Talent mobility is evolving from relocation management to global talent brokering. Here is what it means for mobility professionals and international HR teams.

This article is part of a series analyzing the evolution of talent mobility. In the first article of the series, we explained how talent mobility has to be redefined and shift from relocation issues to a more strategic view of a managing a globally distributed workforce.

In the second article, we explained that virtual assignment is a new feature of managing internationally distributed workforce and that this concept should be discussed as part of the general remote working debate.

In this third article, we detail how global talent brokering underpins globally distributed workforce management and the new role that HR and mobility teams will have to play.

What is talent brokering?

Talent brokering is about connecting businesses looking for skilled individuals with talent owners/sources. External recruiters or talent matching platforms helping companies recruit talent to fill full-time jobs or find gig workers for specific projects are performing a talent brokering exercise.

However, talent brokering is also an exercise performed within companies to help match talent between business units and functions across geographies – in other words connecting the dots in the context of a globally distributed workforce. In practice, this means that a talent owner (a business unit) can lend temporarily or transfer permanently talent to another business unit needing more resources or having skill gaps.

The concept of talent brokering usually refers to recruitment activities. The definition should however be broadened to cover the whole process to identify, nurture, and match talent as well as the development of a consistent talent and job mobility framework. A successful talent broking process at an international level requires cross-functional collaboration.

Different types of mobility underpin the talent brokering process:

  • The mobility can be internal (between business units) or external (gig workers, talent exchange, peer talent pool).
  • It can involve cross-border moves (traditional long-term expatriate assignments, rotator and commuter assignments, and short-term assignments) or not (locally-hired foreigners and remote working).
  • It can be about moving across functions (lateral moves) or constitute a promotion within the same business (vertical moves).
  • Finally, talent brokering can also be about moving jobs to people.

The business case for integrating mobility in a global talent brokering approach

Talent mobility, in the narrow sense of expatriate management, has been traditionally a fractured exercise – i.e. managing a series of individual moves with only limited alignment with talent management practices and the broader longer-term business strategy. The focus has been on addressing practical issues linked to expatriate moves already decided by management as opposed on reflecting on the wider talent mobility and staffing options. This tactical focus has reduced opportunities for mobility teams to participate in strategic business discussions.

Integrating the mobility activities in a wider talent brokering framework helps to reconnect talent mobility with its original objectives: addressing talent gaps as well as fostering talent development and retention.

Retention has always been important for highly mobile talent moving from country to country who struggle to find a suitable job back home. The crisis is giving a new urgency to the retention question. Companies need to redeploy talent from less dynamic to more dynamic markets at short-notice. Frameworks deigned to temporary share talent between business units or even between companies are useful tools to foster retention and to build up corporate agility and resilience.

As the crisis abates, companies will need to adjust their mobility patterns to the new realities of their businesses. This adjustment will not just be a basic review of current and future moves. It will take the form of a revaluation by the whole business of the skills required, the adoption of new processes and technologies, and changes in supply chains. HR and mobility teams should not be excluded from these discussions and need to position themselves differently to remain relevant.

Mobility has traditionally been about having the right talent at the right place for the right cost. Global Brokering is adding a new dimension: developing an agile and structured process to ensure that global staffing needs are met timely and that mobility facilitates effectively this process.

A pre-condition for effective talent brokering: redefining jobs

Talent brokering is not just about matching talent with pre-defined jobs. It is about assigning work to talent globally based on different parameters including skillset availability, work requirements, as well geographical and business considerations. This implies a deconstruction of the concept of job and taking into account the evolution of work in the direction of more focus on skills and flexibility.

The concepts of job and the career are evolving:

  • Originally, the concept of job has been rigidly defined. A career path was meant to occur within a silo (i.e. vertical career progression with few lateral moves between functions) and was underpinned by grades. The skills requirements were aligned with fixed job descriptions.
  • Over time, the concept of career has become more flexible and organizations opened the possibility of more cross-functional pathing. Broad bands have been introduced to address the limits of rigid grades. Jobs have been evolving into roles with related skillsets.
  • Leading companies are now defining career as an experience rather than a series of predefined steps. The concept of role is still used but skills become the main driver.
  • The next steps of the evolution – a future-focused one – is looking at career management from the perspective of an internal market place where skills and skills requirement are matching. Organization structures are flatter and the focus is not so much on vertical progression as on flexible talent exchange. Talent go on a series of “assignments” – these could be international assignments but also other forms of temporary work performed for different business units based on business requirements (internal gigs.)
No alt text provided for this image

Source: Mercer, 2020 Global Talent Trends, Reenergized workforce

However, the concept of talent brokering as part of an international talent marketplace still requires to deliver a consistent experience for the employees and long-term value for the company to be applicable. That is where HR and mobility teams have a role to play.

Building a consistent framework: the role of HR and mobility teams

If talent brokering and talent mobility are about managing a series an internal placements and moves without overarching framework, they could create a frustrating experience for the employees and limit business benefits over the long-term. The early experience of the gig economy illustrates these risks: the sums of all gigs do not make a consistent career. It creates insecurities as well as inequalities in compensation packages and benefits. It also raises questions about belonging, teamwork and company culture.

HR and mobility teams have an important structuring role to play in the global talent brokering process. They remove the barriers to international talent matching by assessing the feasibility of different types of mobility, ensuring compliance, containing costs, and improving employee experience. Instead of managing a relocation exercise in isolation from the wider business considerations, they are actively involved in the decision process designed to connect talent owners with business units having talent gaps or urgent needs.

They also help setting the overarching employee value proposition. In other words, giving a purpose, a sense of direction and opportunities for personal development to employees in a context of constant change. What skills will I learn during this assignment? What does this move mean for my lifestyle and aspirations? How will it position me for future work opportunities? A well-defined mobility framework and value proposition must answer these questions clearly.

International HR and mobility professionals should not feel constrained by their traditional purview and need to understand that traditional international assignments are just one option among many scenarios. Mobility teams should lend their expertise support part of other forms of mobility and international staffing issues. Mobility professionals will have to choose between positioning themselves as enablers of a greater talent brokering exercise or remaining stuck in a well-defined niche role with an uncertain future. Both options present challenges but the hurdle of reinventing oneself is less perilous than running the risk of becoming irrelevant.

Published by

Olivier Meier
Principal at Mercer | Helping Companies Go Global | Consulting, Data and Technology to Support Talent Mobility
43 articles