Even amid the global economic slowdown, international exposure is a necessity – thus the rise in popularity of short-term, cost-effective mobility assignments.

Jerene Ang speaks to HR experts from Grundfos, Infineon Technologies, JLL, Oakwood, and Sanofi to find out how short-term mobility assignments can be implemented.

Talent mobility has evolved over the years with today’s organisations increasingly using regional or global assignments to develop high-potential talent.

Driven by a tighter economy, a recent white paper from Crown World Mobility highlighted that lower-cost, short-term options such as talent swaps, chair swaps and seat moves are becoming more popular among organisations seeking to develop their talent through mobility, apart from the conventional long-term assignments.

In Asia Pacific, T.J. Spencer, vice-president of sales and managing director of APAC at Oakwood Worldwide, notes there has been a continued shift towards shorter term assignments as the number of Millennial employees entering the workplace takes hold.

“Organisations are using temporary assignments and younger workers on international developmental assignments to address skills gaps and remain competitive,” she says.

“Not only do these assignments provide organisations with increased flexibility, and opportunities for employees across the organisation to gain international exposure, they allow organisations to become nimble in their approaches.”

She adds these assignments enable organisations to have a tighter control over relocation costs, for example, housing expenses and in-country expenses, positively impacting their bottom line and achieving business objectives.

Similarly, Gary Lee, the chief HR specialist for global talent development, group HR – organisational development at Grundfos, believes that to meet immediate business needs and increase connectivity across boundaries, there will be an increasing uptake in shorter term employee mobility assignments.

In fact, through our conversations with a number of HR leaders, Human Resources notes that many organisations have short-term assignments in place which either aim to meet business needs, to develop employees, or both – and two such organisations include Grundfos and Infineon Technologies.

Case 1 : Grundfos

As a global leader in advanced pump solutions and a trendsetter in water technology, Grundfos views employee mobility as an opportunity to develop its promising employees in areas that would otherwise not have been possible in a local context.

The company currently has in place shortterm mobility assignments which are targeted at its global graduates where business needs and graduate competencies are matched up before the global graduate is placed in a specific job role over a six to eight month period.

Regarding these assignments, Grundfos’ Lee says: “Giving them greater exposure to different customer demographics and market challenges can increase their competencies to take on future senior leadership roles.”

Grundfos has in place short-term mobility assignments targeted at its global graduates where business needs and graduate competencies are matched for a six to eight month period.
- Gary Lee, the chief HR specialist for global talent development, group HR – organisational development at Grundfos
Shedding light on the business need of the policy, he reveals the need was twofold – to meet human capital demands and to develop talent for the future.

“The first need was to meet human capital demands where the business had a shortfall of the required expertise and the global graduate could fulfil it,” he says.

“The second need was to develop promising talent for the future and by providing them with short-term mobility assignments it gives them a more global perspective when they are placed in their permanent roles.”

The mobility policy, owned by the company’s group HR, was implemented in consultation with the various performance units.

Lee explains that to engage the parties involved and gain buy-in of stakeholders, the team had to work with business leaders to determine if there was a genuine need for a specific graduate expertise and get their commitment to dedicate resources and time to develop the global graduate during the assignment rather than placing them in a role that requires more paper pushing.

“Once the needs have been matched, the assigned line manager will brief the candidate on the expectations of the assignment and an introductory session will be conducted to ensure that expectations are communicated clearly between both parties,” he adds.

The key challenges Grundfos faced when implementing this programme was finding the right business need to develop the global graduates and providing an opportunity for the graduate to really contribute to the business instead of being hand-held most of the time, Lee says.

However, once the right mobility assignment is found, Lee says both the business and the global graduate will reap the benefits of the development programme.

“For the business, the graduate is able to influence the top or bottom line through projects they undertake. As for the graduate, they get a better understanding of the Grundfos work culture, which allows them to make a more informed decision where they would like to see their Grundfos career going, while being developed in the process,” he says.

In terms of measuring ROI, KPIs are established between the business and graduate before the commencement of the assignment, he says.

“Group HR plays the role of a mediator and support to ensure the goals are realistic within the stipulated timeline and are able to contribute to the business,” he says.

“For example, a global graduate could be tasked with the role of researching into the feasibility of launching existing products into new emerging markets. At the end of the assignment, the graduate is expected to deliver projected sales from each product stream based on initial business inputs.”

Case 2: Infineon Technologies

Being a global semiconductor company, employee mobility is an integral part of talent management for Infineon’s functionallydriven business in the various business group divisions and operations clusters worldwide.

However, employee mobility has many facets and an international assignment can serve many different purposes, says Stefan Piranty, director of human resources and international assignments at Infineon Technologies.

“The question whether to send an employee from one location to another is discussed on a case-by-case basis and must always fulfil business and/or developmental needs,” he says.

“At Infineon, we define short-term assignments as three to 12 months and longterm assignments as more than 12 to usually up to 36 months.”

