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Five ways global mobility can help retain your best people

Global mobility can help retain your best people

The role of your global mobility team is clear: make sure your employees arrive where they’re needed, when they’re needed, and don’t fall foul of any tax or immigration rules in the process, right? While this may have once been true, today’s organisations are looking for more from their global mobility teams. The old goals are still critical, but now there’s a new appetite for a more strategic approach, with global mobility teams seen as a ‘strategic enabler’ of broader business goals. But what, in practical terms, does being ‘strategic’ mean for global mobility programs?


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For many Australian organisations, prospects for growth lie in new overseas markets. Tapping in to these markets necessitates moving your best people to the source of the new business. Your global mobility team needs to make sure they are aligned with the organisation’s talent management strategies whilst also being an enabler of broader business goals.

The value to your business of getting global mobility right is enormous. But how can you elevate your global mobility program from a reactive, tick-the-box process, to a program that your people love, drives employee loyalty from the most junior to the most senior levels, and contributes to your company’s global success?

Here are five ways to start using global mobility to keep your people.

1. Break down silos

Often, global mobility teams operate in isolation from the rest of the business. But global mobility can and should intersect with both the strategic goals and practical activities across your business. Rather than simply managing secondment logistics, global mobility can enhance your talent management, learning and development, employee value proposition and collaboration strategies. In particular, your mobility needs can help develop your future leaders through providing roles and experiences that will challenge and develop them professionally and personally.

Being strategic in selecting your assignees is critical. Selecting candidates based on past performance won’t always yield successful international assignments or happy assignees. Consider their cultural adaptability and global preparedness (and, of course, that of their accompanying family members). The best candidates for global mobility don’t just bring technical ability, or work experience, they bring an open mind, willingness to embrace diverse viewpoints and ways of operating, and of course a sense of adventure!

Next steps: Work collaboratively with HR, Learning & Development, Finance and business unit leaders to find where your global mobility process intersects with their goals and activities (e.g. professional development).

2. Promote mobility from the top down

C-suite executives can often be the rubber stamp for activities in global mobility programs: they simply approve international roles created to fill an immediate need, or the projected costs that go with them.

Instead, senior executives can be key advocates for your program, proactively promoting assignments among their best people. If your people see your C-suite promoting your global mobility program then they’re more likely to view assignments as a way of developing their career. This top-down approach also ensures that global mobility is seen as a vital part of your business strategy.

Next steps: Collaborate with senior executives to embed global mobility in pipeline planning and succession management. If their high performing, future leaders are earmarked for assignments, then your executives will take a big interest in driving the global mobility program.

For example, at Fonterra global mobility is seen as critical to developing capability and engaging their people. So global mobility opportunities are embedded in quarterly talent and succession planning discussions, which are attended and sponsored by the CFO. At the 3-year mark, new challenges are sourced globally for their high performers, matched to each person’s individual goals and the overall business strategy.

“Having senior leaders partake in these discussions is critical,” says Nicola Spencer, Fonterra’s Senior Global Mobility Advisor, “so decisions can be made quickly with a highly strategic lens. Sponsorship creates a more seamless mobilisation experience because the approval chain for the assignment is aligned from day one.”

3. Share opportunities with your Millennials

You’ve heard it before: countless surveys tell us that Millennials want fast career progression and will happily change roles to get it. No other generation changes employer more frequently for professional development, a more fulfilling role or better compensation. So how do you offer younger workers development without breaking the bank?

Recruit your most promising graduates into your global mobility program. Graduates are in many ways ideal for mobility. Less likely to be tied to their home country and looking for international experience and adventure, younger workers tend to view offshore assignments as a real drawcard.

Most organisations don’t offer international experience to staff until they have several years’ experience. By offering international assignments to your younger workers earlier in their careers, you can increase their loyalty while developing their talent. And it will attract future generations as well: a graduate program that stands out from the crowd will help attract the best and brightest.

At KPMG, we established our global mobility program Tax Trek for junior staff. This gives them the opportunity to undertake short-term international assignments with our tax practices worldwide, helping them to develop a global mindset and think beyond borders.

One Tax Trek veteran is Jaron Stafford, who as a KPMG senior consultant travelled to Tokyo from Perth on a short term secondment in 2015. Now based in Switzerland, Jaron says, “This opportunity, early in my career, to work in a completely different culture, build global connections and share knowledge across borders, was something I couldn’t pass up. It was an experience I won’t forget — it not only led to personal growth, but strengthened my loyalty to the firm.”

Next steps: Look at your graduate workforce and identify high potential employees early. Source international roles suited to junior employees, and consider establishing a formal program promoting international rotations each year. For example, if you experience cyclical busy periods, you might want to set up a formal short term office swap program. This can be a great way to provide international experience to your junior employees. It also means you can better manage workflow, lending support to other offices when they need it, and receiving your own support when you are busier.

4. Offer incentives (and not just cash)

Future leaders relish a challenge. So your rising stars probably already see international assignments as a ticket to learning new skills, and developing personally and professionally while building an international network. Driven by challenges and career growth, offering international experience to your most promising people is critical.

But roles in popular markets are limited. While New York and London attract more candidates than there are roles, how do you encourage candidates for more challenging remote or developing destinations?

Traditionally, most organisations have provided financial incentives. Hardship allowances, additional R&R leave and location premiums are common. But they make these placements extremely costly for the business, and may not improve assignment outcomes in the long run.

Next steps: Consider other, extra-curricular provisions. For example, people working in developing communities often find the opportunity to give back a few days a month (while being paid) very rewarding, even enticing. Are there opportunities that international charities offer employers to teach English to local school kids, install water pumps for remote villages or help conservation projects near your organisation’s operations?

5. Understand what your people need – and offer it

Moving house is hard; moving countries is harder. Some of your people will need a little help, others will need a lot. Making sure your people feel supported in their new role and location will go a long way to keeping them engaged.

Employees (and their families) can quickly become frustrated if they need extra support but don’t get it as it falls outside of the global mobility policy. Constantly approving policy exceptions can resolve this but is administratively burdensome, and sets precedents for future assignees to ask for (and get) the same thing. It can also undermine the mobility team, who may initially say “no” but subsequently be overruled.

Instead, many organisations are now moving to provide flexible relocation policies. Each person is allocated a set budget, points or credits that they can use to select what they need from a suite of benefits. Don’t need a hire car? No problem, you can put the spare points towards additional temporary accommodation, or extra airfreight instead.

For a moderate increase in administration (which can be mitigated by self-service technology) and comparable or even reduced cost, this sort of flexible approach can enhance your people’s assignment experience significantly.

Next steps: Being able to carefully manage the preferences and expectations of mobile employees, while controlling business costs is a delicate balancing act.

Make sure that in setting your company’s relocation benefits you.

  • Engage with your people to understand their needs.
  • Align your policy provisions with both market best practice and what your people tell you.
  • Use data analytics to understand where the costs and value of your mobility program are.
  • Regularly review and update policies, at least every 3 years so that they remain fit for purpose.

As the labour market tightens alongside relocation budgets, it becomes more and more important to make global mobility spend go further and to offer the broader business more lasting and strategic value. Bringing a broader vision to global mobility programs means you can show real value to your business, developing and retaining your people, while fulfilling needs across your local and global network.

Connect with us to discover what more your global mobility policy could achieve for your business. 

©2021 KPMG, an Australian partnership and a member firm of the KPMG global organisation of independent member firms affiliated with KPMG International Limited, a private English company limited by guarantee. All rights reserved. The KPMG name and logo are trademarks used under license by the independent member firms of the KPMG global organisation.

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