Putting the People Back into Global Mobility

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Most of the reputable global relocation companies conduct annual surveys whereby they gather data on global mobility trends in international companies. Plus Relocation – a company operating in corporate relocation for the past 40 years, just published the results of their Planning for International Mobility Survey.

The survey results, gathered from 68 companies that participated, showed that the pre-move preparation, coordination and learning/support stages which accompany the planning of international assignments are still perceived as a challenge for the majority of companies.

In addition, the outcomes revealed that more than…
:: 50% of the survey respondents answered that their company’s approach was ‘fair/mediocre’,
:: 30% reported that they ‘do not plan well’ and
:: 17% rated their company’s efforts as ‘excellent’.

Furthermore, “each company’s assessment of their planning process illuminates the lack of integration between global mobility and talent management”.

This finding is not surprising – in practice it is much simpler to deal with the logistics (taxes, housing, shipping, flights, etc) of a move than with people. But how sustainable is this in the long run? What happens if efforts are not made to bridge that gap?

I want to outline the two main points that stand out as areas for improvement found in the report, and also demonstrate that possible solutions that are both timely and cost effective.

Selection of candidates

Identifying suitable candidates and creating a talent pool is one of the first steps in the international assignment selection process.

According to the report, very few companies use candidate assessments.

When assessments are used they are found to be helpful in global mobility through determining candidates’ “suitability for global assignment, adaptability, intercultural competence and identifying potential issues”.

In our experience, there are a variety of ways of creating a pool of potential candidates.

One of the ways in which we have supported our clients in candidate selection for international work is through testing them in the foreign culture, literally. We have designed and delivered test scenarios using actors whereby we throw potential candidates in at the deep end and watch. Although unreal, it gives observers a chance to see how candidates think under stress or deal with elements of a culture that they find ‘different’.

For some companies, time/money considerations are barriers to setting up elaborate events as just described, so we have also referred clients to a number of online tools which are less time consuming and more cost effective and can support the candidate selection process. Once a candidate completes an assessment, the results sent back to the HR or Global Mobility department and candidates are then debriefed by a licenced coach/trainer to enable them to work on their strengths and navigate the potential pitfalls. These are very much along the lines of using personality tests to assess suitability but take on a more cultural focus.

When selecting potential candidates, it is useful to keep in mind that you may not always find the perfect candidate. As recruiters often wisely point out – attitude breeds aptitude – so attitude as opposed to skillset will ultimately be a better predictor of a candidate’s success. Focusing on finding a good candidate with the right attitude and giving him/her as much support and foresight as possible is therefore the optimal solution.

Mentoring and Cultural Training

This is the other area for improvement as perceived by companies who completed the survey.

The report states that “companies that excel at candidate selection score 69% higher than the average at coordinating a mentoring and development plan” meaning that selection and mentoring/developmental plans are in fact closely linked.

Finding suitable candidates simply isn’t enough, what enables ROI is the close monitoring of candidates’ progression and the provision of regular support to spur candidate development and knowledge sharing/management of best practices moving forward.

Mentoring and developmental plans are crucial not only when it comes to the assignee’s international work, but also with regards to repatriation and enabling the assignee to find his/her place back within the organisation whilst utilising his/her new skills and knowledge to its full capacity and taking on additional internal roles which taps into his/her experience such as the mentoring of new international assignees.

Recent research points to the overwhelmingly large numbers of repatriates terminating their employment for up to a year back from the international assignment – this causes loss of talent.  Surprisingly, we receive very few requests for repatriation support and training, however it would be interesting to establish whether psychologists and therapists have perceived a rise in demand for treatment around return culture shock and even depression.

In today’s world, it is understandable that even Fortune 500 companies cannot provide each and every assignee with a personal, executive coach. However we have found that the solution which seems to work best for those clients constrained by time/budget, is virtual coaching through telephone, Skype or a webinar platform. Such technologies are now central to connecting people globally, and can hence be useful (and familiar) support tool.

A large majority of our international clients who have requested executive coaching for their senior executives have been very happy with the virtual coaching sessions, which give them more flexibility as virtual coaching sessions can be fitted around their busy travel schedules. Furthermore, all follow-up solutions we put forward to our clients largely consist of virtual options: group conference calls, individual calls and webinars.

In addition, we will soon be launching an Agony Aunt like service for assignees which our clients can sign up for on a month by month basis. Our hope is that this platform will enable international assignees to have a discreet and real time online support where they can ask questions and receive information from our country experts/mentors. Again, this is a virtual and cost-effective way to support our clients in international assignment success.

The report further found that only 19% of companies always provide cultural training, however
100% of the companies that select the best candidates said they leverage cross-cultural training tools to support the selection process”.

Through the use of cultural profiling tools such as Argonaut™, candidates are able to gain self-awareness, and then assess where some of the upcoming challenges may lie depending on the country they are moving to. Our trainers/coaches guide each candidate through the results of their self-assessment enabling them to find strategies to bridge the potential gaps and creating best practices and learning points for any challenges they may encounter moving forward. Argonaut is then available for further use and is a great resource and support tool.

Our clients have used Argonaut™ to prepare themselves for both short term assignments and business trips, as well as longer term relocations.

For instance, one of our clients’ (a leading auction house) leading employees relocated from New York to Beijing earlier this year. Prior to the move, the assignee and her husband had a 1.5 day pre-departure programme which included the use of Argonaut™. During the programme, the self-assessment results were debriefed and the assignee and trainer were able to create strategies based on the gaps. Moving forward, the assignee and her husband had access to the tool and its resources. We also provided the family with on the ground support in the form of a post-arrival orientation/training as well as the option of follow-up virtual support with the trainer/coach who delivered the pre-departure session in New York.


In conclusion, it is important for businesses today to acknowledge that global mobility itself can act as an agent of talent development, and when candidate selection and support is given, the gap that lies between global mobility and talent management can be bridged.

What prevents us from seeing this more clearly is the focus on administrative and logistical considerations.

Assignees need to have support in terms of their career development – these plans should be put in place at the same time as the rest of the logistical processes (if not before). In the end, global mobility is about your people – so finding the right candidate, leveraging on his/her strengths and supporting him/her through mentoring and cultural training should be set a business priorities – the rest comes second.

Check out Plus’ Full Report and Request a Copy here: Planning for International Mobility Survey

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