The Why of Mobility

Have you ever asked yourself why your role or your department exists? How are you adding value? Is the amount of value added enough to justify the salaries and costs that your department incurs? These are hard questions to ask, but once answered there is confidence and direction that previously would not have existed.

Every professional has a moment in their career when they ask why. Why do we sit down at our desks every morning and do what we do? In the mobility industry, the answer at first seems clear: to move people. But dig a little deeper and you might find a more meaningful purpose and approach. People are at the center of what we do and are often lost in the bottom line and logistics of a move. If we can remember that it is not only about cost savings and program compliance, but the experience and satisfaction of the assignee and ultimately the customer, then your mobility program will be enhanced in a way that will improve every aspect of your career.

In this interview, Ineo Mobility sits down with Chris Blair, who is the Global Mobility Manager of Aviva, a global financial services company based in the UK. He is responsible for supporting the movement of Aviva’s global workforce and talent including policy development, assignment management, and stakeholder engagement. He and his team had the opportunity to evaluate the role of mobility in the “big picture” of their company. They were given the task of looking at their mobility program through the eyes of their customers. Their scrutiny of the program, not through the eyes of the transferee or the managers who initiated the move but instead through the eyes of Aviva’s customers gave them a unique perspective. We are going to discuss the outcome of this analysis with Chris and how it can be applied to any relocation program.

Ineo: When you started the process of asking the “why of mobility” did it ultimately lead to this concept of “how does it benefit our customers?” Normally the relocation department will talk about how their department benefits the business units and the transferee’s experience. Was it a light bulb moment when you asked: “what about our customers?”

Chris: No, it wasn’t a light bulb moment, let me tell you a bit about how we arrived at the point where we were asking, “What about our customer?” Aviva has a Systems Thinking Consultant whose role it is to lead the departments through a methodology of analyzing why a certain department functions as they do and asks questions to arrive at a new way of thinking about the role of each employee and his function in that particular department. Our consultant did not have relocation experience and it was refreshing to have an entirely different point of view and way of looking at problems. It was our consultant, Max, who would bring the discussion back around to viewing our function through the eyes of what serves our customers; not our business unit, not our employees. We realized that it was our function to have our transferees arrive at their new location ready to serve our customers and not tied up in knots over his move. We needed to have the transferee feel supported by the company not anxious about his situation. It was a natural transition from there to move onto supporting the business unit that originated the move. It was at this point that the light bulb went on, and I thought that’s a very different approach than focusing on the transferee and the business unit’s needs primarily. Thinking first of the customer’s needs was a unique approach for a relocation department.

Ineo: With this revelation, I’m sure it changed your approach when having to decide on an exception to your policy or your approach to your employees. Were there any documented changes that came about from this new way of thinking?

Chris: The first area of our review with this new attitude was our Graduate Program. The feedback we got from our graduate transferees was this move was the most stressful experience of their lives and they felt that Aviva did not care about them as employees. This was difficult feedback to hear so what we did was look at the issues surrounding Home Search. We changed our policy to remove the search issue and we negotiated a deal with our vendor so we were able to move the transferee into serviced accommodations (Serviced accommodation refers to fully furnished properties which are available for both short and long term rent. This type of accommodation may also offer facilities similar to those offered by hotels) these types of accommodations are more expensive than the prior options but we were able to come in on budget.

Chris: The next change we made was to streamline the immigration process. Where in the past we dealt with multiple providers, we centralized the process under one provider to make the experience more uniform. We tried to improve our communication with the employee, provide the right information at the right time to make them feel valued. Some of these changes worked and some did not.

Ineo: Sure

Chris:  We feel like we’ve accomplished a great deal in 12 months but we have just started this journey. Most of our accomplishments have been in the development of this different way of thinking and less in actionable implementations. I hope the next 12 months will bring changes to our operational functions. We hope to focus on the challenges surrounding expat payroll and tax services. If you don’t get the assignee’s pay right, they are not going to be good with the customers.

Chris: It all comes back to the customer; is the assignee ready to work on day one at his new location? Thinking about the customer first has changed how I view things. You focus a lot more on the assignee and our duty of care to them. I believe the assignee knows his/her needs best, relocation professionals have a role to play in advising, guiding and making sure the assignee knows the policy. My opinion is that the assignee knows his needs best and a static policy, one relocation policy for all is not the way to go. I think the change in mindset will challenge relocation professionals to rethink what he believes a relocation policy should be.

Ineo: A lot of policies I’ve read in the past are usually along the lines of the company’s invested a lot of money in you, and this is a fantastic opportunity for you but the company will also benefit. Looking at the policy through the eyes of the assignee and the business unit, do you think there is a possibility to tie it back to the customer?

Chris: My point of view is it’s possible. The usual way of thinking is that the transferee wants to take as much as possible and the business unit is to try to stay within budget. I think if you bring the customer into the equation the conversation would be different. I believe the assignee is more customer-focused than we think and he only wants the benefits that help him do the best job for our customers.

Ineo: As a closing thought and practical advice for our colleagues in the industry, any suggestions?

Chris: My advice is not to be shackled by our industry standards, don’t think those standards are the right ones, they may be but rip them apart and review them, the new policy may be the same as the old but you’ll have absolute confidence in why you are doing it that way. Step back out of the relocation sphere and challenge yourself as to why you have a job doing what you are doing, what do you add to the process, what is its value. This can be a weird experience, basically talking yourself out of a job. If you are scared of doing that, your answers will not be true for your customer and assignee because as I said at the beginning of our talk, it’s ultimately about the assignee and your customer.

Ineo: Great advice, Thank you very much for your time.


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