Expert Interview Series: Milton Ives from RW3 CultureWizard Milton Ives is Associate Director at RW3 CultureWizard, the leading intercultural training organisation. Milton has extensive experience in global mobility, talent management, and general HR, both as a practitioner and consultant. He was Global Mobility Director at Mars Inc. and also held a number of other senior HR roles including senior manager in charge of international assignments at HSBC. In 2013, he received the ‘Outstanding Contribution to Global Mobility Lifetime Achievement Award’ at The Forum for Expatriate Management’s EMMAs. For people not already in global mobility, what do they need to know to understand what it is all about? More and more companies are doing business across national borders, so there’s a need to move people around the globe quickly and easily. This is what the global mobility function is about. It’s about understanding the business and talent strategy and working closely with the business to ensure that the right employees are working in the right locations around the world, at the right time, and at the right cost, with proper support. It’s far more than simply handling the physical move of an employee, their family and their belongings to another country…and that can be challenging in itself! It also involves compliance with immigration and tax, both for the employee and the company, and ensuring that an employee has the legal right to work before they arrive in the host location! There are also different cultures, languages, currencies, cost of living differences and other issues to take into account. And it’s not just about supporting those working on a traditional, long-term assignment any longer. Today’s mobility team is responsible for supporting short-term assignments, commuters, international graduate attachments, permanent cross-border moves, and international business travellers. It can be quite a list of different people to manage! . What about people who are reluctant to join a mobility management team? There can be a perception, amongst those working in HR at least, that international assignment management is all about compliance and taxation. In some companies, it still is and there may be very good reasons for that. So a move into global mobility from, say, elsewhere in HR hasn’t always been seen as part of a usual career path. There may also be concerns amongst some people over getting ‘trapped’ in a specialist unit. Funnily enough, I’ve experienced the opposite scenario where it was sometimes difficult to persuade talented mobility employees to ‘leave’ global mobility in order to broaden their careers. They were concerned that they’d never be able to get back! But I can see signs that this is changing, just as the function itself is changing – from a function oriented towards compensation and compliance, to a more service-oriented, talent focused operation. The complexity inherent in the mobility function, which I talked about earlier, has a lot to offer employees in terms of skill building and career development. Could you speak about the evolution of the global mobility practices? In the organizations I've been working with, the number of assignees has been increasing. Global businesses demand a global workforce. So I think that the global mobility industry will continue to develop to support the increased demand and complexity. We're in an environment where companies need to move people around the world to pursue growth. There are various ways to do this, for example, moving talented employees from emerging markets into a more developed market so that they can broaden their experience and take the skills and knowledge back to their home market. The question increasingly is: what type of moves should be supported, and what type of policies must be in place to support the various types of moves. Consequently, we’ve been seeing fewer ‘one-size-fits-all policies’ and greater segmentation and differentiation of policies. There’s another important point here about how the global mobility function is evolving. The priority is not to move people for compliance reasons. That's obviously a critically important area, but businesses are trying to move people across borders to grow their business. Talent is a key contributor to an organization's success. Which is why the alignment with talent - and the two functions working closely together - is so, so important. Some organizations are calling the function ‘Talent Mobility’. The disappointing thing for me is that it has been talked about for a long time and still many mobility functions don’t have strong ties with talent. It’s not essential to be part of the talent function but I personally think it makes a lot of sense. I think it will change but it is taking a long time. What about the need for HR to have a seat at the table and to be a strategic partner? Does global mobility provide an opportunity for that? The vision of the mobility function must raise itself to that strategic level. What is the business plan? What is the strategic workforce planning? It's back to the alliance with talent and really making sure that international assignments are being considered as part of the business strategy and talent strategy. Business leaders want to see and need good metrics and good analytics. This is a very important area within mobility but I've seen that the metrics and tracking are not good in many organizations – to the point where some organizations are struggling to count the number of people they have abroad! Business leaders don’t just want a set of numbers but want mobility heads to be able to give them insights, both from the company data and also how that compares with what is happening in the market, together