Guest Opinion – Debra Corey on rewards communication

It shouldn’t be a shoo-in that the launch of a rewards programme should be HR fronted, for a comms expert can be an invaluable leader, says Debra Corey, former director, international compensation and benefits at Gap

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When I think back over the years about what has been key in the successful launch of a rewards programme, I would have to say that it is the way in which the scheme is communicated to employees. This could not have been truer than during Gap’s recent launch of its long-awaited global rewards philosophy. The project had been talked about for over a year, and managers and employees were anxious to find out the results – especially what it would mean to them personally.

We recognised that communication was going to be the difference between acceptance and rejection of the new philosophy, and thus set up a global communications project team. As a member of this team, I witnessed first-hand the power of communication.

Firstly, a communications expert, and not a rewards expert led our project team. This seemed a bit odd at first because they were not subject-matter experts for this very technical project. However, it proved very effective as they were not as close or savvy to the changes, so they came at it from a different perspective. Secondly, we had participants from various areas of the business. They not only knew their employees and how they would react, but could provide a perspective and approach that enabled the roll-out to be globally-oriented. Thirdly, we added flexibility in the communication plan and material. This ensured that divisions and countries could adapt to best meet the needs of their employee populations and business. We also started with leadership buy-in before the global roll-out, which provided us with the support and knowledge that would be critical as the roll-out progressed. Last, but certainly not least, our approach was one of genuine honesty and respect. As the compensation shifts contained both good and bad news for employees at all levels, we felt that it was essential to give staff all of the facts so that they could understand and buy into the changes.

But how did it go? From the perspective of the delivery team and feedback received from employees, it went very well. It was clear that employees understood how and why we developed the rewards philosophy, and although they may not have been 100% happy with how the changes impacted on them personally, they understood, respected and bought into the decisions. Many even thanked us, which is not very common in such circumstances. So although it cost the business more to handle the project in this manner, and definitely took more time to create and deliver, I truly believe that it was time and money well spent.