Global mobility skills: what kind of GM manager are you?

29 October 2018

Is there such a thing as the perfect global mobility professional? What skills do they need to master? Having worked with many people in the business, FIDI identified some fundamental traits that are important to global mobility success. We have described them for you by creating 4 personas: the 4 key types of global mobility manager.

Which one best describes you?

The Super-Administrator

Global mobility is complicated. Large organizations may have thousands of employees working away from home. Whether they are long-term global assignees or occasional international commuters, it’s often down to the global mobility department to look after them – giving you a large and varied to-do list. From work permits and tax calculations to accommodation and travel concerns, this probably makes up a big part of your job.

There is also the burden of compliance and your duty of care towards assignees. Global mobility departments cannot afford to take their eye off the ball, and the attention to detail of Super-Adminstrators ensures this never happens.

Without superb organizational skills, a GM professional might drown in the admin – which is why Super Administrators thrive in this role. You have approved and agreed processes that you follow diligently. You have a close network of trusted partners (such as FAIM-certified relocation companies) to deal with specialist challenges. You understand how placements work and how to deal with anything they throw at you. You are ice-cool under pressure.

The Strategic Enabler

According to a PWC report, The Impact of The Digital Age on Global Mobility, 68% organizations agree that a ‘mobile workforce is an enabler of business and talent strategies’. In other words, the role of GM is a strategic one in most organizations – and this is widely seen as a continuing trend.

Do you share this strategic vision? Many of your daily activities will be focused on the here and now – the immediate requirements of assignees ‘in the field’ and the need to fulfil short-term obligations. However, if you are too focused on these concerns and fail to step back occasionally to consider the wider, strategic role of GM, you may be doing yourself and your organization a disservice.

A Strategic Enabler helps to prevent potentially damaging short-termism. They will be able to consider not only the immediate needs of the placement but also the organization’s strategy for talent retention – i.e. building the leadership skills amongst the company’s core talent that will make the company stronger in 5-10 years’ time.

The Number Cruncher

In our data-obsessed age, the ability to measure is becoming more and more important. Every dimension of your organization’s performance is quantified and analysed in order to ensure constant improvement – and global mobility is no exception.

Experience and intuition are of course hugely valuable. But basing key decisions on a hunch will not get you very far. Global mobility departments that take a data-driven approach are not only likely to be more effective – they can also prove their value to the business by demonstrating that they are delivering results in line with wider business targets.

How long are applications taking? What is the typical cost of an assignment? Do you quantify risk? Do you profile candidates objectively? This last point is perhaps one of the most obvious instances where data objectivity brings value. Techniques such as psychometric testing can help remove the unhelpful influence of ‘unconscious bias’ from the process.

The use of data analytics in global mobility is still far from pervasive. According to Mercer, 90% of European companies do not use metrics to track assignment success and results – but this can only change as the importance of data is more widely accepted.

Number crunchers are also likely to win favour with strategic thinkers (and senior management) as they are well positioned to spot trends that may shape future strategy and improve ways of working. If you don’t measure it at all, how do you know what’s coming?

The People Person

But for all this talk of strategy and big data, it’s a people business, isn’t it? Many GM managers – indeed, many HR professionals – chose their vocation because it is all about helping others.

This definitely remains a critical skill: many of the success criteria of global mobility hinge on people skills. How are you communicating with assignees while they are abroad? How well do you understand your assignees’ situations? It is well known that the main cause of assignment failure and early repatriation is personal discontent, often associated with family issues. How can you support, encourage and advise these people unless you have the strong people skills?

Technologies such as chatbots and automated support systems are being considered as a measure to improve expat support (and reduce costs, of course), but it is a hotly-debated area.

Global mobility is about helping people to be effective and successful wherever they are located. It takes a People Person to make that happen.

The perfect blend

As with the best cocktails, it is the mix that matters. No GM department can be effective without people or process skills, but the role of data is increasingly important. And as global mobility becomes more strategically important, you need to take a long-term, enterprise-level view.

As a GM professional, you probably have a little of each of these persona in you. You can cope with the detail, you get the strategy, but you do it all with a smile. Which is probably why you do everything you can to avoid expat failure

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