September 29, 2023
The Importance of Preserving Mobility Program Knowledge
Capturing, documenting and sharing knowledge isn’t an easy task, particularly when it comes to the complexities of global talent mobility. But investing time and resources to get it right can make a meaningful difference to business success.
The accelerated pace of change we continue to witness brings plenty of both opportunities and risks for today’s business leaders. One of those risks is the speed with which many organizations can lose critical institutional knowledge – a dynamic that is altogether too easy in the face of rapidly advancing technology, shifts in strategic priorities, mergers, acquisitions, or changes in leadership and other key personnel as people relocate, move on to new jobs or retire. Organizations have long grappled with figuring out how knowledge and skills aren’t just “in the heads or hands” of a few, but translated into policies and procedures that can be easily replicated and passed on for the good of the whole company. The faster things move and change, though, the shorter the shelf life of those practices and disciplines seems to be, and it can be tempting to de-prioritize the efforts needed to keep them going.
For services that are typically outsourced – in full or in part – the challenge is even more difficult, as institutional knowledge is held by both internal and external stakeholders. This is one of many ways where the importance and value of mutually respectful relationships and a regular practice of information sharing between partners becomes highly evident.
With global mobility growing increasingly more complex while simultaneously becoming more deeply integrated into overall business strategy and operations, it’s more important than ever to be proactive about retaining program knowledge. Before we get into how to capture it, let’s consider some of the important reasons why it’s worthwhile.
Preserving history saves valuable resources.
None of us want to think about another global event that could upend the world the way COVID-19 did, but it’s essential we preserve the lessons learned from it and build on that knowledge for future readiness. Understanding the role mobility teams played in initially helping to identity the locations and ensure the safety of all personnel, then tracking global assignees, business travelers and remote workers, including what types of work they engaged in for how long and in which locations, was critical to business continuity and global compliance. Much of this remains an ongoing challenge today as we continue to navigate the evolving landscape, but preserving the playbooks – and how they developed and changed over time – will certainly help organizations be on much stronger footing for whatever disruptions may come next.
As we’ve seen with the recent changes in the housing market, sometimes, what’s old is new again. Your company may have approaches or policies in place that addressed things like loss on sale or negative equity that you have not had to use in decades. Having a good handle on what trigged their use, guidelines around who received what level of benefit and why, and how it was treated from a tax perspective will all be very useful, helping you avoid having to “recreate the wheel.” Even if you choose to make significant updates, starting with a solid foundation will help save you time and money.
Documenting mobility program knowledge fosters greater inter-company collaboration.
Greater connections continue to be made between talent mobility and other areas of the business. From helping recruitment assess candidates and align skills and cultural capabilities with needs, to tracking movement and job responsibilities to providing greater levels of family support, mobility teams have a lot of important information to share. As one HR generalist put it “Mobility knows things I don’t.” The more sophisticated and detailed that information capture is, the more opportunity there is to share it across the business. For example, how can the mobility team support internship programs, DE&I goals or business travel policy? Can their immigration expertise help other business leaders decide what locations their teams can best recruit from and for which roles? What mobility survey data might help the business improve the employee experience or foster stronger cultural awareness in other areas? There are plenty of opportunities for cross-functional knowledge share. And speaking of capturing and sharing data, global mobility teams and their service partners are also well versed in personal data protection, privacy and security best practices, and can help guide the business arrive at the right formula for blending knowledge transfer and global compliance.
Clear documentation protects against knowledge erosion and leads to better decision making.
For a variety of reasons, people change jobs and companies, and you don’t want core knowledge about your program moving along with them. The better the talent mobility strategy is documented and the more people who are in the know, the less risk you have of losing key insights around what policy decisions were made, and why. In fact, understanding the “why” behind assignment and policy decisions is just as important as the “what,” but that information runs the risk of being much more likely to fall in the camp of what’s “inside people’s heads” vs. written down and documented.
