Is Global Mobility in Fashion?

According to a recent study by Sterling Lexicon, the answer to this question is a resounding yes. They recently engaged with a number of organisations in the luxury goods sector to better understand which Global Mobility (GM) trends and issues are currently impacting their companies and mobility programmes. Here’s their press release…

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Representing global fashion houses, upcoming brands and high-end retailers, we identified a range of topics weighing on the minds of GM professionals working in this specific industry. And while our original premise was to identify common sector- specific themes, we concluded that many of the challenges faced by GM professionals are universal to all areas of the global economy. Nevertheless, we’ve carefully curated our Summer 2019 Collection in the following literary catwalk for your edification.

Policy & Programme Structure

Without question, policy sits at the heart of every GM programme, and inevitably this truism is germane to the luxury goods sector. Many organisations in this industry admit to a heritage of loosely formed and inconsistently applied policy approaches. Often, these have historically constituted a benefits matrix more than a set of formal policy documents. Organisations with larger programmes and an established mobility function have recently sought to bring greater structure to their programmes with formalised policies. Younger brands, those with smaller programmes for whom GM is just starting to take shape, recognise the potential pitfalls associated with the absence of a structured policy framework and acknowledge that this needs to be their goal. Executive-level sponsorship is widely advocated for effective change management, whether it be a change to an existing policy or implementation of a new one. One sector-specific challenge identified by a number of members of our panel was the absence of a strong governance culture within the organisation. This is potentially an obstacle to getting executive-level sponsorship when working within creative companies.

For those still managing issues arising from years gone by when a policy was whatever the assignee had negotiated into their assignment letter, the introduction of a GM framework provides structure and a comfortable level of consistency. Generally, the organisations we spoke to were moving to a more centralised approach but conceded that a one-size-fits-all approach was not appropriate. As a result, some regional flexibility on policy application has helped to engage the wider stakeholder group and navigate around the issue of regions feeling as though costs are being thrust upon them. This approach of a suite of policies cut from the same cloth and finding a happy middle ground between made-to-measure and off-the-peg, appears to be working for our group of programme owners. The programme structure provides clarity to potential assignees as to which policy they fall under and a consistent message from all internal stakeholders. That said, some organisations are still grappling with intra-regional moves from a policy and regional buy-in perspective.

Employee Experience & Policy Flexibility

Providing equality and introducing transparency into the programme structure has certainly aided these organisations in enhancing the employee experience. One member of the panel commented that “assignees were always suspicious that another assignee was getting a better deal.”

Policy flexibility, this season’s colour in vogue, inexorably came up as organisations in the luxury goods sector, like many others across all industries, grapple with changing demands for a different employee experience from younger generations in the workforce. Notably, we did not see organisations veering towards core/flex but rather finding alternative routes to introducing a degree of choice and individual customisation into their GM packages.

One novel introduction is the concept of a lifestyle allowance designed with the purpose of addressing perceived increases in the cost of things like after-school care, yoga classes, or even looking after elderly parents. Anecdotal feedback, since its introduction, indicates a reduction in noise from assignees according to one of our participants. In other cases, organisations have simply been applying a cash lump sum alongside services which again, has been well-received. Predictably, it is difficult to disentangle duty of care and well-being from the Gordian Knot that is flexibility. This topic was consistently a focus for the organisations we spoke with. All recognised the need for an international Employee Assistance Programme and cultural training programmes with an emphasis on the importance of making sure that all employees have the same access.

Technology invariably makes its way into any GM discussion, however conspicuously, our panellists did not make significant reference to it while discussing the employee experience. This is noteworthy given that some organisations in this industry have invested significantly in AI to enhance the in-store customer experience. Interest in the employee experience centred more firmly on the areas of policy flexibility highlighted above and providing emotional support. One of our participants remarked in relation to their own recent relocation experience, “I need a personal assistant more than someone calling me all of the time.” Well-being is a big focus for some of the younger brands that are set on giving assignees a world-class experience.

One organisation is introducing a local plus policy to help encourage mobility amongst its senior manager group while another has retained the unfashionable pet shipment in its policy, again with the aim of supporting the assignee and enhancing the relocation experience.

Talent Management

Identifying the right candidate for an assignment, or perhaps more realistically put, assessing the suitability of the candidate identified has increasingly come into focus. One organisation revealed to us that they are in the early stages of putting some psychometric testing in place to address this very issue. Other organisations spoke of taking active steps to review past performance and working with the business to ensure that a succession plan is in place. One of our participants astutely observed that the existence of a good global job architecture supports this process. A challenge that some organisations operating in this sector face is that different brands sitting under one operating company may not necessarily share similar HR or performance management systems, making it difficult to directly translate performance.

Of course, measuring performance throughout the length of the assignment and planning for repatriation are equally as important as getting the right person in the right role in the right place. One participant shared that the home country manager is responsible for the assignee even when they are out on assignment and it forms part of the manager’s performance management process. This organisation has introduced a deliberate policy of ensuring that there are four assessment points during the year rather than the standard two when an employee is on assignment. This helps to ensure that the home location manager owns the reintegration process when the assignment comes to an end. Repatriation is planned for and GM actively reaches out to the HR business partner six months before the planned assignment end date as standard.

Repatriation planning of course involves forward planning the role that an assignee will return to. Only a minority of the organisations we spoke to make a guarantee that the role the assignee left to go on assignment would be available upon return. The majority of organisations committed only to making every effort to find a similar role. Our panel emphasised the importance of good repatriation planning for employees who go out on developmental assignments. If these assignments are being used as they should be, to upskill high-potential employees, it is essential to ensure that the organisation is looking after the investment it is making in future leaders.


Some subjects seemingly never go out of fashion—or at least come back into fashion before they ever really left. Return on investment, that sartorial conundrum left in the wardrobe to be brought out occasionally and promptly returned to its hanger, unsurprisingly made an appearance. Some are determined to make a bold show of wearing it this summer.

GM teams as per the current trend are coming under increasing pressure to wear Business Travellers—one of those items that has been sitting on the sale rack for some time.

Finally, one insightful approach to exception management mentioned was to grade requests into risk categories: low, medium or high, with precedent-setting appeals falling into the latter category.