An expat’s view of HR’s global mobility challenges

20 February 2018

They always say that a good sales rep is able to put themselves in their customers’ shoes.

In the same way, if a global mobility professional wants to be more effective in addressing their own challenges, they should try to see those challenges from an expat perspective.

Different financial reference points

This is a key difference. In your role as a global mobility professional or HR manager, you deal with a lot of different functions and many different pay grades. As a result, you will naturally compare the financial package offered to an assignee with that of other assignees.

Assignees, by contrast, will compare their new income with their existing income. You make a different comparison because you will compare with previous assignments.

The personal impact of assignment failure

The difference here is not failure itself. Neither you nor the assignee wants a failed assignment. Specific objectives will be different though. If an expat is repatriated early, it goes down as a failure for the company. That costs money and leads to finger-pointing, not just at the individual but the supporting organisation.

Expats will suffer the professional setback of failure, but they will also be dealing with the fallout from an unsuccessful personal venture. The assignee has had his or her family sharing their journey – you haven’t. So they will also be thinking hard about the social and personal impact of things not working out.

Why other departments don’t really matter

According to the HR Zone, “80% of organisations experience a high degree of independence between their talent management and GM departments”.  This is an organizational challenge that matters to you. You need to work with other departments towards a common objective. You need synergy.

To the assignee, you are the talent management function. They don’t care about intra-organizational collaboration. If you are the direct contact with the assignee, they expect you to think about their long-term career progression and their value to the company.

The critical VUCA effect

The neat – but slightly foreboding – acronym VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) sums up the risks that companies have to manage when sending assignees overseas, particularly to places where those risks are highest. From your perspective, compliance with duty of care regulations is crucial.

Look at it from the expat perspective, and it is not about compliance at all. The assignee will take for granted that their employer is taking all the necessary steps to ensure personal safety and that the regulatory side of things (working permits etc.) is taken care of.

Contributing to a diverse workplace

It is easy to believe that assignees care as much as you do on this matter. But of course, a single assignee only ever deals with a single assignment, and they cannot change their race or gender.

However, do bear in mind that these issues will typically matter more to ‘minority’ candidates than ‘majority’ candidates. Female expats may well be incentivized by the idea that they are helping to bridge the gender gap. This is less relevant to male expats who, of course, are doing nothing to balance things up!

It’s your job. It’s their life.

The big difference is that you manage lots of different assignments, and therefore your perspective is inevitably “top-down”. You can readily compare one candidate with another, one remuneration package with another, and you have a clear view of the company’s overall policy towards international assignments.

The assignee’s points of reference, however, are taken from their own career precedents, (salary, job title etc.) and they will compare against these. Bear this in mind during negotiations and communications with assignees. To support them effectively, you need to understand what they think and feel, and to leverage your knowledge and skills to help them.

Pictures by Rodolfo Marques, Justin Veenema and Mosa Moseneke

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