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Premium Incentive Products Magazine - Products and Ideas That Inspire Performance

Charting a Course

Navigate Your Way to Global Employee Engagement


racias. Komapsumnida. Mahalo. Danke schön. Efcharisto. Merci. Toda. Grazie. Arigato. Thank you.

Regardless of where we live in the world or what languages we speak, the act of expressing gratitude and appreciation to employees is one of the most meaningful things an employer can do. And when that recognition is backed up with a reward tied to reaching corporate-wide objectives, it becomes equally meaningful and powerful to employees around the world.

But let's face it. Traveling down the road to global program development can be a bumpy, complicated and huge undertaking. That's why many global program experts believe that, first and foremost, the beginning step requires an overall vision: to create a global recognition culture, not just another recognition program or platform.

Creating such a culture begins with what one recognition expert calls a key best practice: "Remembering that people are people, no matter where they are all over the world," said Eric Mosley, CEO of Globoforce, a provider of global strategic recognition solutions. "Successful global programs start from the premise that a company wants to treat its employees equally and to have one single goal for penetration of recognition around the world," he explained. "That culture of recognition builds on the traction of an equal number of thank you's and rewards happening in each country—multiplying them—and links them to things that are meaningful to constituents around the world."

But that's just the starting point. From here, you need to cater your program to each individual cultural nuance. "If you start at this point, the global program issues to be resolved predominantly revolve around understanding the culture of all these different employees, where they live, what's important to them, what would motivate them, and how you interact with them," Mosley explained.

And that can be a significant undertaking.

To provide insight to these issues, we asked Mosley and other global program experts to pinpoint their most important caveats and suggestions.

Involve Worldwide Stakeholders in the Planning Stage

Gaining absolute buy-in and top-down support from senior executives along with built-in accountability is often a challenge even for domestic programs. But a lack of stakeholder support is even further magnified at the global level, according to Kurt Hosna, solutions manager at Maritz Motivation. "To achieve global goals you must garner the explicit support of stakeholders worldwide during the planning stage," he said.

"You must stress the return on investment," added Carol Wain, president of The Incentive Depot and a founding partner of the World Incentive Network. "Recognition is not just a nice thing to do; there is a real business case for practicing it. Executive leaders must understand that recognition campaigns have to tie to a viable business need, then get behind it and drive it whole-heartedly. After that, everything is easier."

Senior management support is important on both a global and local level, she added. "With that support in place, think globally for strategy, technology, reporting, training and reward value," Wain recommended. "Think locally for recognition champions, training, implementation, rewards, support and budgeting (including reward value)."

Smart Global Rewards
  • Provide meaningful and equitable rewards. This includes appropriate rewards for generations, cultures, personal preferences and cost of living.
  • Balance the need for global consistency with being locally relevant.
  • The key success factor in all countries is to tailor the type of reward to the individual or at least the function—recognizing sales is very different from recognizing R&D.
  • The best way to motivate a global workforce is to offer choice and a variety of reward options that appeal to individual preferences. This includes a wide selection of merchandise, vouchers, experiential and travel awards that are continually updated to reflect the latest global and local styles and trends.
  • International audiences expect more: They compare selection with distant teammates, they demand better selection, and they want faster shipping. Participants in all incentive and recognition programs want a variety of rewards.
  • The most popular rewards are those that can be utilized locally.
  • Consider supplementing a standard catalog with "concierge" awards desirable because employees can choose any item from virtually any source.
  • If the program permits, provide a call center in the local language.
  • Never ever ship rewards from abroad.
  • Establish local and regional contacts who speak the language to aid in operational logistics, language issues and to handle employee questions on program rules and award redemptions.

Seven Trends Shaping Global Employee Engagement

1. The global workforce has created a challenging situation for companies trying to balance worldwide goals with local realities.

"Outsourcing trends and continued growth of emerging markets, combined with increased globalization, have changed the cultural makeup of the average workforce," explained Kurt Hosna, solutions manager at Maritz Motivation in a recent white paper titled "The New Global Workforce: Catering to Global Generational Differences."

