The Global Mobility Function Re-engineered: Latest Industry Findings

Over the past few years the role and focus of the Global Mobility function has been under scrutiny. The annual Global Mobility Survey by Santa Fe has pointed to a mismatch between the desired and actual role responsibilities of the Global Mobility function — both as viewed by the function itself and by line management. As discussed in my previous blog post on the matter, global mobility professionals are continuously encouraged to move from an administrative role to a strategic partnership with business. This year’s Global Mobility Survey further unpacks this strategic opportunity, showing the progress that has already occurred, and highlighting what transformations are still needed.

Given the collected data, the Santa Fe professionals argue that one of the emerging global talent trends is the shifting profile of the mobile population. Although company initiated long-term assignments are expected to stay, for the first time we can see that the amount of short-term assignments (70%) and business travellers (65%) have overtaken strategic long-term assignments (63%). Moreover, there is a substantial increase in self-initiated expatriation, with more employees taking control of their career choices and lifestyles than ever. Hence, the data indicates that the landscape of mobile employees continues to shift from traditional patters towards a more fluid, unpredictable and talent need-driven environment. Adding to this the increasing demographic diversity of mobile employees (e.g. the amount of female expatriates is also steadily increasing), it becomes clear that global mobility professionals need to adjust to these various needs in order to attract, enable and retain talent.

The organizational needs and requirements towards the Global Mobility Function also continue to evolve.  As the survey data indicates, 73% of Global Mobility professionals expect their team structure to transform in some capacity within the next two years. For example, global mobility teams could be re-engineered so that operational and administrative activities are outsourced to HR shared services, while strategic functions shift towards HR business partners and/or are addressed in broader teams of talent and reward professionals. Another common vision is that the Global Mobility function will refocus on talent and/or advisory activities, leaving operational activities to outsourced providers.

In line with this vision, global mobility teams seem to have already done some positive progress towards a more strategic business partner role. Compared to the 2018 data, Global Mobility professionals report more activities related to advisory services to employees, HR business peers and line management, and less time spent on tax and immigration compliance-related activities. Supporting this trend, business leaders expect from the Global Mobility function even more engagement with strategic workforce planning, advisory services, and risk assessment tasks.

Improved business opportunities lie not only in a shifting focus though, but also in greater visibility of the function’s input and value to the business. Data analytics and reporting seem to be the key here. For example, business leaders’ priorities are about seeing more data on risk management analysis. Global Mobility teams themselves realize gaps in providing more data on comparing actual assignment costs to forecast—and ROI data in particular, which is currently provided only by 22% of the surveyed Global Mobility functions. Both Global Mobility functions and business leaders see the investment in new technology as an opportunity to deliver better data analytics and hence greater visibility.

Beyond the provided highlights, the latest survey gives many other important insights into the current state of the Global Mobility function, and how both the function and business leaders see it develop in the near future. I would conclude that with sufficient visionary thinking, now is the time to prepare the Global Mobility function for the future—and business leaders are clearly giving it the impetus to do so.

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