Transforming the mobility function to meet new challenges

Recent societal and economic changes — accelerated by the pandemic — pose significant challenges and questions for global mobility. Is your organization and service delivery model fit for purpose? Do you have the right policies, people and technology solutions to support what your organization needs to realize its objectives? TEMi Partner Mercer showcases how mobility can move forward in this powerful case study.

An era of profound change calls for a global mobility “reboot.” The time has never been better for the mobility function to solidify its strategic role in talent management by moving out of the niche it often occupies in many organizations and dispelling the perception of the function being merely a relocation support unit.

Yet many mobility teams face significant challenges, including understaffing, low recognition and a lack of state-of-the-art tools to do their work effectively. But as the following RWE case study shows, a focused and intentional approach — one that considers the intersection of a business’s people, operating model and mobility technology — is integral to a company’s transformation efforts and essential for building the agility and adaptability that will help organizations meet the future of work with confidence.

Case study: A multinational energy company transforms its global mobility function to adapt to new business realities

German multinational energy company RWE sought to solidify its position as a global leader in renewable energy and shaper of the green energy world. As RWE transformed its business model by moving away from traditional energy production based on coal and nuclear power and toward offshore wind power generation and other forms of sustainable, eco-friendly energy production, it found that its HR and the global mobility function had to follow suit. Eric Gangey, Head of the Global Mobility Hub at RWE, recognized that this transition meant “rebuilding our global mobility function.”

“Mobility is increasingly becoming a task of managing a globally operating workforce,” Gangey notes, “and therefore, our Mobility and overall HR function must also transform.” For RWE, rebuilding and transforming the mobility function depended upon assessing four critical determining factors: the business, its people, the current state of the world and the technology needed to support RWE’s future vision.

Supporting business objectives

RWE’s commitment to pursuing its international and global growth ambitions created a high demand for new recruits. However, Gangey cited “significant sourcing pressure in a tight talent market” as a considerable challenge. The company also needed global skilling models to satisfy the business needs of a cross-border organization. In addition, RWE found itself facing increasing compliance pressures and sought new ways to manage complexity and streamline processes.

Meeting people’s changing needs

RWE’s transformation approach also had to consider changing mindsets about mobility, primarily shaped by the shift to remote work during the pandemic. Enabling people to work in different locations offers excellent flexibility. But it can also lead to resistance to taking on mobile assignments (what Gangey has dubbed the “post-COVID coach potato” effect). People are now asking, “Why should I move? I can do everything from here.” RWE needed an approach that would attract employees, address diverse life situations and help their people achieve work-life balance — while still meeting business objectives and ensuring opportunities for individual growth and development.

Navigating the current state of the world

Gangey acknowledges that “barriers to mobility are everywhere — the world is becoming a place where mobility and traveling are often tricky and, therefore, are no longer preferred options.” Immigration is becoming more challenging: The rise of protectionism (the economic policy of restricting imports from other countries, including talent) in some countries is shrinking labor markets by making it more difficult for people to move to new work opportunities. Uncertainties and risks brought by ongoing wars in various places worldwide — as well as the climate crisis and pollution — aren’t making it any easier, either. RWE knew it needed a new mobility model to adapt and respond to an uncertain world.

Making the best use of technology

While technology enables the “work from anywhere” trend that’s challenging efforts to encourage mobility, Gangey knew that technology would also provide the means for managing ever-increasing complexity: “At RWE, we recognized that artificial intelligence (AI) would significantly impact managing this complexity — especially with taxes and social security issues.” The company also looked to tech solutions to help improve, standardize and streamline its administrative processes.

The four pillars of RWE’s transformation

In undertaking its global mobility transformation, Gangey stressed that it was crucial for RWE to “get the basics right” by redesigning and rebuilding its organization, processes and technology. It was also important to broaden the mobility function’s focus: RWE moved away from managing international assignments exclusively and instead included all cross-border employment issues, which meant supporting and enabling the global sourcing of talent. RWE’s global mobility leaders also worked closely with the company’s compensation and benefits team, aligning local and cross-border employee rules and regulations to the company’s global mobility framework. The result was a transformation built on four pillars:

  • Process improvement and standardization to increase efficiency and enhance customer service
  • Consolidation of resources to create a centralized global mobility unit, improving quality and efficiency through increased employee-centricity and delivery speed
  • Introduction of a “cafeteria model” offering a range of attractive package options and categories that provide flexibility — with clear policies and specific guardrails
  • Deployment of a global mobility technology tool to support processes and ease administration while promoting transparency and reducing operational risk

These four pillars provided RWE with a solid foundation and the proper support for building a global mobility function that Gangey describes as “end-to-end responsible for guiding employees through every step of the process.” Each Business unit has an account manager who considers different business needs and cultures when assigning employees. A global mobility case manager picks up HR issues the moment an assignment starts. The company also offers incident, project, immigration, performance and vendor management to support the wide-ranging issues impacting its global talent and business.

Gangey emphasizes that RWE’s new approach to global mobility is designed to “support business value and encourage individual development.” In creating its mobility packages, RWE focuses on deploying deep expertise and specialization to fill local gaps or complete projects, developing high-performing talent to fill critical senior roles and deliver strategic business results, enabling employees to pursue international experiences to fulfill their personal objectives, and nurturing high-potential talent and evolving the next generation of RWE leaders.

Moving mobility forward

By embracing change, organizations can transform their approach to mobility to move ahead. A crucial element of their transformation will be transcending more traditional HR and mobility models that are no longer fit for purpose.

Instead, companies can stay more agile and connected by entering into a genuine dialogue with their employees about the future of work and adopting a human-centric approach while keeping their business strategy and objectives top of mind. Global mobility professionals can be more effective as critical enablers of their business’s strategy by becoming adept at collecting and interpreting data to guide decision-making. Deploying technology (including AI) in the right way will also provide the fundamental means for mobility leaders to cut through ever-increasing complexity while streamlining processes and creating greater efficiencies.

For organizations looking to design a global mobility function that’s fit for the future, the critical steps will be (1) carefully considering the needs of their people, (2) assessing their current organizational structure and service portfolio, and (3) determining whether their technology is advancing their objectives and future vision. By focusing on these three key elements — their people, operating model and technology — the global mobility function can be more strategic in helping their organizations navigate complexity, deliver better business outcomes, and develop the skills and talent to move their organizations into the future.

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