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Global mobility: Strengthening your organisation’s competitive advantage

RES Forum research has identified key areas of attention for HR when it comes to global assignments

The RES Forum recently surveyed more than 80 mid- and senior-level global mobility professionals in multinational organisations around the world, as part of research for its series of upcoming reports linking areas such as global talent management, programme design and global people effectiveness to the employee value proposition. Here are some of the things we found:

Global talent willingness

There is a significant shortage of employees who are willing to be internationally mobile. More than half of the companies that the RES Forum surveyed have at least a 20% gap in their requirements (for entry-level professionals) and a shortage of more than two-thirds for professional, manager and senior manager levels. Multinational corporations (MNCs) encounter the biggest challenge at the executive manager level where three-quarters have at least a 20% gap and more than half a 40% gap in requirements. However, while we appreciate that some locations are less attractive to candidates than others, it seems that only a few companies are successful in having a large enough pool of staff willing to become expatriates. Around one in 16 MNCs has more than enough managers, senior managers and executives and around one in six has sufficient professional and entry-level professional employees who would work abroad. For the remaining organisations, urgent action to increase the attractiveness of global work is needed.

The influence of assignment purpose

Whether the assignment was geared at position filling, knowledge transfer and acquisition, or control and co-ordination did not matter much to the ability to fill positions – MNCs experienced a shortage of people willing to work abroad across all categories. Even assignments with the primary goal of career development, which should be attractive to staff, were difficult to fill. This is a new insight as many assume that where individuals are seen to benefit most obviously – in their own career and professional development – they have the greatest incentive to engage in working in other countries. These candidate shortages persist although we know that acquiring professional skills, capabilities and improving one’s career are strong motivators to work abroad.

Increasing global mobility attractiveness

There are a vast number of activities that can be undertaken by employers to increase the attractiveness of international work, starting with the communication of global opportunities to external applicants and the wider population. Unfortunately global careers do not feature prominently – or at all – on websites of many large firms. In addition, firms have a huge spectrum of activities in the areas of job design, rewards, career and development, move and compliance, local and international leadership, crisis and other support mechanisms, and so on to make the case that global moves are attractive and beneficial for staff. What is interesting is that the primary objectives of the assignments do not seem to have a decisive influence on the candidate pool. It might be other factors – including the actual career outcomes, the business case and the location – that have the strongest impact on candidate willingness to work abroad. To be able to use these factors effectively, companies need to have an in-depth understanding of the drivers of their staff and their assessment of tangible and intangible elements of global mobility. A solid global EVP will strengthen the competitive advantage of your organisation and will go some way towards alleviating the talent shortage in global assignments that organisations are experiencing today.

Michael Dickmann is professor of international HRM at Cranfield University School of Management and strategic adviser to the RES Forum. David Enser is co-founder of the RES Forum