“We’re a global firm and we really mean it,” says Celeste Warren, vice president, human resources, for Edelman Canada, part of the world’s largest public relations firm. She’s referring to her company’s global mobility program that encourages employees to apply for short- and long-term transfers to one of Edelman’s 66 international offices.
Ms. Warren cites a woman in her late twenties who is spending a year in Edelman’s Toronto office. “She’s from São Paulo and she keeps saying, ‘I’m constantly learning. I can’t wait to get back to teach everyone what I’ve learned and added to my skillset.”
Over the past few years, Edelman has implemented a formalized mobility program that helps staff request, and be considered for, international transfers. Such transfers were previously an option, but there wasn’t as structured a process to facilitate what can be an expensive and challenging undertaking. Thanks to the vision of Richard Edelman, the firm’s president and CEO, who strongly believes in investing in people who want international exposure, “we now have a team that organizes international transfers as part of our job,” says Ms. Warren.
Providing its employees with a high degree of international mobility helped Edelman earn high marks on the 2013 Great Place to Work Institute survey of Canada’s Best Workplaces. It’s a quality that also helped software maker Intuit earn an overall second place rank among Canada’s Best Workplaces for 2013.
Intuit Inc., a global firm that developed financial software such as TurboTax, QuickBsooks and mint.com, encourages its 8,500 employees to spend time in its offices around the world. Intuit’s international temporary assignment program (ITAP) offers three- to six-month transfers, allowing individuals, and their families (if applicable), to spend time in another part of the world.
“From a company’s perspective, you couldn’t ask for anything better than having someone exposed to another culture and the products there and then bring those new understandings back,” says Giovanni Morrone, a human resources business partner for Intuit Canada and United Kingdom.
ITAP began about a year and a half ago following a brainstorming session between business leaders and the HR team about how employees were seeking opportunities to gain international experience. “We realized we had to create a framework for this to happen,” he says. “It couldn’t be done haphazardly.”
Both HR practitioners emphasize that these kind of short-term transfers aren’t for everyone. They also say there has to be a vetting process before an application is approved. “We do a thorough pre-assessment,” says Ms. Warren. “We want to know: what are your reasons for moving; what are you hoping to get from this; and what would you want at the end so you’d feel that you really gained.”
“It isn’t just jump on a plane and we’ll see what happens,” says Mr. Morrone. “There has to be a plan. We’re very big on the employee bringing back learnings they can share.” He mentions an engineer from Edmonton who spent time in several California offices to learn about a new personal tax app. “He brought back knowledge that helped us build SnapTax much more quickly. Thanks to his rotation, Canadians can file taxes on their iPhone today.”
These global rotation programs are fairly new at both companies, but the response at both firms has been incredibly positive, both spokespeople say. “There’s another huge benefit,” Ms. Warren adds. “It really boosts employee retention. They get the international experience they’ve always wanted without having to leave the firm.”
NOT ON THE LIST?
If your workplace isn’t on this year’s list but you think it should be, we encourage you to participate in the 2014 list of Best Workplaces in Canada. We are now accepting nominations at www.greatplacetowork.ca.