4 key success factors for global mobility

12 May 2016

It is more important than ever to prove the business value of global mobility assignments. A survey by SantaFe in 2015 showed that 92.8 of companies with global mobility programs were focused on reducing cost rather than creating value – which threatens to undermine the long-term success of programs.

To make global mobility truly effective (rather than just more affordable), it needs to deliver a benefit, either to the company or the individual or preferably both. So to judge success, you don’t talk about lasting the course, you talk about how to ensure there is an end benefit. Indeed, according to Romero (2002) half of the expats who remain abroad are delivering below-par performance, which in extreme cases this can lead to a negative financial impact. These are four of the main factors that drive real business value in international assignments:

1. Talent management: who do you pick?

Talent management global mobility

It is rare to find a formal talent management process in place. From a strategic standpoint, success depends on matching skills and talents to the role in hand, and therefore the ability to deliver a return on investment for the company – rather than the more basic principle of whether the individual is adaptable enough to make a success of life in a new and different country. Faced with an increasing diversity of candidates and assignments, organizations need to become more sophisticated in the way they allocate assignments.

2. Make sure you know what success looks like

Both the organization and the expat need to know what is expected of them – but the basic principle of objective-setting is easily overlooked. The goal could be financial, organizational, or skills-based; in fact, each of these areas should be measured and appraised in order to get an idea of total business value. 

There needs to be a subtlety to the measurement too, with reasonable ‘milestones’ for achievement set during the course of the assignment.
A slow start is likely: there are a million reasons why a newly-landed expat is not going to perform to the highest level levels from Day One. It is important, therefore to set interim objectives that take this “learning curve” into account. It means more realistic measurement of the effectiveness of the assignment, and it doesn’t present the assignee (who has enough on his/her plate) with an unattainable objective in the first few weeks. 

3. You’ve acquired knowledge – now use it!

Use acquired knowledge

One of the most underestimated areas of business value is the knowledge gained from a global assignment. This knowledge can give an organization a key advantage over competitors who may not have made the same investment in global programs, so it makes sense to use it – and to demonstrate its value. This knowledge can take a number of forms:

  • Increased personal knowledge:
    the candidate returns from the assignment armed with experience and skills that make them more effective in their role
  • Learning opportunity for others:
    frequently the global assignee is sent overseas to plug a skills gap and to communicate knowledge to others. This is equally true on his/her return when there is a further opportunity to share more recent learnings with colleagues, whether to increase their skills or simply to motivate and inspire.
  • Aggregated knowledge from multiple programs:
    the ability to take a broader view – to assess the effectiveness of a number of programs over time – is critical. Rise above tactical considerations and analyse assignment data over a longer period in order to calculate average success rates and the overall return on investment.

4. You’re in it for the long haul…

An assignment may last a couple of years; but the return on investment may continue to come in long after, and this need to think long-term is a key part of measuring and proving the business value of global assignments.

This means that organizations cannot afford to neglect the integration of global assignees back into the ‘home’ organization after the assignment. There is much value to be obtained from these experienced individuals (not to mention the potential to motivate and inspire others), but there is also a risk that re-integration will be difficult. They return home to a much-changed environment, with different colleagues and altered roles, and frequently experience more difficulty in re-adapting to their own environment than they did in moving abroad.

Planning for this stage, keeping communications channels open, and taking a long-term view will help smooth this transition – as well as preparing the organization in the host country to fill the gap that the departing candidate will also leave there.

Proving the real value of global mobility

Proving the real value of global mobility

As companies become more international in their scope and as individuals become more culturally eclectic, global mobility programs are both more popular and more sophisticated than ever. But this complexity also makes it harder to cut through and work out the actual business value of the program. Our experience is that those companies who can balance the short-term personal and long-term commercial aspects of global assignments are better placed to succeed.

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