The Transformation of Mobility

This article originally appeared in the June 2018 edition of Mobility Magazine.

For most of us, the topics of “future” and “change” evoke a mixture of excitement and anxiety. The key to allaying that anxiety and fueling our excitement is to learn about and prepare for a changing future. Worldwide ERC® recently undertook an extensive research project for just that purpose—to inform and prepare us for the future of mobility. This article provides some data points and insights from that research. The complete report, “The Perfect Storm: Talent Mobility Leaders Decode the Future,” is available on the Worldwide ERC® website at

A major theme that emerged from this multichannel research involving nearly 550 mobility professionals is that disrupters causing massive changes in the future of work are mandating and accelerating a transformation of the mobility function from tactical to one that is more strategic. In the coming years, mobility will be needed to play a more strategic role in the recruitment, development, and retention of talent, and it will be dependent on technology to drive this. 

Strategic Activities Today

As part of its research, Worldwide ERC® surveyed 371 in-house mobility professionals on a variety of issues, including how involved they are in performing tasks important to building the reputation of their global mobility team as a strategic business partner within the organization. 

The results provide a look at the current state of the mobility function. They indicate that mobility is not yet fully involved in activities that generate partnerships with talent management and business leaders.

Mobility is not yet fully involved in the activities that create strategic partnerships with talent management and business leaders.

Looking to the future, however, skill shortages, the changing composition of the workforce, geopolitical forces, and technology innovations are strongly influencing the more strategic role of mobility. In the future, in-house mobility professionals will be needed to be more than program executors. They will be expected to assume roles as consultants and advisers to talent management and business leaders, developing and delivering mobility solutions to meet the company’s goals and objectives. In-house mobility professionals, in turn, will look to their service partners to collaborate on data analysis, innovative approaches to mobility, and strategic planning. 

Know the Business Objectives 

One of the first steps that mobility professionals should take as they begin this strategic transformational journey is acquiring knowledge of the company’s business objectives. These objectives drive the talent management needs for which mobility professionals can offer advice. 

80% of mobility leaders are aware of their organization's strategic business objectives.

Worldwide ERC®’s survey of in-house professionals suggests that this area needs more attention going forward. As Chart 2 reports, 65 percent of respondents today are, at best, moderately or slightly knowledgeable about the objectives of the business units for which they move employees. 

To make a strategic impact at their companies, mobility professionals will have to become better informed about these business goals and objectives, which can change regularly due to factors such as societal shifts, geopolitical events, technological advancements, and the aspirations of the company’s leadership. 

Strategic mobility practitioners will need to stay constantly informed about their organizations’ objectives as well as the global business environment; they will not be able to wait until a problem surfaces to start updating themselves.

Head of Global Mobility and the APAC Employee Resource Center Jacquie Davidson (Adobe) states: “Mobility needs to understand the business and then be able to determine very quickly how we can assist. We need to have answers and solutions faster.”

Global Employee Mobility Director Kerwin Guillermo (Hewlett Packard Enterprise) emphasizes that mobility professionals need to see things from the business leader’s perspective, discerning “what’s their problem, what will help them, and what will harm them.” Business leaders need to see that mobility professionals can “partner with other parts of HR and provide interventions that will allow them to hit their objectives.”

Guillermo offers examples of how he is working to transform mobility to be more strategic by supporting talent acquisition. He examined declined offers at his company and found many of the candidates were choosing to accept roles with startup tech companies. Aware that international experience is valued among these candidates, he points out to potential recruits that Hewlett Packard Enterprise has opportunities for global mobility supported by a mature system for managing it as well as a good reputation as an established global company.

Guillermo also notes that the key to keeping mobility relevant is to “focus on revenue generation and fulfillment of business goals.” He tells the story of when he identified revenue-generating jobs in the company’s largest business group that had gone unfilled for 120 days. He approached the head of HR to propose that mobility work with talent acquisition to fill some of these roles with one-way moves. The cost of those moves was more than offset by savings on recruitment fees and the revenue generation that resulted from having those roles filled more quickly. 

Developing Talent

In response to a growing skill shortage, companies will need to focus not only on recruiting new talent but also on developing their existing talent. Mobility has often been pointed to as a way to develop global leaders—but rarely has there been an actual plan to nurture and measure this development.

Principal and Founder Mark Frederick, Ph.D. (Global Talent Management Consulting), sees the imperative to invest in building employee skills as an opportunity for greater cooperation between organizations’ mobility and learning-and-development (L&D) functions. (Like mobility, L&D is becoming more strategic to meet the growing talent needs in this era of skill shortages.) 

Frederick explains that most adults learn best experientially, and therefore, a mobility experience presents an excellent learning-and-development opportunity. He notes that in the current business environment, which business analysts describe with the acronym VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous), international experience is an especially valuable teacher. VUCA attributes are heightened when employees are working in another country and culture. Consequently, he reasons, a global mobility opportunity provides an excellent setting to develop leaders with the needed skills to cope in a VUCA business place. 

Frederick notes, however, that mobility experiences typically are evaluated for business results rather than skill development. The mobility plan seldom includes learning objectives for skill building, coaching throughout the assignment, or assessment of learning-objective accomplishment. Savvy companies are recognizing that collaboration between L&D and mobility functions can improve their business outcome long-term with planfully developed global talent. 

