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Stretch assignments, secondments and switches – Jerene Ang takes a micro view of today’s employee mobility assignments to uncover the ways in which organisations are opting for short-term moves.

Organisations traditionally approach international relocations with a long-term assignment approach. However, given the pressure of such assignments on companies’ tightening budgets, in recent years there has been speculation about the demise of the long-term assignment in favour of other mobility scenarios such as short-term assignments and one-way moves.

According to the 2016 “Global Mobility Policy & Practices Survey” by Cartus, due to the need for more support than other mobility types, long-term assignments cost more than other mobility types. With 71% of mobility managers citing cost control as a main challenge of relocating employees, it is no surprise long-term assignments are decreasing more than any other assignment type.

Over the past two years, 25% of mobility managers have reported a decrease in long-term assignments, while 15% have reported a decrease in its short-term counterpart, and 10% noted a decrease in rotational assignments.

At the same time, less than a third of mobility managers (32%) have reported an increase in long-term assignments, while almost half (44%) have reported an increase in short-term assignments, and 32% found an increase in rotational assignments.

With the increase in popularity of short-term assignments and other mobility types, we speak to Hootsuite, Kadence International, Publicis Communications, and REHAU to find out how they are making use of such assignments.

Hootsuite’s stretch programme: Mobility without the fuss of immigration

As more digital natives enter the workforce, one trend in the area of employee mobility includes the need for friendlier technology, simplification of immigration policies and documents, and time-saving mobility processes.

Having less patience for lengthy processes and documents, employees nowadays are looking for extensive mobility programmes that allow them ample opportunities for growth without too much fuss over things such as immigration and costs, observes Kairavi Majumdar, people partner for Hootsuite Asia Pacific.

“Being a tech company ourselves, we at Hootsuite understand and appreciate the need for technological advancements that make processes easy, simple and convenient,” she says. In order to meet employees’ need for growth opportunities, the social media management platform set up a programme called “the stretch programme” in June 2016.

Under the programme – which is a cross between mobility and learning and development – employees are able to sign up to gain insights into another area of the business through the completion of a project.

“The beginnings of the stretch programme grew out of the organisation’s commitment to learning and development and to provide a mechanism by which employees could build new skills without needing to change roles,” she explains.

“It’s a test drive. Under the stretch programme one can learn what knowledge and skills are needed to succeed in a different role or department of their choice and how they can potentially move into that role or department if their interest is sparked.”

From a business perspective, we feel strongly about investing in the continuous growth of our people because as our employees grow their capability, it benefits them and us as a business.
– Kairavi Majumdar, people partner for Hootsuite Asia Pacific

Applicants to the programme usually identify an idea they have for a specific project. They then pitch that project idea to a manager who must agree to manage the individual and provide coaching and feedback on the project.

“Support is provided to both participants and managers in the form of regular check-ins to ensure process is made.”

Through the programme, the participants develop new capabilities by identifying, scoping, managing and executing a project, Majumdar observes.

“They connected with different people across the organisation to build new relationships, and in some cases, gained an understanding of other roles. In addition, two participants found new roles in the organisation as a result of the programme.”

On the business impact, she says: “The pilot programme meant that some projects that otherwise may not have been completed were delivered.

“From a business perspective, we feel strongly about investing in the continuous growth of our people because as our employees grow their capability, it benefits them and us as a business.”

While a process to measure ROI hasn’t been developed, she reveals there has been great feedback from employees, adding it will ideally also serve to retain top talent. Moving forward, Hootsuite is exploring the possibility of expanding the stretch programme to include employees engaging in temporary assignments in other countries.

Kadence’s secondment scheme: Crossing borders to develop insights

While mobility is not a new concept, global visions, flexible working environments and technology have changed the process dramatically.

Recalling his arrival in Singapore from London six years ago, Philip Steggals, managing director for Kadence International, who also oversees HR, says: “When I first arrived, the protected expat package was already on the decline. I play rugby at an expat club and many older club members hark back to the days of large corporate packages, company cars and school perks.”

