The realities of relocation are sometimes not as they first appear to be. And, certainly, some perspectives of reality require flexible interpretation.
Bright-eyed, well-scrubbed twenty-somethings vie for a career ticket to Trump
Tower. Motley millionaire-wannabes starve themselves in the wild as they
try to elude primitive social rejection. Tone-deaf teens parade cracking voices before music
industry mavens who eviscerate egos with unabashed candor.
There is a potent entertainment phenomenon
called "reality," for lack of a better word, playing on a television near you. And whether you, like
millions of others, have found yourself tuning in, the cultural ripples are impossible to ignore.
Who hasn't heard the Donald's catch phrase, "You're fired!"? (Yes, you can still say it without
owing a royalty, if not unemployment benefits.)
However, reality TV is often anything but real. Careful casting, deft editing, and scenarios
designed to elicit favored outcomes create an unreal "fudge factor," leaving little to chance and
less to imagination.
As a prelude to the 38th Atlas Forum on Moving, the Amplifier spoke with some of the event's corporate guests
to get their thoughts on the "culture of reality" in their organizations. We looked for parallels to reality TV in
corporate culture. If there are parallels, how might they affect relocation? What do we think of as real that, in
actuality, isn't? Are the realities changing? How? Why?
"Long, long ago in a business environment that was very, very different, employees felt that they
were on the Orient Express with plush expense accounts and benefits," says Elizabeth Carter, CRP,
Household Goods Specialist with XRS, Inc., a subsidiary of Georgia Pacific. "Then the economy
went into a tailspin...corporations turned into survivors by cutting costs and benefits."
On the surface, it appeared that advances in technology would give companies extraordinary
gains in productivity and profit, making it possible to work faster with fewer employees.
But the consequences created a different reality, a "Catch 22" for employers.
"Companies were downsized, just like the last round of American Idol," says Elizabeth. "Even as jobs were being cut, employers were competing for technical talent and highly
So how can a relocation manager balance tightening budgets and the need for qualified people?
"One way we acknowledge that fine line between cost and service is by using a tiered
policy," says Elizabeth. "The tiered policy provides cost containment while basing the benefits on
the employee's grade level."
Does a tiered policy ever become a tired reality? For some relocation
managers,flexibility is a stairstep to talent acquisition.
Does a "tiered policy" ever become a "tired reality"?
"The old reality–here's the policy and here are three tiers–no longer works for us," says Mardi
Montague, Manager of Talent Acquisitions with PETCO, a leading specialty retailer of premium
pet food, supplies and services. "Our relocation solutions have to be creative, customized, and
offer choices. I can only think of a few cases in the last six months where we followed the guidelines
exactly. Exceptions are now the reality."
In response to the new reality, PETCO is looking at adopting a five-tiered policy with
cafeteria style options and caps that do not exceed a percentage of total compensation.
Within each tier are guidelines that give the talent acquisition team flexibility to tailor the relocation
benefit, which typically differs for each associate.
"The talent recruiter now spends up to an hour with transferees to learn what's important to
them," says Mardi. "People's needs have become more diverse. They are better informed about
what to expect, they are savvy enough to ask for options, and they tend to drive the process."
Beyond Borders—Beyond Tiers?
One might argue that nowhere is the need for discretionary policy
felt more acutely than in the international arena.
As Global Mobility Manager with Flextronics International Ltd., a global
company headquartered in Singapore, Kathy Curtis is responsible for
approximately 100 U.S. interstate and international relocations a year.
She says that the word "policy" is inadequate to meet her reality. Instead,
Flextronics relies on "guidelines."
"We recognize the need to be flexible," says Kathy. "Our guidelines
are designed to give us the latitude to answer individual concerns."
As do her peers, Kathy sees that those who relocate are increasingly
knowledgeable about the relocation process.
"I see less need for hand-holding," says Kathy. "It's not that personal
contact isn't still important; rather, our transferees are generally self-sufficient.
They are used to going online for information. For example, our new
hires undergo their orientation online."
