Natalie Agostinho: Mobility transformation – Reflections on preparing for change

Stakeholder engagement and readiness are very important at the British Council. Here Natalie Agostinho discusses the redesign of the global mobility programme within the organisation and how these two issues are key to the process.

I remember starting a new job once where I was asked to describe in detail how my previous employer (a competitor) had managed their global mobility operations. My new employer (admiring of the progress my old employer had made in moving their people around efficiently and consistently in their approach) was convinced that they simply needed to copy exactly what their competitor had done in order to achieve success in delivering their own GM programme. Of course, this didn’t work at all, and the more decentralised structure of my new employer could not in any way support the group-led strategies of my old employer.

However, that employer was certainly not alone in wanting to find the magic bullet that would fix their GM woes and enable an efficient and business-valuable delivery model. One of my most enduring memories of working in consulting is being asked countless times to provide an ‘off the shelf’ solution for clients seeking to add something to their process or operations model, or even where they had committed to a full change agenda. However, it is my experience that appreciating that every organisation is different, while understanding its’ culture and structure, is key to the success of any development or transformation project.

Easy to say, not so easy to do, right? Especially when we all know that building or implementing any change requires stakeholder buy-in. Whether that be from the Board (approving strategy and costs, for instance), or from our GM team (who are being asked to adjust their ways of working or engage with new stakeholders and vendors), or from across the business or other corporate teams.

Of course, the only way to really get buy-in from our stakeholders is through investing in the relationship and identifying the ‘what’s in it for them’ angle, but that can be difficult to develop (or uncover), and even where we can, it’s all too easy to get focused on a primary goal that, in the end, might reveal itself to be less important than that sneaky thing lurking in the background that kept derailing all the progress we had been making (e.g. it’s usually process that’s the issue, and not the technology, but I have lost count of the number of projects I have been on where technology has been the focus in the hope that it would fix all of the ills)!

The most successful transformations I have been a part of have always sought the involvement of key stakeholders well before they got started. Their involvement is critical to understanding how they feel that the existing structure can be improved upon and what any additions and changes might comprise of. Their involvement also helps to ensure a thorough understanding of how the business operates, who will make decisions (and with what remit, i.e. will it be global, local, business unit, HR, etc?), what the priorities are for the change and how they will affect the organisation. Clearly, this is no small undertaking, and can take significant resource time and effort. It is true, though, that the early investment pays off later in more targeted business case discussions and easier resolution of issues.

For me, nowhere has stakeholder engagement and preparedness been more important than at the British Council. This is a very devolved organisation, with complexities around managing challenging local needs and regional oversight, while attempting to maintain global parity. Not forgetting our interactions with government departments and meeting regulatory and public requirements, which are often even more rigorous than I have encountered in commercial environments.

Until recently, the BC Mobility team has managed a defined programme centred around one major policy and a rotation of staff who have largely been UK outbounds working abroad for many years. We’re seeking to extend support to all globally mobile staff, which means, naturally, that we have to change the way we work to reflect the diversity of different expat groups. As we move to evolve the Mobility programme to become more sustainable and flexible (supporting all types of talent and workforce planning arrangements), we uncover multiple priorities and diverse expectations, which need to be addressed and understood, precisely because these have been managed in different ways across the 110 countries in our network. Where, in other organisations, I might have been able to rely on market experience and the use of benchmarking across the Mobility space, I find this is sometimes insufficient in an organisation where managing diverse local challenges are at the core of our business. Therefore, I need to spend my time really getting to know what those local challenges are, and networking across the local and regional HR and business teams, in order to build the knowledge and relationships I’ll need to enable delivery of an innovative programme that will see us into the future. This can sometimes feel like a never-ending task because there is so much to learn and understand, and I could delay starting implementation forever in taking the time to absorb everything! Meanwhile, we need to meet the demands of our business and they need us to get going. So, we need to find the right balance between gaining knowledge and building relationships, and implementing the solution within a reasonable timeline.

With all of this in mind, we’re designing an operating model that works specifically for our organisation. While we look to market practice to help us define benchmarks and enable a consistent and competitive approach to the policy and programme, we know we need to be innovative in some areas because we do not always find that we have natural parity with other organisations in this space. Cue, more stakeholder engagement as we seek approval for new procedures and policy approaches. We, like all organisations, want to enable local HR and line management to feel in control of the mobility of their employees, while also trying to ensure a consistent and appropriate level of compensation and service delivery for all of our assignees, and we’re building a policy structure that underpins this with commercial flexibility and the ability to access and deploy talent rapidly and strategically. Our people, and engaging with them, are key to this. Wish us luck!

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