How global mobility can enrich your succession planning strategy.

Finding the right people remains one of the key challenges in business.

Competition for best talent is intense. The challenge becomes even more acute for senior level appointments, particularly where the requirements of a role demand international exposure and experience.

Identifying and investing in future leaders has become critical for organisations as part of a long-term approach to talent management and minimising the risk of internal skills gaps.

For multinational companies, existing talent offers a pool of potential candidates for future leadership opportunities, however taking the step up into leadership roles is rarely an organic process. Development strategies are required to ensure the capability, suitability and relevance of experience of internal candidates that will lead to swift, efficient and smooth transition into leadership roles.

While advancements in technology have enabled cross-border working and collaboration across organisations, experience gained first-hand overseas within an organisation – properly planned and executed – overcomes many of the internal barriers associated with multinational companies – language, culture, local knowledge.

Global organisations can facilitate effective succession planning by aligning talent management with global mobility. The benefits are compelling:

  • Return on mobility investment of retaining senior employees
  • Lower cost of developing and retaining internal talent compared to recruitment
  • Recognising value and contribution of employees through overseas opportunities and enhanced career progression
  • Knowledge sharing among parts of the business
  • Cultural enrichment
  • Internal networking and cross-organisation relationship building

Global Mobility in Practice

There are various types of mobility organisations may consider as part of a succession planning strategy, each requiring varying degrees of investment, time and potential for return on investment:

Business travel:

Frequent business travel is a common requirement for senior personnel of mutinational organisations. Opportunities to meet counterparts in overseas parts of the organisation, to visit headquarters or regional outposts, to handle a crisis ‘on the ground’.

The value of business visits however, given the ‘in and out’ nature of time-limited stays, offers relatively little scope for meaningful exposure to parts of the organisation in other parts of the world.

It is also important to note that while business travel may appear to be less of an administrative burden on organisations than other, longer-term mobility options, there are considerable compliance risks of business travel. This is particularly the case where employees are not subscribing to an organisation’s global mobility policy, however unintentional.

Short-term assignments:

Shorter-term overseas assignments can offer an ideal balance for all parties. The employee gains experience without the need to uproot their family, while the employer can satisfy a business need such as development for succession planning.

Crucial to making short term assignments work is supporting the employee in advance of the assignment. Training to prepare for the change in culture and local ways of working; clarity around the specifics of the assignment – duration expectations on the employee, and expectations on the employer; flexibility around family visits and visits home; support for the employer’s family and their specific circumstances during the employee’s absence.

The key is communication between employer and employee. Be open about expectations and the support that is on offer to make the assignment a success.

Job swaps:

To improve understanding of other parts of the business, job swaps are becoming increasingly popular for executive development. There are obvious commercial benefits of an effective job swap for future leaders. Improving processes, enhancing local knowledge, building relationships with overseas parts of the company.

From a mobility perspective, there are logistical complexities of arranging concurrent movement of two employees, and any dependants. With twice as much to do, twice as much can go wrong!

Effective immigration compliance processes are crucial, as is knowledge of relevant local immigration rules. Planning, keeping both employees informed of application status, ensuring employees provide all required information by the right time is critical.

Longer term assignments:

The cost and level of support required to ensure the success of a relocation or long term assignment are deterring organisations from investing as frequently in this form of mobility. However, among senior executives there remain instances where relocation is required, perhaps to regional or global headquarters.

To avoid any potential for fall-through, or

In instances of long term assignments, it is important to go beyond the visa application process, and look to support the employee and their dependants. This could mean a spouse and children to relocate, requiring suitable accommodation, schooling, childcare, access to medical care. Relocating to another part of the world can be a stressful experience.

A well-supported employee is less likely to cut their stay short or pull out altogether, both of which come at cost and impact potential for return on investment.


Throughout the assignment project, a key objective should be around retention of talent, so as to derive full return on the investment made in their development. Done well, this means going beyond the period of assignment itself by providing support to employees following their return from assignment.

What are the next steps for the employee once they have returned? Have they met the assignment objectives? How has the assignment impacted their career progression? Is further support required for returning dependants?

The final stage requires sufficient attention to avoid a scenario of a senior employee leaving the organisation following a development assignment, ultimately undoing the hard work and progress achieved to that point.