Feature Article - November/December 2017

The Challenge of Going Global

Incentives & Rewards Around the World

By Rick Dandes


Digging Deeper: Dealing With Differences

If your programs include countries with different languages, you'll need to decide if you'll want all program materials to be created in each of the languages, some of the languages, or just one universal language. "The same decision," Smith said, "will need to be made for customer service support—in how many languages, and during which hours to accommodate different time zones, will you need to provide verbal and/or written program support?"

Take a cue from corporate practices already in place at your company, Smith suggested. How are corporate communications distributed currently? What accommodations are being made for language differences? Will affected employees be participating in your program in the near term?

For example, Smith said, " if you're creating a service award program that will recognize employees for every five years of service and your non-native language speakers have all been employed less than two years, you may not need to translate all of the program materials at the onset of your program—translating general program information and launch announcements may suffice in the short term."

Most well-established, full-service incentive and recognition program providers can provide multilingual customer service support, as well as print or online program communications in a multitude of languages. But translating, creating and distributing different versions of program materials can get costly, Smith explained, " so take the time to fully understand the number of participants who will be impacted by language issues and carefully consider the magnitude of that impact while investigating creative workarounds already in place."

Cultural considerations are a volatile aspect of recognition and incentive presentations, often overlooked when designing a program, and inattention to detail here almost always spells disaster, Smith said. There are two broad categories of cultural considerations: the cultural aspects of recognition within the country, and the cultural appropriateness of the award itself for that country.

Cultural aspects include the etiquette around presenting an award to an individual or group, especially if class distinctions or hierarchical protocol dictate a format for presentation. Many Asian cultures have a very formal etiquette for presenting and receiving gifts and awards, and properly adhering to this etiquette is often more valued than the award itself.

In some European, and Central and South American countries, team recognition is much better received than individual recognition, which can actually be perceived negatively. Hand-in-hand with that philosophy is the preference for longer-term versus shorter-term incentive or recognition programs in those countries.

Cultural appropriateness of awards addresses the powerful force of symbolism that should be carefully considered when selecting awards for your program, Smith noted. "Clocks, knives and liquor are three common award categories that are quite popular in some cultures and very inappropriate in others due to cultural or religious beliefs," she said. "Numbers and the colors of items can connote different meanings to various cultures as well. To say the least, a wonderful award offered in a color symbolic of death in that country will not be well received."

Global Incentive Strategies

When designing the reward structure for global programs, there are some fundamental principles that need to be in place in order to have a successful program, Grey said. "If you can get these right then you are on the right track."

Is the structure fair and impartial for participants in all countries? "Is it equitable?" Grey asked. "Do all the participants have the same level of service and expectation of success? Is the program run on the same rules in all countries? You cannot find a situation where extra hurdles are put in place for participants in one country over another."

Have you set up the reward program in such a way that it is easy for participants to get on board? Just as important, Grey said: "Is it easy for administrators on the client side to manage and adapt and stay connected? Overly complex program design and over engineered tech can kill a great incentive or rewards program—especially international ones."

And finally, are the rewards attractive to all members of the audience? Have you tailored reward choices to the cultural and geographic factors present in global programs?

Make sure that customer service can support the various languages. Do you understand the retail climate in the country that drives brand awareness to the consumers who will be in your program? Asked Gordon.

Another consideration, Grey suggested: Are you offering a customized choice by country or age-group? "If you just offer a one-size-fits-all catalog of products or a simple prepaid solution in a global program, then you are telling your audience that you didn't really think about them as individuals or respect their different cultures. You have to make the effort to have desirable reward choices in each country."

That's right, said Connolly. Build incentive programs with reward options that take cultural differences into account. By offering incentives relevant to specific cultures and geographies, employees will feel more respected and appreciated while also gaining a greater sense of how attuned the organization is to their needs.

Programmatic clarity is most important in an international context, Grey contends. "In any incentive or motivation program, you are asking someone to do something for you, the corporate client, and in return you are promising them a reward. That simple piece of communication has to be absolutely clear. It's almost like a 'personal contract'—you do this and I'll give you that."

While there has to be clarity in the communication, Grey said, there also has to be clarity in the payout—the value of the rewards cannot being masked by complete point calculations, and the recipients also need clarity in when they can expect their reward.