How organisations can better align relocation with talent management strategy.
In today’s competitive business environment, mobility is more than just relocating employees to new markets. It means creating a global business plan around the drivers and goals for annual relocations—and looks beyond the bottom line in terms of measuring the efficiency of mobility programmes.
Unfortunately, there is often a disconnect between global mobility efforts and larger organisational objectives for talent management, especially within large companies. This can make strategic, talent-oriented actions, such as hiring and benefit management, difficult to synergise. There are several reasons for this disconnect, including a divided understanding around the purpose of the global mobility function. In fact, new research from Brookfield Global Relocation Services suggests that whilst 46 per cent of employees say that the primary role of global mobility is to support and serve relocated employees, another 44 per cent believe that global mobility mainly exists to provide expert advice to stakeholders throughout the company.
The reality is that relocation should work in both of these ways—and the expectations placed on global mobility professionals are only growing and becoming more strategic.
So where does the process of alignment begin? A good place to start is by identifying the greatest barriers to alignment and crafting long-term solutions. Here are just a few of the problems that keep mobility and talent management disconnected—and ways to solve them.
Communicate. As in any sector of business, effective global mobility programmes rely on communication between the people in charge of implementing the talent agenda—in this case, relocated employees—and the people in charge of creating that agenda—the senior-level HR staff at corporate. As long as professionals in these two areas are on the same page, long-term strategy can remain at the forefront. But without this communication, the implementation of organisation-wide goals will suffer.
“In many cases, there aren’t a lot of engagements or opportunities to build dialogue and relationships [with relocated employees],” says Bill Graebel, owner and CEO of Graebel Relocation. “Companies are so large that the leaders of various functions, good-natured as they are, don’t really know who’s who in terms of who they should be having those dialogues with between corporate and line management and, to even take it further, in units that are outside the headquarter country locations.”
Cara Skourtis, vice president of knowledge and experience at NuCompass Mobility Services, agrees that communication and education are key.
“Education, leveraging technology, and effective teamwork are strong strategies for supporting global relocation,” she says. “Educating both the business partners—from hiring managers to HR business partners to country leaders—and employees about compliance and the complexities of international relocation is a strong foundation for success.”
The lack of communication between external business units and corporate can mean that relocated employees make talent management and acquisition decisions autonomously and are largely left out of organisational strategy in these areas. To remedy this, organisations should consider making structural changes that allow globally-mobile employees to report directly to talent management.
Keeping mobile employees in direct and regular contact with talent management ensures that they never lose sight of the organisational mission and always feel like they are a part of the corporate community. This strategy also gives talent management a better understanding of relocated employees’ needs, concerns, and potential for contribution.
“In last year’s survey, we saw evidence that companies with direct reporting links to talent management had implemented processes that support a more mindful set of practices around expatriation,” says Diane Douiyssi, director of consulting services at Brookfield Global Relocation Services. “For example, where global mobility reports into talent management, significantly more companies require a statement of the assignment objectives and business justification at the outset of an international assignment than companies that don’t have this direct reporting relationship. These companies also tend to have formal career management processes in place and measure ROI more often than those that have mobility report directly to other departments.”
Research and reprioritise. Why are mobile employees so out of alignment to begin with? The answer lies in their numbers. Global mobility is typically a very small segment of the workforce, and their lack of representation means that they often fly under the radar of HR’s priorities.
To alleviate this problem, Graebel suggests that organisations make global mobility a higher priority and work to highlight its strategic value through research and data sets. “In many cases, that intersection of talent mobility and talent management hasn’t hit the cut line of a must-win battle because for years, there hasn’t necessarily been a need for a strategic lens on those things,” he says. “On a tactical basis, [global mobility] is a function of the war for talent that exists in so many industries, and on a strategic basis, it relates to sustainability and competitiveness. The challenge is picking the right data sets to really lock in on … and [to do that] you need to start looking at the critical data to know who and when and where and why that company relocates its employees.”
Once companies have gathered critical information about the goals for relocation, employee productivity whilst on assignment, as well as the cost effectiveness of their trip, it will be easier to ascertain the strategic importance of relocated employees and the need for better alignment.
Stacy Baker, consulting services manager at AIReS, says that it’s important for companies to choose the right people to relocate.
“[Relocated] employees are being utilised to their fullest potential—as those individuals who are selected are typically chosen for their leadership potential, or because they possess a specific knowledge or skill set that is needed in the new location to contribute to the success of the company,” she says. “Ensuring that their transition to the new location is as smooth as possible is critical to their success as it will allow them to focus on their new responsibilities vs. the relocation itself.”
