2016 trends: the growing strategic importance of global mobility

13 October 2016

A number of reports have recently been released that give us fascinating insight into the changing role of global mobility, and the challenges facing global mobility professionals. The reports, issued by Santa Fe, Air Inc and Lexicon, all take a slightly different perspective on the key issues, but one thing is clear: global mobility is increasingly important to the world’s leading companies. And as it moves into the spotlight, we thought we would summarise the key points raised in the reports, which will no doubt be high on the agenda in the coming years for those involved in the industry.

The rise of global mobility within the organization.

Air Inc’s Mobility Outlook survey demonstrates that – apart from a recent blip that can be attributed to the recent downturn in the oil & gas sector – numbers of global assignments are steadily increasing. Lexicon reports that the number of people assigned to work overseas grew by 25% over the last decade – but will increase by a further 50% by 2020. Against this backdrop, it is not surprising that global mobility is seen as more important within the organization. 

The Santa Fe report confirms that it’s not just an increase in the number of relocations, but a fundamental shift in the strategic importance of the global mobility function. What was previously considered a tactical or transactional function is fast becoming a key competitive advantage for large organizations. As AirInc puts it: “Mobility’s role is evolving to a more business-minded outlook. [It] aspires to develop advisory capabilities and form relationships with a broader segment of the enterprise to enhance the mobility function’s value at all levels of the organization”. The research backs up this view: 95% of business leaders say global mobility is ‘important’ (38% say“critical”). It’s time to step up.

Global mobility on the escalator | FIDI blog

But is the global mobility function able to cope?

However, despite its growing importance, the global mobility function may not quite be up to the job yet: Santa Fe notes that 60% of business leaders believe that the global mobility function needs to evolve and become more strategically aligned with the commercial objectives of their organization. Interestingly, global mobility professionals themselves are even less confident: the same report shows that 24% of leadership teams believe global mobility is aligned with the business; only 10% of global mobility professions agreed.

Air Inc focuses on the need for global mobility to align itself with the talent function. Its research shows that 56% of respondents saw “alignment with talent strategy” as the biggest challenge facing them. 

What’s holding them back?

Moving from a transactional approach to a strategic one is clearly a challenge, and global mobility professionals admit they do not do as much strategic work as they would like to. The research shows that 43% of respondents “should be spending time on strategic workforce planning” – but only 10% of the same sample “actually” spent time on it. 

So what should global mobility professionals do? John Rason, Santa Fe’s Head of Consulting, suggests there are six ways in which the global mobility function can future-proof itself, and grow into a more strategic role within the organization:

  1. Establish the desired business contribution and outcomes of the global mobility function, with measurable, tangible data.
  2. Determine the preferred global organizational model that aligns with business strategy, industry sector – whether it is global, regional, local or a global ‘mix’.
  3. Understand and integrate systems and technology.
  4. Establish world-class governance and compliance processes.
  5. Adopt a holistic approach to working with global mobility partners, ensuring that they all collaborate on innovation ideas – not in silos.
  6. Communicate with business leaders using insightful data and commercial language that embeds global mobility at the center of business activity.
Ball and chain | FIDI blog

What does the future hold?

The reports also make mention of issues that will be important to global mobility professionals in the coming years. Compliance, for example, is going to become more onerous – and more important. It will be necessary to track assignment ROI across more metrics. There is likely to be an increase in short-term assignments. And on top of this, the job of managing risk in an increasingly uncertain world will only become harder.

In short, the reports show that global mobility is becoming more and more important. But, as a function, there is still work to do to prove that it really can add the value it should, and take up its deserved strategic role within the organization.

Download full reports by Santa Fe, Air Inc and Lexicon (contact form required).

Looking head binoculars | FIDI blog

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