Priya Sunil takes a look at how HR leaders at KONE, Lendlease, and TDCX, are supporting their expat employees on their assignment journeys.
In the 2003 movie Lost in Translation, protagonist Bob Harris, an ageing American movie star, is sent on an overseas assignment to Japan to film a whisky ad. He is lost and confused, feeling very out of place as he tries to soak up an entirely different culture.
Through the movie, he finds himself learning new things about the Japanese culture every day, and slowly embraces the challenges brought about from this move, all with the support of his team and the locals he meets along the way.
Similar to Harris’ experience, many mobile assignees in today’s workforce are bound to feel disoriented when first posted to a new country. In an ideal scenario, much before this happens, HR and mobility leaders play a critical role in ensuring a smooth end-to-end process for their settling-in for a successful overall assignment.
As Lucy Tan, Chief Human Resources Officer at NatSteel Holdings, shares from her experience leading such assignments, it is important the team looks into potential assignees’ needs and caters to these needs as much as possible, as well as provides constant check-ins so they feel well-supported and motivated while away from home.
In light of this, and more, in this feature, we take a look at what HR leaders at KONE, Lendlease and TDCX are doing to support their expat employees on their assignment journeys, including their must-haves when choosing the best accommodation.
Encouraging job rotations at KONE
At elevator and escalator company KONE, one of the ways it encourages employees’ personal and professional growth is through active job rotation across different offices. According to Minna Rouru, Area HR Director, Asia Pacific (pictured above, far right), these international assignments and transfers provide employees with a possibility to work abroad, and a great opportunity to learn more about the company’s customers, markets, different cultures as well as to help transfer knowledge.
She explains: “At KONE, the global mobility policy is the backbone for the principles of our mobility programme here in Asia.
KONE has an interest in family circumstances of our employees and as each employee’s personal circumstances may be different, we are willing to make the necessary adjustments.
For instance, on the employee’s part, the HR team expects full and frank disclosure of any personal matters that may affect the success of the assignment to make the necessary considerations based on family circumstances.
Additionally, each assignee and the spouse goes through an expatriate assessment that is based on data gathered through interviews and assessment methods, including reasoning tests, work simulations, and work-related personality inventories.
“The report of the assessment reflects the person’s current priorities and approach to work, which helps the assignee identify their strengths and development areas. It also supports them with cultural fit,” Rouru says.
“From a recruiting point of view, our business strategy, workforce planning, and budget are important in supporting the understanding of employee needs in our different markets.”
The company currently has about 80 long-term international assignees globally, with a majority based in Asia Pacific. Additionally, there are intra-regional transfers within the region and local hires from abroad, posted either to or from Asia Pacific countries.
As every HR leader dealing with mobility would know, some of the typical issues faced when mobilising an employee include immigration-related issues such as long work permit processing times.
“This needs the support and co-operation from the business units to understand that processing times may take longer than usual. This is a frequent scenario where the need for the new talent by the business was just ‘yesterday’.”
On how KONE tackles this, she adds: “It’s important to be realistic from the beginning to manage expectations. We always work with business units to ensure they factor in a reasonable amount of time required from the time they request for an assignee until the time the assignee can start work.”
Once an employee has completed an international assignment, the company conducts a survey to gather their feedback on the different stages of their journey. How has the feedback been so far? “We have generally received very positive feedback from our assignees and any potential issues raised are used to better develop our mobility programme.”
Moving forward, she and her team aim to further develop KONE’s short-term job rotation policy in the Asia Pacific region.
Dropping cookie-cutter mobility policies at Lendlease
In an increasingly global and interconnected world, companies are recognising the value of international exposure in filling senior and critical positions.
In line with that, Lendlease’s Head of People & Culture for Asia, Vicki Ng (pictured above, far left), shares that aspiring leaders in the international property and infrastructure group’s Asia arm are given such exposure through its global Talent Export Programme.
Under this programme, the company’s high-performing, high-potential employees are deployed on a two-year overseas assignment, before returning home to “drive the growth of the business”.
Current participants in this programme, which include analysts, as well as development and project managers, have been posted to major cities such as San Francisco, London, Tokyo and Sydney.
“With such a diverse mobile talent pool, cookie-cutter mobility programmes can no longer satisfy everyone’s needs. As such, our mobility framework is designed to provide the flexibility that can cater to individuals’ needs and enhance the employee experience,” she says.
For example, she shares that employees who prefer a DIY approach can choose cash options in lieu of company-organised relocation support.
Ng also believes in order to ensure the mobility assignment is a smooth process, it is essential the selected employees have the right values, aptitude and mindset to make the most of the opportunity.
“We ensure the assignees are thoroughly briefed prior to relocation so they are prepared for the challenges they might face in living and working overseas.”
During such assignments, one key challenge she has observed in assignees is the challenge of maintaining a relationship with the business at home, and re-assimilating into the environment when they return.
To address this, each of them is assigned a mentor, who is a senior leader within the Asian business, under the Talent Export Programme. These mentors regularly check in with the assignees on their development progress and provide coaching and guidance throughout the assignment.
