By Olivier Meier, Mercer
It was difficult to attend HR networking groups last year without hearing multiple times how the world was in a VUCA state and the need to focus on lump sums, digitalization, cafeteria models, and duty of care. These mobility management concepts were some of the 2017 buzzwords. (Read about last’s year buzzwords here.)
In 2018, the world is no less in a VUCA state and 2017 buzzwords keep on buzzing. The only difference is that we barely have time to absorb this mix of new ideas and obscure acronyms until a new batch of corporate concepts hit us. Buzzwords always come in a mixed bag including both highly relevant ideas that help us look at management practices in a different way and corporate neologisms that leave practitioners utterly puzzled. In any case, we should pay attention because these buzzwords tell us something about current global trends, companies’ concerns, and how talent mobility is evolving.
Here is a selection of 2018 buzzwords and insight about how we can apply them to talent mobility practices.
The new European General Data Protection Regulation has put the spotlight on personal data management issues and its impact on privacy issues but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Digitalization dramatically increases the flow of data within organizations. The benefits of this data flow on operational efficiency, transparency, is potentially huge – having greater access to relevant data and analytics could boost the status of HR and mobility teams within the organization by allowing them to provide more and more relevant input to top management.
At the same time the risks, in terms of compliance and data mismanagement are increasing, especially in an international context when personal information is shared across borders. Furthermore, in the absence of a mature digital culture with clear policies and data interpretation skills within global HR teams, the risks of false interpretations (i.e. drawing false conclusions or erroneous correlations from datasets) or having assignees challenge the company’s policies (the downside of increased transparency) will continue to rise. The recent failed predictions based on algorithms about how football teams would perform in the world cup (a triumph for Germany, Brazil, or Argentina was predicted) is a cautionary tale. This doesn’t mean that AI is not working but it reminds us that having relevant predictive analytics results from teamwork: it requires both AI and high skilled people who can feed the machine with relevant data and interpret the input correctly.
The move from data scarcity to data overflow will drive a premium on contextual intelligence, data management, and interpretation skills. It will reopen the case for re-skilling HR teams and increased on-going learning – in other words enhancing employees.
When heard for the first time, the concept of enhancing employees evokes ghastly visions of cyborg upgrades and painful microchip implantations. The capacity of skilled workers to maintain their employability will depend on their capacity to interact with AI. They will need to leverage the advantages of automation to increase their performance by focusing on strategic tasks as well as human interactions.
Employees who have traditionally faced the risk of having their jobs outsourced to cheaper locations, now also have to worry about the danger of having their work taken over by machines. While experts don’t yet fully agree about which jobs are the most at risk of being automatized, the risk will not be restricted to manual repetitive tasks.
The challenge for many organizations is to retain an irreplaceable human touch while also taking advantage of these new technologies. For the mobility function in particular, the question will be to determine the right split between tasks that can or should be automatized thanks to increase use of AI, outsourced to providers and freelancers, or handled in-house by the HR team. Enhancing and reskilling could also be ways to foster inclusion of minority groups in the workforce.
Diversity management needs to go one step further to integrate minority groups in the mobile workforce. One of the reasons why mobility matters for women is that international mobility is often a pre-condition to reach top management. The end goal is not just to increase the number of females in the workforce but to ensure the increasing number translates into a real participation at managerial level and contributes to breaking the career glass ceiling.
Similarly, the inclusion of minorities implies their active contribution and involvement of minorities in the business decision process and in the corporate culture. Moving talent between jobs and between geographies is playing a key role in fostering inclusion and mobility management teams should be at the forefront in the fight for diversity and inclusion. This can happen only there is better collaboration between the mobility and the diversity teams. For mobility teams this is an opportunity to be involved in a strategic issue that is viewed as a priority by top management. Inclusion could also mean ensuring trailing spouses are more involved in the assignment the decision process that will indirectly impact their career.
Dual Career Management
Much effort has been made on developing new technologies, compensation models, and increasing policy segmentation, but one of the main barriers to mobility has remained the same over the years: family issues and more specifically dual career. The whole thinking about global mobility has traditionally been about planning the move of individuals, with families taken into account at a second stage when barriers to mobility are identified. The family and the spouse are too often just a few lines in the policy rather than at the core of the initial discussions; the best career plan in the world won’t work if the spouse of the assignee is not happy.
