Companies need a global workforce and global mobility, now more than ever. They are sending an increasing number of people abroad, in a wider variety of roles, for many reasons: to prepare for and respond to opportunities in global production; to promote research, development, and innovation; and to improve customer sales, service, and growth. At the same time, global market uncertainty is putting companies under tremendous cost pressure. That makes it imperative for leaders to carefully manage their global mobility investments — and to realize an appropriate return on them.
Yet a surprising number of companies continue to handle international assignments the way they did decades ago. Then, most assignees were senior-level managers from the headquarters country sent to help establish operations in new markets and each assignment was handled as a special event with expectations for broad, high-touch service. Today, companies’ global mobility programs may offer only a handful of assignment types that fail to reflect the growing variety of the company’s global talent needs. Some managers may give little thought to aligning the company’s investment in an assignment with the expected business benefits, or to the effect an assignment may have on an employee’s career development. Operationally, international assignments may be managed end-to-end by dedicated global mobility personnel, even if some of the work could be done more efficiently by the company’s “mainstream” HR or talent functions.
Many companies can enhance the value of their global mobility efforts by taking a more thoughtful approach to planning and managing international assignments. Doing so requires a formal global mobility strategy that articulates the program’s business and talent management goals and then tailors the company’s investment in each assignment to the value the assignment is expected to generate. Further, companies should look for opportunities to integrate their execution of global mobility with their “mainstream” HR or talent infrastructures, reserving global mobility specialists for the particular activities that require them. The result can be a global mobility program that supports the business as a strategic asset instead of simply reacting to individual opportunities as they arise — one that delivers high-quality service that is cost-effective, consistent, and relatively easy to use, manage, and administer.
Global mobility strategy
Aligning global mobility strategy with business and talent strategy means designing it to support both the organization’s business goals — what it wants to accomplish in the marketplace — and its talent development goals — what it wants its key talent to learn about working in a global environment. In this way, global mobility evolves from a check-the-box exercise to a key driver of business and talent development strategy.
One tool that can help leaders better align their global mobility strategies with their overarching business and talent strategies is the global mobility framework shown on the previous page. The framework is built around two specific dimensions — business value and talent development value — which reflects the fact that different assignments can have different value for the business, as well as different value for helping employees develop new skills and capabilities. By categorizing assignments into the four quadrants of the Global Mobility Framework, the framework can help leaders:
- Articulate the nature and extent of the value they expect to gain from the company’s global mobility efforts, which may/can make it easier to set expectations for assignees and measure their performance against expected results
- Decide what proportion of the company’s assignments should fall into each category, depending on the business’ current and anticipated future business and talent development needs
- Determine what kinds of employees would be most appropriate to send on which types of assignments