Is it time to redefine global mobility?

27 June 2017

If there is one thing that technology has brought us over the last 20 years, it is flexibility. Virtually anything we do has become more convenient because technology is making it so: whether we are shopping, eating, managing our finances, or booking a holiday – we expect to be able to do it when and how we want.

This expectation of convenience and flexibility has had a huge effect on the business world. Companies operate in different ways, using technology to shorten processes, and to improve service and quality. Even employment itself is more convenient since the ‘gig economy’ has given individuals the opportunity to earn when they want, how they want.

How does this affect global mobility?

Potentially, technology will have a profound effect on global mobility, and here’s why. This flexibility – and the expectation of flexibility – means that the traditional global assignment is no longer the only option. We all know that there is an increase in international commuting and short-term assignments. Individuals are much more able to manage their own affairs. And technology enables anyone to collaborate as effectively (or almost) as if they were in the same location. As a result, the pressure is on global mobility departments to think beyond the traditional options. Indeed, if they are aligned with their organization’s overall strategy to attract the brightest and the best, they need to embrace this idea because Generation Y expects it of them.

A question of semantics?

The term “global mobility” was created because it meant making individuals globally mobile – taking people from one geographical location to work in another. But now our on-demand, want-it-now mindset means that the real value of global mobility is not taking the person to another place, but enabling their talent/value to be applied to another place.

Controversially, we should perhaps drop the term global mobility altogether and find a term more appropriate to our on-demand, flexible world. To start with, it’s more than ‘mobile’: our modern global organizations like to think they flex and flow around the world rather than moving in fragments. So it is fluidity more than mobility. And if it’s not just people but the value they bring through their interactions, it should be called “value fluidity”.

If global mobility departments think about enabling value to flow, rather than physically relocating people, they will be able to point more accurately to the value they generate as a cost centre themselves.

An end to the traditional global mobility professional?

While a progressive mindset is required, many of the existing skills and functions of global mobility departments remain critical. There will always be a need for the physical movement of people, despite the complexity it brings, because sometimes it is the best option. However,  the role of the department is broadening if they are responsible for enabling the value of people to be applied where it is needed most. Instead of answering the question: “Which candidate should be chosen for the global assignment” they should instead address a broader issue, i.e. “How can certain skills and experience be made available in that location”. It may become an issue of investing in the right technology, or putting together the right training programmes, rather than sending an assignee overseas for three years.

This is good news for global mobility professionals. A change in mindset can only enhance the value that they bring to their organisations. The role is evolving and a broader outlook on the issues that face modern global organizations, and a willingness to think more strategically about the way those issues are addressed will secure global mobility’s (or should I say value fluidity’s) place at the table in strategic discussions.  

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