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Jose Segade

Prudential/The RES Forum

Global Mobility Manager / RES Forum Director

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Making talent management work in global mobility


Within our highly globalised and competitive environment, organisations are urged to identify, select, prepare, develop, promote and performance manage staff who are able and keen to successfully work abroad. Over recent decades, progressive organisations have steadily considered the mutual dependency of assignees and multinational corporations (MNCs) in order to review and refine their global mobility (GM) approaches.

The strong interrelation between expatriate workers and their employing organisation has influenced the design of GM resourcing, training and talent management as well as global career approaches.

Well-thought through and well-resourced GM policies and practices support the sustainability of the organisation’s global competitiveness.

An abundance of talent?

Resourcing issues were investigated in a recent RES Forum survey. Given the growing importance of global experience, it was interesting to note that roughly only a quarter of companies assess whether employees are likely to be internationally mobile during the recruitment and selection stage.

Given this low figure, does this mean that organisations have an abundance of talent willing to go on global assignments? I’m afraid not. The data shows that, for instance, more than 25% of organisations believe they have less than 40% of the executive management assignees they actually need and almost a third believe they have only up to 40% of their required level of expatriates at all levels.

Given this gap, it would seem sensible for MNCs to work towards creating a positive impression regarding international careers and to strive to create an appealing ‘brand’ and value proposition in relation to working abroad. However, the data also shows that many firms do not actively market the value of cross-border careers to their staff or potential applicants.

Many firms do not actively market the value of cross-border careers to their staff or potential applicants.

This is especially worrying given the hard commercial realities around the use of these mobility programmes. When it comes to the associated objectives, immediate business interests (84%) are still by far the key driver for expatriation. The provision of country/business leaders is highly important to two thirds of MNCs, closely followed by developmental and other project considerations.

The RES Forum wanted to understand talent management implications for assignees. For 71% of MNCs it was important to be able to be internationally mobile within their systems to assess key talent. A fifth of all organisations require their senior leaders to have had international experience before moving into roles of responsibility.

80% of all MNCs believe that going on an international assignment is important for the career progression of their senior executives. This drops dramatically for lower levels but it seems that working abroad is likely to make a huge difference to promotion opportunities.

Workforce generations: the effect of global mobility on engagement

The impact of global experience is different from person to person but there may also be some trends in relation to age. Much has been written regarding different motivational and working patterns amongst people in different generations and the RES Forum wanted to explore whether international assignments had different engagement effects for different age groups.

The results show some clear trends. From Gen X to millennials, professionals are seen to experience strong engagement effects by working abroad. However, this is much lower for people over 45.

Given that younger expatriates have a higher likelihood to be on developmental assignments, while control and coordination as well as business need drivers are more common for older assignees, there is likely to be an engagement effect that is not simply related to age but also moderated by assignment objective.

In addition, the move towards being more generous to higher ranking managers (who tend to be older) and those on business critical assignment is also likely to influence the engagement effect of assignees.

Repatriation and career progression

One of the key challenges in GM is successful repatriation. Successful outcomes in this area are often seen to include retention, career progression, high performance, little organisational disruption and cost as well as continued motivation of the repatriate.

Given a reverse culture shock and a higher propensity to leave the organisation in the year of return, achieving the above goals represents a challenge. One of the critical hurdles is whether the repatriate gains a position where they can use their recently acquired capabilities.

About a third of MNCs had a ‘repatriation champion’ in place who would help repatriates find a good position and those companies take their long-term talent management, career and retention planning seriously. While other industry data indicates that guaranteed employment upon return is diminishing, 55% of MNCs provide an employment guarantee upon repatriation.

Whilst there are variations on the extent of this promise, the terms and conditions could be described as, at least, comparable to the pre-assignment position.

Only 43% of MNCs consider what the next role of the expatriate should be upon repatriation at the point of assignee selection.

Only 43% of MNCs consider what the next role of the expatriate should be upon repatriation at the point of assignee selection. In addition, the survey assessed whether the MNC tracked the career progression of repatriates for any period after their return. It emerged that more than three quarters of companies actually don’t and some of the remaining firms do so only for their senior executives or in certain parts of the business.

Clearly, understanding the link between successful repatriations and long-term career and performance would help MNCs to improve their global mobility strategies, planning and decision-making.

Refining global mobility approaches and ROI

It emerged from a RES Forum survey that fewer than a quarter of MNCs used an annual assignee satisfaction survey. However, some companies used post-arrival surveys or data received via their service providers.

About half of the MNCs’ surveys were anonymous and it was not usually the policy of GM departments to necessarily provide feedback to the expatriate group with just 42% doing so.  

When it comes to ROI considerations, firms were concentrating a lot of attention on how to assess the benefits and costs of their GM programmes. Two thirds of all MNCs thought that measuring the achievement of business objectives underpinning the assignment was highly important.

This was followed by half of firms believing that the employee’s effectiveness in the role abroad needs to be assessed. One third put special emphasis on evaluating whether a local successor was found.

Interestingly, only a quarter thought it highly important to measure professional development or long-term career success. Given the publicly stated drive towards developmental assignments that many MNCs proclaim, this is a surprising status quo.

The full RES Forum survey that this article is based on can be found on their website.

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Jose Segade

Global Mobility Manager / RES Forum Director

Read more from Jose Segade

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