Strong Global Mobility Programs Start at Home

Global mobility teams now operate strategically within organizations and no longer focus solely on tactical activities. Instead, they serve as advisors to HR and the business, providing insight into new assignee scenarios, alternatives to traditional assignment approaches, cost modeling and compliance requirements.

Monday, August 18, 2014
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The mobility landscape has changed. These days, leading organizations, like Microsoft, recognize that running a successful mobility program isn't a tactical endeavor; instead, it's a complex, strategic, and operational part of managing talent and achieving business goals. But putting that knowledge into action is complicated and often intimidating, making it challenging for many business leaders to take the necessary steps to put the right programs in place to suit their needs.

Making this shift successfully requires a change in the way a company approaches its service delivery model and in how it teams with vendors. Companies with the most successful programs will focus first on defining the experience they want to provide to all of their stakeholders, including the assignees, their families, managers, and HR. As many organizations today are looking to provide a more personal experience for their assignees, they'll establish an organizational structure and service delivery model to support the intended experience. This may include a diverse team within a proactive service delivery model that focuses on high touch and consultative services. Many stakeholder front-facing activities (e.g., advisory service to managers and HR, and package counseling for assignees) are provided by the internal team, and they team with third-party providers to supplement these activities with the myriad of services and support for administration activities that are required to provide a world-class program. This additional support will be aligned to the core competencies of each of the service providers including relocation, administration, tax, and immigration.

With that in mind, what does an effective global mobility program and team look like? And what are some of the best practices that we're seeing from leading organizations in the marketplace?

Market Trends

Global mobility teams now operate strategically within organizations and no longer focus solely on tactical activities. Instead, they serve as advisors to HR and the business, providing insight into new assignee scenarios, alternatives to traditional assignment approaches, cost modeling and compliance requirements. Within this strategic model, the global mobility team also serves as a consultant to other functional teams within the organization such as Finance, Payroll, Benefits, Legal, and Corporate Tax, as well as the assignees themselves. To serve this role effectively, team members need a broad market perspective, technical expertise and a clear understanding of the requirements to run an effective mobility program and, in turn, create a satisfying assignment experience.

When staffing their global mobility team, leading organizations look for individuals with diverse backgrounds, mobility experience, and strong technical skills (e.g., compensation and benefits, payroll operations, finance, relocation services, immigration, employment law, expatriate tax, and change management). Building a team with this kind of varied expertise and skill set serves various purposes. It offers a broader perspective regarding what individuals experience when they transfer from country to country, provides useful insight for establishing strong processes to help a program run seamlessly, and improves the service the global mobility team provides to assignees. All of this contributes to the overall assignment experience.

For Microsoft, having a team that has first-hand experience in what it's like to be on a global assignment is beneficial. They're better able to relate to the individuals they support because they understand the nuances that accompany an international assignment or extensive travel. That knowledge allows them to be savvy when they present information to an assignee and helps them set expectations clearly.

On top of the increased focus on building strong global mobility teams, leading organizations also are focused on the people-development aspect of their program -- even moving the global mobility function out of the International HR or compensation and benefits functions and into talent management. This focus on development extends to the team itself.

Sending employees on assignment is costly, making it vital for companies to attract and retain qualified assignee candidates. Establishing effective mobility policies and processes will only get you half way there. You also need to make sure you're effectively managing the talent you attract. To do so, it's necessary to map out career paths, define assignment objectives, establish metrics to measure assignee and program success, and educate managers and HR on the qualities that make a successful assignee. Having a clear understanding of these factors can improve your ability to place the right talent and mentor them through a successful career within your organization.

Aligning the right people with the right opportunities and focusing on enhanced mobility experience will go a long way toward helping you achieve a return on your investment. How do you know you're choosing the right candidate? After skill set requirements are met, you need to evaluate key areas: the individual's personal attributes, the position, location, as well as the family.

Another trend that distinguishes best-in-class mobility programs is their focus on measuring success. Leading companies evaluate internal service delivery in the same way they would evaluate external providers, and hold themselves accountable for delivering results. Leadership within these organizations often tries to answer the question: Did we deliver the experience that we intended? What was the overall performance of our program? What was the performance of individual assignees? Establishing clear key performance indicators will give you the tools to objectively evaluate the overall experience, assess functional and team performance, and make adjustments, as needed, to propel your program forward.

 Organizational structure

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Most leading companies start with an organizational structure that includes a centralized global mobility team that's responsible for overall program ownership including strategy and policy. Service delivery may be centralized within the core team and may be a shared responsibility with an operations team, shared services team, and even service providers. They'll determine the activities the internal team(s) will provide and then determine the teaming needed with service providers.

As programs grow larger (for example, more than 250 assignees) and more diverse, leading organizations, like Microsoft, move to a more customized or "hybrid" approach. Within this model the centralized global mobility team remains responsible for overall strategy, policy design, and program management. Regional leads within this core team provide front facing program and policy consulting support to the business and HR leaders as well as assignees within the region. Regional teams may also perform designated administrative tasks such as payroll coordination and will play a role in vendor management.

Larger programs may further leverage the internal shared services centers within their organizational structure to maximize efficiency. SSCs can alleviate administrative burden on central and regional teams and align with the organization's overall service delivery model. Based on the capabilities of the centers, the bulk of administration activities may be shifted to SSCs including package preparation (e.g., balance sheets, cost projections, and assignment letters), vendor coordination, allowance updates, payroll processing and delivery, invoice processing, and even support for finance activities in the area of assignment budgets and accruals.

 Microsoft's organizational chart provides a visual representation of its structure. This model has proven to be a great example of a hybrid model, providing both strategic and tactical activities for overall high performance within the organization.

When designing your organizational structure and overall service delivery model, keep your program strategy and the intended assignment experience top of mind. What is your organization's mobility message? Who will be going on assignment and for what purpose? The answers to these questions will serve as a guide to help you develop a program that will meet your goals and needs. Establishing the right organizational structure and service delivery model are critical components to delivering your intended assignment experience.

Eileen Mullaney is PwC's international assignment services partner and global mobility consulting practice leader. Natalie Navarro is Microsoft's global mobility director.

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