The Top Challenges of Mobility Programs of the Future
In any given company, a global mobility leader’s strategic vision is what sets the tempo for the mobility team, establishes which initiatives are undertaken and drives the mobility team’s focus for the year. Whether leaders are looking to concentrate on making their programs more integrated into the rest of the business, or more best-in-class, customer focused, data driven or cost effective can have a profound influence on how the program will look in the coming years.
At the same time, global mobility leaders recognize that they may also face some very real obstacles to making those visions for their programs a reality. We wanted to know what global mobility leaders believe to be the greatest challenges they experience as they work to bring their vision for their mobility programs to life. What constraints do they face? And what might slow them down and prevent them from reaching their goals for their future mobility programs even sooner?
We asked a select group of our valued clients to share with us both their vision of their future mobility programs and also what challenges they face in realizing that vision. Our respondents provided a full range of responses, which reflect both the diversity of their companies and themselves as leaders. In this article, we will explore in more detail what our respondents noted as the top challenges they face in realizing their visions for their global mobility programs of the future.
Technology and Data
Data-driven decision-making is a key to success in business today, and for mobility having the right technology in place supports a myriad of changes global mobility leaders might look to make in their programs for the future. Good technology can offer improvements in many key program aspects, such as better cost tracking, work flow optimization, and more integration with suppliers, which in turn can streamline billing, communications and data collection, among other things.
Technology can also afford the global mobility function an opportunity to integrate data from the wider HR system, allowing access to information on talent pipeline planning, more robust employee information, and critical performance and retention data. This, in turn, would enhance the global mobility function’s ability to generate more relevant data for decision making and could also help global mobility leaders better create and showcase their value proposition. At the same time, having greater access to the output of that technology, better data, is also important for global mobility leaders striving to enact effective program changes. For example, total cost data not only helps manage mobility costs smartly and allows mobility leaders to better speak and educate their business partners about the true cost of mobility, but it is crucial for strategic decision making and for demonstrating outcomes.
The benefits that the right technology and data offers for global mobility programs of the future are clear. Unfortunately, however, global mobility leaders see the technology available to them today as one of the most serious challenges to them realizing their program objectives. Global mobility leaders report challenges that range widely, but often involve having to manage data housed across multiple systems. Data that resides in local payrolls, country specific accounting data bases, the overall HR system or in and across multiple vendors means aggregated reporting is difficult at best, often requiring extra resources and manual manipulation to extract the relevant data points. A lack of integration with the wider HR or talent management systems hampers improvement opportunities to create a closer alignment between mobility and talent management.
Data integrity is also a challenge for some global mobility leaders. And underlying a great many concerns is the fact that the cost to improve the situation, either by upgrade or new technology investment, often doesn’t have the right amount of leadership support to advance. Bringing mobility programs into the future will require innovative focus in this key area.
Often global mobility is being asked to take on a more strategic role in many companies, while at the same time the resources invested in mobility itself are not on the rise. In other companies, perhaps the number of resources dedicated to global mobility may remain the same as in prior years; however, mobility volume is on the rise and predicted to continue to increase in the coming year. The net of either scenario is that there is more activity for the global mobility team to manage and resources are constrained.
At the same time, cost continues to be a primary concern for companies and global mobility leaders. According to BGRS’s 2016 Global Mobility Trends Survey, a majority of companies report having to cut mobility program costs last year. This remit to reduce cost is also playing out in lower headcount or reduced bandwidth of mobility teams. In addition, although a majority of companies do not see the pressure to reduce costs as increasing this year compared to last, most do see the pressure staying the same. In other words, cost constraints are becoming normalized.
Global mobility leaders may have robust plans in place that could involve revamping their entire global mobility policy suite, transforming their mobility function, or conducting a strategic supplier review. However, resource constraints in the form of lower headcount can mean slower movement on strategic initiatives, as well as challenges delivering expected service levels. For other global mobility leaders, a lack of resources that have specific mobility expertise in this unique industry presents a significant challenge. Whatever the case, making change often requires an investment in resources and many leaders see the reality of resource constraints as challenging their ability to make their visions for their future programs a reality.