During these six years, he notes a dramatic shift in mentality. As the requirements for permanently moving individuals has decreased – replaced by flexible working practices that operate cross-border as well as from home offices and hot-desking – less companies are offering large expat packages.

A market research consultancy, Kadence has clients based regionally and around the world with business issues in multiple markets across Asia. As such the firm operates on two different kinds of mobility.

The first is flexible work arrangements for its team in Singapore. “Our teams have to travel abroad for meetings and fieldwork. Sometimes for day trips, sometimes for weeks at a time.”

With travel fatigue having an impact on staff health and increasing time off for MCs, Kadence implemented flexible work arrangements enabling its employees to work from home, off -site or to “bank” hours spent abroad to achieve the work-life balance they want.

“We were looking to provide more options to our team to allow them to ‘flex up’ during busy periods, but also to enjoy the ‘flex down’ during times when they were not as busy,” he says.

As we send in ‘envoys’ between offices – it becomes easier for those individuals to create lasting relationships that will allow smoother working cross-border when they return.
– Philip Steggals, managing director for Kadence International

Kadence’s second type of scheme is a crossborder secondment programme which opens up broader development opportunities to staff . Owned by the senior MDs, including Steggals, as well as the global head of HR, the programme sees employees stationed at one of its network offices for at least six months.

He explains the thinking behind this programme: “It allows individuals to gain greater experience and learn from a higher number of senior team members. It also helps us to foster a greater collaboration mindset between offices.

“As we send in ‘envoys’ between offices – it becomes easier for those individuals to create lasting relationships that will allow smoother working cross-border when they return.”

While employees are typically selected based on the need of the office receiving the transfer, he reveals the firm is looking into implementing more formal systems.

The new process would include selecting “rising stars” based on their contributions to the company and their future potential to help grow the company, as well as culture “ambassadors”. On the results of the programmes, he says: “In the past, the moves have been hugely successful.

“We have actually been able to increase cross-border revenue by around 30% as a result of someone moving offices after six months of the move.”

That said, the firm is planning to re-look at the way ROI is measured.

“At the moment, we have a very transactional approach – for example, do we think the additional revenue generated has paid for the move?

“However, as we expand the programme we will be looking at culture change and the measurements will be much more about the sharing of knowledge, which will help drive greater relationships with clients (and so drive the top line) rather than instant ROI.”

Saatchi switch: Bringing new ideas to the table a move at a time

As a global creative communications company under the Publicis Groupe, having an office with diversity is one of Saatchi & Saatchi’s priorities.

Benjamin Roberts, global talent acquisition and mobility leader for Publicis Communications, explains: “It’s good to have people of different genders and races coming in from different countries and backgrounds. They bring new ideas to the table and fresh thinking to new environments. People are constantly learning and being stimulated by having a wider range of friends of different nationalities.

“In the smaller world that we live in, this connectivity is important – especially since advertising is a very mobile industry and knowing people is important,” Roberts affirms about the importance of diversity.

These attributes are certainly important to Millennials who are constantly seeking new experiences. One of the ways in which organisations can meet this need and allow for the cross-pollination of ideas and experiences is to move staff around internally.

It was with this thinking the Saatchi “Switch” was developed, catering to Millennials’ need for a variety of experiences, shares Roberts, who was previously the worldwide chief talent officer at Saatchi & Saatchi.

“Millennials want experiences; they don’t want to stay on and just grow vertically. They might like to do two years in advertising, two years in client side and live in different locations for a while. So we thought about how we can give them the ability to travel, but also stay with our company.”

Under the Saatchi Switch programme, 20 offices, including Singapore, LA, New York, London, Shanghai, Sydney, Dusseldorf and Cape Town, were selected and each office would nominate a person for a sort of talent swap between geographies.

“We selected the offices and markets where we knew they had the right people in place to support somebody when they joined, the work wouldn’t be too dissimilar and there wasn’t a language barrier. When we work with China, we made sure it was an international account where the work was done in English,” he says.

