By Carlos Mestre
In May 2011, the World Economic Forum chose Mercer to collaborate on an analysis of the role talent mobility can play in the global economy and for individual organizations. The resulting report, Talent Mobility Good Practices – Collaboration at the Core of Driving Economic Growth, showcases 55 good practices in mobility and provides guidance for organizations to improve how they manage talent mobility.
The Talent Mobility Good Practices report not only examines the impact of talent mobility on business and economic growth but also provides a strategic plan for interdisciplinary, multi-stakeholder collaboration in sharing and implementing new talent mobility practice improvements.
Commonly, talent mobility is understood simply as the movement of workers between organizations or between locations within an international organization. But the concept of employee mobility has broadened: In the Talent Mobility Good Practices report, Talent Mobility considers “the physical movement of workers within or across organizations, industries or countries, and across occupations and skills sets.” Whether it’s temporary or permanent, and whether it’s people moving to jobs or vice versa, all of it falls under talent mobility, and, as World Economic Forum Chairman Klaus Schwab suggests, the world is moving past capitalism toward talentism as the new means to measure progress.
The empirical research was founded on a comprehensive questionnaire sent to 4,000 respondents across 45 countries. It searched for patterns in mobility and encouraged organizations to share details on good practice, to address issues relating to talent mobility. This research was supplemented by interviews.
So, what were our findings?
Four key barriers to mobility have contributed in sustained talent gaps. Talent imbalances are pervasive in many countries where high unemployment coexists with talent shortages in certain sectors. These barriers are:
Widespread unemployability, which exists because of the lack of basic employment skills, particularly among people in underprivileged communities
- Critical skills gaps that occur when the employees’ skills fall short of the business needs
- Information gaps that make it difficult to match people with jobs due to a lack of information available about the opening, while employers cannot see the workers’ abilities
- Public and private constraints, such as visa and tax regulations, or union memberships
Multinationals face these obstacles more frequently than domestic companies, but those operating in different countries also have more options. An analysis of the good practices compiled in the Mercer/World Economic Forum research shows that the key to overcoming these obstacles is in collaboration. Working together both within a company and with outside organizations, including competitors and governmental organizations, advances common goals more effectively.
The research also identifies that, to optimize their global workforces, leading companies attack the talent mobility issue from several angles. To implement a successful talent mobility policy, one should:
Build a comprehensive talent-planning process and decision framework to support growth strategy.
- Identify gaps in the workforce and its capabilities; if your employees’ skills don’t match your company’s needs, employee education might be the best solution.
- Engage senior decision-makers on talent mobility issues and create a sense of urgency with them.
- Do the math: Track the market to benchmark your policies and statistics against your competitors and general market dynamics.
- Engage stakeholders from multiple parts of your company to gain advocates for mobility and be able to quickly resolve any issues.
The Talent Mobility Good Practices report features case studies of successful applications of mobility solutions to combat workforce challenges. The featured practices are among the most progressive approaches to meeting diverse talent issues.
For example, to overcome the cost and labor-law constraints across its broad global operation, while promoting global thinking at the local level and internal knowledge transfer, Adecco Group launched a Short-Term Exchange Program (STEP). Country managers nominate outstanding employees for participation in the program and create an opening for incoming assignees from other locations in a simultaneous exchange. STEP has increased employee retention while also serving as a method of recognize top performers.
In another case, to counter what was perceived to be a reactive rather than proactive process for managing global mobility, Abbott Laboratories’ Talent Deployment team developed and implemented a more structured approach aligned with strategic goals that focused on pre-assignment planning, on-assignment management, and repatriation. In implementing the change Abbott communicated data supporting the decisions to managers to ensure their collaboration. Measured by employee turnover rates, customer satisfaction, and individual performance, the change has been extremely successful. By continuing to monitor these metrics, Abbott noted a tendency for them to decline over several years, which led to a five-year limit on international assignments.
By collaborating across internal functions and with other organizations, these companies were able to optimize their workforce and create a stronger foundation for business growth, as well as career growth for their employees. The knowledge and ability to recognize an opportunity to apply talent mobility as a solution to a business issue is what makes a great business, HR, and global mobility leader.
Carlos Mestre heads Mercer's Global Mobility EMEA Center of Excellence, and is based in Geneva, Switzerland. He pioneered the development of several important concepts, methodologies, and products, including what is now Mercer's cost-of-living methodology, Quality of Living Reports, and Global HRMonitor. He also developed what is now Mercer's International Position Evaluation (IPE) system, embedded in Mercer's Global TRS reports. Carlos' main contributions have been in the fields of international assignment strategy, policy design, and compensation solutions. He is also a frequent speaker at seminars and conferences worldwide.