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HR Interview: Rene Decker Discusses Human Resources, Relocation and her EMMA Win

In our business, we get to meet a lot of people. Relocation and HR folks certainly love their networking events. In fact, earlier this year, I was at the ERC event in Las Vegas and was surprised by the number of participants, activities and established business relationships present. It felt like a reunion and, as a newcomer, I was a bit intimidated to join this party of old friends.

But, then I met Rene Decker. And started having some fun.

Rene Decker Discusses Relocation and Human Resources

Rene Decker Manages Relocation for W.L. Gore

At first I was pretty nervous to meet Rene. After all, she is one of our clients and I was still learning relocation 101. But, within moments, I knew that this was a lady I could hang with. She’s witty and humble and, most importantly, personable.

In the little bit of time I spent with Rene, she didn’t talk about all of her HR achievements, even though I knew about the scope, and success, of her global mobility program. She also didn’t brag about her relocation knowledge, or blow me off just because I was new to the group.  In fact, you would never hear from Rene just how good she is at what she does. She doesn’t need to talk about it.  You just know that this pro is one smart cookie.  

That’s why I am so happy that Rene won the coveted Rising Star Award at this year’s Expatriate Management and Mobility Awards (EMMA) ceremony. For those of you who don’t know, the EMMAs are “the Oscars of the Global Mobility profession and winning an EMMA is the ultimate recognition of professional excellence.” Rene competed against some of leading human resource executives in the country and won. Well deserved, indeed.

In honor of Rene’s award, I convinced her to talk a little bit about herself and her experience managing relocation from an internal perspective. Enjoy!

Congratulations on winning an EMMA! What was going through your mind when they called your name?

Did he just really say my name? Than I was just hoping to not trip on stage, or fall down the steps!  Quite honestly, I  had just hoped to make runner-up so I was really shocked.

Can you please tell us a little about your background and your role at W.L. Gore?

In November 2000, I joined Gore as a recruiter for the Electronic Products Division.  My history had always been in financial recruiting, so I was really excited to work in a different industry, for such a unique company.   After the September 11th tragedy, we experienced a decline in employment opportunities and our recruiting team was asked to reduce headcount.  This is when HR leadership approached me about stepping in to manage the relocation program.   I think it was my attention to detail and “roll up my sleeves” attitude that helped them decide I was the right person to take on this function, turn it around and move it forward.   From then on, I was responsible for managing both the domestic relocation and the international assignments programs for W.L Gore.

At the time W.L. Gore asked you to manage its relocation program, you did not have as much experience as you have today. What were some of the first steps you took in your new relocation role?

When HR leadership asked me to manage the relocation function for Gore, I had absolutely no relocation knowledge or experience.   The types of roles I recruited for did not offer relocation benefits, so even the recruiting experience did not expose me to the various policies and issues involved when relocating a transferee.

I remember my first day in the new role and saying to myself, “Where do I begin?”  I first tackled those who were in the process of relocating or currently on an international assignment.  It was also important to understand what was working and what was not working from a business and HR perspective, as well as who was involved in the process internally and externally.

Also, one of the most important things I did was join external organizations that could help me understand the world of relocation!

When you were assigned to manage relocation in 2002, the program covered 40 domestic moves and two international relocation assignments. By 2005, the program grew to include more than 200 domestic relocations and 40 expatriates. How were you able to manage such explosive growth?

By 2005 we had established more of a process internally and were much more involved with external sources that helped manage the moves.  The program still had its flaws, but the rapid growth enabled us to see where we needed to concentrate our efforts for improvement.   For instance, we were doing things internally that were not value-added.   Simply turning over these tasks to external providers allowed us to focus on delivering more value to our businesses.

What key elements are necessary for building a successful relocation program?

Communication. There needs to be open and proactive communication with your service providers.  Communicating changes in systems, business environment, etc. allows you to plan ahead for growth or things that could impact meeting the needs of your business and/or expats.

Awareness. Understand the true needs of your expats.  We surveyed our expats, not on service delivery, but on their experience of the process, what they felt was challenging, how the family adjusted, repatriation and what we could be doing better.  When you give people an opportunity to respond about their experience, and not just ask them to fill in numbers about how they found the service, you’ll be shocked by the level and depth of response you receive. Up until the survey, we thought we knew where our issues were.  Boy, were we wrong.   From the results, we were able to implement small changes that would prove to be successful with future expats.

Improvement.  Building a successful relocation program is never finished.  Policies and processes are under continuous review.  A “best practice” may be right for one company, but not for all.  Programs should reflect the culture of the company, keeping in mind the value to the transferee and the cost to the business.

 Finally, what advice would you give to HR professionals who are just starting out in relocation?

First, it’s really important to understand where your program has been, it’s current state and what the expectations are from your businesses and transferees.

Also, join local, regional, national and global relocation and human resources associations.  The meetings and conferences are beneficial for such things as: understanding changes in legislation and how this can affect your program, benchmarking, corporate roundtables discussions and more.  Further, attending events will expose you to the vast array of relocation services providers available and waiting for your business.  This part can be overwhelming, so take your time finding the right one(s) to use, because they will be a huge factor in the success of your program.

Rene Decker works in human resources, where she manages global mobility for W.L. Gore, a leader in the development of next-generation electronics, medical products and high-performance fabrics. Gore has been repeatedly named among the “100 Best Companies to Work For,” in the U.S. by FORTUNE magazine. XONEX Relocation is currently W.L. Gore’s third-party relocation services provider of record.

Have a comment or question for Rene? Leave it below!

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MIKE CANNING
VP, Client Services

RICK CALANNI
VP of Business Development Northeast Region

 

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