How Global Mobility Is Responding to New Dilemmas
By Anne Rossier-Renaud & Olivier Meier, Mercer
The series “How Global Mobility is Responding to New Dilemmas” explores how organizations and talent mobility professionals are reevaluating their practices in response to new HR trends and business development efforts resulting from digitalization, new mobility patterns, and the expectations from the different generations at work. The articles in this series are based on the results from Mercer surveys as well as discussions with practitioners. This series follows Seven Dilemmas Facing the Future of Global Mobility, which covers some of the most important questions that global mobility managers have to address.
Mobility has always been a niche within HR; it is a function that requires a wide range of skills but its purview and status within companies has frequently been shifting or challenged. The risk for global mobility professionals of being siloed within their organizations was always omnipresent.
At a time when all aspects of HR practices are being disrupted by technology and new business practices, global mobility is undergoing a soul searching exercise. Will technology and self-service functionalities make HR staff redundant? Will mobility professionals finally secure a seat at the decision making table? What new career opportunities are opening for mobility professionals? The answers to these questions are not always clear but one thing is certain: thriving in the future of mobility will require more agility, adaption, and ongoing learning.
We have asked talent mobility professionals from 74 organizations to share their views on how they could thrive in the future of work and what skills would matter in Mercer’s recent survey, ‘How Global Mobility is Responding to New Dilemmas.’ Here is what they told us.
The Business Case for Upskilling Mobility Professionals
What are the current challenges for mobility professionals?
Source: Mercer’s survey, ‘How Global Mobility is Responding to New Dilemmas,’ August 2018
Almost one-quarter (24%) of respondents clearly indicated that reskilling the mobility function is a key challenge and a further 36% acknowledge that it is one of the challenges that they are facing. Beyond these figures, the other challenges listed by mobility professionals are also indirectly highlighting the need for upskilling: the increasing complexity of mobility tasks and the difficulty to implement mobility metrics and predictive analytics are two of the main challenges reported by respondents. Addressing them will increasingly require a mix of new tools, process, technical knowledge, and a new set of competencies that is not always readily available within existing teams.
Making mobility management more cost efficient and more strategic within the organization has become a leitmotiv in the mobility industry. These questions are not new but accelerating business and technological changes are giving a new urgency to these on-going debates.
For HR and mobility in particular, being strategic often means the need for more interaction with the other functions and moving away from siloed approaches; in other words, more interaction with the C-suite, finance, and line management. This means mastering new technologies not only to respond to the complexity of mobility tasks, time, and resources constraints but also to be able to provide more relevant input. Unsuccessful attempts to implement a perfect ROI measurement process are sometimes obscuring the fact that developing appropriate metrics and analytics still can make the mobility function more efficient and relevant.
Beyond the efficiency question, the very relevance of the mobility function is being challenged. The perceived lack of relevance of the mobility in the overall business strategy (57% of respondents consider this is a challenge) can point at different issues: a lack of awareness from management about mobility and its increasing complexity, but also a lack of understanding of business priorities by HR. Making HR more relevant is increasingly on CEOs’ agenda and we are seeing a growing number of organizations encouraging lateral moves between functions – i.e. high potential managers encouraged to temporarily occupy HR positions as part of their career within the company as well as HR managers encouraged to move to other non HR roles. The barriers and hierarchy between departments are progressively going down but mobility professionals are still concerned about the lack of career perspectives for them (35% of respondents consider this as a key challenge and a further 38% as somewhat of a challenge).
The perceived lack of relevance of global mobility can also signal that the traditional definition of mobility (centered on long-term and short-term assignments) is gradually becoming irrelevant because it ignores new types of moves. Expanding the purview of the mobility team to encompass business trips, commuters, and virtual moves or even job relocation is an important debate.
Finally, part of the mobility function could be made redundant: self-service tools and other Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based solutions might eliminate a large part of the traditional HR tasks. These changes might not make the entire mobility function obsolete – 55% of respondents don’t perceive that trend as a major threat, but they might require mobility professionals to adapt and retrain to maintain their employability.
