Globalization is the buzzword of the day, week, and year. For employees, this opens new opportunities for international assignments. For you as a HR business partner, an employer, you have the opportunity to cover talent gaps from a global pool of talent rather than a much more limited local or national group of applicants. With the right strategy and global mobility policies, you can build multi-cultural teams to meet the demands and wishes of your customers around the globe.
Global mobility a win-win
This is all good isn’t it? Yes, of course it is. It opens up global economic opportunities for companies and for the workers who get to be part of the action. Potentially, a true win-win situation.
How do you make sure of a win-win for your company and your employees when you are crafting or updating your global mobility policies? Ask yourself this important question: Is your global mobility policy working for you or against you?
Global and local policies
The word global can imply the same cookie-cutter concept works in many different markets. Yet even a Big Mac is not exactly the same in every country in the world, and McDonald's adds menu items regionally to appeal to local tastes. But there’s a glitch here. Standardized one-size-fits-all policies don't work for mobility programs. Individual needs, different countries, norms, nationalities, and governments vary too much. What is perfectly normal and works well in one country simply doesn’t always work well in another. Trying to get a clear picture of the cost of sending an employee abroad beforehand is also very difficult since things are in constant motion.
Mobility program principles
The details of the policies for every individual's or country's circumstance should be left alone. Instead think of principles. What do you want to achieve?
Perhaps you should look at the soft side first to be sure you have the right metrics and key performance indicators. Imagine you have searched high and low for talent to close critical skills gaps, or that the employees you are sending out are important corporate culture ambassadors who will infuse the “company persona” in your daughter companies or with partners around the world. Do you think it is important that they have a smooth arrival in their destination country?
You bet it is - not just important, but essential. To get the juice out of the talent or get your “ambassador” to bring the best from the origin to the destination, an easy relocation transition will certainly help you achieve that goal. There’s always a risk when sending staff across borders. It’s not for everyone to move at the precise time you need and sometimes it just isn’t a perfect fit for their family or life stage. However with small measures that aren’t necessarily costly, you can help to make it a great transition.
Cost containment is often part of the aim of a global mobility policy. The number one way to be able to contain global mobility cost is planning. Emergency transfers are always very costly. Deciding to move families close to the start of a new school year may not only cause undue stress about school availability, it can also force the business to pay for expensive international schools. We recently saw an emergency transfer into a Scandinavian location with a whopping temporary housing bill. This was unavoidable since a large family was moved off-season, and temporary housing is usually only available for singles or maybe couples. The relocation caused a serious hiccup for the business and there was a big bill to prove it.
Well-planned resource allocation and moving people at appropriate times of a year will considerably lower expenses. Planning will also ensure that you can deliver on the softer issues.
6 principles for hard-working global mobility policies
PRINCIPLE 1: Think of how you want your expatriate to feel during the relocation process.
Work on the soft issues and make sure it is a great transfer. Focus on creating a wonderful experience starts with recruitment, setting clear expectations, and having a well communicated policy that leaves little to interpretation.
PRINCIPLE 2: Plan ahead.
Move staff at the right time of year and allow enough time to source some services to avoid paying premium prices for rush service or short timelines.
PRINCIPLE 3: Have a clear and straightforward policy.
Clarity in your policy helps everyone know what to expect. Don’t do everything on a case by case basis, think of scalable solutions.
If you only send a few people abroad per year, you may be able to have individual discussions about the amount of household goods necessary for each individual. However, more than one HR business partner has been surprised at how lengthy these discussions can be. So set a limit for each family member in cubic meters. Allow them to add to the shipment volume out of their own pocket if they are interested. It also gives you an indication of expenses if you want to run cost projections before offering the terms for the move.
Having a set of basic guidelines to lean on will reduce the need to customize staple products and services and will give you time to focus on the soft issues. If there’s friction around staple services, there are often underlying worries. It’s good to identify the real causes of friction and solve them in the beginning rather than realizing it too far down the line.
Things outside your control can play a large part in the success or failure of an international assignment. If you identify these concerns early it's easier to solve with small measures. You will need to figure them out though. Like a labrador, NIM.MERSION can smell trouble when delivering destination services. Families that have serious issues finding a home normally have other unresolved issues and may not be ready to move. It isn’t about the housing, but it's a clear sign when nothing is acceptable and there’s a big risk for failure either before the move or within a year.
