[Originally published in MOBILITY Magazine of the Employee Relocation Council; October 1998]

The Post Move Survey:
A Tool for International Program Evaluation and Design

by Tsila Zalcman, Ph.D.
Abstract: The past few years have witnessed a phenomenal expansion in the number of expatriates and their worldwide destinations. Companies, in their continuous effort to compete globally, recruit qualified employees and ensure assignment success, have invested a great deal in international assignments. Yet, despite the enormous business commitment, few companies safeguard their investment by systematically evaluating the effectiveness of their international programs and policies.

This article highlights how an often neglected source of information, the post move survey, can be incorporated as a comprehensive evaluation component into a service delivery system.

To succeed in the global market, corporations must remain competitive in both their business practices and in their ability to recruit and manage employees on international assignments. The rapid expansion of global business has generated an unprecedented number of overseas assignments. Improperly handled, these assignments can jeopardize employee productivity and business profitability. Human resource professionals therefore face the daunting task of establishing international programs that can facilitate the initial relocation, provide ongoing support during the assignment, and finally, effectively repatriate employees when the assignment is over.

This process must ensure employee satisfaction while maintaining a high return on investment. Effective international programs cannot be developed in a vacuum and need to be based on solid factual information. The challenge is how to acquire and then properly analyze information that will be used to:
Monitor and evaluate ongoing assignments
Provide managers with feedback about a wide range of work and business issues
Form an objective and credible database that can drive program and policy design.
An often-neglected source of this type of information is the post move expatriate survey.
Information-Driven Design: An Example
The following example illustrates how one company is using the information from a post move survey to aid in the redesign of their international program.

A rapidly growing pharmaceutical company has recently started operations in eight new international locations. It needed to revise its relocation and assignment support program to meet the new demand of an expending international workforce. Given the company's high investment in employee recruitment and training, it was felt that the program needed to be competitive and address employees' business and personal needs throughout the assignment.

The company's international human resource department, before writing the new policy, conducted a benchmark study to investigate the policies of other pharmaceutical companies. At the same time, 300 of their employees who had been transferred during the past year were asked to complete a post move survey.

The benchmark study concluded that their existing policy contains all the necessary provisions to be competitive with other pharmaceutical companies. The survey questions dealing specifically with the provisions of the policy reaffirmed this finding:

67% of the expatriates felt that their company's financial package is competitive
58% felt their program was better than most
75% of expatriates found the services satisfactory
In addition to questions about the policy provisions, the survey gave expatriates the opportunity to express their feelings about a broad scope of relocation and assignment-related issues. It also encouraged them to describe how these issues affect them and their families. Their responses uncovered a great deal of unexpected dissatisfaction with the administration of the program. For example:
69% felt the program is not responsive to family needs
62% said they needed better access to relevant information and advice
75% were unhappy with settling-in assistance and general support to family
Further analysis of the survey data revealed a great disparity between the acknowledged generosity of the policy provisions and the pervasive negative response to many of the "softer" aspects of the program. Expatriates felt the program lacked a cohesive structure and that one had to know the system to obtain the proper assistance.

"It fell to us to find out who could help with what -- that is, if we knew the right questions to ask."
Armed with this new information, the international human resource department is now looking at their entire expatriate program from a new frame of reference. No longer involved with only tactical considerations of policy provisions, they are now focused on developing new structures and processes that will implement their generous policies in a coherent and effective manner. Their ultimate aim is to establish a cost-effective program that supports a stable international workforce. As one knowledgeable respondent put it:

"My company is entering a very special phase of growth. It will require a tremendous amount of talent around the world to manage and secure continued growth. If my company wants to convince US based individuals to move to other more difficult to live-in countries, it should seriously reevaluate the entire program to create advocates of its own expatriates."
Feedback and The Benefits of Post Move Surveys
Third-party service providers often administer post move surveys of expatriates. Understandably, these surveys are usually designed to only measure expatriate satisfaction with the services provided. By narrowly focusing on satisfaction with the services, they miss the opportunity to uncover other valuable information: the expatriates' firsthand knowledge about a wide array of work-related and business issues.

To maximize the benefits of post move surveys, questionnaires should be designed to capture the multiple dimensions of global assignments. They should at least provide feedback about:

The relocation experience and how it can be improved
Problems of family members in adjusting to a new environment
Special needs and requirements that may hinder adjustment
Factors in the workplace that help or hinder productivity
Feedback about the relocation experience, particularly about the utilization of the services provided is valuable in assessing the overall relocation program. It also allows for the strategic planning of service modifications that can result in cost reduction.

Feedback about the adjustment of expatriates and their families to living abroad is useful in designing responsive services that ultimately could reduce "burn out" and assignment failure. Moreover, such information may alert the company to any unusual situation that requires immediate attention.

Feedback about the workplace environment can help pinpoint location specific problems, such as how to best utilize local employees or what previously unknown cultural-related problems need to be considered for that particular location.

Finally, post move surveys, when properly analyzed in the aggregate, provide employers with an invaluable tool for determining the efficacy of their policies by parameters such as location, business unit and job function.
In Conclusion:
Keeping a productive employee on an international assignment, requires a great deal of strategic planning and financial investment. The real task, beyond recruiting and deploying the most qualified individuals, is the ongoing success of the global assignment. Obtaining feedback from the people who are working and living abroad is essential for anticipating and dealing with potential problems that can jeopardize business objectives. It is also important as a tool for designing or modifying policies and programs. The stakes are very high and in this global economy, companies cannot afford too many mistakes.

Tsila Zalcman, Ph.D., is a partner and Executive Vice President of Dynamic Systems Design (DSD), an independent research and consulting firm specializing in relocation.