Many global mobility leaders have big plans for taking their global mobility programs into the future, and see obtaining stakeholder alignment as a critical challenge. Gaining executive buy-in is a critical first step, but gaining stakeholder alignment does not begin and end there. It is very common for different stakeholders to have different objectives or perhaps competing priorities that push against changes that global mobility leaders want to affect. For example, if the tax department has an initiative to drive increased compliance to the forefront, they may want global mobility leaders to focus on process as it relates to assignee tax matters or on folding in extended business travelers into the mobility program. As a result, that group may not be as willing to commit resources needed to bring on new technology or align to new mobility policies. And business leaders in certain segments of the company could be under more cost pressures than others, and might be initially unwilling to buy into more customer focused programs, especially if they look to bring a higher cost to the business in the short term. In addition, stakeholders located across the globe in different regions often bring their local HR, accounting or payroll team constituencies to the table, further nuancing change discussions.
At the end of the day, though, obtaining alignment on the need for change and managing that through a landscape of changing economic influences, increasingly complex regulatory requirements, and increasing employee expectations is essential for success. Getting agreement from key mobility partners such as the executive team, procurement, payroll, tax and legal and educating stakeholders is a finely tuned balancing act orchestrating a host of often competing demands around the need for change.
Global Mobility Program Framework
If a company has a well-established global mobility program, with clearly communicated policies, programs and procedures, with a track record of successful mobility engagement and a strong organizational structure in place that supports mobility, making changes to move the mobility program forward into the future is relatively easier for global mobility leaders to undertake than if an organization lacks a strong global mobility framework. In addition to making the global mobility program more efficient, having strong governance around all aspects of mobility means that changes in the program or processes are easier to communicate, and it also makes deeper organizational integration possible. Without it, global mobility leaders and their teams often find themselves spending time and energy reacting to internal organization issues, resolving and educating internal customers’ issues, and functioning at a more operational level.
Even if global mobility leaders have a strong vision for the future, executing that vision in organizations without the right framework for global mobility is a much harder proposition. and sometimes means that changes get implemented unevenly across regions and with more limited impact. Some global mobility leaders see a weak program framework or lack of a solid framework for global mobility as an impediment to bringing their vision for their future mobility programs to full realization.
The way companies deploy talent across borders is changing. Global mobility leaders looking to take their mobility programs into the future are often contemplating significant changes. Instituting different processes or policy changes is often foundational and achieving buy-in is critical. Leaders may be looking to make widespread supplier changes or changes to the level of outsourcing, and these require a very high level of relatively complex change management. But what happens if companies are change averse or the corporate culture doesn’t support rapid innovation? Some global mobility leaders seeking to drive change are coming up against this significant obstacle. Even in cases where executive buy-in is solidified, global mobility leaders may be up against an internal culture that is passive in the face of change or, at worst, resistant.
On a different level, for example, maybe business managers were able to easily circumvent mobility processes, or perhaps exceptions weren’t managed well in the past and this created a culture of entitlement. Placing new controls and rigor around processes that may not have been well established or adhered to in the past, or where there were none, is likely to meet up with organizational resistance.
On the other end of the spectrum, some companies have been through many recent changes, and global mobility leaders grapple with change fatigue and organizational deafness in the face of a new vision for the mobility future. Maybe there have been recent supplier changes in global mobility that required a significant amount of resources and focus from other departments, and it may be more difficult to get required focus for new changes. Or the wider company may be grappling with organizational changes, not related to mobility, but that nonetheless affect employees and have the effect of tamping down enthusiasm for changes the global mobility leaders envision making for their programs.
The growing need to operate internationally and workforce demographic changes have generated a greater demand for different approaches to employee mobility. Global mobility leaders are looking to implement changes to their programs in order to optimize them and pave the way for a greater strategic contribution in the future. However, there are challenges they face. Grappling with technology, dealing with resource constraints, working to obtain stakeholder alignment, working through the existing global mobility framework and managing change all represent real and present issues that global mobility leaders need to deal with as they work to bring their vision for their mobility programs of the future to fruition.
See the top five challenges, along with the top five attributes, of the global mobility programs of the future.