Relocation Insights


10 Tips for a Successful Employee Group Move

Here’s a cringe-worthy scenario: your boss informs you of an upcoming group move and the announcement is just around the corner. The pre-announcement day tasks you have been assigned feel never-ending:

Gather the list of affected employees, work with HR to determine who will be offered relocation, who will be offered severance, prepare offer/severance letters, establish group move policies, plan employee events, etc., etc.  Is your head spinning yet?  How do you avoid chaos?

Corporate group moves, whether as a result of a merger and acquisition, business consolidation, or business expansion, give rise to a complex series of events that can easily get out of control.  Straightforward navigation of those events is possible; here are the top 10 tips for success – even if you are coming in to the process late in the game.  We can’t promise that your head will stop spinning, but we will show you how to have a smooth and successful group move.

Determine company goals – The most important question to ask is simple: “What does the group move hope to accomplish?” Those company goals will set the framework for everything that follows.  From a global mobility standpoint, desired employee retention is a key goal that needs to be determined.  Is the goal to retain all affected employees?  Just those with critical skills?  Or does the company want to reduce its workforce?  The group move retention goals will drive the company’s actions and group move offerings.  It is important to note that retention goals are different from guesstimates of how many will take the move.  Simply stated, the retention goal is how many the company needs to take the move vs. how many may take the move.  The first is generally fixed and the latter can change based on the company’s actions.

Strategize and plan – Advance planning, and establishing a comprehensive strategy to meet group move goals are essential for success.  It is never too early to start strategizing and laying down plans.  However, depending on when you are informed of the pending group move, it may be difficult to plan in advance. Even so, it is still critical to develop a project plan that includes work streams and clearly lists roles and responsibilities, timing and key milestones.  Don’t forget to incorporate the company’s talent management strategy into the group move plan.  The company will need to address a common employee concern regarding reporting structure: “Who will I report to if my boss doesn’t move or isn’t offered the move?”  

Set a timeline – Best practice for a group move timeline is to set the announcement day as Day One and then outline the activities that need to occur both pre- and post- Day One.  By setting the announcement day as Day One, the timeline can flex as the actual date of Day One inevitably changes.  But what do you do when Day One feels like a train that is headed straight for you?  You may not be able to change the pre-Day One timeline, but control what you can.  Set the timeline for the post announcement activities.  This will establish deadlines for deliverables such as communications, employee surveys and briefings, the group move policy, and pre-decision area tours.  

A key component of the group move timeline is the decision date (or how quickly will employees need to make the move/stay/leave decision).  This can be tricky, in that both not enough and too much time can negatively affect retention goals. Best practice is to give employees enough time to absorb both the news and the information they need to make an informed decision.  Six to eight weeks after the announcement date is a common timeframe.

Establish a budget – Group move goals and the group move budget have a symbiotic relationship.  Group moves can be expensive, but failed group moves will result in unanticipated costs and lost revenue.  When setting the budget, encourage leadership to consider recruitment and hiring costs and the associated learning curve if group move goals are not met.  To help ensure budgets are realistic, run cost estimate scenarios, which should include attrition and retention estimates and should encompass both relocation and severance, as well as all pre-decision activities.  Be careful not to underestimate as this can result in imprudent company decisions.  While an unlimited budget is unrealistic, estimating toward the high side can avoid painful discussions with the CFO in the future.  Murphy’s Law is alive and well when it comes to group moves and unforeseen circumstances will occur.  

Communicate, communicate, communicate – A comprehensive communication plan is another fundamental aspect of the group move strategy and should incorporate both internal and external communications.  Internal communication plans should include the group move announcement, FAQ’s, as well as ongoing communications, such as newsletters and/or regular company meetings. When, where and how you will make the announcement to the employees should be considered carefully. How much information do you have that you can share?  What are the odds that other information will leak out?  Ideally, you want to announce the group move, its intent, the new location and who it impacts in the initial announcement.  If any of these elements are missing, you will cause greater angst than if everything was announced at once.  In the unfortunate and unavoidable circumstance of not being able to announce the key elements in the initial announcement, it is imperative to fill in the gaps as quickly as possible.  Stringing the employees along results in lost productivity and rampant water-cooler gossip. Remember to keep employees informed throughout the process so rumors can be avoided, which lead directly to decreased productivity. There is one caveat.  While it’s almost impossible to over-communicate in a group move situation, beware of information overload.  You want to avoid overwhelming employees and their families with too much information at once as the ability to absorb and understand starts to diminish.  

