How HR and mobility can work better together

As organisations strive to be globally competitive, adapt to the rapid pace of change and manage a geographically mobile workforce, there has never been a more important time for mobility leaders to work strategically with HR to deliver value to the business.

“In today’s global economy, thriving companies are distinguished by their agility and how quickly they can capitalise on growth opportunities,” says Ellie Sullivan, senior vice president of advisory services at Weichert Workforce Mobility.

“A strong relationship between HR and mobility enables these organisations to leverage the mobile workforce to fill talent gaps and provide developmental opportunities to internal candidates, keeping them engaged and preventing costly turnover.”

Effective collaboration between HR and mobility can be a real differentiator in the workplace, especially in areas such as recruitment, retention and talent management.

“With significant skill shortages and a tightened labour market, the ability to present an employer brand with a contemporary, flexible approach to cross-border workforce management is critical to attract and retain key talent,” says John Arcario, senior vice president, head of strategy and talent development solutions at BGRS, the international global mobility management services firm.

Caroline Walmsley, global head of HR at AXA – Global Healthcare, believes mobility and HR must work together to ensure businesses have the right talent in the right places. “It’s important for both teams to understand global talent issues and have a say in finding talent and identifying skill shortages in key areas.”

However, despite the importance of aligning HR and mobility, there is often a disconnect between the two, especially if they are working in silos.

“Silo-thinking is caused by ignorance,” says Chris Debner, founder of Strategic Talent Mobility Advisory. “Mobility is complex and most HR professionals don’t always understand what mobility professionals do. Mobility is often guilty of not proactively looking for interaction with others and, as a result, positioning itself in a purely administrative manner. In doing so, they are fulfilling the image that other stakeholders in HR and the business have of them.”

Mobility and HR: Linked strategy

According to a report by EY, 68 per cent of forward-thinking ‘strategist’ companies believe it’s important to consider global mobility in their talent management strategy. Yet despite this, only 36 per cent of organisations overall have a formal global mobility strategy in place. This would suggest that, although mobility leaders are keen to elevate the function from administrative to strategic, there is still some way to go.

This is echoed by The RES Forum’s 2018 Annual Report, which found that, while 94 per cent of global mobility leaders aim to be more strategic and align with HR strategy in future, there is still a gap in achieving this, with just 62 per cent currently working as a strategic adviser.

hr and global mobility

It also revealed that, in most multinational corporations, the mobility function focuses much of its time on processes and compliance, to the detriment of strategic work, talent management and people elements.

David Enser, founding partner of the RES Forum and former head of cross-border employment at Adidas, believes one of the biggest issues preventing better relationships between mobility and HR is the perception of mobility as a transactional function, compared with the business consultancy provided by HR business partners.

“In making this assumption, HR generalists may be shooting themselves in the foot,” he says. “While traditional expat models are on the decline, evolving forms of cross-border employment continue to be a hugely powerful mechanism for businesses to execute complex overseas projects. HR business partners may need to acknowledge that, when global mobility constitutes perhaps 5 per cent of their focus, the implications run beyond their business unit into general organisational and business risk.”

Building bridges between HR and mobility will obviously be made more difficult if HR isn’t spending enough time on mobile workforce strategy.

“Sadly, the most common concern we hear is a lack of bandwidth to focus on mobility,” says Ms Sullivan. “While the mobile workforce might have an exponential impact on business results, these employees typically represent a small percentage of the overall workforce, so time-starved HR partners tend to keep their focus on programmes that impact all employees.”

Enabling the two functions to work in tandem is, therefore, key to managing a mobile workforce successfully, but the question is how?

Is employee experience the key?

The answer lies in the employees themselves. Organisations must look at mobile workforce management through the lens of employee experience and ensure positive outcomes for employees.

“If the employee is put first, it becomes obvious that the only way to deliver a seamless, high-value experience is for HR and mobility to work as one,” says Emanuela Boccagni, commercial director, Europe, Middle East and Africa, at ECA International, a global HR consulting firm.

“Technology can simplify the process, providing a single platform for employees to engage with all stakeholders and perform a variety of tasks, replacing a multitude of disparate communications.”

“Technology can simplify the process, providing a single platform for employees to engage with all stakeholders and perform a variety of tasks, replacing a multitude of disparate communications”

Employee experience is critical in attracting and retaining talent, yet is one of the biggest challenges for HR and the future of work. Mr Debner adds: “Psychologically, mobility has a huge impact on employee experience. If companies are committed to taking employee experience more seriously, they have to focus on mobility as well and they need to provide initiatives that ensure this along the whole employee life cycle, from hiring to retiring.”

To create an enhanced employee experience, Mr Enser suggests incorporating the prospect of overseas assignments as a powerful brand asset into the organisation’s employee value proposition.

“This simple shift enables us to view global mobility as providing a relevant employee experience that can attract and retain the best assets,” he says. “The very prospect of a well-curated series of overseas growth opportunities, packed with both challenging and ‘wow factor’ employer branding opportunities, is hugely compelling and will lead to more efficient hiring, both internally and externally.”

It’s also vital for organisations to have a clear and complete picture of an employee’s journey throughout the assignment.

“Those companies that can gain full insight and transparency into the entire process, while identifying the moments that matter most for employees, will be poised to create a superior employee experience, which will put them in an enviable position from an employer brand perspective,” says Mr Arcario.

To take employee experience from concept to reality, he believes HR and mobility must embrace “design-led thinking, driven by customer centricity”, while being enabled by technology that provides a “consumerised” experience for employees.

Mr Enser concludes: “Avoid silos and enable collaboration, showcase and provide access to expertise as well as business insight, make confident, data-driven decisions and let yourselves play with the prospect of employee experience as a differentiator; user experience is everything.”