Q&A - David Wells is the Director of Global Mobility for Diageo Plc

Q&A - David Wells is the Director of Global Mobility for Diageo Plc

How important is the need to integrate mobility and talent and why?

There is an increasing criticality to integrate mobility and talent. There are several reasons for this:

  • The war for talent is so high on the agenda of most corporates
  • Finding talent is a global game – globalisation means great talent can come from anywhere and move pretty much everywhere
  • Talent expects to be mobile – international experience is seen as a necessity rather than a luxury
  • Mobility teams need to be able to help plan the talent landscape – having advance knowledge of future mobility demand , providing data to Talent teams, and providing technical advice and insight to enable Talent to be deployed rapidly and effectively across borders

What do you think are the key factors for a successful GM function?

I think it’s really important to get the basics right! Fundamentally, a successful GM function has to remember it will make a dramatic difference to the lives of international assignees and their families, and can play a major role in enhancing the employee experience. Moving across borders is stressful, and can be unexpected for the employee as well. Teams need to be responsive, supportive and technically knowledgeable. GM functions establish internal credibility if they are seen to respond quickly, understand the business, and work together to achieve the right outcomes for both the assignee and the business. Alongside the GM team, it’s also critical to have excellent support from vendors who understand your objectives as a function and really partner with you. It’s a cliché, but external vendors really should feel like an extension of your own team.

Global Mobility is a balancing act – the needs of the assignee and family, the needs of the business to limit cost and deploy as rapidly as possible, and the rules and regulations (internal and external) which govern the work we do. Good GM professionals remember that navigating through those challenges is definitely an art, not a science!

What are the key challenges facing the GM function in the future given the volatile economic climate?

Balancing the need to manage cost with the need to attract, retain and deploy talent. Businesses are often hungry for overseas talent, but they can’t afford the price. Assignees think more carefully now than they did ten years ago about accepting an international assignment. In volatile economic times, “throwing money at the problem” is not necessarily a viable means to persuade people to go on assignments. Tax planning as a means of reducing cost has also diminished considerably, as increasingly businesses are focused on reputational risk and compliance. In our business, we also face the challenge of attracting talent into increasingly remote locations, and finding strong enough vendor support on the ground in those locations.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I like my team to think for themselves, but I also recognise the need to make the tough decisions when they need making. I like to stretch people in a team where they show a desire and willingness to be stretched. I think it’s really important to recognise and nurture talent at all levels in a team, and also to trust your instinct that someone might be well suited to a particular role or project. Global Mobility teams are often in the firing line – we are in a part of HR that is both highly specialised and also dealing with such a multitude of stakeholders, so it’s also really important to make sure your team know you will back them and interject where necessary. What I dislike is micro management at one end of the scale, and poor performance management at the other: people need the freedom to succeed, but under-performance needs to be identified and appropriately actioned quickly.

How has your international experience shaped the way you conduct business today?

My own two year stint as an assignee was a real eye opener! International experience really brings home the power of understanding different cultures being key to conducting business (and leading teams) effectively. Against that backdrop, little things can make a difference – in Singapore for example, the business card means far more than it does in the UK – it’s given and received in a certain way – whereas here in London it’s casually passed over, if it’s even given at all! It’s really important to get to grips with those nuances quickly, as it makes your new home feel less alien. I also learnt a lot about the impact of an international move on a family. The assignee forms an instant network – his or her work colleagues, vendors etc. The family has no such luxury, and are often left to navigate for themselves.

I love working in diverse teams, and really believe that diversity enhances team performance. My international experience really brought that home, and gave me the chance to see close up how we never stop learning through new experiences!