Are You Moving Your Talent Where They’re Needed?

For growing global corporations, a mobile workforce is essential. Implementing a successful talent mobility strategy requires agility in workforce negotiations, strategic planning of mobility needs and integration of mobility with other corporate and talent management processes. Together the three will lead to the “ready now” workforce needed to fuel global growth.

“The mobility of talent has to keep going and growing,” said Gail Jacobs, director of worldwide talent sourcing and global mobility at Sensata Technologies, a sensor and control manufacturer.

Talent leaders can’t open new markets and expand territories without sending seasoned individuals to help bring the new people up to speed, said Patti Wilmot, chief people officer at Domino’s Pizza. “If we didn’t have movement of talent, we couldn’t have changed our branding, our message or our pizza. Creating a learning environment with mobility is the future.”

Mobility not only ensures workers are available where and when they are needed, it expands mobile workers’ knowledge and skills, which further contributes to company growth.

PC company Lenovo makes assignments rotational to ensure employees continually learn and develop. The company credits mobility as a key contributor to its growth. Lenovo has been able to successfully export key leaders across emerging markets such as India, Russia and Brazil.

Talent mobility, which encourages hands-on experience in multiple locations and functions, also can be used as a leadership development tool. Some 40 percent of organizations list international assignments as a critical component of developing senior management, according to a 2012 survey from Best Practice Institute (BPI) and Mobility Leader (Editor’s note: The authors work for Best Practice Institute).

At Ingersoll Rand, a diversified industrial company with more than 50,000 employees located across the globe, being assigned to multiple locations and businesses is viewed as critical for those aspiring to senior leadership, said Dan Hawkins, the company’s vice president of talent and organizational development.

Despite its value, talent mobility can be difficult to achieve. For organizations working to mobilize their workforces, overcoming mobility challenges depends on doing three things well.

1. Be agile in workforce negotiations. The days of one-size-fits-all talent management are over. Today’s talent leaders understand that employment is a continuous negotiation. To persuade employees to accept new assignments, particularly ones that require relocation and personal upheaval, a company must be flexible in its demands and how it accommodates employees.

“People won’t go abroad if we are not flexible,” said Sensata’s Jacobs. “If we have miserable employees, the assignment won’t be as successful.”

When JDS Uniphase Corp. (JDSU), an optical products, test and measurement provider, sends an employee to a new market, it selects a team of local expert destination services providers to pave the way before the employee’s arrival. For example, when the company needed to send a Chinese national to Saudi Arabia, where it had no prior footprint, the advance team identified a Chinese neighborhood for the employee to live in, put his name on the wait list and assisted with lease signing and integrating him into that community. “Our program’s success is highly dependent upon our external partners wherever we need to be,” said Debbie Haynes, senior global mobility manager at JDSU.

Ingersoll Rand also provides international relocation assignments for just six to nine months to provide development experiences and address immediate business needs. “People are more willing to do this than to pick up and move for two to three years,” Hawkins said.

Repatriation, or reintegrating employees back into their home office and country, is also part of being sensitive to a mobile workforce’s needs. In the 2012 Best Practice Institute-Mobility Leader survey, 27 percent of organizations identified repatriation as part of their succession planning. Those organizations believe repatriated workers will bring new knowledge and skills to their next assignments, thus contributing to the organization’s ability to grow.

“We have a commitment to repatriate all high-potential international assignees at the conclusion of their assignment,” said Leslie Joyce, senior vice president and chief people officer at Novelis, a global provider of aluminum products. “This has become an unusual practice in many companies, due to the expense and complexity of planning that far into the future. However, our view is that each person is a longtime investment, and we manage them as such.”

2. Strategically plan mobility needs. The BPI-Mobility Leader survey found just 13 percent of organizations use a formal process to identify mobile talent. This lack introduces some organizational questions: Which employees are willing and prepared to move? What skills do they possess, including skills they may not be using in their current position? What skills are needed where and when?

Many companies will simply announce an opening and see who volunteers, but that’s not sufficient, said Brian Fishel, senior vice president of enterprise learning and organization development at Bank of America.

“Too often companies do this in a reactive manner rather than in a proactive and planned manner,” he said. “Being more planned allows … the company to match the strengths and development needs of the individual to the new role to ensure the right fit. The last thing you want to do is put someone in a new assignment that is too much of a stretch, with a high probability of failure.”

This kind of strategic planning requires accurate, visible, mobile talent data. Technology can help a global corporation to capture and manage critical talent information.

Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has 118,000 employees in 60 countries. It licenses assignment management technology to track where it is sending and receiving talent, and what strategic objectives each deployment is to accomplish. J&J considers relationships with third-party vendors that have a global footprint critical to achieve its mobility goals. The company has a hybrid service model that partners internal assignee relationship managers with global immigration, tax, relocation, technology and market information services.

3. Integrate mobility with other management processes. It is important to integrate talent mobility efforts with other corporate and talent management processes. However, in the BPI-Mobility Leader survey, less than half of all organizations said they make an attempt to integrate their mobility program with other management programs.

J&J is among the companies striving for integration. Its technology tracks where the organization is sending and receiving. Then HR receives the data it needs to compare its talent mobility activities with J&J’s corporate and talent management goals. The analytics enable a discussion about current deployments compared to changing business goals so adjustments can be made moving forward.

“We can see that the places J&J is looking at to fuel growth are receiving the right talent deployments,” said Laura Rodriguez, director of global mobility at Johnson & Johnson.

Lenovo conducts an annual process called Organization Human Resource Planning (OHRP) in which company leaders from managers to vice presidents participate. OHRP identifies many mobility concerns, including what positions are open, whose roles are ending within the year, who are the high potentials and where people can be moved based on their skills and developmental needs. As a result, the corporation’s talent needs across the globe are identified well in advance. “The ultimate goal of the OHRP process is to make sure movement of talent is driven by Lenovo’s corporate goals,” said JP Elliott, director of global leadership development at Lenovo.

Domino’s Pizza ensures talent mobility is integrated with other processes and goals by making sure HR is not the sole owner of mobility. Instead, all corporate leaders participate. The pizza company holds three talent summits annually where leaders up to and including the CEO dig deep to identify the talent needs for each business unit. They have candid conversations about succession planning, and leaders are expected to cooperate fully, giving up top people when they are needed in other places to facilitate the organization’s overall growth.

“We work together to share top talent and support the business’ growth,” said Domino’s Wilmot. “When you have your leadership engaged, all the gates are open. When they are not engaged, they do not understand the critical need of moving talent.”

Engaging top leadership within organizations increases use of talent mobile strategy to meet the needs of the business strategy. By engaging top leaders, organizations can discuss what skills are needed to grow the organization, and what talent is the best fit to fill that need.

Achieving talent visibility and talent mobility across borders, continents and cultures is difficult. Despite the obstacles, talent mobility can be done when it is made a priority and the right steps are taken.

“A talent strategy has to be built over time,” Wilmot said. “Ours started about seven years ago. We have developed a platform and a relentless focus that our internal talent is ready. It takes risks and non-traditional moves of talent.”

Lou Carter is founder and CEO of the Best Practice Institute and author of Best Practices in Talent Management. Patrick Carmichael is vice president of Senior Executive Bank. Rophe Woods is a consultant and research analyst at the Best Practice Institute. They can be reached at