“A Global Mobility Transformation Only Every 3 to 5 Years Won’t Do”

“Employee experience” was one of the buzz terms of 2018. At the beginning of the year, Forbes published a piece titled: 2018 Will Be the Year of Employee Experience. Chris Debner, an award-winning thought leader in the area of strategic global mobility, shares his views on why a good employee experience is particularly important for foreign assignees, and why global mobility professionals should transform faster.

1. How do you define employee experience?

The need for a good employee experience was born out of, and is closely related to, customer experience. We are all customers and billions have been invested over the last decades to create better customer experiences. Employees are now looking to have a positive experience also in the workplace, and not only when they are customers.

The link between customer experience and employee experience is evident: from attracting customers to attracting talent; from engaging customers to engaging employees; from creating customer loyalty to retaining talent; from defined customer journeys to defined employee journeys; and from superior customer service to superior employee experience. There are already companies that have created dual functions: A Head of CX (customer experience) and EX (employee experience).

Most of the Next Gen talent grew up with extraordinary customer experiences. They expect good experiences in the workplace as well.

2. Looking at global employees versus local employees — does a one-size-fits-all approach work in providing good experiences?

While the basic idea behind employee experience remains the same in HR and global mobility, it’s important to note that global mobility defines one of the big “moments that matter” during an employee journey as the retention of an employee from the point of hire to the point of retire. The moment an employee is asked to change country, uproot his or her family, and live and work in a new culture, it becomes one of the most impactful employee experiences. Therefore, the importance placed on positive employee experience should be even more vital for global mobility, due to its impact.

3. As an expert in supporting organizations with their global mobility strategies, what are employers doing well — and where are they lacking?

Global mobility functions are becoming more strategic and are aligning themselves with business needs and HR strategies. That means both sides are understanding the challenges faced and are working together to find better solutions — outside of their silos. A dooming workforce shortage for skilled workers will need global mobility to support an increasing number of international hires. The needs of the Next Gen drive more instant, flexible solutions that provide clarity. This is expressed in new global mobility operating models, policies, and processes.

Leading global mobility programs provide flexibility by giving options to assignees and companies. They focus on efficient processes that consider the well-being of not only the assignees but also their families, and they are also getting serious about their duty of care. In addition, they provide policies that are user-friendly and are aimed at providing international experience earlier in the careers of their employees. Not to forget the increasing adoption of technology in global mobility, which provides great opportunities to increase positive user and employee experiences.

Some global mobility functions are, however, still focused predominantly on compliance, which is ultimately important, but does not really create positive employee experiences. Take a work permit, tax return, correct payroll, or even kidnapping training. Assignees are taking these aspects for granted and it does not make them happy. Compliance is a hygiene factor and should be treated as such.

4. You coach global mobility program leaders to help them meet company goals and individual desires. What is your advice to global mobility professionals to improve both the experiences of foreign assignees and assignment success?

From my perspective, the key aspects for program leaders are to create an engaged and purpose-driven global mobility team that is focused on assignee experience, to have an open attitude towards other functions of the business, to have a good understanding of the business, and to engage in constant learning about the developments in technology and global mobility market trends. In addition, they need to demonstrate agility and strategic thinking to address the faster pace of change. A global mobility transformation only every three to five years won’t do anymore.

5. How do organizations benefit from providing their foreign assignees with good employee experiences while in a host country?

When employees experience a smooth transition to another country and receive the right preparation for their job, such as cultural training, while the needs of their family, including schooling and spousal support are covered as well, they can focus on their job and performance from which an organization will benefit. In addition, a well-planned repatriation and re-integration after the assignment will ensure that the investment made into the assignee is protected and the employee can be retained.

6. Looking at employee experiences beyond the workplace, how does helping foreign assignees and their families to socially integrate into the host country contribute to their overall assignment experience?

Mobility is the area that touches an employee’s private life to a much greater extent than the private life of a local employee is being touched by HR. For an assignment, the company needs to understand the assignee’s family situation, their housing situation, and for filing their tax returns even their individual financial situation — which causes the latter to be outsourced. Therefore, it is key that global mobility also addresses experiences beyond the workplace, such as cultural training also for the family, spousal support, coaching, home leave, and so forth.  

7. If 2018 was in fact the year of the employee experience, what’s your prediction for 2019?

Attracting and retaining talent, shifting employee expectations, Next Gen ideas to change employers more frequently, and the adoption of technology will be the continuing challenges for organizations in 2019. These aspects all still point to creating better employee experiences, because this helps to attract and retain employees.

The work on employee experience has not started in most companies and it might only become part of their agenda in the coming years. In some cases, I have experienced that leadership does not yet feel the pain and see the signs of a changing talent landscape. But when they realize that they are losing key talent that they have a hard time to replace and face the consequences of low employee engagement for their success and growth, they might wake up to the topic.

Employee experience is just at its beginning and will only intensify when more companies start to compete for the best talent. And like its “uncle” — customer experience — it is here to stay.

Chris DebnerAbout the Expert: Chris Debner is an award-winning global mobility thought leader who provides strategic global mobility advisory and coaching services. He is Managing Director of his own consultancy, Chris Debner LLC - Strategic Global Mobility Advisory, based in Zurich, Switzerland. He has 20 years of experience in mobility advisory and has worked in over 35 countries across all industries. In 2015, he was awarded the Global Mobility Professional of the Year Award by the Forum for Expatriate Management.

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