with recommendations and action plans on how to address any identified issues. During your time at Mars you drove a major transformation of the mobility policies to achieve alignment with business and talent management strategies. Could you tell us more about the segmented approach you implemented? We started with a ‘one-size-fits-all’ policy that was not geared to different types of moves, so we created policies that differentiated the benefits, based on whether the move was to meet a business need or was, primarily, for personal development. It sounds straightforward but it was far from easy! The culture of an organization is a critical determinant on how far you can push differentiation. If a company culture is comfortable with exceptions, with elitism in the hierarchy, then implementing different policies and benefits for an expatriate population will be easier. But if the cultural values of an organization are essentially ‘egalitarian’, with a strong belief in equality and fairness, then the transition to differentiated policies will be more difficult. There’s another dimension here – many companies are trying to reduce the cost of their mobility programmes (by differentiating their policies) yet, at the same time, there’s a need to still attract the best talent to accept an international assignment. This can create tension! Despite the hurdles, the new strategy and policies forced managers to think about why they were sending someone on an assignment and helped tighten-up what we called “lazy resourcing”. It also helped by creating a framework within which to make decisions on the appropriate policy to apply. What advice would you give to an HR manager about to embark on a similar mobility policy development journey? A priority is to get the support of top management at the outset. You need to consult with them, get their ideas and make them feel involved, and keep them in the picture as the project progresses. Without this, it can be a struggle to get top-level buy-in. Depending on the size of the mobility programme, it may be beneficial to form a Steering Group and Project Group. Make sure the people you invite are respected and can give you quality time! Leaders want facts to make decisions, so get ready to provide: good quality metrics on the assignee population; survey feedback from assignees and accompanying partners; policy exceptions (and costs); cost of current policies and proposed new policies. Don’t under-estimate the challenge and length of time it will take to introduce differentiated policies. If faced with some strong resistance, it may make sense to prioritise the change areas and then keep ‘chipping away’ at the others. Keep benchmarking your policies and keep talking to the main stakeholders. It almost becomes an on-going review… Finally, and crucially, you need a very competent mobility team to be able to communicate and deliver the differentiated policies. I was very fortunate at Mars to have such a team, with their efforts rewarded by winning the inaugural ‘Global Mobility Team of the Year’ award at the Forum for Expatriate Management EMMA’s. How does Mercer differentiate itself in this field and working with clients? Why work with Mercer? I brought Mercer in a few years ago when we were looking at differentiating our policies. Mercer has a strong reputation in the global mobility field and has access to good benchmarking data. It is easy to become insular and lose sight of where you are standing in the market. You might be hearing rumours about policy changes in other organizations, but it can sometimes be difficult to get the facts and precise details. So, bringing in an expert such as Mercer with benchmarking expertise for your industry can be very valuable. Having an ‘external’ pair of eyes making recommendations on how we should change our policies was also extremely helpful for when I was presenting to the top team, rather than being perceived to be presenting my own personal agenda! You recently moved into a self-employed, consulting role, working with RW3 CultureWizard – a leading intercultural training company. Why do you think cultural issues are important? I’ve always considered that there’s a strong business case for intercultural training but it surprises me that companies don’t invest more in this important developmental area. And it’s not something just for expatriates but also business travellers, those working in diverse teams and global leadership. It’s all about countering the challenges of operating globally! Perhaps the most straightforward business case is for international assignees. The cost of an international assignment is high, often between three and five times the assignee’s annual salary. But it becomes even higher when the assignment fails, either through the early return of the expat and their family, or if the expat is ineffective and does not fully achieve their business’ objectives. The cost savings, in terms of retention and/or increased productivity, more than compensate for the cost of the training. Virtual international teams also benefit from cultural awareness training. Cultural values have a significant impact on working styles and business practices, and differences in values and attitudes towards working practices can cause frustration and misunderstanding within international teams. Even experienced senior managers and leadership teams can benefit from intercultural training, as what works well at home isn’t always as successful when applied to an international context. Knowing how to adapt an existing strategy or tailor products and services can be crucial for success when entering new markets. Without doubt, intercultural training can mitigate the risks and maximise the benefits of global working.