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International Group Moves: Joining Policy and Resources for an Effective Program

International mobility programs are typically designed to help organizations and their employees manage the transfer or expatriation of employees and new hires across international boundaries. There are a variety of policy and program approaches to manage this process effectively, and a wide variety of literature is associated with developing these types of programs and how to support, compensate, and provide logistical assistance for international transfers and expats. When the transfer is not managing an individual but rather groups of people over a compressed period, the challenges multiply quickly, and the traditional approaches soon fall short. 

Some Common Issues

Before examining the best practices and solutions for what has come to be known as “International Group Moves,” let’s look at several challenges associated with these types of moves. 

Issue #1 Accepting the Assignment or Transfer

I once worked with a company moving its entire offices and staff from Dubai to Saudi Arabia. Dubai has a reputation for being relatively open and certainly cosmopolitan compared to Saudi Arabia. Getting employees to accept an international move rather than to leave the company required a careful crafting of the benefits and compensation strategies and an even more careful communication strategy. Not every location has the challenges associated with Saudi Arabia, but all locations have their challenges. So anticipating these and the most common concerns for employees and families is crucial to obtaining acceptance to a group move. And being strategic in how these are communicated is no less critical. Making sure that communication is carefully controlled, winning advocates who can help present the plan, and having clear solutions to possible problems are all essential elements of the plan. 

Issue #2 Managing Housing

One challenge became quite apparent when working with a company to manage a move into a rural area in Alabama. The new factory’s location did not have the resources to support the new population moving into the small town. The arrival of several hundred new employees meant there were not enough hotels and temporary living accommodations in the town, let alone viable long-term housing options for employees. The company overcame these issues by working with suppliers, local real estate, and hospitality vendors to develop new alternatives to both issues. In the end, combining local and nearby commuter resources solved the problems. Company-provided buses allowed employees to seek family housing in a nearby community. While remote, rural, or small markets all present special challenges, sometimes solved with purpose-built housing, company-leased housing, or commuter families, even in relatively large markets, companies must be prepared to assist employees in locating temporary and long-term- accommodations. 

Issue #3 Immigration Hurdles

In international moves of all types, complications are common due to immigration rules. As in any international transfer or assignment, immigration is critical to address a group move, with many moving parts representing special circumstances subject to roadblocks and delays. Remember, it is not just the employee’s situation that causes complications. It’s the families and dependents that create challenges. Same-sex couples moving to some locations, unmarried “common law” couples, and family members who in one culture are seen as part of the nuclear family, such as parents or grandparents, may not to allowed under dependent visas.   These and other variables must be addressed in advance of the project. By working through pre-screening protocols and employee education, this process can be managed effectively to reduce hardships.

Issue #4 Cultural Challenges

Crossing cultures can be challenging for any employee and family. For companies attempting to move groups of people from one culture to another, it can be disastrous. While people’s cultural adaptability and aptitude will vary, most individuals seek to adapt to the new culture. With some guidance and support, individuals will try to understand the culture they are living in and attempt to become effective and happy participants in it. 

The dynamic for groups can often be very different. Groups of people will often retreat. A group will isolate themselves from the dominant culture and retreat into the culture they feel most comfortable in.   This may be okay when the situation is an expatriate compound in a mining or oil and gas development, however, in a more typical business or manufacturing environment, it can lead to disaster. Resentment, poor working cooperation, failure of skills transfer, loss of productivity, assignment failure, and lack of engagement will all result. 

Proactively developing a plan for cultural adaptation and applying solid resources to the process can eliminate these problems and make an international group move an exciting experience for all employees involved.

Numerous other challenges are associated with Group Moves, particularly international group moves, beyond those highlighted above. Numerous questions must be answered. How will employees and their families travel? How will children be educated, especially where there may be language issues? How will spouses adjust to a new environment where they may be displaced, unable to work, and without home resources? How will the company support the employees with all the logistical challenges, such as buying or leasing a car without credit, opening a bank account, getting a driver’s license, finding a home, finding a doctor or dentist and the thousands of other challenges international transferees face? A group move represents exceptional challenges and wonderful opportunities in these areas. 

Solutions working in concert

Three main pillars form the solution to all these challenges: Policy, Project Resources, and Program Management. For the overall project to be successful, all three of these must work in concert, seamlessly guiding, assisting, and supporting the company and employees in this transition. 

Pilar #1 Policy

Most companies recognize the need for a comprehensive policy. A policy provides clarity to all parties, defining the resources and boundaries for employees and managers. Some of the critical elements of any Policy include: 

  • Purpose and Rationale – How the group move is connected to business goals or strategies.
  • Scope of the Move – Who and where employees are covered. 
  • Timeline – Clear schedules for all stages
  • Roles and Responsibilities – Specific accountabilities for each facet of the move.
  • Compliance Rules – for policy and program, including such topics as immigration, data privacy, and other key areas
  • Employment and Legal Aspects – Defining changes in employment contracts or terms.
  • Employee Benefits and Compensation – How employees will be paid and provided benefits, including key elements such as housing assistance, cost of living adjustments, or other ongoing support, including tax elements.
  • Relocation Packages – Outline included services and benefits, moving expenses, temporary housing, storage, spousal job assistance, and other logistical assistance.
  • Support Services – Relocation and ongoing employee services such as relocation services, local tours, or real estate assistance,
  • Training and Development – Training programs to assist employees in adjusting to new culture, roles, or location.
  • Opt-out and Severance Options – Options for employees who choose not to relocate or depart early.

Pilar #2 Project Resources

Companies will usually identify internal resources to lead and support the Group Move. This is important, and selecting the right resources for the project is critical. Effective planning, superior communication skills, and solid decision-making skills are all essential elements. 

In addition to the internal resources, relocation is a business function that depends heavily on outsourced resources. On a positive note, in relocation, there are typically supplier resources for every aspect of the process. Systems and technology, coordinating services, moving services, Real estate services in home and host locations, and legal and support consulting services are all widely available. There are services associated with helping transferees buy cars, get credit cards, learn daily living skills, and even find babysitters. All are available. 

A group move represents a unique challenge and an opportunity for the supply chain. On the one hand, the company may have additional purchasing leverage because of the group involved. On the other hand, resources are potentially constrained by size and time. Selecting good supplier resources for each service element is one of the most important aspects of group move planning. Ensuring performance while meeting fiscal goals can be challenging because a group move happens during a defined period. Then, it is done, potentially with no long-term relationship between the supplier and the company. 

Organizations planning a group move need to develop a comprehensive ecosystem of suppliers, which may differ significantly from that required for more routine international or domestic relocation. Likewise, this supply chain’s scope of work may be more comprehensive and holistic, given that employers typically need more end-to-end support in managing a group relocation. 

Pilar #3 Program Management

Program Management is where all of the resources allocated to the project come together to manage the policy and properly execute the project’s strategy. Program management consists of the overall strategic plan and the day-to-day execution of that plan to reach the goals for the project. 

A well-defined, comprehensive policy, an effective supply chain, and other resources work under the program to lead to success. Several other critical variables make for effective program management.

Clear Success Criteria:  The strategy for the move must be coupled with a solid definition of the successful outcome of the Group Move. The organization must set targets for crucial elements of the move. What are the uptake rates on the assignment? Successful relocations? Productivity days lost? Exceptions to Policy? Budgets and spending? Clear success targets and metrics allow everyone to have clear decision-making criteria and communication when surprises happen, emergencies occur, or changes emerge. 

Roles, Responsibilities, and Accountabilities

As in any project, establishing clear roles and accountabilities is critical. In a group move, where situations may arise that affect people, have broad financial impacts, and require quick solutions, this is no less important. Some important roles outside of standard project teams might include Exceptions Approvals, Supplier Management, Operational Management, Compliance Leadership, and Communication Leadership. 

Effective Communication

Planning for an International Group move must address the effective communication of its strategic and tactical elements. Group move experts agree that these projects succeed or fail based on the effectiveness of the communication.   Rumors and misinformation in the early stages can be devastating, resulting in turnover, lack of engagement, and reluctance to accept transfers, which are nearly impossible to recover from. Likewise, effective communication on the project, from management to a receptive audience, can overcome even the most severe obstacles.

Effective Group Move Communication can be facilitated through:

Pre-Work:  Plan the dynamics of the communication well in advance of the first announcements. A robust strategy includes getting buy-in from potential influencers, devising a clear message, and aligning stakeholders.

Remember that with Group Moves, there is more than work at stake for employees. Their decisions impact their families and essential issues such as schooling, spousal income, and extended family relationships. 

Establish a clear timeline and actions. In communication, ambiguity leads to speculation and apprehension. A timeline assists employees in mentally preparing for the move and making logistical arrangements. 

Initial Announcements: 

An impactful announcement should be timed well, with resources available immediately following the announcement. Missing information will lead to misunderstandings and anxiety. 

The announcement should come from senior and local leadership and HR and operational leaders. Each message component will come from the right part of the organization. Senior leaders will communicate the company’s broader vision, and local leadership will connect that to the impact of the business while HR outlines the practical steps and benefits.

Ongoing Communication and Updates:

Communication doesn’t stop once the announcement is made. Regular, purposeful communication through company newsletters, emails, team meetings, and personal interactions ensures that the move remains top of mind and employees are always informed. Recognize that informal communication is happening amongst employees, so effective communication depends on understanding what those messages are, clarifying any areas of confusion, and addressing areas of complaint or anxiety. 

Conclusion

As we’ve seen, successful group moves are based on a solid, well-crafted policy and the selection of internal and external supplier resources, all brought together in effective program management. 

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