Global Mobility Effectiveness Survey 2012

The potential of global mobility

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Global mobility: not yet reaching its potential

Global mobility holds a key role in supporting company growth, both in establishing footholds in strategic markets and by giving future leaders vital international exposure. But the function is rarely given the chance: often overlooked by the executive team; excluded from decision-making, including assignee selection, and under-resourced, it lacks the tools or clout to achieve its potential.

Mobility functions have been striving to improve policies and processes but are not yet fully effective across the full range of operational needs of the organization. This means policies are often not tailored enough to strategic objectives, and mobility teams do not prioritize or embrace the extent of growing tax and compliance challenge, thereby exposing their organizations to reputational and financial risk.

Global mobility holds a key role in supporting company growth, both in establishing footholds in strategic markets and by giving future leaders vital international exposure.

International assignments are hugely expensive, yet the survey shows mobility teams are often not cognizant of the extent of business investment, with many unclear about the cost, value, or return on investment of global postings. Another shortfall revealed by the survey — and another significant cost concern — is the number of failed assignments and unsuccessful repatriations.

Such failures lay partly at the door of candidate selection, which is often outside global mobility’s remit, and wider business issues. However, with personal issues outside the workplace being the main cause of early repatriation, inadequate ongoing assignee support from global mobility must play a part.

The rise of operational demands on global mobility

Global mobility’s strategic oversights and operational demands reflect the increasing level and complexity of its workload.

This increased complexity stems in great part from business’s increased focus on emerging markets.
Expansion into new markets is now the primary reason for cross-border mobility. In 2012, almost half of companies surveyed increased the numbers they sent to emerging markets, with China the leading destination.

These are significant and senior moves; around one in two assignees heading to Africa, Brazil, Russia, India and China are senior managers going on long-term assignments.

The challenge of emerging markets

Emerging markets are both a world apart from developed countries and very different to each other, providing multiple challenges to global mobility teams. Apart from very different legal and cultural systems, they often present assignees with challenging security issues and less developed schooling, housing and social infrastructures.

Attracting people to these locations often requires greater financial incentives, and overall, preparing employees and their families for these environments can be an arduous process.

The influx to the emerging markets is pushing existing global mobility policies, processes and systems to the limit. This is not just an irritation for the function: the lack of control frameworks for managing payroll, tax and social security-related risk, for example, is exposing businesses to significant hazard.

Global mobility’s operational effectiveness is also being hindered by its own organization. Remarkably, swift employee moves are slowed down more by internal delays than by external obstacles, such as issues around immigration and regulation.

However, the most significant internal obstacle to the function’s effectiveness remains a lack of integration between talent management and global mobility.

Barely half of companies surveyed have a global talent management agenda, and less than one-third of global mobility teams are involved in assignee selection. With the two teams working along parallel lines, it is unsurprising that so many assignments and repatriations fail, at such great cost to assignees and their businesses.

Key steps for optimizing the global mobility function

To help global mobility teams — and their organizations — reach their full potential, we believe businesses should take several crucial steps:

  • Better align mobility strategy with business strategy.
  • Review global mobility teams in the light of current needs and give them the right tools for the job (including effective and flexible policies, processes and systems). Particularly when it comes to emerging markets, one size cannot fit all.
  • Businesses should offer — and assignees should receive — a consistent and joined-up HR experience. Crucially, talent management and global mobility must be integrated.

Respondents rank the top three immediate needs for improvement in their global mobility function

Respondents rank the top three immediate needs for improvement in their global mobility function×

Survey respondent rank the top three compliance risks to their global mobility process

Survey respondent rank the top three compliance risks to their global mobility process ×

Percentage comparison: inbound assignment types to growth countries

Percentage comparison: inbound assignment types to growth countries ×