The steady increase in the number of dual career couples and greater participation of women in the workforce, means that more and more men are discovering the downside of being a “trailing spouse,” a problem that female professionals have faced for many years. The answer to this problem can come from a mix of existing solutions (e.g. practical spouse support) but more importantly from a change in the mindset – and that’s where we are seeing an evolution. Companies are increasingly recognizing from the onset that they are moving a dual career couple and this lead to more constructive and realistic discussions.
Another way to help trailing spouses is to help them re-join the workforce.
Current talent scarcity has had positive effects: putting the spotlight on new talent groups, but also forcing organizations to rediscover sources of untapped mobile talent: trailing spouses, older workers, as well as alumni willing to return to their former employers. Returnship programs are increasingly offering a pathway back into the workforce, people who have made a pause in their career, while giving employers access to experienced talent.
From a mobility perspective, bringing back talent could also be about facilitating moves for individuals who are moving back to participate in the growth to their countries of origin – the “returnees.”
More generally the future of work is about changing employers frequently, switching between career paths, and allowing individuals to market themselves globally. Under this model the ability to attract and retain gig workers or re-employ high performers multiple times is a differentiator. This is also about borrowing talent.
Companies are traditionally relying on building talent (e.g. through developmental assignments) or buying talent (hiring externally, for example locally hired foreigners). Talent managers need to integrate a third dimension, which is borrowing talent: in other words relying on gig workers, freelancers, and contractors. Borrowing talent has become more common as more employees are willing to market themselves globally.
The rise in self-managed mobility is partly due to the aspirations of the new generations who value more flexibility and lifestyle over rigid careers. This increased mobility of individuals open new opportunity for organizations to tap into new talent pool (locally hired foreigners) as well as to decrease the costs associated with mobility. However, self-managed mobility also comes with risks. A first one is the disconnection between the business requirements of companies and the lifestyle expectations of highly mobile individuals. Other risks stem from the lack of compliance and financing planning that could plague both companies and individuals. Without proper planning and education, too much flexibility could kill flexibility.
One example of difficulty: having a portable career also implies having portable benefits.
Benefits – even flexible ones – are of limited value for internationally mobile employees if they are not easily transferable from employers to employers and from country to country. The traditional benefits model is very much designed for in-house employees with a clear career path. Expatriates traditionally suffer from fragmented pension history and the risk of incomplete coverage. The risk is even now greater for international gig workers and new generations willing to market themselves globally and changing employers frequently. Governments and companies are exploring ways to increase the portability of benefits that workers can take from job to job. It is a complex issue to solve at a local level and becomes even more challenging in an international context where the impact of tax, legal, and currency issues (among others) can limit the usefulness of these portable solutions.
Platform for Talent
The rigid models of traditional companies are not always adequate to compete in the global talent ecosystem. That’s why companies are trying to leverage the ebb and flow of international talent by establishing themselves as a platform for talent. In other words, companies are becoming smart network-based flexible platforms designed to match skill supply with work demand while maximizing human creativity and ambition. This implies a degree of reinvention in terms of hierarchy, career management, as well as decision and operation processes. At people level, this means that mobility managers will increasingly see their role shifting from pure relocation to more integrated talent mobility management with a greater involvement in resourcing/recruiting and talent pool management issues.
(Expatriate) Employee Value Proposition
The war for talent is forcing organizations to differentiate themselves to attract top performers globally. One element of this differentiation is the development of more personalized Employee Value Proposition (EVP) for both local and expatriate employees, reflecting their expectations not just in terms of compensation and benefits but also career, lifestyle, and higher purpose. The EVP is the sum of all the tangible and intangible benefits that people receive from the organization. A good EVP can reinforce all elements of talent management including attraction, retention, and compensation (an attractive lifestyle and a higher sense of purpose are no substitute for competitive pay, but they can alleviate some of the pressure linked to pay expectations).
How far can you go with personalization? It’s important to avoid misunderstandings: the development of more personalized assignee value proposition is not a call to discard segmented mobility policies or introduce more complexity. It is an opportunity to reflect on the aspirations of employee groups and how they could be met within existing or new policies and career frameworks. By clustering attributes like income, life stage, family status, and motivators companies can create meaningful groups to help tailor their value proposition. As career and lifestyle enabler, Mobility itself is part of the company’s overall EVP.
Contact the author: Olivier Meier
More on these topics: