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The State of Global Mobility: Planning for Now… and What’s to Come Part 2: Policy Review and Benchmarking

Here we address some practical concerns with respect to policy review. Benchmarking against industry leaders is an important first step; However, it is important to understand the limitations of benchmarking.

3 August 2020

In Part 1 of our Future View, we discussed some of the strategic challenges and opportunities for Global Mobility as we face a radically changing future, and what we can be doing now to prepare. That discussion may be found here:

Here in Part 2, we would like to address some practical concerns, particularly with respect to policy review. While relocation activity has slowed, many companies are using this “down time” to consider policy changes in anticipation of the new world of mobility. Many are expecting different needs, new categories of assignment and different patterns of relocation post-pandemic. 

Our view: The still unsettled outlook suggests that while It may be premature to lock in major policy changes, it is a great time to review and rethink existing policies and create new ones where gaps may exist in order to meet complex new upcoming arrangements.

For example, in the International realm beyond the standard 3-tier Short-term/Long-term/Permanent policy structure, companies should have guidelines ready for the rise of “alternative” mobile employees such as Commuter and Frequent Business Traveler. (For an in-depth discussion on Commuter/FBT policies, please click HERE:

Even more dramatically, many in our industry are rethinking the very definition and scope of Mobility itself.  The traditional mobility pattern is of course moving People to Jobs.  However, the new order will likely now include the concept of moving Jobs to People, and GM can also take part in the decisions that determine such roles, who fills them, and the appropriate benefits and support to be provided. The expanded scope of mobility may well include Remote, “WFA” (Work from Anywhere) and  “Virtual” assignments - along with patterns such as a predicted exodus of workers from cities to suburbs and rural areas, and a surge of employee-initiated moves – all of which will demand a set of guiding principles.

Global Mobility’s role is to provide innovative thought, creative approaches and practical solutions to the company’s talent demands and broader business strategies. As Global Mobility professionals expand their influence, oversight and value to the company as strategic business partners, our central “tools of the trade” lie in the policies: the specific terms and conditions that match the particular roles under consideration. 

Policy Review:  The value - and limits - of Benchmarking

As a result, Bristol is being asked almost daily: Are our policies competitive? What are other companies doing?  What ideas are out there and should we adopt some of them?

These questions lead to the classic first step of policy review, which is a formal comparison of the client’s policies to “best practices” as revealed by survey data. Benchmarking against industry leaders is indeed an important first step as it provides valuable ideas and starting points. However, it is important to understand the limitations of benchmarking: 

  • It is a first step, not an end in itself, and the results – the revelation of majority practices of other companies - are not necessarily best practices for your organization.
  • External practices should be viewed within the context of your own specific business drivers such as major origin/destination locations, unique employee demographics, types and levels of employees along with their respective motivational factors, renter vs. homeowner population; new hires vs. incumbent employees, the company’s budgetary constraints, etc. 
  • Care must be taken to view each element of policy not as a stand-alone decision but holistically in context of total package value.  A company generous in one area may provide little or no support in other areas, and holistic considerations are often obscured by survey data focused on the individual elements.  It is important to engage expert interpretation and context for the benchmarking review.
  • By definition, a benchmarking study represents other companies’ practices and is in a way backward-looking, not forward-thinking. 

In our view this “backward-looking” limitation of benchmarking is especially noteworthy in 2020. Virtually the entire body of existing survey data was established pre-COVID-19, where business circumstances, trends, budgets and business outlook may well be viewed in retrospect practically as a different era.  Consider for example:

  • Lump sum / self-service policies:  In 2018-2019 this was a major trend based on the premise of offering employees greater flexibility and/or meeting a presumed desire to manage their budgets and services themselves.  Will this reverse?  In our view the cost basis for lump sums will need to be recalculated at a minimum as the costs of many services ranging from airline tickets to van line shipments to temp living accommodations will be an evolving and volatile matter going forward. Benchmarking future budgets against 2019 norms is a questionable practice to say the least!
  • Employee Experience:  With the cost volatility mentioned above, along with an increased focus on Employee Experience, “hand-holding” and Duty of Care, forward-thinking companies may move away from self-service / lump sum provisions towards more managed services and close personal counseling emphasizing the “human touch”.
  • Cost reductions vs. incentivizing talent.  In the face of global economic downturn Global Mobility will be under renewed pressure to reduce costs. Many reflexively assume that a reduction of employee benefits follows, and this may be true in certain cases and wherever possible. However, companies that have spent decades wringing more and more cost savings out of their relocation packages may rightly ask how much further can we go without chasing away our candidates?
  • Overcoming barriers to relocation:  More importantly however on the talent side of the equation we should anticipate greater reluctance to relocate.  Objections such as spouse and family resistance, separation from extended family and home environment, increased travel stresses, quarantines, health and safety hazards, assignments to difficult locations and potential career risks will need to be overcome with flexible arrangements and creative compensation packages. Paradoxically companies may need to provide even more benefits and increased support to persuade key talent to accept critical roles requiring physical relocation.

Much to consider!  We believe the byword will be flexibility, certainly not a new concept within Mobility but one that has taken on new dimensions in 2020. Companies should be prepared with detailed policy guidelines to address new forms of talent mobility and meet widely varying individual needs.  Benchmarking is a great place to start, followed by careful consideration, expert consultation and strategic thinking.

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