Industry September 2013

Employee Mobility and Talent Management

The management of talent and mobility have been popular topics of discussion in the relocation industry for almost a decade. Employee mobility is on the rise, with an estimated 214mn people now living outside their country of citizenship.

Mercer, a leading global consultant, recently conducted a poll of 750 multinational firms. The results showed that in 2013, while 70% of firms surveyed expect to see a rise in short-term assignments, 55% expect further long-term assignments.

Similar trends were seen in 2010 and 2011, when more than half the firms surveyed reported an increase in long-term (52%) and short-term (53%) assignments.

International assignments have grown out of a necessity to meet evolving business and international workforce needs. Firms are facing increased pressure to attract and retain talent, which is why many have embraced a wider range of global mobility strategies to provide incentives for high-performing employees.

Talent management is ranked second among the top five reasons for international assignments, as shown below:

1. Specific technical skills not available locally (47%)
2. Career management/leadership development (43%)
3. Knowledge transfer (41%)
4. Particular project needs (39%)
5. Specific managerial skills not available locally (38%)

Many firms expect that there will be an increase in talent-development assignments, in not a few of which the leadership model will require internal mobility for high-potential and high-performing employees.

Moreover, to ensure the availability of a ready pool of talent to fill senior leadership positions, the need has been recognised for managers to be groomed over time. Procter & Gamble is often cited as a firm that is extremely good at developing talent this way.

When it comes to tapping the potential offered by global markets, many Japanese firms lag behind their peers in developed countries. Yet, due to Japan’s shrinking domestic market, as well as its ageing population and workforce, many Japanese firms are looking to internationalise.

To this end, some domestic firms are seeking to leverage external markets.

In general, however, firms have been comparatively slow to make this shift. As their main hindrances, firms that are reluctant to globalise cite lack of access to information about overseas markets, lack of capable management resources in Japan, and difficulty securing financing.

However, we are seeing renewed optimism about the Japanese economy thanks to Abenomics, a bullish stock market and a sense that Japan is finally regaining a sense of normality.

Thus, one well-known multinational Japanese electronics firm has developed a mobility programme to attract and retain talent globally, not just at their headquarters in Tokyo. We expect other Japanese firms to follow suit.

Though simple in theory, in practise mobility, as a talent-development strategy, can go wrong in many ways.

Adapting to, and embracing, cultural change can prove challenging, since there’s a big difference between working in another country and making your life work there.

Firms that help support employees’ immersion into another culture can reduce dramatically the stress caused by an international assignment and reduce the risk that success might be marred by culture shock.

Intercultural training helps employees develop broad skills: the ability to manage across cultures, resolve conflict and lead at a global level while thinking inclusively.

It is also very important—critical in fact—to consider support for the family. Today’s families typically include two working professionals, and the oft-forgotten partner can greatly influence an assignment’s outcome.

In 2008, the Permits Foundation interviewed more than 3,000 spouses and partners of expats.

Eighty-nine percent of the accompanying spouses had been working prior to the assignment, but just 35% worked during the assignment period. Around 75% of those not working said they would like to work and that their inability to do so led to feelings of frustration.

Eight out of 10 working spouses said they had adapted well to their new country, but of those not working, just 32% reported that they had adjusted to their new surroundings. The majority of expat partners said they would have welcomed advice on searching for work, and only 11% felt they had received adequate support.

The difficulties involved in interrupting one family member’s career to accommodate that of another can make an employee who is otherwise a prime candidate reluctant to move.

Families accustomed to dual income may face financial hardship if one partner is unable to work. An employee whose family isn’t settled will be unable to fully focus on their role. A family’s negative experience can jeopardise the whole assignment.

As employee mobility continues to rise, firms must develop a mobility programme that supports employees and their families. This will, in turn, help ensure a successful return on a firm’s investment.

In addition, a mobility programme should enable an assignee to incorporate the international assignment into their larger career path. This will help the organisation position the assignee in a role that capitalises and builds on their international experience.

Whether a firm is just beginning to consider strategic mobility and talent management, or already has a substantial supporting infrastructure, there are always ways to improve and enhance such efforts.

About Crown:
With offices in over 265 locations around the world, Crown helps you manage a globally mobile workforce, and take care of people who are relocating.