Smart OD is essential for global mobility

Written by
Michael Dickmann
Cranfield University School of Management

25 Oct 2018

25 Oct 2018 • by Michael Dickmann

One of the more worrying findings from The RES Forum’s 2018 Annual Report into global mobility trends was data indicating that less than 10% of organisations have more than sufficient candidates for potential international assignments while a large majority thought that there were substantial shortfalls.
With this in mind, one of the key observations from the report (which is based on research among the Forum’s 1500+ members from over 750 multinational organisations in 40+ countries), was the support for the argument that international organisational development and talent management should be supported by global mobility programmes that have specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused and time-bound objectives.
This smart approach to organisational development is depicted in the role of global talent manager outlined in the report. Fulfilling the role of a global talent manager as a global mobility (GM) professional does not necessarily mean to run the learning or development department in an organisation. Instead, it concerns managing the interfaces with the learning or talent functions in such a way as to aid individuals to invest in their talent development through working abroad. It means to drive or cooperate in constructing intelligent career and succession planning. The purpose and experience orientation of GM can support the long-term engagement of assignees and their families during and after their sojourn overseas; especially if repatriation is planned and executed smoothly.
Key findings
In addition to presenting data and conclusions on how to shape smart global talent management, the report explores the non-monetary HR effects of GM policies and practices on individual assignees. In order to have a leading-edge GM approach that is attractive to potential assignees, it also offers ten key recommendations for multinationals to help them pursue smart organisational development and talent management strategies and policies: 
1. Work actively on your organisation’s employer brand to appeal to global careerists. This could start with the management of public relations and social media efforts and be translated into the recruitment and selection of staff who are open to the global world and willing to engage in international work.
2. Augment the attractiveness of global work. Most firms are struggling to find enough talented staff willing to go on global assignments. Showing that assignments ‘work out’ for expatriates, cross-border commuters and business travellers is highly important so that potential expatriation candidates are not frightened away.
3. Broaden the pre-assignment selection strategy. Using more varied data sources, including emotional intelligence, cultural agility, personality assessments etc can increase selection quality and, ultimately, GM success.
4. Plan assignment types, locations and durations in a way that your assignees acquire the right competencies and build international networks that are useful in their future work. Multinationals already use a large array of deployment strategies, including targeted approaches for localised employees and business travellers. The transfer of acquired knowledge and skills into the next position after return remains a challenge for many.
5. Devise career planning and progression systems that would allow successful assignees to have better career progression than the average, non-expatriated peer. It appears that firms are already often practicing this which will send a positive signal to potential expatriate candidates. These positive effects are seen to increase with seniority – being able to bring them further down the hierarchy may increase the supply of GM candidates.
6. Measure the performance of global assignees (be they expatriates, cross-border commuters or business travellers) in relation to the key objectives of their work abroad. At times, these goals may be assignment specific, i.e. going beyond the normal work objectives, and these may need to be assessed by home and host units jointly.
7. Use GM to consciously engage the global workforce. This seems most important for Millennials but also has positive effects for other generations.
8. Plan the repatriation of assignees early. Business sponsors may be highly useful to gain adequate jobs for returnees. Long-range career planning, something that is not yet highly common for junior and middle management, is likely to be useful. 
9. Develop a retention strategy. Retaining long term assignees during and after assignments is likely to be related to talent development, reward and career aspects (during and after international work) as well as to good expectation management, flexibility of the employer and the job content in the home organisation. Setting specific retention objectives, developing guided coaching of repatriates, providing business coaches and other interventions may be helpful.
10. Assess the effects and value of GM. Sophisticated return on investment assessment that captures the cost and (short and long term) benefits of international work and who reaps these are still relatively underdeveloped.
Further recommendations around OD are covered in other chapters in the Annual Report. The first would be to refine the GM reward strategy. This involves a range of activities such as distinguishing the broad variety of types of international work, understanding the motivational drivers and goals of potential expatriates and adjusting monetary and non-monetary benefits to these insights. At times, individualisation of the GM assignment terms may lead to a GM ‘cafeteria’ approach. The second would be to create a programme management approach that is flexible yet strives for flawlessness. Tracking internationally mobile staff in order to avoid compliance problems and to support expatriates in their various needs will be important. Clearly, GM work is highly complex and interrelated and spans many business and HR functions. The RES Forum urges readers to assess whether the whole of their interrelated GM work can be characterised as ‘smart’ and, if not, whether it can be improved by using a holistic, results-oriented perspective.
Michael Dickmann is Professor of International Human Resource Management at Cranfield University School of Management and, for the last five years, has written the Annual Report for the leading independent community for GM professionals, The RES Forum.  This article is a short summary of some of the findings from the 2018 Annual Report entitled ‘Global Mobility of the Future: Smart, Agile, Flawless and Efficient.’  

Cranfield University School of Management