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Global Assignment Best Practice

When planning and preparing for a global assignment, there are numerous factors that have the potential to contribute to its overall success, with benefits both for your business and for the assignee. The following guide looks at best practice for employers when deploying personnel overseas, from the employee experience to the flexibility of different types of global assignment.

The employee experience in global assignments

A good employer will recognise that at the heart of its business are its people. As such, ensuring a positive employee experience for overseas assignees can be crucial the success of a global assignment.

As an employer responsible for sending an employee overseas, you will have a legal duty of care, not to mention a moral responsibility and vested financial interest, to ensure the wellbeing of that individual. In particular, when planning a global assignment, caretaking the health and safety of the overseas assignee should be paramount.

Any assessment of travel risks must be tailored to the nature of the work to be undertaken, the attributes of the employee and any factors specific to the host destination. The importance of researching the country and region in which the assignee will be working, and keeping abreast of any imminent changes, cannot be underestimated here.

Even relatively safe destinations can quickly become high-risk regions due to health, safety, security, political or social reasons, not to mention the possibility of natural disasters, so it is important to stay fully informed of changing risks and to be able to relay such information to assignees working remotely.

It is also important to educate each overseas assignee in advance of their global assignment about the location in which they will be working, not least arranging security briefings and training on hostile environment awareness for those travelling to high-risk destinations, as well as educating all assignees on any legal and cultural differences, even for low-risk destinations.

Preparing assignees for cultural integration can often be key to ensuring not only the safety and security of these individuals, but also their overall wellbeing and happiness, on both a professional and personal basis. This could include, for example, the use of pre-deployment programs such as cross-cultural training and intensive language classes. Any training and classes could also be extended to family members accompanying the employee on their global assignment.

You may also want to consider putting in place a benefit and support program, both prior to departure and throughout the lifecycle of the assignment, from deployment through to repatriation.

As such, by creating a safe and supported working environment from the outset, this can significantly alleviate the risk of failure and help to avoid early repatriation, ensuring the global assignment is a success for everyone involved.

The use of technology in global assignments

When conducting business on an international scale, this can give rise to a number of challenges, not least in sourcing suitable data to make informed decisions, both in advance and during the lifecycle of a global assignment. Here, the use of technology can play a crucial role in guiding your global mobility policies and management decision-making.

In particular, where implemented effectively and used correctly, data and predictive analytics tools can prove to be invaluable in gaining insight into operational costs and overall return on investment, as well as employee placement and key performance indicators.

In particular, analytics tools can be used in the following ways:

  • Cost analytics – to establish a cost model for your global assignment
  • Workforce analytics – to connect the talent in your recruiting database to the skillset needed for your global assignments
  • Assignee identification analytics – to focus on the cost drivers of sending the right assignees to the right location
  • Employee retention analytics – to predict which overseas assignees are at risk of early repatriation or attrition and which candidates, and/or global assignments, are at a higher risk of failure
  • Exposure analysis – to quantify the various levels of exposure to any penalties associated with non-compliance

In fact, with the benefit of these types of analytics tools, together with other forms of technology, global mobility is becoming far easier to achieve in the digital age, and to do so successfully.

It can significantly lessen many of the legal and administrative pressures when managing a mobile workforce, especially when it comes to tax and immigration compliance in a highly regulated environment. Furthermore, technology can also play an important role in enhancing the individual performance of overseas assignees.

When planning and preparing for a global assignment, although the focus will primarily be on selecting the right assignee for the particular assignment and location in question, including their individual qualifications and capabilities, by offering the employee the right tools to do their job to the best of their ability, technology can help to maximise the prospects of a successful outcome.

Indeed, by investing in technology, an employer can not only maximise the productivity of an overseas assignee, but also monitor their progress and even measure assignee experience.

Further, the use of technology through, for example, mobile devices and secured wireless networks, can be extremely effective in maintaining regular communication with overseas assignees, ensuring that they don’t feel disconnected from the company or work colleagues back home. This can be crucial in avoiding early repatriation and the potential failure of the global assignment overall.

Needless to say, however, it is vital that you keep abreast of technological advancements, from connectivity to up-to-date software, to ensure that your overseas assignees can carry out their work cost effectively and efficiently, and that the use of technology is aligned to your organisational objectives and overall mobility goals.

The importance of return investment in global assignments

For you as the employer, global assignments can equate to profitable expansion into both new and existing markets, significantly boosting the global revenue, as well as the reputation, of your business. Furthermore, by sending existing employees abroad, as opposed to recruiting overseas, this can help to streamline operations and expedite growth.