You want to have time to feel your colleagues out and support them emotionally. A discussion about the number of boxes shipped won’t contribute to the quality of the move. Such basics should be stated clearly in the policy and left to the relocation experts. Outsource the procurement of such staple services and you will be able to focus on bringing the soft issues into the light. You want that to be what HR will be remembered for.
PRINCIPLE 4: Customize the programs within the policy.
Who’s who? Set mobility program support levels depending on roles, seniority, duration of the assignment. Don’t over complicate this. Even if you have 14 corporate levels of titles, salaries, and so forth, keep your expat population segmentation for different support levels to a minimum.
For 16 years, a large client of ours has moved a large number of key employees every year. They have the same program for every single person regardless of level. It is a generous relocation program and provides a great start for their people in whichever location they move to. Employee salaries are rather low and they don’t live like kings by any stretch of the imagination, but they feel very valued by their employer. It's a good example of removing all the hassle and worries of relocation and adding some sugar on top to retain your talent.
But you may be asked, what about the costs? A great relocation process will strengthen your employer brand and your employees will become your ambassadors. It’s very valuable in many ways, not the least of which is if they rate you and the company favorably on job sites like Glassdoor. Good ratings can considerably lower your overall costs for both branding and sourcing of talent.
PRINCIPLE 5: Lean on work permit and immigration experts.
Don't be penny wise and pound foolish, lean on experts. Saving money on immigration going into any jurisdiction is a hazardous model. While it may seem convenient to put staffers at the desks of the Chamber of Commerce and let them work from there, or send people on tourist and business visas to set up businesses, this is foolhardy in the long run. Either find local talent, source experts to get the job done, or get your team on the ground with the proper compliance.
Not until something happens will you know exactly how grave the consequences can be. Very often the real punishment will fall on your expat. Australia recently upped the punishment for immigration crimes and many other countries will soon follow.
Plenty of companies take huge risks that will fall on their employees. It can lead to fines, eviction on very short notice, and in some countries being barred from entry for a very long time. If the immigration and compliance pieces aren't perfect, there may be taxation issues involved as well. Everyone knows how you get mafia bosses in the end — the tax man puts them in jail for a 108 years. None of their other crimes will get them a prison sentence. Don’t let that happen to your employee. Make sure to keep them safe.
One such mistake and you have lost all trust for a long time to come.
PRINCIPLE 6: Listen to the local destination experts.
Local solutions. Destination services have a key word in them. The destination is the place where decisions are made and global policy should be very attentive to local needs. Trying to get a square peg into a hole is impossible with a wooden toy and doesn’t get any easier in a relocation.
The charm of global mobility is that each location has its own unique nuances. Apart from being charming, it can also be a dealbreaker. One common global mobility glitch is to ignore the local market conditions and set a rigid global policy that seriously hinders the expatriate and the local team from giving the new transferee a warm welcome.
Using Sweden as an example, we have a terrible housing market, fraught with limited supply, fast-moving availability, and completely landlord-driven. Personal leases are not preferred by landlords and the long line for each property will allow landlords to be very picky. First in that queue are companies that sign leases on behalf of their employee-tenant. Smart companies with savvy HR and local destination experts know this and go with the flow.
Local experts help HR learn the challenges in the destination country and how to overcome them as easily as possible. To go with the flow in each market is crucial. Examples are the problems with insufficient security in South America, forgetting to offer safety briefings, lack of understanding of express kidnappings, or the importance of having a driver in Istanbul - a huge city without street signs.
Listen to the local experts. If they have been in business for more than 10-15 years, they should know what they are talking about. Follow their advice. They are looking out for their clients --you -- or they would have gone bankrupt a long time ago.
Enjoy your hard-working global mobility policy
Be flexible and enjoy the ride when you welcome your expats. They will bring the world to you and you don’t even have to travel. As a HR business partner, you are very fortunate to have a job that gives you exposure to more cultures than your own. Just like anything else you build, having a solid foundation is key and a well written global mobility policy is an aid to you and your team.
If you’re planning to bring foreign talent to Sweden, navigating an unfamiliar culture and immigration process can slow you down. Thankfully, Nimmersion’s Immigration Guide to Bringing Foreign Talent to Sweden is here to help. Let’s get your new talent down to business.