While the company does not see an imminent and broadly perceived business need for potentially more cost-efficient alternatives to classical assignment types, it will be implementing a more cost-effective new training assignment policy which aims to offer an attractive and fair benefits package to predominantly more junior employees going on a three to 12-month assignment with a focus on receiving training.

“After we suspended our centralised global management trainee programme during the financial crisis in 2009, new decentralised trainee programmes serving local, regional or functional needs were started with only little guidance from HQ.”

Infineon, therefore, recently overhauled the structures and gave those existing – and any new programmes – a more uniformed focus and a common name and identity.

With international assignments having always been an integral part of such trainee programmes, the firm’s HR international assignments team used the opportunity to also review the terms and conditions of the trainees’ assignments – so far treated as regular shortterm assignments.

“We jumped onto the trainee programme revision project and will implement a new training assignment policy with effect from October 1, 2016,” he says.

HQ managers in R&D and central functions may not be as concerned about the overall cost of the assignment as managers in some of the more competitive and cost-conscious operations sites in Asia.
- Stefan Piranty, director of human resources and international assignments at Infineon Technologies
As the new training assignment policy is global and will predominantly be used for newly recruited graduates to become trainee programme participants, the company encountered very different perceptions of what such an international stint during a trainee programme may cost.

“For example, HQ managers in R&D and central functions were not as much concerned about the overall cost of the assignment as managers in some of our very competitive and more cost-conscious operations sites in Asia,” he says.

“The trade-off between ‘we want to get the best talent from the best universities for our trainee programmes’ versus ‘cost for an assignment abroad shall be low’ is not an easy one to overcome and the new training assignment policy is definitely a compromise.”

Under the ownership of the HR international assignments team, buy-in of the project from business stakeholders was ensured through the global HR business partner organisation.

“We involved our global HR business partner colleagues early and relied on their close contacts to the managers. We also shared project results with certain smaller sounding groups and tried to consider their feedback.”

While it is still too early to tell if there is actual cost savings with the new policy, he says cost projections based on a couple of reallife scenarios have shown that cost savings of between 20% to 25% compared with a classical short-term assignment is possible.

Responsibilities to be met

For any international assignment to be successful, the HR leaders noted that both home and host countries have to meet a set of responsibilities.

For example, Karina Cuello, JLL’s L&D director for APAC, points out that in her organisation, it is critical there is a clear purpose or project for the individual to be involved in.

“We look to match skills against a need in another team with the intention that the employee going on assignment has a clear set of objectives discussed in advance,” she says.

“The host manager is coached to ensure that he or she has the capacity to support the individual as required.”

Lynette Ng, head of talent management for Asia JPAC at Sanofi, adds that in the host country, the manager has to be very clear about what success looks like and the description of success has to be very clear.

“There has to be a wiring of support for the incumbent coming into that role. By support, it could mean the hardwiring side for the role itself. It might require a network of people, it could be having all the infrastructure and technology ready, all the way down to the knowledge related to that particular project – all this needs to be easily available in a timely manner,” she says.

On the other hand, the home manager has to respect that during the period of the assignment, it would be unfair or even ineffective if they were to tap on the incumbent too much where it relates to their old role.

“They have to respect that for the duration of the secondment, the individual needs to be fully dedicated to the assignment,” she points out.

“Both the home as well as host managers have to continue to engage in dialogue to support the development of the individual, particularly where it relates to leadership behaviour, leadership style and the skills the individual needs to work on – less on the functional side, but more on the competencies and behaviours that would be required for a successful secondment.”

Tips on implementing and measuring ROI on short-term assignments

Additionally, while speaking to Oakwood Worldwide’s Spencer, Human Resources compiled some useful tips on implementing short-term assignments as well as how the ROI of these assignments can be measured.

Ensure a central mobility policy with a clear set of core benefits, followed by a second tier of option benefits designed to meet the needs of assignees in particular locations This allows the mobility division to work alongside the different business units within an organisation to contain costs, comply and secure adequate housing, creating a flexible and localised policy.

Partner with an experienced accommodation provider Enabling employees, ensure cost-containment and a comfortable, home-like environment.

Experienced accommodation providers have access to a broad portfolio of serviced apartment solutions – both long and short-term and across wide geographies – to provide on-the-ground support to employees, ensure cost-containment and a comfortable, home-like environment.

Implement regular assessments of mobility policies This is to ensure the benefits are aligned to meet both costs and business objectives in order to achieve ongoing assignment success.

Track international assignment costs as an indicator of the financial impact on an organisation’s bottom line Requiring a cost-benefit analysis at the outset of a mobility assignment can help organisations create holistic improvement strategies, tailor what future mobility programmes should look like and assess whether the increasing trend of short-term assignments is proving cost-effective.

Measure employee development against the key performance indicators set at the beginning of each assignment This assesses whether an employee’s international skills are being utilised upon their return and are providing a significant contribution to the company.

Spencer points out that success of short-term expatriate projects will also depend on the nature of the assignment.

“Whether it’s a short-term assignment of less than three months or an extended business trip, there is no one-size-fits-all measure. Emphasis is on ensuring employees settle into their new environment to guarantee early assignment success,” she says.

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