Detailed process flows are an essential part of making sure your global mobility (GM) programme runs smoothly. Workflows help to clarify the steps that need to be followed by all stakeholders involved within your organisation in order to track and manage tasks as efficiently as possible. But the challenge for many GM teams is how best to optimise these processes in a way that makes them well regimented and controlled, and also easy to adhere to.
The solution for many of the companies we collaborate with has been technology: digitalising GM-related processes has enabled them to achieve consistent application, traceability, better management of exceptions and improved reporting on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).
Digital workflows should ideally integrate the following key functionalities to optimise processes:
- Date-based triggers/automated notifications
- Ability to involve stakeholders, in particular assignees
- Vendor access
- Exception management
- Data transfer and interfaces with HRIS and/or third-party software
The benefits of automated processes
Well thought through automated processes can adjust to different outcomes, reduce the risk of errors, improve transparency and facilitate accountability. To illustrate, the simple tracking via a reporting functionality of target vs completion date in mobility processes enables users to easily identify bottlenecks. With lead times getting shorter and shorter, this ability creates a clear advantage for mobility teams, who can recognise patterns and take action to address and prevent repeat hold-up cases.
Clear reporting on KPIs is one of the many demands made of GM professionals, and the data collated through automated processes is the perfect starting point to satisfy it, once filtered through the necessary analytics. The introduction of automation in processes can also make relatively complex or time-consuming activities, such as approval steps, much easier to handle. Even at a very basic level, for many organisations the most immediate advantage of introducing automation to processes has been the ability to access and extract the correct information quickly, without having to trawl through correspondence or multiple versions of Excel spreadsheets. This alone generates significant efficiency gains, and can raise the profile of the GM team.
It is particularly elaborate process steps, often requiring a lot of back and forth between stakeholders, which benefit from more automation and the use of a technology solution. Things such as concurrent tasks, tasks kicking off other processes and being able to introduce return options or ‘loops’ (for instance when it comes to an authorisation process), can all benefit from the introduction of automation.
Not only will technology help processes run smoothly, it will also allow for tracked versions, providing authors and editors with a complete process-management record and audit trail. For example, technology can be especially useful if your global mobility programme consists of a suite of different policies addressing varying assignment purposes, durations or other factors. An established process will help stakeholders within your organisation select the correct policy type for any assignments they are tasked with. As an example, in one of ECA’s implementations, this consisted of an automatically generated side-by-side comparison of multiple packages, at the assignee package level and at the full assignment cost level, on different policies, which was then passed on to the relevant stakeholders and enabled them to make an informed decision.
Automated notifications are an important part of any assignment management software. They can take the shape of e-mail alerts, which are extremely useful for occasional system users, who get notified of tasks awaiting their attention and action. They can also populate to-do lists, which enable day-to-day users to keep track of their daily tasks and activities. They are used to create reminders for when documentation needs renewing, which means all key dates are taken care of. They can also facilitate good communication among users at all stages of the process, initiate external vendor operations and kick off related workflow processes.
As these notifications are often date based, they need to cater for different cases and should be easily tailored to each specific scenario, such as getting a customised reminder three months before the end of a school year, which will vary by country and type of school. It is also extremely important that they allow for flexibility, such as being able to change the receiver of these notifications, or instructing the system to ‘cc’ certain additional parties.
Secure role-based access
Over the last couple of years, many organisations have had to undergo a review of their processes to ensure that the way they handle personal data is compliant to legislation. Despite GDPR not exactly being ’new’, it was only throughout 2018 that it became common knowledge; it certainly dominated many of the information security conversations we had with clients at ECA! Using a system for running workflow processes means data and information can be shared securely with everyone involved in the process, including vendors and, of course, assignees themselves. When several parties access a software tool that contains multiple layers of functionality but also confidential personal data, setting up appropriate levels of access for each stakeholder is extremely important. Workflow design should integrate data privacy into everyday work processes securing personal data, restricting access to it and ensuring users follow best practice.
The workflow functionality should allow for third parties involved in the processes, such as tax advisors and relocation management companies (RMCs), to be notified as to when they should start a piece of work or provide input. Digital workflow will produce requests for input or sign-off from third parties in a secure way, either by having a security setup put in place or by implementing an interface.