According to the most recent statistics available (April 2008) from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Economic Analysis: In 2006, multinational companies based in the United States employed 9.4 million workers abroad, up from 8.3 million people in 2004.

"Some multinational companies even have as much as two-thirds of their employee population based in other countries," Hosna said.

2. There has been a shift in corporate global mindset.

While incentive and recognition programs have long been prevalent in the United States, Hosna finds that in recent years companies have realized the important role that global employee recognition and motivation can play in achieving their overall business objectives.

"Recognition programs in particular are becoming more popular in Asia, a high-growth region," Hosna said. "Some could argue that this recent rise in popularity is due to the increased presence of multinational companies. As more companies expand their operations abroad, their home culture increasingly influences the local business culture."

3. Global program consolidation is growing.

"It's probably safe to say that 10 years ago, virtually every MNC ran recognition programs in different countries around the world," said Eric Mosley, CEO of Globoforce. "They were disparate programs, run by different vendors with different setup and maintenance fees, and featured different messages to employees because they were built around different teams. Headquarters often didn't know about all of the separate programs being run. That's still true today for about one-half of the companies we speak with.

"However, now we're seeing a difference in that one to two out of 10 companies have shut down all of these different recognition programs and built a new global, more strategic recognition program with one vendor and manage it from headquarters," he added. "The evolution of global programs mirrors the evolution of globalization in the world of business. Companies are dealing with every area of their productivity and performance."

4. There is a real back-to-basics movement.

So says Carlson Companies' Jennifer Rosenzweig, global practice leader. "No client ever gets away from the objectives that are related to their hardcore finances—increasing profitability, acquiring new customers and so on," she said. "If anything, there is a more laser beam focus on finances. Companies are bearing down even more on those basics and common objectives that can be put into any reward and recognition program."

5. Companies are taking a much lower-key, conservative approach.

"They still want to motivate their employees, so we're seeing a little bit of heightened concern toward retaining the best talent," Rosenzweig explained. "But they don't want to do things that are flashy. Certainly their budgets aren't rich, so they are being prudent and trying to maximize their budget."

6. Spot recognition is being redefined.

So says Globoforce's Mosley. "The whole evolution and definition of incentives is changing radically, especially in this recession. In times like these, for example, bonuses are constrained, and MNCs need another way to motivate people and allow them to be rewarded. They are looking to spot recognition programs to fill the gap because they can be one-tenth to one-twentieth of the budget of a full bonus," he explained.

"In the old days, spot recognition might have referred to programs in which managers would recognize subordinates. Then it evolved to a combination of manager-to-subordinate and peer-to-peer. Now they're no longer separate. Spot recognition has evolved into one big program," Mosley added. "Now when we say peer-to-peer it basically means that every employee can nominate any employee, whether they're managers or subordinates."

While Mosley recognizes that some companies might assume that these programs can get out of control, he has found that's not the case. "There is management approval on every award that can involve one, two or even three layers of management," he explained. "So there is still control over the actual budget."

7. A more homogeneous workforce is developing within the younger generations.

Maritz's Kurt Hosna points out that a younger generation of workers is more accustomed to participating in a global society, unlike the more traditional, locally focused older generations.

"Many young adults, as students, have studied abroad and participated in global social networks prior to starting their careers," he explained. "Once in the workforce, these employees are continuously exposed to global society via the Internet, e-mail, blogs, as well as personal interaction with colleagues in other countries and regions.

"Global channels like MySpace and YouTube also expose this workforce to sports, entertainment and business leaders that are rewarded for individual achievements, thus placing the individual above the team," Hosna added. "This interaction fosters an individualist mindset which is ideal for motivating employees with an incentive or recognition program.

"When employees ask 'what's in it for me?' they are receptive to motivation strategies. Companies that answer this question by offering personally meaningful rewards will receive higher achievement from their workforce."

Build Collaboration Between the Global & Local Level

In developing the first phase of the Scotia Applause program, Scotiabank and Carlson Canada created a steering committee composed of different representatives from different countries. "It allowed us to have a couple of different streams going on, almost like two different project teams," explained Martha Barss, senior vice president, Client Services at Carlson Marketing Canada.