People are constantly learning and being stimulated by having a wider range of friends of different nationalities. In the smaller world that we live in, this connectivity is important – especially since advertising is a very mobile industry and knowing people is important.
– Benjamin Roberts, global talent acquisition and mobility leader for Publicis Communications

While each office would decide who they wanted to nominate using their own criteria, the baseline was the employee had to be a high potential, a high performer and someone who they wanted to retain within the company.

“For example, if we are working on a pitch to a laundry business in Shanghai, we look for someone with experience working on laundry businesses who has probably travelled through Asia before.”

The roles would then be matched up and the employees would switch places for two or three months to work on a project. “We’re swapping roles like for like,” he says.

At the same time, they would be given weekly tasks to create content that could be used for the company’s website and social media properties, working as a talent attraction and retention tool.

“We see it as a training and development programme. When they come back, they have to do a presentation to the agency on what they have learnt there, the cultural differences, as well as what work they have done there.”

During their two to three-month stay, the company would pay for a serviced apartment and help them assimilate into the local culture by matching them with a buddy.

As with many such policies, selected employees would sign a contract which bonds them to the company for a year after they had participated in the scheme. Roberts explains the need for this: “While that is not something we wanted to do, we felt it was necessary. We didn’t want someone to go to another country to do an interview and get a job immediately when you’ve invested in the cost of the training.”

With the formation of Publicis Communications in January 2016 as a solutions hub consisting of Publicis Groupe’s global creative networks, including Saatchi & Saatchi, Leo Burnett, Publicis Worldwide, BBH, Prodigious, and MSLGROUP, the Saatchi Switch programme is currently on hold in a bid to scale the concept to a company-wide programme.

REHAU’s talent swap: Building a talent pipeline through mobility

Growing talent from within, i.e. growing its own timber, is the priority at REHAU, a global systems and service provider for polymerbased solutions in construction, automotive and industry with about 20,000 employees at more than 170 locations.

As a large, international company, REHAU is placed nicely to be able to leverage on mobility policies such as talent swaps to grow talent from within while developing a subtle succession pipeline.

Under REHAU’s talent swap programme, employees who are subject matter experts, or individuals who have successfully completed certain high-level projects, are selected to spend some time in another country to replicate the project or share their knowledge to develop talent.

Tarun Gulrajani, CHRO for Asia and the Pacific at REHAU, says: “HR owns the policy and we implemented it after taking feedback and inputs from business heads of countries and employees who had in the past been involved in non-formalised transfers.”

It is also providing a platform for recognition of talent so they can be seen as subject matter experts and learn how to help educate other teams on avoiding pitfalls and achieving success in a shorter amount of time.
– Tarun Gulrajani, CHRO for Asia and the Pacific at REHAU

During the implementation of the programme, the initial challenge came from business leaders who looked at it purely from a cost perspective, he recounts.

“Their concerns were multitude, what if the talent leaves? What if they can’t adjust to the new environment? Too many what-ifs?”

To ease the concerns of these business leaders, he says: “HR carried out cost comparisons as well as tangible results to the business from the success of these assignments.

“Furthermore, participants of the programme were given a thorough briefing of the new country’s environment; and a buddy was assigned at the new location to help ease the initial anxiety and ensure a smooth transition.”

He notes the main people impact of the programme was threefold: a reduction in attrition of key talent, a more productive talent base, and more engaged employees.

“It is also providing a platform for recognition of talent so they can be seen as subject matter experts and learn how to help educate other teams on avoiding pitfalls and achieving success in a shorter amount of time.”

In terms of translating this to business results, he shares that ROI is measured in two major ways: first, the successful outcome of projects being implemented; and second, the increase in revenue and EBIT to the specific country.

As a reminder, he points out that in order for these assignments to be successful, the home country has to ensure the objectives are clearly laid out from multiple perspectives, while the host country can ensure a smooth transition by making the assignee feel part of the host country.

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