Strategic insights from mature research into global mobility of talent

Global mobilityAt two recent events, I spoke to international assignment program managers about the need for firms to become strategically focused and more mature in managing their global talent. I recalled to them my experience of carrying out an extensive review of metrics and analytics inside one of the major international banks. I was asked to provide feedback from this review at a global HR leader’s strategy meeting so that the organization could consider their current year HR priorities.

Despite the extensive analysis of what this bank did and how it might be improved (using rigorous academic research & thinking), what was more critical to them was my view about what other firms were doing. I advised that what others were doing was irrelevant in terms of beginning a discussion on developing their own strategic insights. No firm is the same and context is critical so benchmarking other practices is not a starting point for strategy development. Context and relevance is never conveyed in benchmarking reports and this kind of evidence is potentially damaging, particularly if the ‘market’ is carrying out poor practice. I suggested that what was essential for them (and what we then discussed) was how they could develop their own evidence and insights to identify their key strategic priorities.

For global mobility professionals, benchmarking remains a key activity with which to develop a firm’s ‘policy’ to move their talent around the world. While it can have its place, it is not a way to inform both HR and leadership on approaches that can add real value to an international assignee program. And this is more important than ever – international experience is now typically a prerequisite for the competence of future leaders and managers and key employees are increasingly demanding it. Consequently, global mobility managers have now become key gatekeepers and knowledge holders for successful and mature talent management in a global context.

However, fundamental questions that can be used to develop good strategy and mature practice remain unanswered, such as:

  • What type of employee best fits an international assignment or certain overseas locations?
  • Where and when are firms’ international assignees most and least engaged?
  • How does adjustment to the host country, family support, career management, or relationships with immediate managers affect assignee motivation and organizational commitment?
  • How do employee attitudes change over assignment lifecycles?
  • How does engagement relate to performance and impact on success and value creation for a firm?
  • What is the cost of international assignment failure or the value of success?
  • What can HR teams do to ‘drive’ assignment performance and value for the organisation?

To begin trying to help firms answer these questions, Professor David Collings and I, together with the AIRINC organization have developed unique research to measure the attitudes of international assignees. Supported by IHRM, our research is already providing insights into the impact of an international assignment on key employee outcomes such as employee engagement, wellbeing and intentions to stay with an organization. Using a series of measures; including role clarity, organizational commitment & identification, career management, perceived organizational support, expatriate adjustment, and family support the survey is designed to help an organization begin to collect evidence to start answering some of the above questions.

Ultimately, we hope the research will help an organization consider ROI, improve retention, align mobility to talent management, and achieve mobility improvements that can add significant value to a program. Of course, we know that it is just a start to developing maturity around the talent and global mobility space, but if we get this foundation step right we believe we can help firms to build this from a much stronger base.

This research will remain a live program for the foreseeable future with the pilot phase ending in April 2013. If you would like your firm to participate or if you would like more information, please contact Stuart Woollard or David Collings and follow this link.

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