Written by
Jose Segade

12 Aug 2015

What is the key skill that enriches your global mobility function?

12 Aug 2015 • by Jose Segade

Global mobility roles and operating models

Given the strong, sometimes contradictory pressures in the GM field, the work of the mobility professional presents many challenges. There are enduring pressures to standardise approaches in terms of global efficiency, fairness considerations, global service providers’ demands for consistency, technological capabilities and a drive to reduce complexity. In contrast, regulatory differences, individual motivations, the receiving team and other host country context variables, push for local responsiveness. Navigating this force field of counteracting pressures is highly challenging and will ultimately determine the success of global work today and tomorrow. The RES Forum identified four key roles of the GM function (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: The roles of the global mobility function


Focus on your people

In most multinational companies (MNCs) global mobility is heavily process oriented with four in five international experts concentrating on due diligence and about half on giving strategic advice. While this covers both strategic and operational levels for general GM approaches, far fewer GM professionals concentrate on the people elements with both the roles of global talent manager (7%) and global people effectiveness expert (14%) less enacted (see Figure 2). MNCs may think that global people effectiveness expert is a role that predominantly needs to be filled by direct superiors and coaches. In addition, global talent management may be deemed to be the responsibility of different HR professionals. Nevertheless, the latter was one of the key areas on which GM experts expressed that they wanted to concentrate.

Figure 2: GM leaders currently always or mostly act as:

In the future

We also wanted to explore how GM professionals want to shape their roles in the future. While the role of expert on due diligence was seen to be filled to the same extent in years to come, it was striking by how much all the other three roles were intended to become more important. The percentage of the respondents who thought that they would, in the future, work in the area of strategic advisor, global people effectiveness expert and global talent manager was a third higher. These considerations show that all four roles are viewed as important by GM experts and that providing strategic advice will become key for the success of the global mobility function.

In addition, this indicates that many respondents seem to expect changes in the interfaces and/or delivery of people effectiveness and global talent management. 

Overall, it may mean that international mobility work becomes more fundamental to the organisation, and part of the DNA of success in the global competitive environment.

Figure 3: GM leaders wanting to always or mostly act in the future as: 

What is the most valued function?

Even more striking is the view of the whole mobility function and its work in the future as all four areas are seen to be more important than ever from the self-perception of the respondents.

Arguably, it is important that powerful forces within an organisation appreciate the GM activity that is undertaken and link it to corporate success. This is why the RES Forum investigated which of the four roles would be valued by senior management at present.

Figure 4: Most valued roles by senior management today

More strategic

The RES Forum also wanted to explore the perceived strengths of GM approaches within the four roles in organisations. With respect to the strategic advisor role, many different strengths were identified. These fell into several, partially overlapping, areas. Within these, the strategic lead, business partnering, advice on key challenges and developing best practices were the most common. It is, therefore, interesting that within organisations, the strategic advisor role is seen as radically different, spanning from operations-based, cost and compliance-based mobility-focussed ideas, to broader concepts that seem to link more strongly into the overall company strategy and operations. The shape of strategic GM and the way it works in organisations is highly different and can lead to it becoming a truly distinctive means to create global value.

The global talent manager role was seen as attractive but to a lesser degree and also regarded as less important to senior management. From the answers given, it is clear that the involvement of the GM function in talent management is often quite minimal. At times, the talent management links were predominantly administrative such as having the location data of people and how long they have been abroad. Where the talent management exposure was stronger, the role ranged from an individual orientation to support talent, to an organisational focus on future leaders or a globalisation strategy.

It seems that the role of global people effectiveness expert is underdeveloped in many organisations although they often regarded activities geared to the well-being and performance of expatriates to be more in the realm of talent management or line management.

It is clear that the expert on due diligence role is the backbone of the GM function and fundamental for the delivery of the department’s contribution. The respondents to the RES Forum survey were highly consistent in outlining their strengths as detailed technical knowledge in the areas of tax, social security, immigration and other legal/regulatory aspects. One manager stated that the highest contribution would be to ensure that there are no risks for the firm or individuals. Therefore, compliance was rated incredibly highly and given their overall knowledge and experience, several managers asserted that they were the “go to guys” because “nobody else knows this stuff”.

Given the discussion with regards to the strategic value-add of HRM and GM in organisations, one manager’s comment on due diligence neatly summed up the desire to be better appreciated from a strategic input perspective: “Unfortunately, this is an area that we’re very strong in… It is great to have that trust…but I’d like to step back from this a bit to focus more on strategy”.