The beneficial combination of flexibility and more informed
employees is further abetted by a positive change outside the company.
"Business expansion has brought progress to regions that were once
underdeveloped," says Kathy. "Whereas it used to be cumbersome
to relocate people from the U.S. into China, it's now much easier.
There is an infrastructure to support expatriates, and going there doesn't
seem as scary for them as it used to."
For others working with expatriate relocation, the reality is far different,
and underdeveloped regions are the rule.
John Palien left a corporate career three years ago to join Catholic Relief
Services, one of the world's largest and most respected humanitarian
agencies. As Director of Human Resource Operations, John now
deals with a totally different reality than the one he once worked in.
"The expectations of our expats are different than expectations in the
corporate setting," says John. "Our people may be going from Abuja to
Quito, or from Sarajevo to Nairobi. They know the locations are difficult.
They understand the time it takes to receive their belongings may be measured
not in weeks, but in months...in some instances, up to six months or longer."
No one denies the need for flexibility in international moves. But
the concept takes on added significance at CRS, an organization that
responds immediately when reality is catastrophically altered for people.
"The past year has been extraordinary," says John. "Besides the tsunami,
there have been famine and genocide in Darfur, and flooding in Central
America. And my job is to respond with people. Whereas we typically
recruit 100 to 150 people a year, this year I will move an additional
John walks a fine line between cost and service, just as managers must in the for-profit realm.
"CRS is one of the top 3 aid and emergency development organizations
in the world," says John. "People put their trust in us as stewards of
their funds, a responsibility we take seriously. A dollar in Darfur can feed 10 to 12 people for a day...every dollar spent on
relocation services is a dollar that does not go to the poor and disadvantaged."
But despite these major differences, John's culture shares the objectives that are essential
to reality in the corporate world.
"I need my people to receive their belongings in a reasonable amount of time and in the
condition they were packed," says John. "And I need the service to be cost-effective. These are
tough to balance, and they are tough for vendors to balance."
Careers Not Measured in Money?
Compensation has long been a factor in an employee's decision to relocate. But while
there is a tendency to think of compensation in terms of dollars, for some the reality is quite
different. Intrinsic rewards can be weightier than monetary rewards. For example, John
says his decision to join CRS was in answer to a personal "calling."
At PETCO, Mardi finds individual needs often play a deciding factor in an employee's career.
"People are looking for the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution," says Mardi. "They are
delving into a company's culture and looking at the leaders and their vision. They want to know:
what does the company stand for? Does it live up to its beliefs and values?"
To create a culture where animals come first and people make it happen, PETCO builds on
performance initiatives: integrity, partnership and affirmation. These ideals are central to the
company's recruitment process – a process that is being reengineered to better attract people
who will thrive in PETCO's unique culture.
"We are using technology to cast a wider net and attract a better, more qualified pool of
candidates," says Mardi. "We plan to introduce a new recruitment model in August. All recruiting
will be done online...if someone visits a store to inquire about opportunities, they will be
directed to an in-store kiosk to complete a profile and to take our customized assessment
which includes animal empathy questions."
The Amazing Race
According to TV's grandiose portrayal, untold enchantment and excitement await the new
employee once he or she hears the phrase, "you're hired." But what is the reality?
"The recruitment process turns into 'The Amazing Race,'" says Elizabeth. "The employee
is expected to hit the ground running and make it to the new location (around the world)
in 67 hours instead of 80 days. The relocation department is the employee's 'Dr. Phil.'
We offer advice, facilitate and coordinate the relocation process."
Perhaps the greatest common denominator between reality TV and corporate reality is the
drive for ratings, i.e., shareholder return. Whether measured in earnings per share or satisfaction
per dollar donated, corporate reality is tied to performance. Relocation managers know this too well.
"Reality shows are cheaper to produce than a television series, so the networks have managed
to contain costs yet still increase revenue by obtaining a large market share with these shows,"
says Elizabeth. "To survive, corporations are merging and creating 'super-sized' companies
in order to increase their market share by containing costs and by efficient use of their
resources – technology, people, capital."
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