Mike, you have designed a lot of mobility programs for European companies. What should companies consider if they want to redesign their mobility program?
First and foremost, programme definitely has a ‘double m, e’!
For me, it’s critical to know the company’s strategy and what mobility’s role is in making that strategy happen. It sounds obvious, but so many global mobility teams I work with don’t know what their true purpose or value to the business is. I like to hear first-hand from the business what their views and needs are. With key stakeholder input, you find out if you are designing a programme for talent enablement, operational effectiveness, business flexibility, or cost containment. I’m always fascinated by how much insight you can get from a dozen or so interviews – and how often the mobility team is surprised by the feedback.
Once you have that anchor point in place, other important things I always like to consider are their views on the balance between complexity and flexibility, duty of care and individual responsibility, and cost differentiation and fairness. There’s quite a long laundry list of things to consider, but if you don’t think about these things, the programme won’t deliver what the company needs.
When designing a new program, what do you find is the easiest part of the process?
Once the foundations of the new programme are in place, the subsequent steps flow naturally and can be pretty easy. For example, I’ve got more than 25 years’ experience writing policies, so that’s generally quite straightforward. That said, every policy is still different. It’s fun to understand the communication style of the company and craft policies and other material like employee handbooks, videos, assignment letters, and brochures, that reflect the company’s style.
Although it probably reveals my inner nerd, the other thing I find fairly easy and really enjoy is doing impact analysis work. I love digging into numbers and seeing how the recommendations translate into overall programme costs. Whether the company is looking for cost savings, a redistribution of spend, or to increase their investment in mobile talent, the impact analysis really helps understand the economic impact of the choices made, both for the assignee and at the programme level. I love the insights that are revealed from this step in the process.
On the flip side, what can be the most challenging?
I love the conceptual design process, although it can sometimes be very challenging. My role is to help steer the client through the maze of mobility options, think about the implications of choices, and offer expert advice. However, working with the client to balance competing priorities and find solutions to seemingly intractable problems isn’t always easy, particularly when there are hidden agendas involved! Getting everyone on board is often tricky, but once you do get there, it’s incredibly satisfying.
What program design are you most proud of?
Probably the one that stands out for me is a project I did with a company in the chemical industry. They had a new CEO who was radically changing the culture of the company. They wanted to make international experience a cornerstone of their talent acquisition and retention strategy. They also desperately needed to build a pipeline of future leaders having realised that 70% of their country general managers were due to retire in the next 5 years.
We designed a programme that put the acceleration of people’s careers front and centre. We also designed significant DE&I initiatives into the programme to help non-traditional assignees gain international experience on an equal basis. That project has had time to mature and it’s great to see the fruits of the decisions that were taken. The mobility programme now plays a fundamental role in enabling the overall talent agenda and a strong and diverse pool of future leaders is taking shape.
What trends in mobility are you most excited about?
Sustainability is the trend that gets me most excited. There are so many possibilities to make an impact. I’m part of AIRINC’s taskforce to embed sustainability in our own organisation and probably the most important lesson I’ve learned is that you can’t force people to change behaviours. However, you can offer information and choices that empower them to make more sustainable decisions about their assignment. There are multiple examples, but my favourite is the client who offered assignees a range of options for their home leave trips. Those eligible for business class fights could trade down to premium economy or economy. The employees could see how much CO2 was saved by the switch and the difference in ticket price was donated to a sustainability fund that invests in education for girls in Africa.
Mobility program design is not your only talent, tell us about your other pursuits.
I’m a keen runner and try to get out about three times a week. I’d never been athletic, so when I turned 40 I decided it was time to do the 20k of Brussels. The first time I got the mythical ‘runners high’ I was hooked!
When I’m not running, I’m singing. I’m a baritone and sing in two choirs. One is a chamber choir and the other a full symphonic choir. It’s so rewarding to work with about 100 other singers to create a magical piece of music, with a full orchestra in front of you and an audience of 2000 people or more who’ve come to listen to you sing.
Finally, I enjoy working in the garden. There’s not much hard physical labour in the world of global mobility, so I particularly enjoy heavy landscaping work. I’ve recently dug out a pond by hand. The blisters were quite sore, but it’s now a wildlife haven of newts, frogs, and dragonflies. We even get the odd passing duck using it.
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