The skill shortage is both a challenge and an opportunity for the mobility function to broaden its mindset to being more strategic and bringing added value to the organization in the future. 

Embrace Technology

Automation of routine tasks will free up mobility professionals to fulfill their evolving role as consultative and strategic business partners. 

CEO Susan Schneider, SCRP, GMS (Plus Relocation), predicts artificial intelligence will add efficiencies that will allow mobility professionals to focus more closely on the individual customer service needs of mobile employees: “Mobility professionals should embrace the opportunity that technology offers to spend less time on routine processes and refocus that time on growing their skills in new directions. The result will be heightened customer service and experiences—and career-changing expertise and insight.”

Integration of internal and external systems also is going to be key for mobility professionals to access the data they need to support their evolving strategic role. Managing Partner Sean Collins (Talent Mobility Search) agrees: “The real value comes when you start bringing all your data together and integrating it with the HR data. Think how powerful it would be to tap into a virtual warehouse of company data and analyze factors like the success of your expats by examining their promotion velocity rate—before, during, and after the assignment.”

As Senior Vice President/Global Relocation Manager Mark Lozano, SCRP, GMS, points out: 

“The stronger the data, the better the support, and the more effective you are with your business partners.” 

Finding ways to aggregate the data from multiple systems will be a priority for the future if mobility professionals are to fully evolve to strategic partners to talent management and business leaders. In-house mobility professionals recognize the essential role of technology. Almost 80 percent of respondents to the Worldwide ERC® survey indicated they expect that technology in the next five years will have a high or extremely high impact on their ability to deliver global mobility programs that support the recruitment, development, and retention of their companies’ talent.

The survey also asked respondents to rate the degree to which they believe they have the technology to support talent management today and in the next five years. Only about 20 percent believe their companies currently have the needed technology to a high or very high degree. In five years, that percentage climbs to 56 percent.

Interestingly, the majority of respondents from larger companies (with employee counts of more than 50,000) were more optimistic than those from smaller companies. Among respondents from companies with 50,001 to 100,000 employees, 70 percent expect they will have the needed technology to a high or very high degree in five years. Similarly, 73 percent of respondents from companies with more than 100,000 employees anticipate they will have the needed technology to a high or very high degree in five years. 

In-house mobility professionals striving to drive the strategic transformation of their function need to advocate for the technology tools they require and the education they need to leverage data to its full analytic potential. 

Worldwide ERC® also surveyed respondents about skill sets and surfaced some interesting information on the data front. 

We asked in-house mobility professionals to rank their mastery of different skills identified as important to their job in the next five years. Except for financial and data analytics, the majority indicated a high mastery of the skills. 

Those individuals who did not report a high mastery of a skill were asked whether they had received training or coaching on it supported by the company. The majority reported receiving little or no training or coaching for these skills. The good news is that for most of the identified skills, the majority of respondents indicated a high mastery. The bad news is that for those without a high mastery of a needed skill, there is little training or coaching. In fact, the skill that respondents were least confident about—data analytics—is one for which there is the least training.

It is important that mobility professionals seek education in this area. To serve as a consultant and adviser to talent management and business leaders, data is required to provide insights and support their recommendations. Adobe’s Davidson explains: “Data is essential: Understanding what data is relevant and then being able to mine it for insights is critical to being a valued partner. Making decisions and providing solutions that are based on data is a must for credibility. Saying, ‘Trust me. I’ve been in business for years,’ or sharing anecdotes is not a credible stance. But coming to the table with experience combined with data? That is a powerful position.”

The survey results reveal that currently most respondents believe mobility does not have the technology it needs to be a strategic partner and that they receive little or no company-sponsored training/coaching in data analytics. But the outlook is brighter, thanks to improving people technology and analytics.

Josh Bersin, principal and founder of Bersin at Deloitte, is optimistic about HR systems and analytics. In his report, “HR Technology Disruptions for 2018,” he comments: 

“The business world has spent a great deal of money optimizing customer analytics, financial analytics, marketing analytics, and advertising analytics before finally turning to people analytics.”

Bersin explains that the most significant reason for this slower adoption of people analytics is that “most companies’ HR systems are a bit of a mess,” with multiple systems of record. That is changing, though, as he adds: “We now see a very mature and robust vendor market in this area. Every major HR platform provider now has a big data cloud service, a set of embedded analytics dashboards, and many advanced reports to help predict attrition, identify bias, and segment the workforce.” He states: “Our assessment today is that sound people analytics is now a must-have.” 

As people analytics becomes more ingrained in corporate cultures, mobility professionals increasingly will engage in analytical activities that will demonstrate how talent mobility can support the organization’s talent management objectives.

It is a season of transformation. As Executive Director Robert Horsley (Fragomen) predicts: “In a world where the entire workforce is increasingly mobile, the very definition of mobility will change. And so will our role. We are destined to be a key player in business’s critical missions, and we will be measured both on the intelligence of our strategy and on the overall success of the business.”

Now is the time to prepare by welcoming change, innovating boldly, and embracing a strategic and technology-driven mindset.

You can also download the full report for complete analysis.

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