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Do we need to lay the foundations earlier for our globally mobile employees?

This week I am interested in the foundations for a successful expatriate assignment. It got me thinking, the foundations of a building are incredibly important for it’s durability and it’s longer-term strength and resilience. Can the same be said for the foundations for our globally mobile employees? And if so, how can we lay durable foundations?

I had a few conversations this week about how organisations can talk openly with their globally (or potentially) mobile employees about what matters to them and other stakeholders in their expatriation. The practice of this within organisations seems to vary.


For the purposes of this blog, when we refer to globally mobile we mean employees who transfer across borders from one location to another, either for short or long term assignments.


One of my previous employers was skilled at global mobility and I was invited to a conversation with the career manager who oversaw Human Resources.

The conversation was great - we went over my career history and what I was working on as development. On the career management form it then asked ‘Are you globally mobile?’ and I said ‘Yes’. That was it, no further discussion at that stage.

What this form did not capture was that my partner had been asked the same question and had also said ‘Yes’. Between us we had loosely agreed that we would go with the first interesting offer.

This meant that both organisations were working with partial information. For my husband and I and our organisations, it would have been useful to have a wider conversation. We might have been open about our aspirations and try to plan for assignments in a way that benefited all parties. But we did not and one organization ended up with a globally mobile employee and the other ended up with a badly timed resignation.

So, how can we open up the foundational conversations without invading an employee’s personal space or asking questions that contravene employment laws?

How can we ask questions and support our employees without extending our duty of care or responsibilities too far? How about if the opening to this conversation looked something like this:


Career Manager / Line Manager / HR (hereafter Organisation): ‘As part of this career discussion, I’m really interested to hear if you consider yourself to be globally mobile. So, what are your thoughts around that?

Employee: ‘Yes’, ‘No’, 'Not sure'

Organisation: Ask follow up and probing questions

‘Tell me more about that?’

‘What does globally mobile mean to you?’

‘As you see it now, what do you need to support your global mobility and future moves abroad?’

‘What, if anything, might we support you with?’

‘How does this fit with your career development plans?’


The conversation can develop from here in terms of professional development planning for future roles, the organisation can begin to make plans and the employee has been prompted to think in more depth about what a future expatriation could mean for them. It begins to lay the foundation for a successful international assignment.


Top Tips:

- Ensure that questions do not contravene local laws or best practice.

- The answers do not predetermine a set course. This is a point in time conversation and an opportunity to open up a conversation about what matters to and what motivates our employees.

- Be open and curious in discussion and take a coaching approach.


At a time in the future, when decisions around international assignments are being made, the employee can be offered support for themselves and/or their partner to help them determine their readiness and what they need to take care of for their future. This is before any decisions are made and before other support is put in place to ensure that all key stakeholders to the successful expatriation assignment are included in the discussion.

What we are actually talking about here is preparing the ground before the foundations are even laid.

What do you think about laying these foundations early?

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