What is a Global Mobility Expert?

In the increasingly global world, the importance of the global mobility professional is more apparent than ever. How do you differentiate yourself to show you are also an expert?

Go to the profile of Courtney Ellis-Jones
Jun 10, 2016
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In the rapidly expanding global markets the strategic importance of global mobility has become more apparent than ever to international organisations. For the past decade, mobility professionals have innovated and implemented this change, moving the function from an administrative capacity to one dedicated to strategic enablement. It has not been easy, but it has been rewarding: increasingly global mobility directors and managers are finding their seat at the table and it is, in turn, changing how global mobility is viewed within the business.

The culture of mobility, as it is referred to, has begun to develop and stories of success: in being invited proactively, rather than remaining reactive to appointment, are paving the way for other organisations and programmes to follow. However, as businesses begin to rely more on global mobility as part of the talent agenda, there is increasing pressure on those delivering the service within the business. The scope of their roles is not only widening, but deepening. The requirement to know more is increasingly hampered by limited resource, often as a result of cost optimisation efforts within the wider organisation.

With Global Shared Service Centres and Centres of Excellence rising in importance for the cost-savvy multinational, many Global Mobility Directors are finding their staff spread among diametrically opposed timezones and without the hands-on training and monitoring they’d get from sitting in the headquarters. As more people enter into Global Mobility, either from the necessity of the global demands or the exposure of global roles encouraging newcomers from Human Resources, Talent, Engagement and Tax, it is becoming more and more difficult to outline what exactly a global mobility expert is.

What makes someone one an “expert”?

Karen O’Brien, Global Mobility Director at AECOM, had this to say: “A GM expert is someone with deep knowledge and significant experience across a broad spectrum of industries and locations. It is someone who regularly presents on GM topics and or writes articles. An expert would be seen as a trusted advisor and also seen as a thought leader in their company and in the wider GM field.”

One of the challenges facing Global Mobility Directors is indeed where to go once they have achieved the post. After hitting the ceiling of Global Mobility positions, there are two paths to take: one into a different industry; for example, moving from Oil & Gas to Consumer Goods or, two, from a robust programme to a more decentralised one (or vice versa). There is still a lack of mobility in bridging the gap from Global Mobility Director to board member, but it is improving and more so as businesses desperately rely on the acumen of their mobility partners to achieve their objectives.

That said, the demand for knowledge can be insurmountable when presented with country managers and executive seats who do not understand the processes governing a successful mobility programme. Education to the wider business, while improving, is a two-way street and the reliance on Global Mobility Directors alone to facilitate it is not the correct approach. HR, Benefits, Payroll, Tax and the business must buy-in and take part in their active learning of how and why Global Mobility impacts them. While it is the Director's remit to plan and prepare for education and training, there must be a clear narrative as to why it is important.

In order to achieve that buy-in from the business, demonstration of expertise is required and in a world where Global Mobility Professionals can still be seen as “no-men” or the police, it can be a frustrating exercise to prove the programme is more than a road-block. With a rise in interest in the engagement of globally mobile employees and a return to focus on compliance (somewhat due to the opening of challenging locations where more oversight is required), businesses and mobility teams are finding a disconnect. There are still those who believe a move can be completed yesterday and mobility professionals are often left with the task of having to bring in a sobering reality of visas, tax implications, scheduling and requirements for the jurisdiction in order to allow entry.

It would be impossible to understand every nuance of every country, even for the most celebrated Global Mobility Director. World legislation moves at a breakneck pace and the day-to-day job isn’t just ensuring compliance. This is where robust relationships with suppliers come in as a requirement, but in order to leverage them, Global Mobility Professionals must know in advance the wants of the business and that presents the catch-22. Achieving the trusted advisor role is key to this, but what are the competencies of a Global Mobility Expert? Can they actually be measured?

Each industry and region has its own unique set of understandings, so what are the unifying qualities a Global Mobility Expert must have?

Well, for one; a Global Mobility Expert must be able to demonstrate their ability to solve a problem. Presenting the business with a no is not viable. Having a solution ready mitigates this. For example, when presented with the denial of a visa for an Indian national into the US. One Global Mobility Manager in a Technology company proposed they bring him to Singapore, where he could work for two years and build his case. It worked. Two years later, he was approved for his entry into US and has been making an impact for the four years he has been positioned there. “The business has learned to trust me when I make a recommendation because if I’m saying no? There is a reason. They know my solution is a viable option.”

To be able to understand and offer solutions, it does require a breadth of knowledge across key locations to the business. It’s impossible to know all of them, but narrowing into the top ten growth locations and having a broad understanding of the compliance issues, benefits and teams working there are becoming non-negotiable traits.

