Strategic Moves

A mobility audit can improve more than just the services offered—employee retention and engagement can increase as well.

By Debbie Bolla

Relocating one employee is often described as stressful at best, so for Cathy Spencer, senior vice president and head of human capital at AllianceBernstein, overseeing the relocation of the entire employee population from New York City to the new headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee, required the utmost planning and attention to detail.

Spencer says caretaking, or focusing on employees’ and their loved ones’ well-being during the decision-making process, was a critical component to the company’s success. Factors like school systems, childcare, reemployment of spouses, and extended family or community members often prevent employees from taking the leap to a new location. So, a move of this magnitude required support to match, including efforts by Spencer and her team to connect with the local community by meeting with every school district, providing spousal job search services, and establishing a partnership with diversity chambers and others in the city.

“We were committed to making Nashville an appealing new home for all staff that wanted to join us on the adventure,” says Spencer.

Relocating headquarters is quite an undertaking, and this one was driven by an overarching business strategy. “This decision was based on a variety of factors,” explains Spencer, “including an opportunity to reap the talent benefits available in a highly-desired new marketplace, enhance the firm’s culture, focus on deeper collaboration, integrate into a welcoming community that we felt we could contribute to in a variety of ways, and additionally, benefit from cost efficiencies in both real estate and talent.”

A large part of AllianceBernstein’s success was its level of planning. The firm executed its move before the emergence of COVID-19, but the rapid spread of the global health crisis has placed further importance on the planning process when it comes to talent mobility.

“During this pandemic, pre-decision is more important than ever and can be administered virtually,” says Sam Hoey, senior vice president of business development for Global Mobility Solutions (GMS). “The pre-decision process allows the entire family to be involved prior to setting foot in the new location. The more popular pre-decision services during COVID-19 include virtual tours of the destination, destination city spotlights, broker market analysis on current home [value], and school research for children.”

Having a clear understanding of the destination city provides transferees with critical information to aid in their decision process. For AllianceBernstein, the organization was looking for a city that boasted high migration rates and was full of high-quality talent. The HR team looked to data to provide a clear picture.

“Analysis is a foundational skill in our culture and was also employed in this project,” says Spencer. “We conducted our own analysis, including creating a scattergram of the home zip codes of our New York area staff to evaluate improved commuting times in the new city as well as posting difficult-to-fill positions in each city as a means to evaluate applicant flow and candidate quality before we picked the final city. We also did significant projecting on compensation savings that could be generated by the move, utilizing city to city pay differentials.”

Relocation Audits

The outbreak of the coronavirus has forced organizations to rethink and redesign many aspects of their business. Relocation programs are no exception.

“Changes in markets, technology, and regulation create a shifting landscape that must be navigated by business leaders to ensure the success of the organization,” says Steven M. John, president and CEO of HomeServices Relocation. “For mobility professionals, the policy is the framework we use to navigate our environment. As the environment changes, so should the framework.”

In order to revise the structure of programs, HR leaders should consider conducting a policy audit and review. Even in circumstances outside of COVID-19, it’s recommended to analyze programs every 12 to 18 months.

“This will help your company remain at the forefront of your industry, ahead of your competitors, and in line with best practice recommendations,” explains Danielle Sanzobrino, senior vice president of account management at GMS. “Most companies are not completely immune to global forces, market changes, and unique challenges such as the COVID-19 global pandemic. Often, these issues directly impact employees on international assignments.”

Plus, it’s just good business practice. “I’ve often likened reviews of mobility policies to an annual physical. The patient may seem fine, but it’s always good to run some tests and take a look at how everything’s working,” says Peggy Smith, chief strategy officer for CapRelo. “With mobility policy audits, we listen to the rhythm of the business: Is anything creating ‘noise’ that warrants a closer inspection?”

According to SIRVA Worldwide Relocation and Moving, a relocation audit can analyze and improve mobility objectives, cost effectiveness, compliance expectations, relocation services offered, and types of SLAs.

There are a multitude of benefits an organization can gain by doing a relocation policy review. According to Anthony Horton, CEO of Corporate Relocation, this practice:

• ensures an organization’s compensation policy is well-documented and communicated;

• enables businesses to benchmark their mobility program’s effectiveness;

• provides an opportunity to review policies to confirm they allow for the unique dynamics of the organization’s industry and region;

• ensures the program is competitive;

• identifies accurate employee and assignment demographics;

• gives insight into the economic impact of mobility on current policies and practices;

• makes sure that the mobility program is properly aligned with business goals and meeting the needs of employees; and

• identifies if the overall talent management strategy yields the desired results for the firm and the workforce.

GMS’ Hoey adds that an audit can take programs one step further by introducing new and innovative ideas. She says that internal stakeholders have the opportunity to learn about the latest issues and trends in mobility. With this information, HR can benefit from greater scope, enhancements in offerings, and cost savings.

A key consideration during the audit process is transferee feedback. “This feedback lets companies know if their mobility programs are working to the best of their ability and helps companies understand what benefits are important to its transferee population,” explains Horton.

Modeling services around what workers want will certainly help organizations hit their goals of employee engagement and retention through talent mobility.

Posted August 11, 2020 in Engaged Workforcein Relocation

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