Global Mobility 101: tips for starting GM Managers

25 July 2018

On your first day in a new job, there is a lot to take in. You will be given a security pass, a desk, directions to the restrooms, carpark and fire exit, not to mention the names of at least 6 new colleagues to remember.

While you’re taking all of this in, we thought we would offer a few tips for starting Global Mobility (GM) Managers. Whether you are joining the GM department of a large organization, or whether you’re the one responsible for helping your company make first inroads into a formal global mobility program, we hope that going over the basics will be a useful first step.

Why are you in Global Mobility?

Make sure there is a clear definition of what you are trying to do. In less mature organizations, global mobility can be a largely operational affair, charged with the administrative task of managing overseas workers.

Global mobility can also have a key role to play in the effectiveness of the company’s global operations and its talent retention and recruitment strategy. It is in your interests to be aware of the strategic potential of global mobility because if it is not recognized now, it will be soon.

What the assignees need from you

While they are operating around the world they are, corporately-speaking, your responsibility. You will share in their successes, but you will also come in for criticism when they fail. But it’s also about more than cold business effectiveness.

Global mobility managers often have an almost parental affection for the welfare of the expat family, so it is important to ensure that they are always at the heart of your planning. There are 3 key tasks to think about:

  1. Select your candidates wisely
    Candidate selection is an essential part of the process. If this is part of your role, in order to select the person most likely to succeed, you need to take into account a number of factors, including (but not limited to), experience, cost, future potential and willingness to go.

    A good guide is our 10 Tips for Successful Candidate Selection. Increasingly, GM departments are using artificial-intelligence-based software to score and select candidates (and thus eliminate the spectre of unconscious bias).

  2. Prepare thoroughly
    Before the assignee leaves, there is a lot you can do to increase the chances of success. On a legal, administrative level there will be a lot of forms to fill in and paperwork to manage, not to mention the negotiation of compensation packages.

    Remember that the more help they get in preparing themselves, the more likely your expats (and often their families) are to be both happy and productive.

  3. Support constantly
    Out of sight is not out of mind. One of the most important aspects of your job from the expat perspective is to help them while they are away. You are often the link between them and the head office and help to prevent them feeling isolated.

    Equally crucial is the process of repatriation, which can be an unsettling time for them and for the company. Find out more in our post Returning Expats: How To Ensure a Soft Landing.

What the business needs from you

While your natural focus is on the expats themselves, your new job is often a complex juggling act where you need to manage and nurture your people ‘in the field’ whilst also remembering the corporate need for talent retention and development strategies.

The key obligations that you (and your team) will need to fulfil towards the organization can be summarized as:

  1. Compliance & duty of care
    You have certain unavoidable legal obligations, ranging from immigration and work permits to tax management. These vary from country to country and, unfortunately, are liable to change.

    As an example, companies concerned with assignments in or out of the UK are waiting anxiously for clarification on details of post-Brexit EU work permits before making any long-term plans. You also have a more general duty of care towards your assignees, which includes helping them with issues such as insurance, vaccination and personal security.

  2. Cost control
    The most keenly scrutinized part of your work will be your costs. The compensation packages that are offered to assignees need to be generous enough to make them attractive (and to give you a large pool of enthusiastic candidates) but you are also under intense pressure to keep costs to a minimum.

    There are many ways of managing compensation packages and you will also be expected to carefully control other costs, such as the relocation itself and accommodation. Also, beware of hidden costs!

  3. Alignment
    While cost control and compliance are issues you will need to deal with on a daily basis, do not underestimate the importance of the role of global mobility within the organization.

    For example, the global mobility program should be aligned with HR and talent strategies. This will help you decide whether candidate selection should be based on the need to retain top talent or to help certain individuals develop additional skills. (In fact, research shows that many employees want to travel in order to learn, thus fulfilling both goals).

What’s stopping you?

The neat list above may suggest that global mobility is straightforward. In practice, you will be frustrated by changing legislation, inefficient processes and working across time zones.

Well organized GM departments take all of this in their stride – frequently supported by technology, which is making the life of Global Mobility Managers easier. Access to accurate global mobility data, for instance, can help you streamline your service and avoid costly mistakes and assumptions that could lead to expat failure.

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