Some Leaders Require People To Relocate If They Want To Advance. Is That Necessary?
By Steve Schumacher
In my history of working with organizations and all levels of leaders, I have assisted many people with setting criteria for promoting people. That assistance has typically taken the form of focusing on job-related criteria like productivity, quality of work, ability to motivate, communication skills, financial acumen, etc. While I personally have tried to focus on measurable criteria for promotion, I have worked with many leaders who feel that, in order to advance, potential leaders must relocate.
When I have asked those leaders why they require a high potential employee to move to another location, I get varied responses. Some leaders feel like moving to other locations will give the employee a broader scope of experience that they cannot get by staying in one location. Others feel like an employee who is willing to move shows that they can adapt to new situations and change. Of course, others feel like employees who want to move up should relocate because “that’s the way I moved up in our organization.”
If part of the culture in your company says that advancement requires relocation, here are some things to think about.
Be clear on what employees will gain. As we all know, many people have a very difficult time with change. Relocation requires major change for employees. To make that change a bit easier, be very clear in your mind what specifically the employee will gain by relocating. The skills and experience they gain should be clearly tied to higher positions in the company. For example, the new location may provide the employees with exposure to supply chain issues that they will need to know as a future leader. Be clear in communicating these gains to the employee so they see clearly what is in it for them.
Relocation involves spouses and children. When you are considering relocating a high-potential employee, keep in mind that relocation involves more than just one person. Many employees have spouses and children that must feel good about the change. When I was 10, our family made a major move and it was traumatic for me to leave my school and friends. Do some research about schools and other positive things in the new area and offer advice to your employee. If the family of your employee is distressed about relocation, it will affect your employee and you may not even know it.
Have a backup. In my experience, high-potential employees typically have higher performance than most other employees. When you decide you are going to move this high-potential employee to another location, understand you will have a performance gap. It is up to you to come up with a plan to fill that gap. Will it be difficult? Absolutely, but you must think about the long-term benefit to the company with this employee gaining experience elsewhere. I have met many managers who get selfish in these situations and think only about their numbers vs. how this employee and the company can benefit from the move.
Look for a win-win. As we all know, often what we get in life is not what we earn but what we negotiate. When you have an employee that has potential and warrants a relocation to gain additional and broader experience, be open to negotiating. Change is often a very personal thing for all of us, with different variables along the way. As a leader, you must show this high-potential employee that you are truly seeking a win-win regarding the relocation. Yes, some other employees who got what they perceive as less in their relocation may complain. If some do complain, that should tell you something about them when you consider promotions. The ability and desire to negotiate in all aspects of business should be a desirable skill for everyone in your organization.
Keep the big picture in mind. Remember, you are trying to develop an employee for high positions and relocation is one of the tools to do that. Relocation should not be an end in itself. I have seen some leaders who moved people around because they had to “walk 10 miles uphill through snow to school both ways.” The timing and location of moving a person should be determined by the experience that person will gain and when they need the experience. Think just-in-time relocation. The best of all worlds is that the person is moved to the exact location and position at the exact time they need the experience the new job will give them. Not possible in most situations, but a good mindset to have.
Along with other tools to develop employees, relocation is one a leader should use with a lot of thought and planning. If you do have a high-potential employee who is fired up about moving to gain more experience and exposure, that is what you want in a leader.
Steve Schumacher is a management consultant, trainer and public speaker with more than 25 years of experience in numerous industries throughout North America, including aggregates operations. He can be reached at [email protected].