The world of global mobility is rapidly changing and is continuously challenging. First of all, there is a continuous increase in the population of international assignees. According to the latest Brookfield Global Mobility Trends survey, 45% of respondents reported an increase in the number of assignees in 2014 compared to 2013, and 43% of respondents estimated a further increase in 2015. Similarly, according to Santa Fe Group’s 2015 Global Mobility Survey, 51% of companies expect an increase in the number of international assignees over the coming 12 months. Second, there is a growing diversification in assignment policy types, which nowadays range from classical long-term assignments to rapidly popularizing localizations and one-way permanent relocations. Third, global mobility challenges remain linked to emerging markets and increased expat volumes in these markets. The Brookfield and Santa Fe data indicate that China, Brazil, the UAE and Singapore are currently the top emerging markets. Moreover, respondents reported that the most challenging locations for both assignees and mobility program managers are Brazil, India, and China. Finally, there are global talent shortages and persistent mobility cost pressures, which pose their own challenges.
Given these difficulties and opportunities, the Brookfield and Santa Fe professionals call for more mindful mobility, which entails a changing focus of the global mobility function. Specifically, relocation service providers have begun to advise mobility functions to accommodate not only a tactical remit, but also develop a more future-focused strategic partnership with other functions within their companies, particularly talent management.
This notion is also echoed by the 2015 Deloitte Pulse Survey. The Deloitte professionals argue for a changing role of global mobility, highlighting the shift over the past five years from merely support function to a more strategic business partner role. According to the survey data, currently 51% of respondents view themselves as ‘mostly strategic’, 25% ‘partly strategic’, 19% ‘completely strategic’ and 5% ‘completely admin’. Similar to the Brookfield and Santa Fe findings, the Deloitte professionals report that the top three drivers for changes in the role of global mobility are entry into new markets, increased compliance/scrutiny (e.g. cost pressures), and strategic business objectives, which involve global mobility (e.g. developing global management skills). Demonstrating the latter point is Brookfield’s data that for the first time in years, building international management experience has appeared as one of the top two reasons for sending employees on international assignments.
In line with the shift towards a strategic business partner role, the Deloitte survey reports an increase in advisory support and involvement in strategic objectives as part of the role. At the same time, it is noted that global mobility is also expected to manage a heavy administrative workload, which results in complex balancing of these different tasks. Not surprisingly, lack of time is seen as the top challenge when trying to shift towards a more strategic role.
All in all, industry surveys indicate that there is a need for more strategically oriented global mobility functions. Although we can see that global mobility professionals are increasingly acting in this strategic role, for most companies achieving full business partnership is still a distant dream. For example, according to Brookfield, only 7% of global mobility functions report to talent management and 51% do not have any active relationship with them. Further, only 18% of respondents report having formal career management processes, only 19% have a formal candidate pool, and 95% of global mobility professionals do not measure the return on investment (ROI). As such, companies seem not to have many of the basic mobility practices in place, which makes it difficult to sustain strategic global mobility that is aligned with business needs.
To close the gap between the current state of and actual needs for global mobility’s strategic role, the Deloitte professionals suggest global mobility managers to review and clearly define the role of global mobility as a business partner, reduce its administrative workload, focus on building a strategic mobility brand, and develop mobility metrics to measure its effectiveness. As for the organization, it should actively support the shift of the global mobility role, for example by providing additional training for global mobility professionals, and encouraging openness towards collaboration.