Global Mobility for Competitive Advantage


While the pandemic continues to shape and influence global mobility programmes, multinational organisations still face operational demands and the need to mobilise key talent internationally.

Among the key concerns for employers with global footprints is the cost of moving personnel across borders, particularly where uncertainty in travel restrictions persist. Compliance risks abound, and global immigration rules are continually being constricted to discourage fluidity in labour movement.

Despite these challenges, in the pursuit of commercial advantage, progressive employers are demanding increased agility and flexibility from their mobility programmes. And it is becoming clear that one-size-fits-all mobility assignments are struggling to meet modern business needs.

At first glance, you might think a flexible approach to mobility would increase the administrative burden and cost of recruiting and deploying personnel overseas.

Within a clearly defined and well-governed mobility framework, however, HR and mobility teams have the potential to leverage increased flexibility for wider organisational benefit. In what ways can global mobility programmes align to changing business needs?

Have a clear roadmap for mobility

A proactive approach to global mobility can build competitive advantage by supporting longer-term people needs and sustained return on investment in the context of business objectives.

As a function, global mobility is striving to assert its contribution at a strategic level to wider corporate objectives.

This could for example include enabling growth within existing markets, expansion into new markets or developing internal talent at all levels.

More than responding to relocation requests, the vision is to move people with purpose within a framework that promotes compliance, cost savings and consistency.

Effective planning requires a clear roadmap for the organisation’s global mobility programme – enabling HR and mobility teams to continue to manage the cost and compliance challenges of modern mobility in an increasingly complex environment.

A crucial part of the strategic support HR can provide for business is assessing the future mobility needs of the organisation. How can you ensure you will have the necessary talent when and where it is required? Does the mobility programme complement other functions’ activity – such as talent management, legal, tax? Are mobility considerations on the agenda at a suitably early juncture, or is it brought in to projects late in the day?

Anticipating and aligning to wider commercial needs will also help build support from the other parts of the organisation, who will ultimately benefit from the efficiencies of a proactive approach to mobility.


Offer a portfolio of mobility classes

Devise a portfolio of mobility classes for the organisation to draw from – with supporting infrastructure, policies and procedures that are consistent, standardised and streamlined to deliver operational excellence and effective compliance.

The right framework should lead to the right questions being asked at the right point in time. Do you really need to fully relocate a person or can they achieve the business aims using technology and attending on site in the country as needed?

Should you look beyond the traditional permanent hires or long term relocations? Contractors, common within some sectors such as construction and petrochemical, are being engaged more commonly across more and more commercial sectors because of the enhanced flexibility and lower costs incurred.

Determine the key objectives of the assignment upfront to provide the necessary focus and criteria when considering which type of assignment and candidate is most appropriate. The purpose of the assignment could for example be leading on a designated project, passing on specific skills to local teams through talent development training or developing the next regional CEO as part of your succession planning strategy.

Consider also your candidate selection procedure for overseas assignments. The choice of person and type of move evolves from an ad hoc decision within a business unit to a systematic selection process based on the planned objective and value of the move.

Offering a predetermined selection of suitable mobility solutions will mean that deviations – and the associated risk and cost – should become the exception, and a consistent approach and standards are nurtured. The result is the ability to act quickly and effectively when the need arises – such as hiring a senior executive, where delays are known to defeat discussions, or deploying teams on the ground with minimal operational disruption.

Review your reward schemes

Attracting and retaining talent remains a key business challenge. Global mobility can play a positive role in enhancing the attractiveness of your organisation to existing and potential employees.

Old-style bonus and benefits schemes are becoming less relevant. Doing as you have always done, you may be perpetuating issues, such as failing to align to individuals’ expectations of reward.

Question what incentives your employees really want? And what are you able and prepared to provide in the context of the assignment as a whole? The mobility deal for a senior executive on management development programme is likely to differ from an IT specialist on short-term assignment.

Overseas assignments are increasingly being seen as a reward in themselves – particularly among millennial employees, who attribute an inherent value of international experience to their professional development. The prospect of career progression following assignment may well be more attractive than an enhanced financial package while on deployment.

Applying the same approach to flexibility with reward schemes as with other elements of your mobility programme, within a developed framework, can help you achieve more impact at reduced cost.


Budget ownership & planning

For historic reasons, mobility assignments are not always managed through a discreet budget. One of the weaknesses of a one-size-fits-all approach to mobility is the resulting bills that are usually presented after an assignment or relocation – unallocated (and often unplanned) overspend which no team wants to pay out for from their budget.

Mobility programmes require a specific budget allocation, ring-fenced and owned by HR or global mobility.

The focus then shifts away from a retrospective internal debate around who should foot the bill, to proactive management of the budget by the owner – planning, projections, measurement of actual spend and ROI etc.

This also has implications for supplier management. If the mobility budget has clear ownership, it makes sense for related external mobility suppliers to be managed also by the budget holder, to enable cost savings and efficiencies to be realised.


Data-based decision making

Enhancements in global mobility technology are, among many other benefits, making data more prolifically and accurately available.

The quality and volume of data are in turn creating significant potential for insight into mobility performance, benchmarking and activity measurement – before, during and after an assignment.

Importantly – this approach speaks the language of organisational management.

For example, what types of mobility are draining budgets? Which carry the most risk? Which offer the most return? Which require more outlay upfront? Which types of mobility assignment should be dropped from your programme? Which should be introduced? Which are contributing to employee development and progression? Which are resulting in employees leaving your organisation?

Gathering and analysing data is however a massive undertaking in itself, requiring investment and skills. But having a clear focus on the type of information that will help your organisation make business decisions will help to make data insight become the basis of informed mobility decisions that will take you away from the constraints and inefficiencies of one-size-fits-all programmes.

The potential exists for HR and mobility teams to contribute to organisational competitive advantage: strategically, adding value to business objectives and anticipating talent needs; and operationally, for the organisation to access effective support while ensuring compliance.

The net result places the organisation in a stronger position to attract talent and capitalise on market opportunities.


Need assistance?

DavidsonMorris are experienced advisers to employers of all sizes on global mobility strategy and immigration compliance. Our specialist global mobility consultants can provide best practice insight to manage market, operational and competitive challenges, while ensuring continued movement of key talent across borders. For more information, or if you have a query, please get in touch.

Last updated: 4 November 2020


Founder and Managing Director Anne Morris is a fully qualified solicitor and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

She is a recognised by Legal 500and Chambers as a legal expert and delivers Board-level advice on business migration and compliance risk management as well as overseeing the firm’s development of new client propositions and delivery of cost and time efficient processing of applications.

Anne is an active public speaker, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

About DavidsonMorris

As employer solutions lawyers, DavidsonMorris offers a complete and cost-effective capability to meet employers’ needs across UK immigration and employment law, HR and global mobility.

Led by Anne Morris, one of the UK’s preeminent immigration lawyers, and with rankings in The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners, we’re a multi-disciplinary team helping organisations to meet their people objectives, while reducing legal risk and nurturing workforce relations.

Legal Disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct at the time of writing, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

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