Smoothing the relocation process: Roffey Park, Expat Academy, Thomson Reuters, Astrazeneca, Allianz

Written by
Changeboard Team

12 Jun 2014

12 Jun 2014 • by Changeboard Team

Global mobility

As developing markets emerge as hubs and present challenges in doing business, organisations have an essential need to have robust global mobility strategies in place.

For its Management Agenda 2014, Roffey Park surveyed more than 1,800 managers in the UK, finding they expected talent retention and development to be a key challenge across all sectors in five years’ time.

Head of research Dan Lucy emphasises that in some sectors there is a skills shortage – for example, engineering capabilities are lacking in the aerospace industry. Meanwhile, there is fierce global competition for talent.

“Where talent is scarce and competition is high, organisations are seeking to develop their own,” he says. “This is partly about technical skills, but also about developing people who can be excellent leaders of teams, encourage innovation and help others to progress.” So what role can global mobility programmes play when it comes to talent development?

Bringing global mobility to the fore

According to James Holder, director at Expat Academy, an increased emphasis on mitigating risk (such as immigration, tax or reputational risk) has resulted in global mobility coming to the fore. Despite this, he believes GM is still often seen as an administrative support function instead of as a key enabler to deliver business objectives. For this reason, it is rarely involved at the front end of strategic discussions.

“GM is an extremely complex area of HR, requiring skills in tax, immigration, employment law, intercultural and reward knowledge,” he says. “The challenge is to educate the broader HR community on these complexities. As a GM professional, you need to be involved in the discussions that HRBPs have with the business relating to globally mobile employees.”

Holder suggests that employee demographics are changing. “The traditional Western outbound assignment is diminishing and there’s a continuing shift to the East to tap into growing talent pools,” he says. “Countries like South Korea and China are investing in education and older markets are emerging as exporters of talent as much as importers. These will continue to be key areas of growth, alongside Africa.”

For Holder, businesses that can ensure a GM strategy is equipped to deal with moves on a truly global scale – regardless of time or location – will see true benefits.

Transforming GM at Thomson Reuters

Mark Bancroft, head of global mobility at Thomson Reuters, believes that while other areas of HR have experienced the cultural and behavioural shift towards strategy, talent management, business alignment and partnership, it has taken longer for change to register in the GM sphere. This, he says, may be due to a perceived difficulty with the definition of GM and where it should fit in the HR context. As GM has its own processes and technologies which criss-cross with broader HR, it does not fit easily in one place. “Surveys and anecdotal evidence suggest GM teams are too busy with transactional workloads to be strategic,” he says.

Bancroft acknowledges the importance of operational efficiency in the delivery of mobility services. But he argues that to provide strategic support, GM needs to adopt effective business partnering, become integrated with talent management practices and develop risk and compliance capabilities and awareness.

At Thomson Reuters, which has around 55,000 employees in 90 countries, the GM function has transformed over the past 18 months. Bancroft explains this began with a request for a clear proposal on GM strategy aligned to the business goals and people agenda.

This included a clear endorsement of expat policy direction and a company-wide business case for addressing the ‘who’ and ‘why’ of assignment validation and selection.

“Operationally, we have the building blocks: global processes, an expat management platform, vendor management framework and metrics, demographics and cost reporting capabilities,” says Bancroft.

“The challenge is maintaining operational excellence and elevating the function to meet the needs of business partnership, talent management integration and risk and compliance management to support business strategy.”

To address this, the GM function was restructured to create separate client accounts, each aligned to a designated business unit. “The GM client account manager is an extended member of the HRBP team and has end-to-end ownership and accountability for all aspects of mobility within that unit,” explains Bancroft.

The advantage of this model, he says, is the client account manager becomes part of a proactive two-way dialogue with the business, providing expat metrics and reporting while receiving workforce planning information, early stage information on deployment and talent initiatives and intelligence on new market opportunities.

For Bancroft, this ‘seat at the table’ approach builds capability within the GM team and is the first step away from ‘we can look at it, let me come back to you’ towards ‘here are some proposals we think will better support you’.

He points out that while this might seem like common sense, it requires thought around the internal deployment of talent within the GM team to achieve ongoing success. Having strong capability on risk, compliance and regulatory issues has enabled the GM team to build partnerships and credibility with other key functions such as global tax and finance. This results in a joined-up approach to managing cross-border risk, focusing on lesser-known emerging market locations to ensure barriers to talent deployment are communicated upfront.

“We’ve been involved in the development and implementation of talent rotation policies with corporate talent teams from the start,” says Bancroft. “This knowledge and experience is proving valuable as a model for what can be achieved across the wider business. “The focus now is to build on how we can integrate with the talent agenda and help support and address the issues of competition, emerging markets and globalisation.”

Marsh - focus on data & analytics

The four operating companies in Marsh & McLennan Companies (Marsh, Guy Carpenter, Mercer & Oliver Wyman) have over 55,000 people working in more than 130 countries. Each has its own mobility strategy, which Heather Henry, director of global mobility, believes enables each international transfer to align with specific talent and cost strategies and to be assessed on the value it creates.

