Technology, Global Awareness Essential for Successful Global Incentive Programs
The power of global incentive programs is far-reaching. They give companies the chance to motivate and reward employees for their hard work and dedication. They can be the difference between an employee's permanent status and voluntary departure.
To be successful, though, a global incentive program should include features that are customized to meet the recipient's interests and align with a company's mission and goals; as well as recognize the importance of cultural knowledge, which is essential to capitalize on recognition and rewards programs. This, according to a report, "Reward, recognition programs bring opportunities, challenges to companies operating in China," released in October by the Global Incentive Council, a strategic industry group of the Incentive Marketing Association. The report looks at the dynamic economic market and cultural changes that are taking place in China, and how it affects reward and recognition practices.
To take a closer look at global incentives as well as cultural issues involving such programs, Premium Incentive Products magazine invited a group of incentive industry professionals to share their thoughts on how best to manage such programs. The experts are: Marlene Johnson, a relationship manager with Chicago-based Hinda Incentives, an incentive company that specializes in sales award and employee recognition programs; Peter W. Hart, president and CEO of Rideau Recognition Solutions, a company that specializes in recognition and reward solutions with offices in New York and Montreal, Quebec, Canada; and Derek Irvine, vice president of client strategy and consulting services for Globoforce, a Southborough, Mass.-based firm that specializes in strategic employee recognition reward solutions.
Q: What are the best ways to run a global incentive program?
Marlene Johnson: The most efficient way to operate a global incentive program is with a technology platform that provides a centralized solution that translates globally, but is personalized at the local level. By that I mean the platform is offered in the local language, supported by local currencies, awards are locally relevant and distributed at the local level.
Peter W. Hart: One of the best ways to run a global incentive program is to not make it a "one off," but make it part of your company's culture. By integrating it with your company's vision, mission and values, your employees will see this as a long-term program vs. one with a short shelf life. I have always believed that your external message to your customers/clients needs to also mirror the internal message to your employees. After all, they are your "brand" to the communities and clients they serve.
Derek Irvine: One of the keys to successfully administering these types of programs is first to understand the difference between incentive and recognition. While many think these two are one and the same, the comparison is not apples to apples.
Incentive programs are contests usually limited to a specific group or unit within a company—most often held in sales departments—in which employees are vying against one another to "win" a prize. By contrast, recognition programs are ongoing efforts designed to motivate the vast majority of employees by encouraging them to do their jobs in a way that is directly tied to a company's long-term goals and values.
The confusion between incentives and recognition arises because, while recognition can include a reward, it is not about the "prize." Recognition is about the "praise"—encouraging, acknowledging and appreciating desired behaviors. This is a critical difference to understand by any company desiring to influence employee behavior without stifling innovation, action and creativity.
Regardless of the type of program—incentive or recognition—you need to have an infrastructure in place to manage and track the program from executive buy-in to internal communication to program measurement. When employees are engaged, there is a dramatic benefit to the company bottom line.
Q: What are some of the caveats associated with this type of program?
Johnson: In the incentive channel, probably the most common challenges are the consistency of awards choices, award earning potentials and award distribution.
Hart: I guess some of the biggest challenges are to pay attention to linguistic, geographic and cultural differences. Ensure that the rewards selection is appropriate for the various geographies. Try to use local vendors for reward selections. Also, look at cost-of-living differences.
Irvine: Many managers fail to recognize high performance globally, connect it with company culture, and then acknowledge that behavior consistently with relevant rewards that are meaningful. Salary, bonuses and incentives are only part of today's employment engagement contract. A strategic, thoughtful approach to conditional rewards, involving smaller payouts given year round, for instance, should target the vast majority of the workforce across geographic boundaries—not just the elite few.
Q: What are the best practices to follow when starting up a global incentive program?
Johnson: Define your strategy and develop a clear and concise global strategy. Assess that strategy and confirm that it is aligned with the corporate value, message or mission the organization is trying to deliver globally. Define the opportunities that are in place for all to participate and earn, create a tool for global oversight and governance, and identify all programs operating globally and consolidate these initiatives for more cost savings.
Hart: Listen to your employees. They are the group you are trying to engage and motivate. Invite them to be part of the team to build and design. Understand your company's culture and how that culture is viewed within geographic cultural differences. If you follow the model "one size fits all," you will have challenges trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Adapt your program as needed. If you deliver your company's intranet in local language, then follow that rule in your recognition and reward portal.
Irvine: Establish a clear, global strategy for recognition. Strategic recognition delivers a clear financial and cultural return. Global companies need global strategies that treat all employees consistently in a transparent and measurable way across the program.
Secure executive sponsorship with defined goals. Like all other global strategic initiatives, recognition must also be properly implemented with executive support and understanding for how it will be measured.
Align recognition with corporate values for global understanding. Businesses can derive additional strategic benefits from a recognition program that rewards behaviors consistent with company values. This gives the organization a measurable way to see if employees understand the values and if the values are gaining traction across a global organization.
