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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 worldwideerc.org/future.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
Automation of routine tasks will free up mobility
professionals to fulfill their evolving role as consultative and strategic
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.
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
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
for complete analysis.
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