Global MobilityThe recovering global economy now offers increased career mobility to a larger number of employees. At the same time, with the changing generational dynamics of the workforce and the retirement of the baby boom generation, vacancies may arise in parts of the business that need to be addressed promptly in order to maintain continuity.

A number of strategies can be put in place to create greater staff mobility and support succession management as well as address potential skills shortages. A key strategy is to tap into the global workforce. Employees with the skills the business needs may well be available within the organisation already, working in overseas offices.

Companies and their employees have a greater opportunity to work across borders now thanks to technologies such as cloud-based collaboration tools and free VoIP communications. Technology has broken down borders, enabling a truly global workplace, but in many cases the language barrier remains an obstacle to skills-based succession planning and employee mobility.

A thorough succession management strategy includes foreign language and communication skills training for all staff, across the board. Organisations need to identify the availability of language skills and knowledge first, before planning how to make the most of staff talent and where to place people within the company.

Global talent pool

Once communication barriers have been broken down, skilled staff can be identified easily within the global talent pool and moved into different areas of the organisation. This also enables greater career mobility for highly skilled staff. An employee working for a German company with specialist IT skills might be transferred to fill a vacancy in the company’s Italian subsidiary, for example.

The Speexx Exchange 2013-14 Survey, a global study involving more than 250 global HR directors, L&D professionals and C-level executives, revealed five main issues that were hampering cross-border communications: lack of foreign language skills among employees (39%); Intercultural differences (28%); dispersed subsidiaries (16%); and lack of management support (10%).

Only six percent of interviewees cited the lack of technology as a barrier to better communications and in fact the evidence shows that the latest cloud-based learning technology is boosting communication skills training. The 2013 Towards Maturity Benchmark Survey revealed that over 43 percent of organisations are now e-enabling foreign language skills training – a staggering 350 percent more than two years earlier. The uptake in organisations using language learning technology comes as a direct result of a global shift towards more international business and the need to improve workforce communication across borders.

HR directors, CXO and L&D senior managers who contributed to the Speexx Exchange Survey all acknowledged that there were substantial gains from having a strong communications strategy and cited five specific areas that directly improved mobility through better communications. The highest percentage of respondents (43%) cited increased collaboration across borders as a key gain with 41 percent noting quicker time-to-decision across borders.

Improved competitive advantage in global projects was also key to over a third of respondents (39%) and a similar number (38%) noted a corresponding increase in the quality of customer care that resulted in an agile workforce able to respond to customers across borders and time zones. 33 percent of respondents also reported a reduction in internal conflict arising as a result of improved communication. Difficulties caused by the language barrier and cultural variations in communication can lead to frustration, mistakes and delays, hampering the agility of a global mobile workforce.

Almost a quarter (23%) of organisations also reported that they had achieved cost savings through their efforts to improve workforce communications. Significant cost savings might arise from identifying and using appropriate internal resources for cross-border projects, rather than hiring expensive contractors. Organisations can also make substantial savings on the costs of recruitment and training and development to address succession planning, if enhanced communications skills enable global employee mobility.

Of course there are benefits that may be less easy to quantify. Employee retention is likely to see improvement if staff are offered the opportunity of global deployment, overseas travel or postings and the chance to grow and apply their skills within a larger enterprise pool. Research suggests that the recruitment cost of replacing employees can be as high as 60 percent of an employee’s annual salary, with total costs associated with the impact on company turnover adding up to 200 percent of salary.

Increasingly, HR, learning and development professionals and IT departments are recognising the challenge and working closely together to implement a reliable, technology-driven learning strategy that is delivering communications training efficiently to employees who are dispersed all over a multinational organisation. This may include incorporating everyday business communication tools such as phone, email, video conferencing, and social networking into the training process and making sure that learning materials are integrated into employees’ everyday workflow, enabling them to learn on the job as and when they need to.

Looking to the cloud

A mobile workforce learning on the job needs correspondingly mobile learning solutions. Cloud-based learning systems may be accessed by a range of devices and from multiple locations, yet the Speexx Exchange 2013-14 Survey revealed that only one in three organisations feel cloud-based learning influences them. This looks set to change though, as 94 percent believe that those systems will become important in the coming years.

There is no doubt that organisations are recognising the numerous benefits of e-enablement and improved communications across every part of their business. As the pace of innovation continues to accelerate in the ever-changing borderless workplace, the need to empower employees with more specialised communication skills becomes crucial. These changes will enable flexible succession planning and create greater staff mobility.