An expert must also be able to network and cultivate relationships. One of the most unique things about Global Mobility Professionals is the fact the role demands technical knowledge, while requiring the ability to face and work with people. Few positions combine this requirement with as much intimacy as Global Mobility. A Global Mobility Expert must be able to speak the language of the business while understanding the needs of the employee, and yet still; they must champion their internal function as determining what is best for both of their key stakeholders. One Director has stated the importance of cultivating relationships with their Security team in particular. The business might sometimes brush away what Global Mobility has to say, but they don’t ignore when Safety and Security tells them about their required Duty of Care.

When you breakdown the people-facing and technical side of global mobility, you find the uniqueness of the people involved in the function. Understanding the operational side of mobility can be a daunting task of flow-charts, checklists and excel sheets, but it is essential. Analysis, logic and fairness cannot be emphasised enough inside the expert’s catalogue of skills. And this must be able to shift and flex depending on the key objective of the business based on the proposed employee. Global Mobility needs to be fit for purpose, but it is not a function that will be off the shelf. There are a multitude of reasons why a business may initiate a global assignment or move, ranging from filling a critical skills gap to self-initiated moves. What the business needs from these moves will differ and the Global Mobility Expert must know how the policies should be designed and implemented to provide support in a way that is harmonious and beneficial for both their organisation and the individual.

How do you do this? While there is a lot of discussion around training the business to global mobility, there is also a requirement for a global mobility expert to intimately understand their business. Connections with directors in different parts of the organisation is critical: what are they hoping to achieve in the year? Where do they see the future of their department? How do they want to develop? And, critically, how can global mobility support that? Integrating and offering a proactive plan achieves buy-in and highlights the skill and expertise of the mobility department they will need to work alongside.

A Global Mobility Expert must also be able to identify talent and understand the right candidate in the right place. Assignment selection is increasingly finding a spotlight on it and determining how your business chooses the right individuals is a role that should be moving more into the Global Mobility Expert’s remit. The collision of Talent with Global Mobility is unavoidable. Professionals in Global Mobility who wish to demonstrate they are experts should be prepared to show they understand not just the process of sending someone out, but also in selecting the right individual. When an assignment suffers failure, it is often assigned to Global Mobility to investigate rather than put on the host location. Success, however, isn’t always given to Global Mobility.

Someone who is identified as a Global Mobility Expert is able to bring all these disparate parts together and manage them while still delivering the core competencies of implementation, innovation, and delivery, through the utilisation of developed policy and clear process. Building your external clout is as important as internal. Championing your work and showing how your organisation has improved through thought leadership, case studies and taking part in panels, webinars and summits is not required, but it is giving back to the industry and helping cultivate the next generation of directors and managers, while also ensuring those on the fringes of mobility, but part of the wider delivery are continually exposed to concepts and mechanisms of fulfilment.


Are you an Expert?

Go to the profile of Courtney Ellis-Jones

Courtney Ellis-Jones

Courtney began her career in global mobility nearly a decade ago. She originally began her career working in the in-house HR function, but transitioned to a role with a destination services provider inside the business development remit. Courtney has focused since on high level transformation of mobility programmes, including policy reform, process improvements and academic research. Her career has led her to touch all sides of the global mobility function from working as a supplier to delivering in-house mobility services. She has worked across industries and regions, having lived in the United States, France, Hungary, Estonia and the United Kingdom and has been with FEM since October 2015.

5 Comments

Go to the profile of Des McKell
Des McKell over 1 year ago

Thanks Courtney and Karen for an insightful article and a useful reminder of the strategic importance that global mobility teams play in supporting organisational success.

Go to the profile of Avrom Goldberg
Avrom Goldberg over 1 year ago

Terrific article! Would be great to have some corporate HR folks respond too and promote discussion around the themes developed here.

Go to the profile of Mark Derksen
Mark Derksen over 1 year ago

Great article Courtney! It is indeed al that! You can create the best policy in the world, which is exactly what your business need. But it will be only part of your role as a Mobility expert. You will have to brand your expertise within the firm, be the solid business partner that does not say 'policy say's no' but avoid problems, create alternatives and advise on costs and time lines up front. You can move that employee that needs to move tomorrow, because you already knew about the move 3 months before.
It will also be the way to close the gap to the boardroom, the way you show that Mobility is of great value, that Mobility is a fee earner, not a fee burner.

Go to the profile of Karen O'Brien
Karen O'Brien over 1 year ago

Would really like to see more articles like this one Courtney.

Go to the profile of Jessica Smart
Jessica Smart over 1 year ago

Great article Courtney. There are so many elements to a Global Mobility Expert and you have touched on so many of them here. I agree that as an Expert you also have to have the right connections and communication strategies with other 'Experts' such as Security Teams etc. to ensure that you are drawing on their skills and expertise in different stages of the process and vice versa.