Relocate strategically. Quality of hires can also be a source of woe when it comes to keeping everyone on the same page. When candidates for relocation are selected based on demonstrated performance, they may have a hard time making the transition into their new role.
“One of the most neglected areas of global mobility support is on the front end of international assignments,” Cici Franchi, MSI Mobility’s senior director of global consulting and advisory services explains. “Too often, candidates are chosen quickly without adequate decision making based exclusively on the required work-related skills, without giving adequate consideration to cultural adaptability, global readiness, and preparedness.”
An international assignment is often viewed as a perk and a unique opportunity to hone and develop professional skills, but all employees should be in the right position personally or professionally to take on the challenges that come along with it.
For example, an employee who has spent several years with the company and attained a deep familiarity with its culture might seem like an obvious candidate to represent the organisation from afar, but if that employee has never had a leadership role or been outside of the headquarter country, they may not have the necessary skills for a mobile assignment.
“The experience and professional maturity of the employee will be a more important variable for consideration for relocation than actual time spent with the company,” says Ivana Gibson, vice president of client management for MSI.
Above all, “the specific goals of the company, the development path of various internal positions, the nature of the industry, and the speed with which change happens and other contextual factors dictate the answer [to whether it’s more effect to relocate long-term or new employees] in any specific situation,” says Catherine Ronayne, senior director of global consulting at Paragon Global Resources.
In addition to taking adaptability and leadership into account, managers should factor in family situation, familiarity with the new location and culture and, of course, the employee’s feelings about the assignment. Does the candidate have young children or responsibility for a sick family member that may make a relocation difficult to manage? Do they speak the language or understand the culture in the area they’d be moving to? Are they excited for the opportunity or just sweating the details?
“The old adage ‘it takes a village,’ usually used to refer to raising children, applies to global relocation,” says Skourtis. “It takes a team—HR, immigration, tax, relocation, language and cultural trainers, and many more— to effectively support a family moving a new country, whether it’s their first time or their last at the end of a career.”
An employee who feels adequately prepared emotionally and professionally for their assignment will adjust to their new surroundings more quickly and be able to spend more time working strategically to achieve talent management goals. Needless to say, the process of selecting these candidates from the existing talent pool—or in some cases recruiting them—should look different than the process of hiring a traditional employee or selecting someone for a promotion.
Plan for repatriation. For most globally mobile employees, their time on an assignment is temporary, yet inadequate planning for repatriation can make them feel separate from the rest of the team—and from its talent goals—when they do return.
“Employees who no longer feel valued upon their return—whether it is because their former job no longer exists and/or because they feel that no one values their experience—often leave their companies within a year or two of their return,” Franchi says. “Many also end up working for competitor companies, where they can leverage the knowledge and skills gained whilst on assignment abroad.”
The goal of a relocation is that the employee would serve an essential function in their new location and return with important knowledge and experience that will grow their organisation’s business opportunities and success. If that knowledge is underutilised upon repatriation, then the entire relocation becomes a waste of both time and money.
In this way, making repatriation planning an ongoing process that begins pre-assignment and continues after the employee returns is a matter of maximising return on investment.
“The pre-assignment stage is actually the optimal time to plan an employee’s repatriation,” Gibson says. “To ensure a successful repatriation, employers should, ‘begin with the end in mind’ and clearly articulate the assignment’s purpose to the employee and the company’s expectations for him or her upon return as early on as possible. Will there be a return to the same job, a lateral transfer, or a promotion? Long-term career planning is critical.”
Moving on Up
Catherine Ronayne, senior director of global consulting at Paragon Global Resources, shares a few thoughts on how relocation can be used for employee career development, and what organisations can do to effectively manage relocated employees.
How Relocation is a Useful Tool for Career Development
“Relocations and assignments are great options for career development, especially when opportunities for promotions are not available,” she says. “Working together, talent managers and global mobility managers can offer employees new leadership opportunities, professional growth, and succession planning. In a recent survey, nearly 70 per cent of the assignee population fell between the ages of 30-49. This makes sense as this demographic represents the largest population of employees transitioning into mid and senior management positions.”
How to Better Manage Globally-Relocated Employees
“Whilst standardisation is necessary to control costs and manage fair and equitable benefits, it should not come at the cost of flexibility in mobility programmes, especially if a company is trying to attract talent to an underdeveloped country,” she says. “In-country or at least in-time zone mobility support is also important. Regular contact is a proactive gesture that not only reinforces to the assignee that he or she is still important, but can provide an opportunity to identify and mitigate future issues that could lead to a failed assignment. Anticipate and prepare for the changing needs of the millennial workforce.”