Further, she adds: “There is also a strong partnership between the Asia leadership team, the people and culture team, and the home business, so regular touch-points are made to ensure that our assignees remain engaged and connected during their assignments.
We want our talent to be excited about returning home, to contribute to the growth of the business and to create the best practices.
Looking ahead, she stresses the importance that mobility is not just used as a means to fill current resource needs, but also as an enabler to develop and grow future leaders.
Leveraging a mobile workforce at TDCX
Across the seas at TDCX (formerly Teledirect Telecommerce), a provider of business process services, about 46% of the workforce (comprising 18 nationalities) is mobilised from other locations to Kuala Lumpur.
The company typically mobilises about 800 employees in a year. Further, as part of its mobility policy, it has in place an “integrated and robust onboarding programme” for mobility employees, Lim Chee Gay, Chief Human Resources Officer (pictured above, centre), says. The company also has Malaysian employees being seconded to other locations.
This policy is built on the foundation of meeting client requirements, supporting the business needs, and accelerating the employee development plan. In ensuring a smooth assignment, Lim says: “We have an expatriate assistance programme, including the comprehensive expatriate handbook, and regular dialogue with employees.”
Further, although the team does face the common challenges of work permit issues, the taxation process, and contract agreements, Lim says: “Given the volume of our mobility, we have a dedicated team and processes, including best-known practices to support the smooth transition, and assignments. We also have a mobility net promoter score for us to gauge our services and our processes towards expatriate onboarding.”
In the coming year, he expects to focus on the safety of TDCX’s expatriates, especially during their assignments through the travel and safety programme.
We will also continue with our diversity and inclusion initiatives to ensure our expatriates are able to assimilate well into the location’s culture and values.
“Due to our growth and expansion in 2020, we will continue to source for accommodation for our expatriates’ relocations and also build a much better integrated assistance programme for our assignees.”
Personal take: Dyson’s Shazy Tan
In this short interview, Shazy Tan, Global Mobility Manager at Dyson, shares her personal viewpoints on the challenges faced by mobility professionals such as herself, how tightening regulations are affecting mobility practices, and more.
Q What are the typical challenges faced by mobility professionals like yourself today?
The biggest challenge, which is also the most exciting part of our role, is keeping up with a mobile workforce. With the world becoming more accessible and work location lines being more blurred, mobility leaders need to understand the complexities of immigration and tax (employee and corporate).
The demographics of people moving have also evolved and there is a need for mobility to grow together with the population in order to support them as best as we can.
For example, real-time information for their relocation is an increasing demand by employees which mobility teams are working to provide. Similarly, having social/political/news updates via social media, which is usually faster than the traditional communication channels of the past (cable TV), is another request for their relocation experience.
Q How are the tightening statutory regulations affecting mobility practices?
Protectionist measures by governments are more apparent today than a few years ago. This increase in immigration scrutiny can pose challenges to bring certain talent to host locations as they may not meet the minimum requirements for a work visa application. Business travellers who are on extended trips are also being closely monitored as there is a tax impact on their travel which may be missed out by the company.
All in all, I would take this positively as it pushes mobility and HR leaders to improve our candidate selection process and to focus on the quality of the talent we are introducing globally.
There has always been an issue about how expensive international assignments are, yet it can be a struggle for HR to convince the business to hire on local terms/local nationals due to business pressure/convenient hire.
Due to tightening statutory regulations, this adds a more serious tone to conversations with the business which also drives improvements to HR people strategies.
Q Is there a big development that you forecast in the mobility space for 2020? Please elaborate.
What is lacking is a ‘Facebook’ for foreign employees in a host location where information can be shared and moral support can be provided peer-to-peer to others who are in similar situations as themselves.
This could potentially be a platform that relocation management companies (RMC) can build on their current relocation mobile apps.
Many of the frustrations or anxiety in relocation comes from feeling isolated from the support/normalities of daily life in the home country. Therefore, having help or tips from fellow assignees can build that social network and reduce the time needed to assimilate in the new location.
The information or settling-in assistance from RMC or destination service providers (DSP) can sometimes be geared towards information that is not as relevant, given that these programmes are run by local DSP/field consultants or consultants who have been in host locations for quite a while.
The background/age/culture of the consultants will affect the orientation experience as well. Having a platform that enables foreign transfer employees to connect and obtain the information that is most relevant to them could be a solution.
Handy tips for choosing the best expat accommodation
Minna Rouru, Area HR Director, Asia Pacific, KONE
International assignees (or expats) and business travellers have a different set of requirements. For international assignees, family size, workplace and school locations are key factors in considering the accommodation type, needs and budget.
KONE provides a comfortable level of housing depending on the traditions of the host location, availability, and cost of suitable accommodation.
When we look at temporary housing, changing situations and the needs of our international assignees, flexible renting terms are important. In the case of long-term business travellers, the equipment provided, pricing, location and ancillary services have greater importance.
Lim Chee Gay, Chief Human Resources Officer, TDCX
Our criteria for corporate accommodation includes location, safety, pricing, facilities, as well as reviews and feedback.
Photos / provided (From L-R: Vicki Ng, Lim Chee Gay, Minna Rouru)
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