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Customization: The New Watchword

Customization is all around us. Nike has made a science of “one size fits one” customer engagement and marketing, with its encouragement to “custom build” our own shoes, clothes and gear. Nike’s timing is perfect, because it reflects a growing proclivity for individualized products; recognition that our lifestyles, needs and taste are our own; and an understanding that we like to have a hand in designing for an outcome that suits us well.

In an environment like ours, where it makes good business sense to use resources in the most precise manner possible, customization of mobility policies is cropping up more and more frequently in corporate discussions. About a month ago, there was a flurry of activity on our corporate HR Policy and Program Benchmarking Forum. The topic? Flexible policies, under a range of monikers like “menu-driven,” “tiered,” and “flex-core.” There was high interest and equally high concern that should one institute flexible policy, it be administered fairly and consistently.

Out of this interest came the concept for a series of webinars I am moderating for our corporate HR members on policy strategy and development. Earlier this spring, in the first of those, “How Flexible Is Your Policy?,” Carol Filippi, Manager, Mobility Services at The Linde Group, took us through the reasons her company finds customized policies so critical. “Anytime a company is facing major economic challenges - as we had through the recession - or is working under a new business structure, there is an opportunity to evaluate more customized policy. Other reasons for customization include different levels of cutbacks in business divisions; parts of the business expressing different relocation needs or profiles; an increasing number of requests from managers for a lesser amount of assistance; discovery of moves occurring late - or after the process has been completed; and overall planned strategy and management of the mobility process, rather than a micro/localized perspective. The relocation process should not become a bureaucratic roadblock – it should be a business facilitator.”

Filippi noted that customization is “mobility friendly” in a range of situations, “through up or down real estate markets, in robust or distressed economic environments, and across job levels and geographies…and makes it possible to address a range of business and budget needs.”

A more customizable policy platform brings some decided advantages. When hiring managers are well educated, relocation issues can be recognized earlier in the process. More options for those managing mobility translates into less frequent revisions and updates to policy, enlists hiring managers to take more ownership of the assistance offered to new hires and current employees, and ultimately, gives mobility a much more strategic business purpose and place in the company.

Of course, there are plenty of challenges, like developing policy materials to fit the diversity of assistance, consistency of policy application, keeping the customization to a manageable amount of policy options, and working with service providers to fine-tune the reporting, managing and metrics.

There’s much more going on here than the way we used to talk about tailoring policy to the needs of transferees and assignees. Policy flexibility and customization allows employees’ individual and highest‐priority needs to be met within a budget management can support. With most companies going through policy redress in recent years, one of the biggest issues emerging is the need for effective policy customization. As the recovery continues, and hiring ramps up, more organizations will take a strong look at the possibility of complete customization. At least one company I know is on the leading edge of delivering their mobility policy through a point system, shifting the cash aspect of assistance to one where the employee is supplied with a number of points based on his/her career level and path, to use for the services that fit the needs. It will be interesting to see how this new chapter in policy development will evolve. (In the meantime, I’m off to my laptop to customize my new workout gear!)

If you are a corporate HR member who is interested in our policy webinar series, email meetings@worldwideerc.org for more information.

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