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For decades, long-term mobility assignments have been used for the majority of international relocations. However, there’s a lot more dissatisfaction from the business leaders paying the bills nowadays.
Aditi Sharma Kalra reaches out to mobility leaders across Asia – Avery Dennison in Hong Kong, and National Australia Bank in Singapore – to identify high-impact mobility strategies.
[With inputs from Meghna Gupta]
For decades, the approach of long-term mobility assignments has been used for the majority of international relocations. However, there’s a lot more dissatisfaction from the business leaders paying the bills nowadays – given the renewed focus on costs and employee development.
Such long-term assignments continue to cost between three and eight times an employee’s annual salary – depending on the home and host locations, the level of employee and their family size.
T.J. Spencer, vice president of sales, and managing director of APAC, at Oakwood Worldwide, notes that one in five mobility assignments now last less than 12 months compared with just one in ten in 2002.
She explains, “In Asia Pacific one of the current trends we are seeing is the continued shift towards shorter-term assignments as the rising number of Millennial employees in the workplace, takes hold. Organisations are using temporary assignments and younger workers on developmental assignments to plug international skills gaps and remain competitive.”
She also finds organisations increasingly employing home-grown talent in Asia Pacific to create more regional specific roles, causing a rise in West to East mobility patterns as well as a rise in intra-regional assignments, particularly evident in Tier 1 cities such as Singapore, Tokyo and Hong Kong.
In the near future, it is possible that low-cost, yet high-impact mobility strategies, could pave the way for a new wave of mobility assignments that are creative and flexible in their approach.
In pondering the question, we reached out to mobility leaders across Asia – Avery Dennison in Hong Kong, and National Australia Bank in Singapore – to identify the state and drivers of their employee mobility strategies.
Case 1: Barbara Lam, manager – enterprise mobility, Asia Pacific, Avery Dennison
Before 2014, Avery Dennison, a worldwide packaging material supplier, had a mobility policy with a standard set of components for each assignee. Feedback from the business, however, pointed to changing needs – not all components were necessary for each assignee, given the need to balance individual needs with cost pressures.
With that feedback started the process of developing a new global policy matrix by Avery Dennison’s mobility team of three, headquartered in California with two members, one to support mobility for the EMEA region and one for Asia Pacific.
In charge of the latter is Barbara Lam, manager of enterprise mobility for Asia Pacific, who recalls the first step was to talk to the top global management and get buy-in before implementing it regionally.
“I explained to my key HR leaders in the region what we were doing, how and why this was going to help us move in a more cost-efficient way,” she says.
What ensued was the development of a new mobility strategy comprising three types of policies – long-term (more than 12 months), short-term (three to 12 months), permanent relocation and rotational for trainee programmes; and three types of compensation packages – full, basic and light.
The volume of assignees hasn’t decreased, and the business keeps coming back to us, and has welcomed our programme.
– Barbara Lam, manager – enterprise mobility, Asia Pacific, Avery Dennison
“These are tailored based on the seniority and needs of the assignee, and the business needs. This approach has helped us lower the cost for the business, and accommodate the individual needs. We will continue to review the policy based on the feedback we receive,” she says.
Implementation of this policy required close collaboration with business unit HR representatives and the business units, especially some countries within the 16 covered under Asia Pacific, for which it was the first time handling mobility cases.
“We spent a lot of time explaining and hand-holding them, which is worth it because then they know exactly what they need to do.”
Two years down, with more than 30 assignees being managed in the region, the real test of effectiveness of the policy is “repeat customers”, Lam explains. “The volume of assignees hasn’t decreased, and the business keeps coming back to us, and has welcomed our programme.”
In addition, Avery Dennison conducts regular business reviews with its global service provider TheMIGroup to not only stay on top of costs, but also assignee satisfaction.
Lam and her team also organise regular catch-ups with HR leaders, as well as speak to the assignees both before and after a relocation to gauge their happiness. “If they are not happy about something, they will say it diplomatically,” she quips.
Case 3: National Australia Bank
For Australia’s largest business bank, National Australia Bank’s (NAB) global mobility programme (GMP) comprises five policy types of assignments and permanent relocations – group initiated assignments, employee initiated assignments, short-term assignments, group permanent relocations, and employee initiated permanent relocations.
Generally, assignments span up to three years, with about a year’s worth of extension. In the past financial year, more than 200 NAB employees were a part of the programme.
Dora Christophidis, NAB’s global mobility programme manager, describes the goal of GMP is to cross-skill employees and empower them with greater capability to assume leadership positions in the future.
“We give our international assignees (IAs) the opportunity to live and work overseas, develop great global capabilities and eventually, share their newly developed skills and experiences with their business units back in their home country,” she says.
This is reiterated by Andrew McCasker, NAB’s GM for private wealth Asia, who is in the fourth year of his international assignment. “The opportunity to be exposed to cultural differences, while undertaking business has made me more aware and understanding of people’s views and beliefs,” he says.
Having a comprehensive individual development plan, supportive people leaders and team members have made this secondment possible.
– Iris Lo, National Australia Bank’s regional events specialist
IAs, such as McCasker, can come from most parts of the bank, including product specialists, markets specialists, and support function specialists from finance, marketing, people and risk. Support for IAs include tax assistance preparation, various insurances, home and school search, orientation programmes, cross-cultural briefings and reverse culture shock support, spouse assistance, temporary accommodation and other allowances.
NAB’s mobility programme is also open to employees from Asia looking to relocate to Australia for greater exposure and career development.
Iris Lo, NAB’s regional events specialist, based in its Hong Kong branch, relocated to Melbourne in October 2015 on a short-term assignment. “Having a comprehensive individual development plan, supportive people leaders and team members have made this secondment possible,” she says.
Driving this mobility strategy is NAB’s extensive effort to identify the most appropriate candidates – people who have a global mindset and resilience associated with change to be able to integrate smoothly into a foreign environment.
In delivering the GMP, NAB ensures policy benefits and allowances are benchmarked for market competitiveness, while the design is consistently reviewed by external consultants.
Moving forward, NAB plans on improving its outreach, as well as enabling more women to participate and take on higher-level roles on assignment.
At the same time, NAB continues to focus on fine-tuning its repatriation efforts to ensure IAs can integrate back into their home country’s business unit seamlessly after their assignment. This can be achieved by using more effective assignment tracking, management and reporting closer monitoring or support of the relationship between the IA and the home business.
Kate Colley, NAB’s head of people for Asia, says: “Economic links between Australia and New Zealand, and Asia are important and growing rapidly and we must ensure we have the right talent to ensure we can successfully execute our business strategy.”