Anyone who has ever been through a global mobility RFP process or brought in new partners to provide mobility support understands the importance of having all stakeholders – both internal and external – in agreement on the goals of the mobility program. Organizations continue to grapple with how to bring greater flexibility and choice into their policies while controlling their costs, but the best recommendations can only be made when the total picture is clear: including relocation drivers and objectives, locations, employee demographics, length/types of assignments, number or tiers of desired support, budget and company culture. The same is true at the implementation stage when onboarding a new partner: everything must be fully and clearly documented so all parties know not just what is behind each policy offering for all types of moves, but how moves are initiated and supported, which benefits are available to each moving employee and family member and what shaped the decisions.
So, it’s clear that detailing and preserving institutional global mobility knowledge is important, but how do you accomplish it? Following a few basic steps will help:
- Define the most important things to capture and preserve.
One of the best ways to start is to identify which things you want most, if not all, people on the team to be able to know. For most organizations, that list will involve a blend of the many different types of knowledge that exist, including tacit, procedural, implicit, explicit and cultural. When it comes to mobility, this exercise can get tricky pretty fast, as it involves and crosses over so many areas of highly detailed and specific expertise, such as tax, immigration, accounting and payroll. Going back to the points made above, it’s probably best to start by focusing on company culture, program goals and number or tiers of support, which employees they apply to and why. Relocation service partners can and should play a vital role in this process, as ideally, they are already sharing and reporting on not just key program metrics, but broader market trends and industry best practices that have the potential to drive current changes or shape future policy revisions. When HR and global mobility teams are equipped with that information, it’s much easier to explain to or “connect the dots” for other stakeholders about why mobility changes may be needed or costs may be fluctuating. It also provides a roadmap for future program and budget discussions, helping companies anticipate what changes to be prepared for, and understand how similar factors were addressed in the past.
- Foster a culture of knowledge sharing.
For the effort to succeed, it’s important to have the motivation of multiple stakeholders to commit to it, but appointing a few ambassadors or champions to lead knowledge preservation and sharing efforts can help the team stay organized and on track. As noted above, organizations who outsource all or part of their mobility program will want to ensure buy-in from internal team members as well as designated representatives from their relocation management company and other service partners. Demonstrating and regularly reinforcing the value of the efforts is a good way to help the team stay inspired. Promote continuous learning and improvement by rewarding those who regularly engage in knowledge sharing, either through internal companywide platforms, such as town halls or intranets, or both internally and externally as part of regular performance assessments.
- Keep it as simple as possible.
Once you’ve determined what essential information you want to ensure you capture, you’ll need to decide how and where to store and share it. Employees and partners are much more likely to contribute to knowledge sharing efforts if the process for contributing is relatively easy. Relocation portals or platforms that integrate with the company’s HRIS can be a huge time saver in gathering and capturing essential details, as can your program or partner surveys and annual business reviews. While simplicity and ease of access are the ultimate goals, it’s also important to understand that people learn and retain knowledge in different ways, and variety keeps it interesting and engaging. Choose a platform that allows you to incorporate documents, audio visual recordings, fact sheets or best practice top tips, Q&As and infographics or other visuals that support multi-layered learning.
Whether we’re fully conscious of it or not, it’s human nature to experience some level of fear that our jobs may be at risk if we share too much of our own knowledge and expertise. On the contrary, though, when other areas of the business have full visibility into the extent of the skills and expertise that go into developing and executing a competitive global mobility program, it can only contribute to the continued elevation of the value mobility brings to the businesses’ overall strategy and success. Building knowledge preservation and sharing practices within your organization is by no means an easy task, but it’s an important one. Investing time and resources to ensure it is done well will pay dividends down the road for you, your team, your service partners and your mobile talent.
This article was originally published in Issue 3 2023 of Mobility magazine. It is republished here with the permission of Worldwide ERC®️.
David Bradstreet is director of business development with Sterling Lexicon, where he brings 30 years of operational and business development experience in the mobility industry to his role. He has been with the Sterling Lexicon team for over two years. Prior to joining the company, David spent 12 years working with two different relocation management companies and 15 years with United Van Lines.
David's career in mobility started during his college years, when he was a packer and semi-truck driver for a moving and storage agent. David’s experience also includes living in Brazil during his college years. He holds the CRP certification and enjoys facilitating virtual and in-person group discussion, thought leadership and challenging the status quo.