Getting Global

January 16, 2007

"You Don’t Get Global by Flying Business Class and staying at the Four Seasons”

“Our people must understand and learn from the culture and values that we are sending them and their families into.”

 We have heard this before but perhaps it has never been more important than today.

 ‘Globalization’ first emerged when the pre-internet generation was in its prime. A generation fascinated with foreign places but one that was not widely traveled. Some years later it is their children we are now preparing to entice into international assignments. The children of the generation that put McDonalds and Starbucks on every corner, that helped homogenize the world. Children that probably accompanied their parents on assignment and who likely traveled widely as part of their own education.

Their values are different and lie in community and safe environment, and the raising of children occurs close to support systems that can accommodate dual parental careers.

Despite this quite considerable change in employee need and outlook, and a severe diminution in the living and cost differences between international locations employers continue to use the same relocation arrangements, compensation systems and assistance programs that were used with their parents.

Why is change necessary?

Canadian companies especially need to ‘globalize’ in order to deliver the returns that shareholders expect. To succeed they will require in the top management team the experience that can only be gained from working and living abroad, to enable better informed decision making about doing business internationally. Of course, companies will get by without this depth and will try to substitute with travel and video conference, but they will just get by and performance will always be consequently sub par.

Changing attitudes toward the career benefits of international assignments, the deep and prolonged talent shortage about to befall employers and employees predisposed not to stay with one employer for an extended period will not help.

International mobility will become a scarce competency and relocation programs radically overhauled to maximize it. It will become a strategic imperative with international assignments closely aligned to key corporate objectives. Global bench strength will continue to be in demand but with fewer high potential employees exhibiting the competency of mobility, assignments generally and their underperformance will be costlier.

To maximize ROI, assignments will be fully integrated with other HR practices and directly linked to strategic execution. Metrics to measure success will include counting failed assignments, on assignment performance levels, post assignment retention and utilization rates etc.

New approaches to assignment management will include:

  • Categorization by type rather than time e.g. skill or technology transfer, development etc
  • Assignment specific incentives or equalization related to ROI
  • Optimization of developmental and strategic objective mix to maximize ROI
  • Polices to remove age related barriers to mobility
  • Creating an organizational culture of  mobility

Competitive Differentiation

Typically the prevalence of program features is benchmarked against other organizations to determine competitiveness of expatriate programs e.g. home leave, COL and tax practices. Plan features will have little influence on a mobile employee’s willingness to accept or complete an assignment.

Competitiveness will be measured by how an organization deploys talent globally to execute key strategies ahead of its competition. The program’s effectiveness will support a company’s unique market differentiation by improving:

  • Talent ROI
    • How skills are matched to assignment objectives
    • How mobility is leveraged and retained
    • How international experience is utilized post assignment
  • Increasing the speed and effectiveness of skill and technology transfer
  • Planning techniques to improve project efficiency  

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