How businesses collect, organize, analyze and use information binds nearly every aspect of global mobility planning, oversight and strategy, according to findings of EY’s 2015-16 Global Mobility Effectiveness Survey.

Previous iterations of this survey examined the links between data, business strategy and talent management. However, it has now become apparent that mobility data can also be used effectively in international workforce planning and policy development and to measure cost effectiveness.

[Image credit: Bloomberg]
[Image credit: Bloomberg]

Several interesting findings from the study are:

· 52% of respondents said they don’t have the data to bring insight to their mobility programs.
· 72% of respondents are not tracking the success of international assignments.
· 42% said cultural fit is not usually considered in the assignee selection process.
· Only 18% have robust technology to support assignment cost analysis for decision-making.

In a discussion with Leslie Fiorentino, EY Americas Mobility Services Leader, EBN explored the significance to employers of these and other study findings in more depth.

EBN: What are the top challenges that companies are struggling with in terms of managing their mobility programs and meeting the objective to get the right employees in the right place at the right time?

Fiorentino: The challenges really come down to how to cost-effectively comply with requirements of income tax, immigration, Social Security and employment law in the countries where companies do business. Also, how does senior management know where their people are and what they are doing? How can they manage them in a nimble, flexible way to actually get people on the ground as quickly as possible?

EBN: How do data analytics help companies meet their mobility goals?

Fiorentino: Every company has data. It's just how they use it to deal with their mobility challenges. Data analytics can help companies identify talent gaps and really link into talent-deployment strategies. It allows them to validate the cost of international assignments and ensure they are meeting their goals and outcomes. And obviously, data analytics can also help an organization become more compliant with local rules and regulations.

EBN: Did you find it surprising that only 52% of survey participants reported that they have sufficient access to data in order to identify or forecast important mobility trends?

Fiorentino: I did not find that surprising. They need to have access to compensation, benefits, payroll, immigration and compliance data. They must be able to review performance ratings and development plans. I can go on and on and on. If you think about how much data an organization has, I think they would say, “We have the data.” This question was really around both having access to the data and figuring out the best way to use it.

EBN: That feeds into my next question, which is do organizations have to build their own technology solutions, or are there products available that can help them integrate and manage the data they need?

Fiorentino: There are definitely technology solutions out there. However, I think companies have been slow to invest the money and the resources in those technology tools, and it's starting to catch up with them. It's hard to support a global workforce if you don't have the right technology in place.

EBN: Again, over a third of participants say they experience challenges securing the right talent for mobility. Why is identifying the right talent so difficult?

Fiorentino: For a couple of reasons, I think. One is that mobility should be part of a company’s talent initiative instead of sitting in different parts of the organization. Also, the technology tools are inadequate. Imagine if the company had a database where they could search by competency set and pull up a list of 15 individuals. And even if the right talent can be identified and deployed, they need the policies and forecasting capabilities to support them.

EBN: Why do you think so many companies ignore culture fit when selecting employees for international assignments?

Fiorentino: I think companies ignore culture because of the cost. Some started saying a number of years ago, "Well, this is something that I can take off the table. We are a global organization. Our people should be able to easily go from country X to country Y.”

However, I do think a significant number of companies are starting to better understand the value of cultural awareness. We see some companies, as they’re looking for leaders, doing cultural assessments now. And even people conducting business via phone or email need to be culturally aware in a truly global organization.

EBN: How important is it for companies to have policies for various types of assignments?

Fiorentino: It's really important because companies need to have a framework. Again, speed to deployment is important, and so is being able to operate in a compliant manner. If the company doesn’t have any policies and needs to move somebody from point A to point B, think about how much time it would take to create and re-create something from scratch each time.

Furthermore, multiple policies may be required if an organization has different types of mobile workers, such as business travelers, employees on short term international assignments (6-18 months), and other longer-term transfers (2 years-plus). In addition, millennials like to travel, so you may need a policy for developmental travel. I met with one company that had 14 policies to support their mobile workforce.

EBN: How important is tracking the success or failure of international assignments?

Fiorentino: I think it's important if a company is making it a part of their talent agenda. If you think about it, your employees go through the year; they have regular performance reviews. The same thing should apply with mobility assignments. If a company is sending somebody out on an assignment and it's part of their development to get to this next level, the success of that international assignment should be tracked.

Also, if the company asks somebody to go and do a job, they should be able to track if it was completed successfully. International assignments are costly, so companies should be able to calculate ROI.

EBN: Was there anything in the survey responses that surprised you or really opened your eyes?

Fiorentino: I don't think there was anything that surprised me. I’m happy, though, to see that more survey participants are realizing that the role of the mobility function is evolving. It used to be very, very tactical. It is now becoming a lot more strategic and more integrated into organizations.

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