A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post about the changing focus of the global mobility function, which was encouraged to move from a rather administrative to a more strategic role. It seems that today the trend is still relevant and the call for change is even more urgent than before.
The recent Santa Fe’s Global Mobility Survey indicates that the future of work and evolving globalization will demand mobility to evolve with it and shift more towards business partnership. Indeed, traditionally it has been common to expect global mobility professionals to keep track of the number of assignees and their relocation packages, support expatriate adjustment and organize for appropriate housing, administer all the needed paper work and ensure compliance with legislations. Yet, the shift from administration to strategy implies that more and more businesses are expecting global mobility functions to engage with HR in strategic talent planning and inclusive talent management activities, cooperate with finance on data analysis and investment considerations, and advise management on emerging markets’ risks and opportunities.
The ambition seems clear and logical, yet the survey indicates that compliance needs continue to take the biggest share of global mobility functions’ attention, preventing an appropriate balance with other strategic goals. As per the report data, global mobility professionals perceive immigration complications and complicated tax systems to be the main challenges impacting achievement of their objectives. For example, 32% of global mobility professionals reported not having any programme in place to ensure business travel compliance. 68% of respondents reported on such a programme, yet, only 21% of them use technology to achieve this. As for assignment cost tracking, data indicate that almost 40% of global mobility professionals are using everyday software such as Microsoft Excel. Apart from these already existing and time-consuming compliance obligations, global mobility professionals are probably facing additional burdens related to forthcoming general data protection regulations (GDPR). Given this context, business leaders see potential for investing in new technologies to help with data analytics and the management of increasingly complex global mobility issues.
As the Santa Fe professionals highlight, while the compliance burdens are critical, they are not levers for growth, and business leaders rather highlight their need for a partner on talent, advisory and risk management. For example, data indicates that business leaders see significant opportunities in assignment candidate selection and suitability screening processes, strategic workforce planning and risk assessment. In relation to the latter, for instance, global mobility professionals currently spend about 9% of their time on it, but are expected to deal with it for about 26% of their time. The same activities are perceived as important and currently underserved also by global professionals themselves. Hence, there is a common outlook for transformation, but a very visible gap between the practicalities that eat up time, and the strategic partnership that needs time.
In short, global mobility teams are struggling to balance the art of talent management, ensuring a positive assignee experience and their increasing compliance burden. Could technology be the ‘game changer’ after all, helping the global mobility function to transform into a valuable business partner that everyone is looking for?