Talent Mobility: 2019 Buzzwords

  • Published on July 8, 2019

By Olivier Meier, Mercer; Principal | Helping Companies GoGlobal | Consulting, Data and Tech

Talent Mobility buzzwords always come in a mixed bag including both highly relevant ideas that help us look at management practices in a different way and corporate neologisms that leave practitioners utterly puzzled. In any case, we should pay attention because these buzzwords do tell us something about current global trends, companies’ concerns, and how talent mobility is evolving.

Find out more about previous years’ buzzwords:

Here is a selection of 2019 buzzwords and insight about what we can learn from them about talent mobility practices.

Brand Resonance

Barriers between HR and marketing are becoming blurred as HR needs to lead the employer branding team. Typically, employer branding is linked to recruitment, but it pervades all aspects of HR: mobility (leveraging the mobility programme to attract and retain talent), talent management, and compensation (understanding the value of what’s being offered.)

However as the Mercer’s 2019 Talent Trends study reports: “Window-dressing perks and slick portals are not enough; more important is how the brand is infused into day-to-day practices and whether companies stand up for the values they put forth.”

A mismatch in values can diminish an employee’s commitment. The mismatch can be a question of ethics (for example due to data manipulation or implementation of AI), of equity (pay and promotions), or empathy (not understanding what motivates employee).

Aligning practices with values can be a challenging task, and according to the Mercer study only 22% of employee give their company a top mark for ensuring equity and promotion decisions.

For a brand to truly resonate, it needs to cater to the specific needs and expectations of different employee groups.


Increasing individualization is an important feature of the future of work. For companies, the objective is not to create additional policies or processes but to determine how a given policy is responding to the needs of different employee groups and, if necessary, make adjustments and prepare more personalized messages.

In talent mobility context, different assignee personas could include, for example: young professionals focused on learning and boosting their careers, older employees having specific requirements in terms of health and preparation for retirement, single parents concerned about day care, families worried about schooling issues and the issue of dual career, top managers with high expectations, and locally hired foreigners who are already based in the host location.

The question of personalization also influences the reward approaches.

Differentiated Rewards

Differentiated rewards came on top of the reward priorities in the Mercer 2019 Talent Trend study (36% of respondents saw it as a priority). Differentiating rewards means not only offering a wider variety of incentives but also differentiating rewards for high performers. The differentiation needs to be combined with transparency and equity.

The question of performance management can be more complex for international assignees, as it driven by the specific objectives of each assignment type as well as the conditions in the host and home locations. In many cases, traditional performance measurement doesn’t involve assignment-specific goals – e.g. training the local workforce or successors. This could lead to scenarios where the performance of the assignees might be judged as good while in reality the assignment was not a success because skills were not effectively transferred to the local workforce. From a process perspective, the exchange of information and lack of coordination between the home and host location might lead to a very superficial assessment of the performance.

Innovation with rewards is also driven by high-demand skills.

Skills Economy

In a narrow sense, the skills economic refers to the gig workers but the trends behind the gig economy are becoming relevant for all workers, freelancers, or employees. Organizations are increasingly paying for skills rather than for position as such. Employees with skills in high demand (often digital ones) can expect a premium compared to their sometimes older peers. This implies understanding the relevance of the skills of potential candidates and their experience (skill depth), the business priorities in terms of upskilling (and urgency), and the global competitive environment (skill supply).

The new skillsets required by companies are transforming traditional roles and lead to the emergence of hybrid jobs.

Hybrid Jobs

Digitalization is prompting companies to look for new talent profiles and more specifically for “hybrid profiles“. The characteristic of a hybrid profile is that it combines the skills and knowledge of different lines of business or functions. It could be, for example business managers with advanced tech skills and who can work closely with the IT department, finance and HR managers who can rely on analytics to provide strategic input, or HR team members who can use marketing techniques to boost employer branding.

Mobility has a role to play to help develop these new forms of hybrid talent. High profile employees will be required, through international developmental moves as well as lateral moves between functions, to upskill or reskill and match the requirements of the future of work. Mobility programs are commonly used for talent development: 65% average across all industries and countries (Mercer’s 2019 Talent Trends study). Mobility should be understood in a wider sense and not be restricted to geographical mobility. In practice talent mobility is a combination international moves and lateral mobility between job functions.

The increased focus on the development of talent means that talent mobility managers are increasingly perceived (or at least want to be viewed) as employee experience curators.

Employee Experience Curator

Digitalization, increased mobility (in many forms and not just traditional expatriation) and rise of remote working are changing the employees’ experience. Ensuring smooth relocation or virtual international collaboration requires new approaches and tools. The objective is to have a more holistic approach to international assignments (i.e. including the entire family, the long-term career evolution and the overall well-being of the employee) and provide employees with the tools they need to perform effectively while avoiding information overload.

The added value of talent mobility professionals and a part of the justification of their roles is about curating all related employee experience moments in the life cycle of an assignment and find the right balance technology and human interaction, as well as strike a happy medium between self-service tools and paternalistic approaches.

One way to focus on the employee experience is to adopt a design thinking approach.

Design Thinking

Design Thinking is a collaborative approach to finding new ideas and solutions based on the input from all stakeholders, as opposed to trying to impose processes on people and make assumptions based on theoretical concepts disconnected from the day-to-day activities of employees. The concept originate for product design and IT, but, like Agile approaches, it is increasingly used for HR solutions and programs.

The fundamental questions behind the Design Thinking philosophy are: How to put the employee’s experience at the center of the solution development process? How to learn from stakeholders and end users’ experiences to simplify processes and make tool and solutions intuitive and easy to use? Ultimately the objectives are to increase employee and business stakeholder satisfaction, leverage efficiencies, and increase return on investment.

The rising of agile teams specialized in design thinking is contributing to a surge in the number of cross-functional teams.


We often hear about onboarding, a concept that has existed since the 1970s and details structured approaches to provide new employees with the information and skills required to become efficient in their jobs. Onboarding has enjoyed additional exposure as new technology increasingly offers technological solutions to manage and automatize processes. But onboarding new recruits is only a first step in the employee journey. Crossboarding which is about leveraging existing resources within the organization as opposed to recruit externally is becoming equally important as organizational changes trigger more lateral moves – i.e. moves between functions – and increase the number of cross-functional teams. More generally the development of crossboarding is a recognition that fostering lateral moves is important for both the companies and the employees.

It is also a solution to address one of the perennial problems of international mobility: the difficulty to find a suitable job within the company upon repatriation. If it doesn’t work, the next step is offboarding.


Offboarding is the separation process when an employee leaves a company – but it doesn’t have to be the end. Some companies go to great lengths to maintain a link with their alumni. These alumni are viewed as the best ambassadors of the company and of its mobility programs. Another equally valid reason for caring about alumni is that they constitute an important talent pool for companies. International assignments can create situations where the companies cannot guarantee a job upon repatriation, or where assignees prefer to stay in the host location or move to another non-business essential location. Carefully managing the departure of these employees and keeping a link with them leaves the door open for future cooperation.

The future of work is about changing employers frequently, switching between career paths, and allowing individuals to market themselves globally. Under this model the ability to attract and retain gig workers or re-employ high performers multiple times is a differentiator. Alumni, and former international assignees in particular, should be carefully managed as a part of the extended potential talent pool.

Find out more about Talent Mobility topics on Mercer Mobility Exchange