"One stream was a cross-functional, international head-office team that provided stakeholder buy-in and could navigate the political waters. A lot of build happened with this team. Then there was a local lateral team of representatives from all the different countries we launched with. As a result, we gained local support ahead of the launch," Barss explained. "It allowed each of the countries to put their own individual spin on the program during and after implementation."

Mosley added, "I would always advise companies to include representation from foreign human resource department heads, particularly if they decide to use a phased approach to launching programs."

Establish Global Values & Objectives

Mosley finds that few global recognition programs are built around business objectives that differ from region to region. "For example, a multinational company may have a huge focus in Latin America on increasing market and a huge focus in Europe on increasing market share. Recognition programs can't be built around these because they are different," he said. "But you can build your programs around and link them to the central values of the company, such as commitment, integrity, respect," he added. "If a company values integrity, this quality is valued the same in Melbourne as it is in L.A. This gives a company an amazing insight into the traction of values around the world."

Hosna believes that in order to achieve these objectives, the tactics must be customized to the local culture and market conditions. "For example, if the global goal is to motivate employees to ultimately boost top-line sales growth, you must understand the local markets and adopt regionalized targets and objectives to achieve the appropriate increase by market. You would have a completely different growth expectation and program structure in an emerging market versus a mature market."

Technology Tips
  • Have a common reporting platform that links all programs, even though they are diverse globally. Ensure your software has multi-language, multi-currency and multi-country capability.
  • Build a platform that you can leverage and have it be scalable. Scotiabank, for example, leveraged its domestic banking platform to deploy an online global recognition program to five countries. This platform is in three languages and features photos and information about each country's employees.
  • Technology needs to be flexible to handle regional or local Web design. For example, text direction varies by language, so an incentive program site should be designed to accommodate left-to-right, right-to-left and bidirectional text. In addition, technology should adapt to organization structures that are very different, less defined and, in many cases, have to be built to support a global incentive and recognition program.
  • Centralized reporting platforms are now available due to data warehousing on the part of recognition providers, which can report to the penny even in the most complex business models. Not only can this make global programs more affordable, but it provides an amazing capability to reward, learn and earn via a Web site, or to provide peer-to-peer rewards via a blog.
  • Management can track who and what is being awarded and the associated tax and compliance. It is much easier for someone to give recognition and for their manager to be informed of the event and to add to the value.
  • Obviously the Internet has been the best tool in allowing posting of instant information about program results, either for the participants or for management for decision-making.
  • Use online nomination forms and for post-event evaluations, etc.
  • Technology improves communications, saves recognition professionals an enormous amount of time and increases the accuracy of data. This eliminates the back-and-forth and instantly turns out comprehensive graphs and data findings.
  • Technology platforms allow you deliver music or audio books as an incentive (via codes in an e-mail, to be downloaded on any device), as well as training and learning programs to employees worldwide.
  • Remember that technology is a tool. True recognition comes from coaching and giving employees the chance to grow.

Beware of Ethnocentrism

"From a strategy perspective, it's critical to do your research and to understand information in both a company context and a country context," said Jennifer Rosenzweig, global employee practice leader at Carlson Companies. "Otherwise you might go at it with a U.S.-centric sensibility, without even recognizing it, and make incorrect assumptions about a global program—from how it's designed and where to start to respecting country- or culture-specific practices."

To that end, each expert advised companies to avoid going it alone. "Sometimes companies are like fish in water—they are so surrounded by their corporate culture that they don't see it," Rosenzweig said. "In my experience it works best to do the research collaboratively between client and partner. On one hand, companies are experts in their own culture and behavior. On the other hand, they don't always see it and understand the meaning behind it. It's important to get into the next layers down that outside help can really uncover, in order to develop the best program."

Evaluate & Consolidate, If Necessary

When Richard White, vice president of Brand and Marketing Management at Canada's Scotiabank, learned that up to eight of the bank's different business lines each owned and drove multiple, disparate recognition and reward programs, he called for a hiatus to evaluate the situation before going back to the drawing board.

