20 July 2018

5 Essential Skills for Global Mobility Professionals

Global Mobility / Globalization
essential skills for global mobility



Global Mobility professionals play a hugely important role in the success of any organization. They are, after all, the people responsible for developing the future leaders of the company as an international assignment is a must-have on any C-suite CV. With this level of importance, it is somewhat frustrating to see that it is not recognized as a strategic role and worthy of Boardroom discussions. There are few roles as diverse spanning tax, immigration, HR, logistics, housing, healthcare, security, etc. What is required to be able to do this varied role? What are the essential skills for Global Mobility managers?

Soft skills or technical skills?

There are, of course a range of technical skills, without which it is impossible to do the job: tax, immigration, compliance, database skills are just skimming the surface of the list. But the challenge is making sure your Global Mobility team are equipped with the best soft skills.

Global Mobility in the Age of Diversity
Global Mobility in the Age of Diversity
The Role Global Mobility Can Play in Delivering a Diverse Workforce
Global Mobility in the Age of Diversity
Global Mobility in the Age of Diversity
The Role Global Mobility Can Play in Delivering a Diverse Workforce
  • Are they equipped to make well-judged decisions under huge time pressure? Can they solve the insurmountable problems and challenges caused by moving a large number of people to and from a large number of countries?
  • Can they communicate effectively and clearly with assignees of many different cultures and languages?
  • Are they able to influence C-suite stakeholders, senior managers, and assignees of all levels so that there is a consistent, effective approach to moving talent?

When we examine the toolkit of the most effective global mobility professionals, we find that these are the skills they demonstrate most clearly.

The technical skills are often more efficiently outsourced to immigration lawyers, accountants, and relocation companies; to demonstrate real value to the wider business, these essential skills for global mobility are their key to success.

Further reading

Decision-making and problem-solving

Nearly every job description for Global Mobility (GM) mentions problem-solving amongst the essential skills for global mobility

No matter how comprehensive the policies and briefings, assignees will find ways to create exceptions and bypass processes. This nearly always goes wrong.

It is the Global Mobility case lead who ends up trying to find a school place for a nine-year-old two days before the term begins; GM are the ones who must untangle the mess when they find out that a senior manager they are not aware of has been working for six months in a foreign office.

Finding appropriate solutions and deciding on the outcome that balances the needs of the business and the needs of the assignee and their family needs a sound strategy.

It is not enough to base decisions on gut instincts. Global Mobility professionals must ensure that they have thought through the whole process and are in a position to make that decision in a timely and confident way. Developing the decision-making and problem-solving ability are essential skills for Global Mobility managers.

Communicating effectively

Mercer considers some of the essential skills for global mobility to be storytelling, presenting, and selling skills.

This view is supported by specialist HR recruiters, Alchemy Recruitment. GM professionals must be able to explain convincingly their business case for decisions, show why an exception is needed, and provide technical advice. This needs to be done clearly, concisely, and with impact.

Marketing and Communications professionals discovered the secret years ago – we pay more attention and retain more information when it is presented in the form of storytelling. It’s the way we are conditioned from infancy to assimilate new information.

Whether GM is presenting a formal slide deck, pitching an idea in a formal meeting, or having an informal discussion with more senior colleagues, the ability to present information effectively is a key skill.

Global Mobility in the Age of Diversity
Global Mobility in the Age of Diversity
The Role Global Mobility Can Play in Delivering a Diverse Workforce
Global Mobility in the Age of Diversity
Global Mobility in the Age of Diversity
The Role Global Mobility Can Play in Delivering a Diverse Workforce

While communication skills are essential for all professionals, for global mobility there is an even greater requirement. After all, their decisions impact not only the professional career of the employee, but the lives of the assignee’s family too.

Having a great solution to an assignment challenge is only half the job: getting buy-in from the business through effective communication is the only way to see that solution implemented.

Intercultural and language skills

If you have a global mobility function, you have colleagues who work with other cultures who speak other languages.

Whether it is assignees, their families, HR and management colleagues in other offices, or even suppliers, the GM function probably deals with more cultures than anyone else in the business; they are, however often the last in the queue for language and intercultural training.

GM professionals need more than an awareness of the superficial do’s and don’ts – how to greet politely, what not to talk about, how much eye contact etc.

They need to be able to communicate and operate effectively regardless of the invisible nuances of cultural behaviors.

Whether it is decoding the monosyllabic replies of an indirect communicator or defusing the seemingly rude feedback from a direct communicator, the GM professional needs to be comfortable switching styles and cultural codes at a moment’s notice.

Language skills are an added bonus. Having the option of using a second (or third) language in business is a huge advantage to effectiveness and efficiency. It builds relationships, provides the largest zone of mutual understanding, and speeds up the communication of complicated messages.

Further reading

Influencing and negotiating

The global mobility function has its origins in tax and reward. This legacy often lends itself to the perception that global mobility is a purely administrative and reactive function. Many organizations and indeed GM professionals are comfortable with this position.

However, those that don’t challenge this assumption are not making the best use of the experience and professionalism of these talented individuals.

GM professionals have a wealth of knowledge about your organization’s talent, potential, and international markets.

They have a unique perspective on the international challenges and successes of an organization. Those senior GM professionals who develop effective influencing skills are invaluable.

They are able to ensure that their expertise is accounted for in talent strategy, resource management, international growth, finance, and many of the other areas that are key to the success of any business.

But they don’t just influence upwards. GM must negotiate with assignees of all levels: balancing the need to get the right talent in the right place with the need to manage costs and avoid creating exceptions.

These essential skills are at the heart of what it is to be a professional in global mobility, but they are just the start. GM must be digital natives, virtual working gurus, personal-crisis counselors – the list is endless.

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