We interviewed Liz Mann, Talent Mobility Business Partner – People & Culture. Liz is responsible for managing the global mobility function for Grant Thornton Australia.  
Give us a bit of background about you and your career so far.

With over 20 years’ experience in HR, I’ve spent half of that time specialising in the global mobility space. Identifying my passion for mobility through my own relatable experiences, I’ve covered a range of roles both generalist and solely focused on global mobility. Spanning across global markets, I’ve worked in Australia, the UK and Switzerland for both corporates and humanitarian organisations.  I spent over five years working for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, during my time in Switzerland. Upon returning to Australia, I’ve taken up a role with Grant Thornton Australia, to carry out a solely focused Global Mobility role. Grant Thornton Australia has a workforce of 1,300 with offices in Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Perth, Melbourne and Sydney. The firm is part of a global network, Grant Thornton International, which has a workforce of 47,000 people, located across 130 countries. I discovered my passion for the mobility space over ten years ago, mainly because I feel I have been affected by mobility most of my life. As a child, I moved just about every three years due to my father’s job, and as an adult in my chosen career, I have also been an international assignee myself.  I feel I have a deep understanding of the perspective of the assignee from my own firsthand experience.

What is your role at Grant Thornton? What are your main responsibilities?

Diversity is a key focus area for Grant Thornton to ensure our workforce is relevant to our client base. My role involves managing the global mobility function for Grant Thornton Australia which means I have the opportunity to support increasing our diversity by broadening the range of skills and ethnicity in our teams through secondments. Working with Grant Thornton International, I facilitate the Australian firm’s international secondments, whether that is one of our local employees heading over to one of our affiliate firms within the international network, or welcoming secondments to work here.  I work closely with People & Culture managers in the various Grant Thornton offices around Australia to help support and manage the global mobility function.  I’m also fortunate enough to work in a firm that has a global mobility tax offering as a service, this means the majority of the tax risks are dealt with by that team, so that we’re meeting various tax obligations in the relevant countries. And, of course, I work closely with my counterparts in other Grant Thornton Firms around the world as well as the individual assignees themselves. I love my job. I love working with assignees who in the most part are excited about the upcoming opportunity as well as nervous.  I love the centralised aspect of my job and being able to shape policy and process for the better.  I love the fact that you are constantly learning – there are always changes to visa laws or tax laws or new ways of doing things which means there is always something new to understand.

How many expats does Grant Thornton have? How many moves per year?

In 2016, we had 39 new inbound assignees join Grant Thornton Australia and we had 21 of our people from Grant Thornton Australia start an outbound assignment.  These new assignments are in addition to the expats already here on a long-term assignment or our people already out on a long-term assignment.

What kind of policies does Grant Thornton operate?

Our policies are governed by a set of principles derived by the Grant Thornton International Mobility Leadership Group. We use these principles to guide our global mobility policies as do other Grant Thornton member firms overseas.  Our policies cover eligibility for an international assignment as well as the main types of international assignments like short-term or long-term or permanent transfer and what entitlements go along with those.

What are the most common types of assignments?

Our assignments are a mix of employee and employer driven.  We have a Global Opportunities job board that employees of all the Grant Thornton member firms worldwide have access to so this is a great way for any interested individuals to see what assignee roles are on offer.  People can apply directly through the Global Opportunities job board and their application will go to the office that has put up the ad. We also have instances where we identify a key person where we think an international assignment would be highly beneficial for their development and career and we will then liaise with an overseas member firm to find them the right overseas role. The busiest service line for international assignments is our Audit & Assurance service line.  We second a large number of auditors from overseas Grant Thornton member firms to Australia to assist with our audit busy season at the end of the Australian financial year.  We also second a number of our staff to the overseas Grant Thornton member firms to help them with their audit busy seasons.  Global mobility is a big part of our strategy for having the right resources in the right place at the right time to meet the needs of our business and ultimately our clients.

What do you see as the key challenges for your role over the next year?

I am always looking for ways to streamline the administrative process of an assignment so will continue to do this.  Detail is very important in an international secondment.  It is important that visas are correctly obtained, tax liabilities correctly identified, individuals are aware of their responsibilities, offices know who is responsible for paying what.   Sometimes people don’t understand the time that some of these tasks take and it is important that we educate people on this and the importance of it.  The implications of getting it wrong can be significant.

Do you foresee any major changes in GT’s mobile workforce in the future?

I believe the benefits that an individual derives from going on an overseas assignment, such as seeing a new perspective, seeing new ways of working and interacting, adapting to new challenges and working with people from a different culture, will lead to us using international assignments for more people as a development tool.   We will continue to use international assignments as a way of having the right people in the right place at the right time, but I think we will have more and more development led secondments.

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