How organisations can build competitive advantage through global mobility
The cost of moving personnel across borders continues to cause concern for employers with global footprints. Compliance risks abound, and global immigration rules are continually being constricted to discourage fluidity in labour movement.
Faced with these challenges, progressive employers are looking for increased agility and flexibility from their mobility programmes. And it is becoming clear that one-size-fits-all mobility assignments are struggling to meet modern business needs.
At first glance, you might think a flexible approach to mobility would increase the administrative burden and cost of recruiting and deploying personnel overseas.
Within a clearly defined and well-governed mobility framework, however, HR and mobility teams have the potential to leverage increased flexibility for wider organisational benefit and competitive advantage. In what ways can global mobility programmes align to wider, changing business needs?
1. Have a clear roadmap for mobility
A proactive approach to global mobility can build competitive advantage by supporting longer-term people needs and sustained return on investment in the context of business objectives.
As a function, global mobility is striving to assert its contribution at a strategic level to wider corporate objectives.
This could for example include enabling growth within existing markets, expansion into new markets or developing internal talent at all levels.
More than responding to relocation requests, the vision is to move people with purpose within a framework that promotes compliance, cost savings and consistency.
Effective planning requires a clear roadmap for the organisation’s global mobility programme – enabling HR and mobility teams to continue to manage the cost and compliance challenges of modern mobility in an increasingly complex environment.
A crucial part of the strategic support HR can provide for business is assessing the future mobility needs of the organisation. How can you ensure you will have the necessary talent when and where it is required? Does the mobility programme complement other functions’ activity – such as talent management, legal, tax? Are mobility considerations on the agenda at a suitably early juncture, or is it brought in to projects late in the day?
Anticipating and aligning to wider commercial needs will also help build support from the other parts of the organisation, who will ultimately benefit from the efficiencies of a proactive approach to mobility.
2. Offer a portfolio of mobility classes
Devise a portfolio of mobility classes for the organisation to draw from – with supporting infrastructure, policies and procedures that are consistent, standardised and streamlined to deliver operational excellence and effective compliance.
The right framework should lead to the right questions being asked at the right point in time. Do you really need to fully relocate a person or can they achieve the business aims with using technology and attending on site in the country as needed?
Should you look beyond the traditional permanent hires or long term relocations? Contractors, common within some sectors such as construction and petrochemical, are being engaged more commonly across more and more commercial sectors because of the enhanced flexibility and lower costs incurred.
Offering a predetermined selection of suitable mobility solutions will mean that deviations – and the associated risk and cost – should become the exception, and a consistent approach and standards are nurtured.
Determine the key objectives of the assignment upfront to provide the necessary focus and criteria when considering which type of assignment and candidate is most appropriate. The purpose of the assignment could for example be leading on a designated project, passing on specific skills to local teams through talent development training or developing the next regional CEO as part of your succession planning strategy.
Consider also your candidate selection procedure for overseas assignments. The choice of person and type of move evolves from an ad hoc decision within a business unit to a systematic selection process based on the planned objective and value of the move.
The result is the ability to act quickly and effectively when the need arises – such as hiring a senior executive, where delays are known to defeat discussions, or deploying teams on the ground with minimal operational disruption.
3. Review your reward schemes
Attracting and retaining talent remains a key business challenge. Global mobility can play a positive role in enhancing the attractiveness of your organisation to existing and potential employees.
Old-style bonus and benefits schemes are becoming less relevant. Doing as you have always done, you may be perpetuating issues, such as failing to align to individuals’ expectations of reward.
Question what incentives your employees really want? And what are you able and prepared to provide in the context of the assignment as a whole? The mobility deal for a senior executive on management development programme is likely to differ from an IT specialist on short-term assignment.
Overseas assignments are increasingly being seen as a reward in themselves – particularly among millennial employees, who attribute an inherent value of international experience to their professional development. The prospect of career progression following assignment may well be more attractive than an enhanced financial package while on deployment.
Applying the same approach to flexibility with reward schemes as with other elements of your mobility programme, within a developed framework, can help you achieve more impact at reduced cost.
4. Budget ownership & planning
For historic reasons, mobility assignments are not always managed through a discreet budget. One of the weaknesses of a one-size-fits-all approach to mobility is the resulting bills that are usually presented after an assignment or relocation – unallocated (and often unplanned) overspend which no team wants to pay out for from their budget.
Mobility programmes require a specific budget allocation, ring-fenced and owned by HR or global mobility.
The focus then turns away from a retrospective internal debate around who should foot the bill, to proactive management of the budget by the owner – planning, projections, measurement of actual spend and ROI etc.
This also has implications for supplier management. If the mobility budget has clear ownership, it makes sense for related external mobility suppliers to be managed also by the budget holder, to enable cost savings and efficiencies to be realised.
5. Data-based decision making
The quality and volume of data are in turn creating significant potential for insight into mobility performance, benchmarking and activity measurement – before, during and after an assignment.
Importantly – this approach speaks the language of organisational management.
For example, which types of mobility assignment should be dropped from your programme? What types of mobility are draining budgets? Which carry the most risk? Which offer the most return? Which require more outlay upfront? Which are contributing to employee development and progression? Which are resulting in employees leaving your organisation?
Gathering and analysing data is however a massive undertaking in itself, requiring investment and skills. But having a clear focus on the type of information that will help your organisation make business decisions will help to make data insight become the basis of informed mobility decisions.
The potential exists for HR and mobility teams to contribute to organisational competitive advantage: strategically, adding value to business objectives and anticipating talent needs; and operationally, for the organisation to access effective support while ensuring compliance.
The net result places the organisation in a stronger position to attract talent and capitalise on market opportunities.