Developmental Assignments: Building an Effective Policy

Developmental Assignments: Building an Effective Policy

Developmental international assignments are a unique opportunity to train employees for future global leadership positions.

Two major elements are currently impacting global mobility management. First, there is an increased demand for skilled global leaders with international work experience. Second, global mobility teams are managing more diverse international assignments. As a result, the Global Mobility function continues to strengthen its alignment with Talent Management, and companies are investing in more developmental assignments. This trajectory of alignment and investment is imperative for global organizations to sustain and expand their presence in the global business environment.

Developmental international assignments are a unique opportunity to train employees for future global leadership positions. Historically, mobility teams solely managed strategic assignments for established leaders and filling business-needs gaps. Companies are heavily invested in these strategic assignments because of their potential high-valued return. Today, Global Mobility teams must also manage assignments designed to develop high-potential employees in line to succeed the organization’s c-suite. Companies also understand there is an inherent risk in investing in a junior population for their next generation of global leaders, and some may decide to take a different approach. A scaled-down financial approach may be warranted as developmental assignments may not guarantee a high return on investment and companies must prepare to exercise patience for return on their mobility investment.

Identifying the Right Approach

When formulating an approach for assignment policy, the business and talent development value of an international program must be considered. During strategic assignments, senior leaders are expected to grow the business in global markets and achieve short-term return. Developmental assignments, by definition, do not possess the business value of these strategic assignments. Rather, these assignments possess increased talent development value. Consequently, the one-size, long-term assignment policy approach may not yield the best result for strategic assignments.

Understanding the fundamental difference between developmental assignments and strategic assignments will support taking a new approach. The drivers, objectives and the intrinsic nature of developmental assignments differ from their strategic counterparts. Companies are beginning to segment their policies to specifically address the intended purpose and objectives of the developmental assignment. Global Mobility can demonstrate its strategic potential by using effective methodology to construct a developmental assignment policy.

Designing Developmental Assignments Policies

A reasonable, competitive, yet conservative methodology is ideal when designing a developmental assignment policy. To start, immigration, tax, and labor law compliance is a top concern to shield both the employee and the company from legal exposure in both home and host countries. Companies should also bear in mind the welfare of the employee and family during the life of the assignment. As a result, including relocation benefits and compliance services in developmental policies will facilitate the move and mitigate risk, respectively.

Common expatriate allowances include housing, goods and services and transportation. Strategic assignees may receive subsidies for these elements ranging in the higher-end of data indices; however, companies allocate scaled down allowances to align with the lower or lowest ranges for developmental assignees. Deviating from traditional policy can be justified for these assignment types because developmental assignees reap a number of personal benefits and companies’ investment in this population is riskier, i.e. potential attrition once developed or the assignees may not accomplish their developmental goals.

Training is an important element for all assignments, and should not be excluded from developmental policies. When the primary goal of the assignment is development, it is critical that assignees are provided with the necessary cultural and language training. Adequate training will help employees achieve both their assignment and talent development goals. Competency-based training can also help identify areas the assignee should focus on during their assignment. Furthermore, this training supports an assignee’s cultural awareness and business and communication competencies. Since developmental assignments are often shorter-term, it is particularly important to include pre-departure cultural preparation so that they can hit the ground running.

Setting Clear Expectations

The international assignment experience is complex. Companies should always engage the employee in conversations about the goals of the assignment from the beginning. For developmental assignment, these discussions have even greater significance. Clearly communicating the primary goals of talent development to the employee will be pivotal in their decision to accept a more conservative developmental assignment policy. The employee should understand how the assignment is expected to impart immediate and long-term benefits and build global skills; it is also important to emphasize the positive impact on the employee’s likely career trajectory within the organization. The employee should also understand that the company is making an investment in them with no guarantee of long-term payback. Accepting these important elements will increase an employee’s likelihood to take the assignment with a more conservative policy.

Global Mobility teams will continue to become a more integral part of their companies’ talent management strategies. As developmental assignments continue to grow out of necessity, and in popularity, we can expect greater developmental assignment diversification to support talent management strategies, while globalizing the workforce at all levels. A well-defined and distinct development policy will enable organizations to manage greater numbers of mobile employees who are offered developmental opportunities.