Focusing on Critical Skills
Traditionally, employees have been trying to develop their skills to reach specific positions and continue to progress within their organizations throughout their career. The future of work is skill-driven: as organizations become flatter and more digital, positions or job titles won’t matter as much as skills and the capacity to update and renew these skills. People will occupy positions in order to develop the skills that will ensure their long-term employability and give them the possibility to work for multiple organizations and, for some professionals, work as gig workers.
What are the skills that will matter for talent mobility professionals?
Types of Skills that Will Be Required from Mobility Teams
Source: Mercer’s survey, ‘How Global Mobility is Responding to New Dilemmas,’ August 2018
Mastering Compliance Issues
The objective is to be an adviser to the business and to help anticipate risks and compliance issues. Compliance and risk management are often split between departments and geographies; mobility professionals are essential points of contacts and facilitators to coordinate these issues. A survey participant explained: “I think Mobility's role will become more that of a consultant, providing advice especially in terms of compliance, risk mitigation that will come with new assignment categories (virtual team, cross border, commuters, remote working etc.).” Rapidly changing regulations might make the task arduous as another respondent noted: “I see the industry spending a lot of time trying to keep up with changing regulatory requirements.”
The increasing appetite from both management and assignees for greater flexibility is also leading to a dilemma: what’s the limit to flexibility and how to remain compliant. As a respondent points out: “Everything becomes faster and the business expects more flexibility that is restricted by compliance topics. Mastering this dilemma will be the key topic.”
Metrics and Cost Reporting
Good business cases need to be supported by metrics. The new possibilities offered by the rapid development of Artificial Intelligence lead to a growing appetite from management for detailed metrics. And 83% of respondents indicated costs and metrics reporting as important or very important skills that will be required by mobility teams. Making sure that the basics are in place in terms of metrics and cost tracking is a first step, but a real differentiator for HR professionals will be the capacity to develop meaningful new metrics and turn the results into actionable suggestions to improve people management. “I would improve our use of data analytics to demonstrate the value of mobility to our business and use this data to open up communication around our talent agenda and ROI,” explains one of the respondents.
Presenting Compelling Business Cases
The capacity to articulate business cases backed by relevant factual information (especially financial ones) is a precondition for mobility professionals to interact successfully with top management – a reality acknowledged by nearly 80% of respondent who consider this skill as important or key for mobility professionals. A disconnection between the overall business objectives and the day to day hurdles of employee relocation can lead to a dialogue of the deaf between HR and management. Ultimately the objective for HR is to speak the same language as general management and finance as well as the capacity to link mobility with business critical topics.
Storytelling and Mobility Program Marketing/Communication
The millennial generation is often described as the “why?” generation – a generation eager to question and challenge what they hear. Explaining how employees’ tasks relate to the wider business objectives and even to what extent they relate (even distantly) to the overall economy and the well-being of the society is important to motivate them. The ability to explain the bigger story behind talent mobility is a differentiator. Storytelling is also about being able to summarize the mobility policy philosophy. What is the program about? Financial gains, career acceleration, or lifestyle facilitation? What are the core principles underpinning your policy and can you articulate them clearly in a couple of words?
Finding information is rarely the main problem, internet and external service providers are there to help. Making sense of the information and drawing relevant conclusions for the business is another matter. Determining which data are truly relevant and how to interpret them is difficult without basic statistical literacy. Seventy-two percent of respondents acknowledge that statistical literacy is an important or very important skill.
When talking about technology literacy, there’s always a risk of misunderstanding; for companies the question is not just how many IT experts they need but to what extent non-IT managers (including HR) can talk to IT and provide meaningful input to develop new applications and set up relevant data analytics. In terms of skillset, the objective is not to turn HR professionals into coders, but HR professionals have a role to play in the digitalization of companies and they need to become more familiar with the concepts and technologies underpinning AI.
Broad Reward Skills
Managing and compensating international assignees is not just talking about expatriate allowances and relocation packages. It implies digging deeper into base pay, benefits, short-term, and long-term incentives to understand the wider financial implications of an international move, especially as companies are diversifying their compensation approaches for mobile employees.
Contact the authors:
Find out more: