Global mobility digitalization: 3 guiding principles By Narcisa Chelaru and Ulrike Hellenkamp, Mercer In the 2019 edition of the Mobility Organization and Transformation Survey, Mercer asked participants, “Do you have a strategic vision for automation / digitalization of global mobility management in your organization?” The responses indicated that this was far from a priority at many organizations: No: 44.9% Beginning to Assess Need for Strategic Vision: 29.7% Yes, But Not Action Has Been Taken: 11% N/A: 9.3% Other: 5.3% Based on the above, you can see that although there was some interest in creating a clearer vision for digitalized mobility management back in 2019, the majority of respondents indicated no vision whatsoever, or that they were still in the beginning stages of assessing the need for such a vision. As far as the causes behind this reluctance to adopt a more strategic vision for global mobility digitalization, many participants said they had various questions and uncertainties about the resources and infrastructures needed to bring such things to life. Back then, this seemed like a justifiable cause for hesitation. However, a little more than a year later, it’s almost certain that if we were to ask these same participants the same questions, their responses would tell a vastly different story. COVID-19 and the increased need for digital talent mobility As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, digital considerations for the global mobility field have been vastly accelerated since Mercer’s Mobility Organization and Transformation Survey. Indeed, as an accelerator of digital working and new technology adoption for virtually all industries, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many organizations to apply new approaches to utilize their full workforce potential. This has become necessary to enhance both organizational productivity as a whole and the individual employee experience. At the same time, a myriad of new digital products, processes, and business models are resulting in new ways of working, as well as supplying companies with new methods and tools that can (or must) be used. All of these components are combining to send the global workforce toward a new phase of digital working, and the field of talent mobility is no different. Even so, many organizations are still making strong arguments that the human touch remains – and always will – a necessary component of global talent mobility. However, it will be interesting to see what extent this human touch will survive when paired with increased levels of digitalization. The way forward is very much about the combination of human beings and new technologies, but there can sometimes be a shift in this balance to one side or the other. The current pandemic-induced climate is a testament to this, as it’s showing us all how important it is to have the right tools and solutions in place to allow companies to track their individuals and understand their needs. This brings us to the three important principles for helping organizations understand what solutions are right for them, as well as how to better balance what can be automated versus what will continue needing that irreplaceable human touch. These principles are simplification, standardization, and structure. The three guiding principles of global mobility digitalization Global mobility digitalization principle 1: simplification As far as the increased digitalization of global mobility is concerned, simplification is all about having tools that are easy to use, understand, and remember. Naturally, the opposite of this is complication: tools and procedures that are stressful to use, leading to frustration and decreased morale and productivity as a result. While simple is preferable, it’s important to remember that these concepts are not mutually exclusive. In other words, some simple solutions might have complicated components in the background, and these complicated components should always be addressed before widespread adoption. By its very nature, global mobility management is an inherently complex field and profession. But on the other hand, you want your procedures and protocols to seem as simple and streamlined as possible for your stakeholders. HR professionals need to not just think about their end customers (i.e., the assignees and their families) but also the various other professionals involved in the process, such as their management and HR business partners. As a result of this need for simplification, the days of long-winded, 50-page mobility policies are over. Instead of forcing personnel to evaluate lengthy documents that they need to filter to find the precise information they need for one or more task lists, today’s more forward-thinking companies are striving to answer the question, “What sort of experience would the customer wish to have?” Answering this question involves understanding the intrinsic needs of the customers and end users, as well as the guidance and coaching services to guide them through processes and enable them with more autonomy. There’s also a wide variety of tools such as host location web services, digital cultural learning tools, and more. In addition, organizations can centralize all of these necessary tools and services into one comprehensive package that features everything the assignee needs, all in one place. Naturally, this results in improved simplification (and employee satisfaction) before, during, and after the assignment. Global mobility digitalization principle 2: standardization The increased standardization of global mobility processes is also important. Greater levels of standardization free up employers to focus their time on other activities and initiatives instead of those that can be standardized. An interesting parallel to this is the human brain. For example, there are certain areas of the brain that use more energy than others because they are learning something new. However, once those things have been learned, applied, and reapplied enough, they go back into other sections of the brain that require a lot less time and energy. This then frees the brain up with more capacity and energy to concentrate on even newer things in a continuous cycle. The same principles apply to global mobility processes that can be standardized versus those that are newer and require more intensive human attention. Standardization in the talent mobility field is also very important for gaining trust. That’s because standards typically indicate that something has been tested, approved, and applied many times before to the point that it is a commonplace procedure. However, there is also a dilemma associated with standardization in the context of global mobility, and that’s because mobility is very often heavily customized – and in many ways, customization is the antithesis of standardization. With that said, in some mobility contexts, the word “standard” simply stands for the most basic version only. From that perspective, this leads to an important question: “Is standard (i.e., the basics only) good enough for an effective mobility program?” Let’s explore this question by shedding light on some findings from the 2019 version of Mercer’s Benchmarking HR Digital report. Findings showed that of the HR organizations who had already moved or were planning to move their HR systems to SaaS, 65% already moved their customized system to a standardized system. In other words, these respondents seemingly didn’t find as much of a need to reinvent the wheel all together – after all, if what works for them works for others, why change it? Still, the dilemma endures in global mobility because many clients consider every move or action to be unique. While there is certainly some truth there, it’s still important to think about the other benefits of implementing a more standardized approach as a prerequisite for technology adoption. According to Mercer’s most recent Global Talent Trends Report, many mobility professionals still use non-specialized and/or generic workflow tools. For them, this means that there are still some very disparate systems and touchpoints for HR and mobility management. Still, these organizations might be missing out on some important benefits of standardization. For example, one of the more tangible benefits of a standardized approach is the ability to streamline both internal and external communications. Imagine if you have different people in different parts of the world and everything is done via email; this will make it quite difficult to track the status of all the different tasks internally as well as externally. Another benefit of a more standardized approach is the fact that standardization makes it easier for employees and employers alike to share the workload. By having a standardized approach to how different processes should be run, it becomes easier to manage from a high-level than the alternative of independently onboarding any new member of any different team to a specific case. One more example revolves around the matter of cost estimations. For many employers, it’s often tempting to keep using customized spreadsheets. However, these custom spreadsheets are quite prone to human error. Instead, having something like a standardized calculator built on a solid logic – a logic that’s applied consistently and in line with your policies – will certainly bring forth operational efficiencies, minimize risks, and free up time. For example, in the aforementioned Global Talent Trends Report, 1 out of 3 HR professionals reported that it took them over an hour to complete straightforward HR tasks - something that could be reconciled through the use of more standardized processes and tools. Essentially, from all this, we can see that the end goal of standardization is to streamline touchpoints of administration into a few high-quality interactions. Therefore, the benefits associated with a more standardized approach almost always outweigh the uncertainty of continuing with more customized approaches and methods. Global mobility digitalization principle 3: structure Structure is another important global mobility digitalization principle. In this context, the concept of structuring is all about identifying and separating what’s considered “essential” and what is “non-essential” (also known as “non-core”). When applying this philosophy to your talent mobility strategy, first try to imagine exactly what the ideal situation would look like. Then, commit to getting rid of as many things as possible, while still keeping the ideal situation feasible. To do this, you’ll have to make sure to always answer the “whats” – that is, what has to be delivered and what will be be needed for use by employers and employees. After doing this, then you can begin the “decluttering” phase – i.e., getting rid of anything that’s not necessary for bringing your digitalization strategy to life while retaining only the essentials. One example of an element which could usually be “decluttered” from a talent mobility plan is comprehensive reporting created for somebody, even though there’s really no use associated with it. Oftentimes, companies will have these sorts of practices simply out of tradition. However, if the insights from that reporting aren’t being consistently evaluated and used for actionable next steps by either employer or employee, then it’s a safe bet that this reporting could be done away with. Another example are complicated, long-winded approval processes which could be streamlined and based more on trust as opposed to mounds of time-consuming paperwork and check-ins. From principles to planning Reviewing the three guiding principles of global mobility digitalization, one can see that: The first principle is all about the simplification of processes, which involves evaluating and streamlining how stakeholders engage with different parts of your mobility program and asking, “Is it easy enough for them to do?” The second principle, standardization, means acknowledging the fact that the world is in a permanent state of transformation, so it’s important to look at specific areas of your mobility program to see where you can adopt a more standardized approach to gain speed and efficiency during digitization. The third principle, which is about structuring and reducing the non-essential, is all about looking at your processes and defining which are necessary versus which are non-core, all while being reflective and honest about the previous set-ups or processes that may now be rendered redundant by digitization. By following these three guiding principles, you’ll be able to more easily conceptualize a more digitalized global mobility strategy – something that will be increasingly important with the way the world is changing. Then, after doing this, you can decide to go deeper into building an effective business case for your global mobility digitalization strategy.