforce changes that are coming, and we can articulate how companies can leverage talent and mobility within the organisation.” 

A fork in the road?

This new horizon for mobility, together with the RES Forum’s finding around the decline of strategic mobility support at a functional level, also raises an interesting question of the space for external global mobility service providers to help fill this strategic talent mobility gap.In his foreword to the annual report, RES Forum founder and MD, Andrea Piacentini suggests many organisations swing between insourced and outsourced provision in order to optimise programme management and employee experience – key aspects of strategic talent mobility.However, in the past 18 months he has seen the start of a paradigm shift. “I have observed more consultative and forward- thinking vendors and third-party suppliers ‘up-hire’ with the best mobility talent,” said Mr Piacentini. “This appears to be disrupting things in an interesting way.”He notes two developments. Namely, that in-house expertise and outsourced vendors enmeshed as one team “is as strong as ever”, leaving vendors who focus on transactional relationships only potentially locked out.Secondly, external partners are driving and articulating internal programme value, both through excellent service provision, superior tools, data management. This second development is something that is “truly exciting,” he adds. 

Predictive data analysis – making the LEAP

Global mobility and relocation management companies new and old are all adopting technology solutions to help clients power their moves and deliver all- important personalisation for employees.The Worldwide ERC notes in its 2018 survey that among its 371 respondents, 78% believe that in the next five years, technology will impact their in-house global mobility programmes to a high (53%) or extremely high (25%) degree.As a testament to the growth of this area and a sign of the times, the global mobility technology categories in this year’s Relocate Awards attracted a record number of entries and the largest volume.Many service providers are also innovating further, leveraging algorithms to predict assignment success and gain instant feedback into relocation and mobility programmes. Global relocation services provider Cartus is among them.Earlier this year it launched its new data consultancy, Leading Edge Analytics Practice (LEAP). Cartus anticipates its predictive analytics solution “will mark a new frontier for relocation management”. Designed to help clients better predict outcomes of budget and policy design, the product should result in more cost- effective relocation assignments and higher employee satisfaction.Interestingly, it also speaks to the two strands Mr Piacentini notes about a potential evolution in the GM role, and to the talent challenges faced by global companies.
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Data-informed decisions

Asked what LEAP and similar innovations mean for in-house GM practitioners, Cartus senior vice-president David Pascoe said he believes this new data-informed approach will give mobility managers the confidence to tweak programmes, make policy decisions and adjudicate on exceptions based on fact rather than cost or gut instinct. “You can imagine for any of our clients who have to stand up in front of senior leadership teams to recommend changes, how powerful it is to say, ‘we know this is going to happen based on the evidence and various algorithms and tools we are working with.’ It’s going to allow people to make much more informed decisions based on accurate predictions.” 

Evolution of the GM practitioner 

With RMCs and global mobility service providers offering an increasingly responsive and sophisticated support to clients, where does this leave the GM role, both in and out of house?For David Pascoe, the human touch is still going to be critical. “I know there are self-service platforms coming into the market. While I think these expectations around [self-service] are real, I think the human component is still incredibly valued. Where we’ve seen clients go full self-service, even if it’s what the employees said they wanted, our experience is that human intervention has had to be made for the relocation and assignment to be successful.”Mr Pascoe also sees the support offered by consultants and in-house GM experts is undergoing change – and by necessity. “I think the human component definitely needs to change. The support needs to be relevant. When we look at our consultants, they are very much in a shift where we are moving from a discipline or model that is very much about policy, rules and processes to one that is more consultative and guiding, saying ‘if you choose these options, have you thought about this?’“So, I think for our clients, giving employees more choice is where the human component changes. I don’t see it going away; I just think it needs to evolve. That’s something we are very clearly focused on at Cartus.” 

Changing times 

Alongside launching its online Learning Lab last year, the RES Forum set out a blueprint for future-proofed global mobility in its recent annual report (SAFE). At the heart of the SAFE model is a GM function that is “strategic, agile, flawless and efficient”. It operates at the intersection of people and processes, strategy and operations, and encompasses:
  • organisational development through strategic advice that supports the business and HR strategies
  • programme management that is highly compliant and employee-oriented
  • GM people effectiveness work-based on an in-depth understanding of assignees’ motivational patterns and performance.
This development of the GM function brings with it the opportunity for ongoing personal, team and organisational development. The function is at once a strategic advisor, global talent manager, global people effectiveness expert and GM programme designer. It sounds like a tall order, especially with the existing resource constraints and often the challenge of being in a position to influence the business. Yet, as with all things in this age of agility, it is about taking small steps.At the report’s launch in June, Professor Michael Dickmann advised GM practitioners to look at the quadrant and to see where they could add most value. This advice echoed that offered at Relocate Global’s innovative Festival of Global Mobility Thinking in May by fellow leading HR consultant, and author of The Agile Organization, Dr Linda Holbeche.In a dialogue with participants on the relevance of agility to global mobility, Dr Holbeche referenced her Resiliently Agile Ways of Working model to describe HR’s critical role in enabling more agile routines in the workplace.These included continuous learning, rapid decision making, creating adaptable structures and attracting and retaining multi- skilled and flexible people. As with all change, here, there is likely to be a role for coaching too.

Watch a short video with Dr Linda Holbeche about agility in modern working environments

Upskilling the mobility role

It is surely positive that more in-house global mobility managers are recognising their strategic value to the company and their value as strategic advisors to the business.Yet, for the perennial challenges of continuing to fuel global talent pipelines and the sheer speed of change wrought by technology and evolving assignee needs, perhaps global mobility practitioners – and their employers – may need to take their own personal investment in skills development even more seriously too.By addressing skills gaps identified in the reports, continuing to share practice and staying informed on the global mobility and talent aspects of business-critical decisions, mobility can make its voice louder, integrating further into the business to deliver what it needs as a true strategic partner.
Relocate Magazine Autumn Issue 2018
This article first appeared in the autumn 2018 issue of Relocate magazine.

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