In the world of global mobility, mobile employees are often considered the customers, and internal customers need pleasing. Assignees are likely to have a high level of exposure to how processes have been digitalised, so in order to secure their buy-in, companies should aim at creating as positive an experience and interaction as possible with any new technology. Integration with workflow allows assignees to be tasked with certain actions when their participation is required, to ensure that compliance processes are adhered to and in good time; automated alerts and reminders can be used to keep these processes on track where necessary. One reason for getting the employee involved in a process would be for communicating directly and securely any changes to family circumstances (e.g. marital status, number of children, passports and visas etc). HR teams can of course be notified when an assignee is asking to update information so that they can review the changes at their end, for extra clarity and accuracy. This input can then lead to a package review if this is part of the company’s policy. Not only will this improve the speed at which information can be shared but it will also help the accuracy of the data being stored and, in the end, allow assignees to feel involved.
Another example of the way automated workflow processes can benefit assignees is the improved tracking and visuals of activities and to-do lists, such as assessing where things are at in the assignment process, being able to see what is already dealt with and what is outstanding. This will provide an enhanced user experience for the assignee which remains one of the most important goals for any HR department.
Managing process and policy exceptions
Although automated workflows are intended to generate more consistency and made to be adhered to, they also need to incorporate a measure of flexibility, allowing companies to identify and deal with exceptions to processes. It is important to first put in place the standard processes which will be applied to the most part of the company’s population and then decide where to integrate options for process exceptions which can then be tracked.
Policy exceptions are one of the biggest unknown costs which need to be controlled. This could be done either at package calculation level, on an ad hoc basis, or through a standalone workflow process where users are able to incorporate an approval system which would allow for escalation or flagging. A high-level overview, through the mentioned reporting function, highlights when a policy review is needed due to a high number of exceptions.
How to hit the ground running at the implementation stage
From ECA’s experience in working with multinational companies, implementing a technology solution for workflow is often not an easy task for the GM teams as it requires the larger HR community and business stakeholders to accept these processes in order for them to be formalised and bring rigour and discipline to how the assignment management works. Often this is not well received by all parties involved as they may feel scrutinised. The best way to address this issue is to involve all stakeholders at the start of the implementation and process creation to make sure that they understand the high-level aim and to get their approval from the start.
However, it is equally important to be realistic. What is the company culture? What resources can be made available? What level of flexibility will be needed? What amount of rigour can the organisation cope with and what is the ultimate goal? Is it demonstrating turn-around time or ensuring consistency of steps? Organisations will want to avoid investing in a system and finding out later on that it isn’t used. Aside from all technical aspects of an automated workflow implementation, the GM teams involved should also consider suitable communication to prepare the ground for the change of mentality and way of working required to make a success of the project.
When implementing digital workflows, it is also important to ensure that the existing process steps to be mapped to a system have been reviewed, and that it is clear who is involved and what the end goal is. Many companies will have informal processes and practices already in place to try and ensure consistency but often, such processes are not enforced across the organisation. Assignment management software allows companies to formalise these processes and bring rigour and discipline to how the global mobility function works, regardless of where the user is based.
Ideally, time and resources should be allocated to this review before starting the work of implementing workflows in an assignment management system. Taking the opportunity to revisit processes allows users to take a step back and get a different perspective, which in turn will help map out new or amended processes to the organisation’s requirements. This can be done by looking at the stakeholders that are currently involved and deciding whether any changes are needed going forward. Seeking feedback from all stakeholders before finalising any process is also good practice, especially when the different parties’ approval and participation are needed.
There are a wealth of benefits to using technology as a means of optimising workflow. As long as the implementation is handled correctly and there is general backing for a new system from staff, several positive changes can be established across an organisation, including:
- Enhanced security of data within the work environment
- Consistency of messaging and brand across the business
- Improved user experience and tracked changes, authors and editors in a complete process-management record and audit trail.
All of these will of course free up time for global mobility professionals to focus on value-adding tasks, and help make their lives that little bit easier, which, after all, is what an assignment management tool should be about!
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