Offer everyone an opportunity to participate. Open the recognition program to all employees, not just the elite few. By offering everyone an opportunity to participate in the recognition program through peer-to-peer options in addition to the more traditional manager-to-subordinate model, companies can begin to actively manage their culture and to align with the company's values and mission.
Motivate and acknowledge all employees with the power of individual choice. True choice caters to the demographics of a worldwide, multigenerational workforce with millions of options that are culturally appropriate, meaningful and memorable to the individual recipient.
Q: How has the global economy affected the launch of new global incentive programs? Are companies holding back on such programs?
Johnson: I don't think so. If anything, I think it will challenge organizations operating independent and or sporadic programs to identify their entire "global" incentive operation and streamline those efforts for more cost savings. It is not unlikely that a person working in Asia will relocate to Europe. Or, the business person in the U.S. will relocate to Brazil. With them will go the expectation and demand for access to incentive programs that they have participated in and benefited from, whether it is a consumer program or an employee incentive program. The only way to guarantee their continued enrollment or participation is to travel with them so to speak. The natural evolution of an incentive program, as with all business, will be to meet the demands of their marketplace and develop global capabilities.
Hart: Of course the global economy has impacted all companies. But companies that truly understand the value of recognition and reward programs and the impact they have on bottom-line results, such as sales and customer satisfaction, realize you cannot turn these off. They might need to be scaled back during an economic downturn, but if you turn them off, you will also turn off your employees!
Irvine: The HR Capitalist, Kris Dunn, recently posted a blog questioning if retention is easier in a down economy. A key conclusion of his was that your best performers will always have options. He cited a Leadership IQ study that reported 47 percent of high performers surveyed are actively seeking another job, but only 18 percent of low performers and 25 percent of middle performers are actively looking.
So, what does this mean for managers and HR executives? If you want to keep your "A" players, you need to give them reasons to stay. Employers cannot ignore the fact that good employees always have options to change jobs in a challenging economy. For these top performers, compensation and benefits is only part of the picture. They also need challenge, opportunity and the knowledge that they are valued for their efforts. Using a global, strategic recognition program helps organizations to recognize "A" players, but to also track and measure company-wide recognition efforts. When you then tie these results to your turnover statistics, you can begin to evaluate based on clear metrics the synchronistic effects of recognition on turnover.
Q: What are the overall benefits of a global incentive program?
Johnson: Consistency. A global incentive program can deliver a clear and concise corporate message, while aligning and consolidating corporate goals, initiatives, programs, etc., in a centralized environment where all have equal opportunity to participate and earn.
Hart: One of the biggest benefits is to have a common vehicle to say "thanks" to your global team. Ultimately, this is a great tool for a leader to be able to recognize any employee in your company or for any employee to also recognize a peer or manager, as well. If the system is easy to use, more people will engage in using the program and adoption will grow. Of course, from the sourcing side, a global program allows a company to leverage your buying power and get more value for your investment.
Irvine: The benefits of global recognition programs are many; a few top-of-mind advantages that I'd like to share include creating a strong corporate culture, increasing employee engagement and staff retention.
Q: What are some cultural/ethnic factors to keep in mind?
Johnson: Awareness alone that there are cultural and ethnic factors to be considered in the design and implementation of global incentive programs is a good first step in identifying critical components of a global incentive program. There are considerations to be taken in every corner of the world. Some awards choices may not be appropriate for certain marketplaces, etc. Understanding those nuances is critical in the successful deployment and continued success of a global incentive program. We have found that relying on local expertise to guide us in the decisions and recommendations we make for our global programs guarantees that we are respectful and considerate of the cultural and ethnic backgrounds of the participants.
Hart: Just being cognizant of cultural diversity is a step in the right direction. Having local leaders and HR teammates review the program for sensitivity to cultural/ethnic awareness will ensure the program or catalog is not offensive to anyone or any groups. In some cultures, the gift of a watch is considered taboo, while in others a gold watch can be a keepsake for a lifetime. I would also recommend cultural awareness of individual recognition vs. team recognition.
Irvine: Implementing one strategic recognition program is crucial; despite a range of ethnicity and cultures, a truly international recognition program should have a local feel while maintaining a singular, global platform.
Certainly, different cultures respond to different types of recognition, and deciding which rewards are appropriate can be challenging. Language can be an issue for employers aligning recognition programs; most employees want to receive recognition in their local language. And they have to understand the parameters of the program and how to utilize it, so language does play a major role and has to be carefully considered.
The important element to keep in mind is that all employees matter, regardless of geographic location. What's your general opinion of the employees in your company? If you have multiple locations, do you feel the same respect and appreciation for those in another office, another county, another country? If you're in HR, do you work to make sure all employees, regardless of geography or ethnicity, are treated the same? These are questions to consider and be sure your organization is consistent, clear and fair with the recognition it offers to its multinational employee base.
To conclude, the simple act of employee recognition and appreciation—when deployed right—can be incredibly powerful. We all seek more from our daily work. We need to know that what we do matters in achieving a purpose larger than ourselves. What we call strategic recognition makes that not only possible, but also fun and engaging for employees at every level.