That said, cost control can play a key role in the commercial viability of a global assignment, not least when factoring in the potentially significant cost of both deployment and repatriation of the overseas assignee.

However, global assignment management is not only about number crunching. It is equally about the potential return on investment in various other ways. In fact, overseas assignments can be an excellent way of developing top talent within your organisation, by offering key individual employees a career pathway to more senior promotion.

In particular, the international experience can help train promising and ambitious individuals for leadership, managerial and executive roles, as well as giving them invaluable insight and new industry knowledge to help develop your business back in the UK.

Further, for the individual employee, on both a professional and personal basis, the benefits of working abroad can be significant, not least in terms of potential career progression, increased salary or compensation, as well as the possibility of an international travel experience for their whole family.

As such, given that the overall success of the global assignment will inevitably include the successful repatriation and retention of your top talent at the end of the assignment, you will need to consider what initiatives to implement to alleviate the risk of losing key employees.

In addition to the promise of career progression and a suitably senior role to come back to, useful initiatives could include the use of competitive relocation and repatriation packages, ensuring that your overseas assignees are happy to repatriate and return home. As previously indicated, this should also include the cost of suitable benefit and support initiatives to ensure the overall wellbeing and happiness of your employees.

Understandably, you may feel cautious about controlling the cost of a global assignment, but this must be balanced against the need to attract and retain talent to ensure the continuity and success of your business in the long-term.

Flexibility in global assignments

When determining the potential success of a global assignment, you will also need to consider the nature and duration of the task to be undertaken and the best way in which this can be achieved, from the use of frequent business travel and short-term assignments to long-term assignments and relocation. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.

Needless to say, each of these different types of global assignment has different benefits and risks, although business travel is likely to prove the most straightforward and cost effective choice in many cases. Here, individual employees can attend conferences and meetings, close a deal, sign new business and network. Indeed, networking can be one of the most lucrative ways to support business growth.

Senior executives and managers can also use extended business trips to undertake various different global assignments, including opening a new office or setting up a new division, without the costs associated with other types of global mobility, and without the same personal and practical challenges of relocating to another country.

In respect of short or long-term assignments, these can be a good way of gaining invaluable insight and industry knowledge to help progress your business back in the UK. The long-term global assignment, in particular, can also be extremely effective in establishing a foothold in strategic and emerging markets. This type of assignment can provide new sales opportunities, new customer bases and significantly increased revenue. It can even enhance your reputation and global influence as a corporate organisation.

However, where you are looking to fill skills gaps or to manage operations overseas, you may want to consider the possibility of permanent relocation, not least because this can often prove to be much more cost effective than the traditional long-term assignment with the associated costs of repatriation. That said, any relocation package will need to include sufficient incentive to attract a suitable candidate to move abroad on a permanent basis.

Key take-aways 

The management of global assignments can be one of the hardest areas for employers and HR experts to master, not least when trying to control costs whilst adapting to the shifting demands of the global business environment. As such, there is a very high failure rate for global assignments.

Further, the consequences of an unsuccessful global assignment can be far-reaching for your business, not only in terms of loss of revenue and wasted expenditure, but the potential loss of key personnel and top global talent from within your organisation.

It is, therefore, imperative that you understand and address the following key global assignment success factors:

  • Make a full assessment of any travel risks, tailored to the individual assignee, the specific assignment and the host destination in question, keeping abreast of any changes that may impact on this.
  • Educate each overseas assignee in advance of their global assignment about the locations in which they will be working, including but not limited to any safety and security issues, as well as any legal and cultural differences.
  • Always ensure the overall wellbeing of your overseas assignees at all times, from deployment through to their return home, as such alleviating the risk of early repatriation. This could be through the provision of cross-cultural training, intensive language classes and/or an ongoing benefit and support program.
  • Ensure that you adequately incentivise your overseas assignees so as to avoid losing key employees from within your workforce, for example, through attractive relocation and repatriation packages, as well as a suitably senior role to return home to.
  • Utilise data and analytics tools to make informed management decisions in respect of global assignments, from cost control to non-compliance.
  • Keep abreast of technological advances that may maximise the productivity of an overseas assignee, or otherwise enhance any profitable business growth.
  • Consider the flexibility offered by different types of global assignment, from business trips to permanent relocation, not only with regard to the nature and duration of the task to be undertaken, but also with regard to the personal and professional needs of the prospective candidate who may be undertaking this assignment.

Needless to say, this list is not exhaustive, with a plethora of other factors that may come into play when planning and preparing for a global assignment.

Guidance for HR & employers

For advice and guidance on managing global assignments, or any aspect of global mobility programme strategy and implementation, contact us.

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