By Olivier Meier, Mercer
Companies sometimes underestimate the range of skills that mobility professionals need to manage complex programs – among others: HR management, tax, employment law, expatriate remuneration, vendor management, project management, as well as interpersonal and intercultural skills. In spite of their versatility, mobility professionals often face being siloed within the organization, and the mobility function all too often remains purely an administrative function in spite of the never-ending debate about making mobility more strategic.
Over the past few months, I have been asking HR professionals and managers from other departments what skills truly help make a difference. In the context of digitalization and millennial mobility, what can help in-house talent mobility and HR professionals make their voice heard and position themselves as strategic partners to the business?
- Presenting compelling business cases. Few things happen within companies without robust business cases. Unfortunately, management and HR are not always talking the same language. In a context of fragmented talent pools and segmented policy, being able to present a detailed and relevant business cases about the use of certain types of assignments or compensation approaches is essential. Managing policy exceptions (supporting or opposing them) is a delicate exercise that needs to be supported by convincing business cases. Linking mobility and talent management is difficult without a business case explaining how this will help drive business growth.
- Statistical literacy and the ability to make sense of factual information. This is a prerequisite for building business cases. 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. The list of misunderstandings and basic errors that we see on a day-to- day basis is long: insufficient survey samples making results irrelevant, misuse of average and median, and above all the temptation to draw false correlations between unrelated events (or at least assuming that one factor is driving a specific result without exploring other causes). Developing assignment metrics is a first step in becoming more strategic. Determining which metrics are truly relevant and how to interpret them is difficult without basic statistical literacy.
- Storytelling. Statistics are worth little without compelling stories to back them. Storytelling in a business context is not about fairytales: it’s about explaining the bigger story and the overall business objectives. It helps management and assignees put mobility in context and give it a sense of purpose. 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 objective 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.
- Sales skills. Selling is a much maligned word that conjures all sorts of unsavory images. In reality, selling is not so much about smooth talking as having a structured process that involves preparing well-polished arguments, identifying stakeholders and decision-makers, and taking a step-by-step approach to reach the goal. Recruiting and motivating assignees is about selling. From a mobility perspective and in a context of the global war for talent, managers have to sell the appeal of assignment destinations (millennials are more mobile but can be picky in their destinations of choice), the competitiveness of assignment packages and the relevance of their mobility policies. The best mobility policy in the world can be a differentiator in terms of attraction and retention only if it is effectively sold and communicated to assignees and management.
- Broad reward skills. There is sometimes the temptation to separate expat and local compensation. The increasing use of local, local plus, and various forms of hybrid remuneration packages for international assignees makes this distinction irrelevant. 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.
- Technology literacy. Digitalization is not just a buzzword, it is fast becoming a reality, and HR teams struggle to catch up with the pace of change and the expectations of millennials – a few emails or phone calls and a 24-hour turnaround to answer questions might not be sufficient when assignees and management increasingly expect self-service applications, chatbots, and real-time reporting. The objective for professionals is not to become coding experts but to be able to make sense of the digitalization: what solutions are available? What was the logic used by IT when developing applications? Talking to management is about finding a common language based on financial and statistical literacy. Talking to IT teams and tech-savvy employees is also about finding a common language.
- Mastering compliance issues. Compliance encompasses a wide range of issues including topics such as tax, immigration, duty of care, social contributions, and work practices. This complexity and the fact that many departments and service providers get involved can lead to fragmented and incomplete compliance management. The risk can only increase as companies broaden their definition of mobility and rely more on extended business trips, short-term assignments, commuters, and frequent flyers. The challenge for mobility teams is not so much to know every single regulation and potential issue as to be able to spot quickly situations that could trigger compliance problems. The thought process and understanding of the logic behind compliance is as important as the knowledge itself.
There are common themes behind these different skills. One is speaking the same language as other teams within the organization to be better integrated in the wider business and meet employees’ expectations. Another is about understanding the logic and key principles driving pay, statistics, compliance, and other issues as opposed to trying to absorb as much information as possible without making sense of it. Far from being limited to mobility management, these skills are also critical for many other positions within the organization.
Contact the author: Olivier Meier
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