Global Mobility and Talent Management: Collaboration increases ROI
The truth is that an organization can never accurately understand the ROI for any international assignee without fully understanding what he or she is being sent to (1) do, and (2) develop.
Global mobility professionals understand the need to measure international assignee performance management, but far too busy juggling cost-containment, vendor management and other substantial tasks to begin to act on it effectively. The advice on performance management and ROI had traditionally been lost – until now, that is.
"This shift towards greater collaboration between global mobility and talent management enables the foundation for ROI to be more accurately assessed"
So, what has changed? In the past, talent management and global mobility were complementary HR functions, with their collaboration being, more or less, a hand-off, as the international assignees' cases were passed from one to the other. Now, organizations are developing a more strategic-minded human resource focus
, with talent management and global mobility professionals working together as integrated functions.
This shift towards greater collaboration between global mobility and talent management
enables the foundation for ROI to be more accurately assessed. Global mobility professionals can provide specific details on the cost-side of the ROI equation. For the benefit-side to be assessed, the talent management professionals will need a system for managing performance of assignees – both in terms of what they are being asked to do and what they are being asked to gain. In other words, we need to understand what strategic goals are to be met before the assignment’s return can be assessed.
This is starting to happen. Some leading global mobility professionals have worked together to develop a tool for international assignee performance
management and ROI through the Expatriate Technology Forum (ETF). Whether a tool such as the one developed by the ETF is adopted, or a performance management process is built internally, the process should be used to guide the identification of specific performance dimensions and a method for assessing performance should be created.
International assignee performance management
As an international assignment is a job context and not a job description, there is no one set of dimensions that cover all international assignees within any organization. Most international assignee performance dimensions, however, are included within four broader categories of performance dimensions: task, organizational, intercultural, and developmental dimensions. The first two, the technical and organizational performance dimensions, are present among all international assignments whereas the intercultural and developmental performance dimensions are present in only some international assignments:
• Technical performance: this represents tasks or duties international assignees perform. They are the easiest to identify and most tangible because they mirror the technical dimensions of those with the same title in a domestic context. For example, within the same business unit, stage of product maturity etc. a brand manager relocating to Qatar from the UK for a product launch should have responsibilities comparable to the Indian brand manager in India doing the same product launch. The fundamental outcome (or performance dimensions) of the job are likely to be similar. However, the way in which these jobs are conducted may differ dramatically as a result of the country or cultural context.
• Organizational performance: as with technical dimensions, all international assignments will include organizational performance dimensions, representing those aspects of the position that are not directly related to the technical tasks of the job but to the broader organization. These may include adhering to safety rules, maintaining an ethical code or integrity norms, following organizational procedures, promoting a positive image of the organization, etc. These are less tangible but may be well established across all positions within a given organization.
• Intercultural performance: with respect to intercultural performance dimensions, some assignments will have an extensive need for intercultural communication or intercultural effectiveness in order for the assignment to be deemed successful. Others will rely on technical performance alone with less variation as a function of the cultural or country-level context. Some performance dimensions are bound by the assignees’ ability to be effective in the host country specifically. Examples include negotiating an international joint venture, conducting training seminars in another country, working on a multicultural research and development team, presenting to internal or external clients in different countries, adapting a marketing plan to a local context.
• Developmental performance: while many international assignments are developmental experiences, developmental dimensions are not always an organizationally-desired outcome of the assignment. Developmental dimensions may be knowledge-based, such as language acquisition or understanding the worldwide structure of the organization. They may be ability-based, such as learning how to lead a team, negotiate, run a meeting, conduct a product launch, institute a process, etc. in another country. A performance dimension is intentionally developmental when there is a plan for the competency gained to be used on subsequent assignments. Examples include knowing the cultural limits of one’s knowledge (and knowing when to bring in local expertise) and knowing what to do with cultural, political, and local market knowledge in subsequent situations. These developmental performance dimensions are more intangible and the most difficult to embed into the ROI equation. They should not be overlooked because their implications are that they build global competence, over time, in the organization.
These four sets of performance dimensions can help guide the discussion for performance criteria to be developed and performance management systems to be put in place. This is a first step and not a small one. To identify performance dimensions prior to an assignment it (minimally) helps to have agreement regarding the expectations between the sending and receiving units and the international assignees themselves. Is everyone in agreement on the goals for the assignment and the assignee? Anyone who has ever tried to gather this agreement is smiling right now at the challenge inherent in that question. Challenging, however, does not mean impossible and this is becoming easier among organizations with more strategic alignment for talent management.
"Before ROI can be assessed effectively, what an assignee is being asked to do and what they are being asked to develop has to be clearly articulated."
The next steps are typical of performance management systems, with some challenges specific to international assignments. Once the performance dimensions are identified, how will each be measured? Some of the more subjective performance dimensions are culturally bound and may lack conceptual equivalence. For example, when rating the performance dimension "leadership", Asian managers may emphasize cooperation and teamwork whereas American managers may emphasize assertiveness and independence. Thus, the same manager may be rated as highly effective on a leadership dimension in one country but highly ineffective demonstrating the same behaviors while in another country. This is one example of a key strategic decision to be made: whether a global (i.e., company-wide) or culturally-specific set of metrics and standards will be used. There are others, such as who should be conducting the assessments, what method of assessment should be used, when assessments should be conducted, and the like.
While this is only a brief introduction to the challenges of international assignee performance management, the implications for the ROI of international assignments should not be understated. Before it can be assessed effectively, what an assignee is being asked to do and what they are being asked to develop (if anything) has to be clearly articulated.
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