Don’t forget external communications too, which should encompass both the local and/or national media as well as the local community, especially if the group move will negatively impact the local employment and real estate markets.  External communications can include press releases, interviews with company leaders and community meetings.  

Coach leadership – One of the many mistakes that leadership can make with a group move is to use the phrase “it’s business as usual.”  Face it – it’s not. The announcement (even when it’s expected) will still come as a shock because speculation has just become reality. Change is never easy and the company should expect and plan for lost productivity due to the group move. However, see number five above – regular communication with employees will help stabilize productivity and will decrease rumors.  Additionally, consider holding an informational meeting for management that clarifies roles, responsibilities and timing of the group move. You want to avoid any insistence that employees make a move/leave decision prior to the official decision date due to internal pressure to start the recruiting process and back-fill open positions. The company must hold firm on dates set – extending if needed.  Leaders and managers must divorce their own feelings about the group move when they deal with their employees. The informational meeting can provide managers with strategies for dealing with change, both for themselves and their employees. These should be held before the announcement, or shortly after the announcement, if an advance briefing is not possible.

Listen – Once the announcement has been made, take the time to listen to relocating employee concerns (both job-related and move-related) and find out the reasons they may not take the move (is it something you can affect?).  An employee survey will help focus group move efforts. Consider having Cornerstone conduct a confidential survey as relocating employees may hesitate to reveal their true feelings about the move. While you may not be able to address all employee issues (nor should you), understanding the employee’s point of view can help reduce the risk of group move failure.

Provide employees with the tools to make informed decisions - One of your goals as a mobility professional is to ensure that employees are making informed decisions. Best practice is to offer a variety of pre-decision tools and activities. Offerings will depend on the group move retention goals and budget. Once the survey results have been analyzed (see above), companies can ensure pre-decision activities are more accurately focused. Activities can include relocation policy briefings, one-on-one counseling sessions, destination location overviews and group pre-decision trips to the new location. Additionally, workshops can be offered on various topics, such as spouse career assistance, school selection, home sale and home purchase, the household goods move, and the mortgage process/options. Depending on the size of the group move, some companies will hold a community fair in either the departure location or during the pre-decision tour to provide additional information. Another resource is a dedicated web site for the group move which provides a single source for information, related web links and communications. Better an informed “not moving” decision than an uninformed move that later results in a disgruntled employee and a failed relocation.  

Have a plan B – If it looks like retention goals won’t be met, companies will sometimes “sweeten the pot” and provide enhancements to the relocation policy (perhaps a relocation premium or cost of living allowance) to critical staff.  Another strategy is to offer relocation benefits to staff who were not originally slated for the move. Alternatively, some companies will offer temporary assignments in the new location until replacement staff can be hired and trained.  If these strategies fail, companies will ramp up recruiting efforts in the new location as quickly as possible, but generally will not change their mind about the move. (Employees will ask whether the move will be cancelled if enough staff does not agree to the move; ask and answer this question in an FAQ document or in the FAQ section of the group move web site.)

Don’t do it alone! – Identify resources to help you manage the group move project-- both internal and external. Depending on the situation, you may not be able to start working with your internal resources until after the announcement, but corral them as soon as possible. Internal resources can include facilities, marketing/PR, HR, IT and the heads of affected business unit(s). Engage Cornerstone, a relocation management company who can help with all aspects of the group move project management, including cost estimates, group move policy development, survey development and dissemination, coordination of employee briefings, and pre-decision trips.  

There is no doubt that group moves are challenging. Failed group moves can end up costing the company far more than budgeted or anticipated. Incorporating even a few of these tips will help your group move and company stay on the path of global mobility success.
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