He found that there was inequitable program design, decentralized program management and product-focused staff objectives. He also found that field sales management staff, responsible for overseeing branches, had no control over all of these separate programs, which tallied up to a $6 million annual expenditure. Within each line were two to three different kinds of employee reward programs going on for various things.

To streamline its programs, Scotiabank spent about six months meeting and brainstorming various ways that programs could work. Carlson Marketing Canada, which previously had been engaged with the bank, was brought into this process.

"The bank recognized, as many companies do, that it had too many programs operating within the organization, and these programs weren't aligned," explained Carlson's Barss, "In that situation there are obviously a lot of opportunities to take out costs, to create consistent messages, objectives and strategies."

Communication Advice
  • Use social networking tools for informal recognition (such as wall posts, news feeds, messages).
  • Use certificates or electronic cards to show appreciation formally, while thanking personally and remembering the personal touch.
  • It is important not only to communicate in the right language, but also to understand and incorporate appropriate cultural symbols into design to make a meaningful connection with participants. In China, for example, the color white symbolizes mourning or death, so it should be avoided in communications pieces. It might be more appropriate to use red, a Chinese symbol of luck and happiness.
  • Avoid using U.S. colloquialisms such as "take the ball and run with it," that don't translate well or provide visual imagery that works in other cultures.

Roll Out Globally in Phases

Rather than implementing the first phase in just the United States, Mosley advises companies to implement the first phase in the United States plus one to three other non-English-speaking countries.

"The reason for this is that it's essential to make decisions knowing that there are global issues that will start to play out when the program is rolled out," he explained. "If you just implement in the U.S. you're never exposed to these global issues, and you'll end up having to rewrite and reconfigure the whole project, and start again."

Phasing in programs also helps in the budget arena. "Typically, first-year program budgets are burdened with one-time startup costs and will dictate compromise," Hosna said. "If you have employees in 30 different countries, it may not be feasible to provide communications (print and/or electronic) in 15 to 20 different languages. Rather, the first year you may start out with the languages that cover the largest number of program participants and, as budget allows, phase in additional languages."

Tailor Your Recognition
  • Recognition needs to be personal, and praise needs to be specific.
  • Understand and respect country- or culture-specific recognition and reward practices.
  • Understand how individuals want to be recognized and that these preferences can vary even within a country's borders due to local customs, styles and trends. For example, while peer-to-peer recognition is used in some cultures to drive acceptance and produce results, it doesn't work in every culture.
  • Understand the differences in responses to recognition—for example, an apparent lack of enthusiasm could be cultural and not an indication of the recipient's appreciation.

Use a Flexible, Adaptable Design Process

"Local customs, styles and trends have to be considered when creating a culturally appropriate program design," Hosna added. "It requires patience to modify business objectives, rules structures and payouts to fit culture and local market needs. For example, it may be more cost-effective to operate a regional sales incentive program in the beginning, but then subdivide into country-level programs later down the road. Continuous improvement can be achieved through monitoring, analysis and ongoing program enhancements."

For that reason, Rosenzweig recommends creating a phase in the design process to allow unknowns or misconceptions about other countries or cultures to bubble up to the surface. "There isn't any magic formula. It is always collaborative in understanding the current state of the business, the future they are trying to decide, an understanding of the culture and what will work best," she explained. "It's the nature of program design to keep asking the questions, to keep collecting the data, to keep having the conversations that allow you to make sense of the situation and ultimately make the best recommendations."

Provide an Equitable Payout Model

Barss advises global program planners to have all of the information up front, including what the rewards and payouts will be. "There are going to be very different payouts, depending on the country, which need to be normalized. For example, we developed a methodology that ensures that all tiers of recognition and reward are equally meaningful, whether it's in Guyana, Canada or Puerto Rico. To do that we look at average salaries in all of the countries and factor that earning power into the calculation of redemption values. So ultimately the rewards will redeem the same, but how we get there will be different."

Ultimately, the goal is to build a culture of recognition in which employees' positive contributions toward reaching corporate-wide objectives are acknowledged. And that's a win-win in any language.

Editor's Note: For additional information about a Web-based tool that can assist global program planners in better understanding specific cultures, go to this issue's Insider, located here.

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