She explains: “As a global professional services firm, international transfers are key to delivering expertise to clients. GM is focused on improving our processes and user experience so talent flows internationally.”

Soliciting feedback and identifying areas for improvement is important. “Recently, we started a total programme review and identified functional areas – including our service delivery model and technology platform – that need to be redesigned,” says Henry.

Improving technology helps change the scope of mobility across the organisation. “We’re giving business managers the information they need to make the right decisions about talent movement,” she adds.

Identifying which responsibilities belong to GM, HR, or third-party vendors – and bringing all parties together to ensure the assignee experience is positive – is important. “We’re defining what sits with each, as well as a primary point of contact for each assignee,” explains Henry.

The scope of the programme has broadened to involve understanding the risk elements of a globally mobile workforce. “Risk mitigation, compliance and trailing tax liabilities are key elements of a successful programme.”

Focusing on new markets has required the company to rethink GM’s organisational structure. “Stakeholders in these locations need quick responses and high levels of local expertise – so we’re planning how to support them more effectively.” Generic tools such as anecdotal feedback and surveys have been used to measure ROI in the past.

Although these provide rough indicators of performance around specific deployments or services, Henry hopes that moving to a comprehensive assignment management platform will facilitate better metrics.

“We’re focusing on efficiency, response time and cycle time (from assignment initiation to placement). Long-term we will be focusing on talent measures, performance, ROI and post-assignment outcomes,” she reveals.


Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca has around 51,500 employees in over 100 countries. “The business wants to work with us to find the right talent to support the overall strategy,” explains director of global mobility Helen Walton.

“Some people think GM has to make decisions about who goes where, but I believe our job is to support the business and help HR meet its talent objectives,” she says, adding that for international assignments this is a top priority. The GM team identifies where the business needs skills and where talent development is required.

Walton says the organisation is well disciplined in how assignments work and many senior leaders have been through an assignee process and are supportive. Assignees usually work on short-term commercial projects in areas of growth for the business.

Geographies are driven by commercial opportunities, the biggest market being the US – a ‘well-trodden path’ for assignees. Walton anticipates new markets in India and North Africa but admits some locations are challenging as they’re not always the easiest places to live.

“We usually go to capital or second cities – there’s less risk. When supporting people into Colombia and Venezuela, for example, we’ve used third party providers, security services and assessments,” she explains.

Walton believes the organisation has improved its decision-making capability and GM programme by cutting costs. “With larger budgets, a lot of money was wasted,” she says. “You end up with a lot of it being risk money.”

Providing ROI is an aspiration. “We want to simplify for the organisation: what will assignees do, what will they achieve and then what are we going to do with them?”

Allianz - maintaining culture along growth

Allianz Worldwide Care provides international health insurance and has around 800 staff. “Our GM strategy is related to our clients’ needs and where they are based,” says head of HR Claire Cusack. “As a service-based business, this dictates where we need to have sales and operational support staff.”

The company’s HR function is centralised in its Dublin headquarters but each HRBP has regional responsibility. “Through our performance management and development system, which provides monthly touch points for each employee, everyone has clarity on their primary objectives for the year,” explains Cusack. “We also hold town hall meetings to communicate our strategy in all regions where we have a large number of staff. Those based regionally visit head office regularly.” 

She adds that ensuring culture is maintained alongside growth is a priority, so the company sends experienced staff to international offices to act as cultural mentors. Cusack anticipates more growth opportunities in markets such as Latin America, Asia and Africa. “These all pose their own relocation challenges,” she admits. To address this, the company offers a support package.

“Once the family is established there’s regular contact to ensure they’re settling in well. If we’re not familiar with the HR challenges in a particular country, we can call on the advice of another Allianz business that already operates in that market,” adds Cusack.

When hiring local people, she says all employees must experience consistent culture and processes, and benefit from the same performance and development system as head office staff. Having experienced staff will help to set the bar in terms of service standards and give local workers opportunities to spend time at head office.

Having company branded promotional material on the desks, posters on the walls can go a long way to ensuring that regional employees feel part of the team, says Cusack.

Dan Lucy

Dan Lucyhead of research, Roffey Park Leadership Institute

Dan has undertaken research and consultancy work for private, public and not-for-profit sectors in the fields of employment policy and practice.

James Holder

James Holderdirector, Expat Academy

Expat Academy has over 2,000 global mobility professional members. James has worked in the GM industry for over 25 years and was previously head of global mobility at BP & Diageo.

Mark Bancroft

Mark Bancrofthead of global mobility, Thomson Reuters

Mark manages a team of global mobility professionals based in London, New York and Singapore.

Helen Walters

Helen Waltersglobal mobility director, Astrazeneca

Helen’s team is responsible for the design, development and delivery of policy solutions and specialised programmes.

Claire Cusack

Claire Cusackhead of HR, Allianz Worldwide Care

Before joining Allianz Worldwide Care, Claire held senior HR positions with Braun AG and Henkle (Ireland).