Recognition has global differences

If you read nothing else, read this…

  • The recognition awards staff prefer to receive varies across the globe.
  • Employers must determine what type of incentives are appropriate for their diverse workforces.
  • Employers should also consider what language to deliver their scheme in.
  • Logistics such as delivery of incentives and import duties should be measured to determine cost-effectiveness.

Case study: Symantec spreads the good news on reward

Security software provider Symantec has expanded rapidly through acquisition, growing its workforce from 6,500 to 14,000 in July 2005, and reaching 18,500 today. The firm operates in more than 50 countries.

Jennifer Reimert, senior director, global compensation at Symantec, says: “One of the challenges of rapid growth was a resulting ‘culture of cultures’ leading to the need to create a single, identifiable culture to re-engage our employees.”

In 2008, the organisation partnered provider Globoforce to create a global recognition programme called Applause. The programme enables employees to acknowledge colleagues’ efforts with messages of thanks and awards that can be redeemed as memorable experiences or desired items.†

It incorporates news feeds, peer comments and reporting tools that track and measure the level of recognition happening across the entire global workforce. The programme works like a social network, spreading good news across the organisation and helping unify employees behind a shared culture and purpose.

Symantec saw 1,500 employees recognised in the first two weeks of the scheme and nearly 40% of all staff were recognised in the first five months. Nine months after the recognition programme was launched, employee engagement scores had increased by 14% across the organisation.

Case study: Siemens finds the answer to global staff recognition

With 60,000 staff across more than 190 countries, Siemens had a disparate range of reward and recognition programmes in place for many years. But the firm recognised the need to create a company-wide programme and, in early 2010, it set up a recognition scheme called You Answered.

The programme, provided by Madison Performance Management, complements Siemens’ global Answers advertising campaign. Susan Brown, director of compensation at Siemens, says: “It shows how Siemens can answer the world’s toughest questions around environmental issues, city expansion and building infrastructure. Our employees provide Siemens’ answers and the You Answered programme recognises their contribution in doing so.”

By dovetailing its internal recognition programme with the external campaign, Siemens was able to reinforce its corporate values and link its employees’ performance directly to the organisation’s success.

Brown adds: “Our employees are thinking about our business and the role they can play in making it better. Whether that takes the form of delivering a higher level of value to a customer or co-worker, that sense of being ‘the answer’ is becoming ingrained in our culture, and our recognition programme is an extension of that, strengthening the connection employees feel.”

Recognition awards must be adapted to meet local preferences when rolled out to a global workforce, says Jennifer Paterson

When organisations have a global reach, covering a range of diverse geographies and cultures, implementing a unified staff recognition scheme can be challenging.

Derek Irvine, vice-president of strategy and consulting services at Globoforce, says: “Many organisations continue to have adhoc, disparate recognition schemes that are completely different in France, the UK or the US. This is not acceptable any more because it is possible to do things in a unifying way. In my experience, the only criterion for needing recognition is being a human being.”

But what constitutes a recognition award varies in different cultures. For instance, an organisation based in Canada that provided branded fleece jackets could be seen as culturally insensitive by its staff based in warmer countries, such as Spain, Italy, Egypt or Morocco. In India, one of the most popular recognition incentives is a ticket for a Bollywood film; in France, vouchers for a gourmet food chain are popular; and in the UK, vouchers for DIY stores are in demand.

Brian Thornsberry, executive president of business development at Madison Performance Group, says: “There are some things employers need to be sensitive to [when establishing] what rewards make sense. Clocks as
incentive rewards are not acceptable in Asian cultures. A clock means the boss is watching the time and an employee is not putting in the effort. Being able to hit the audience with targeted reward choices is important, as is building a programme that allows for regional or specific geographical flexibility.”

Irvine says employers must also cater for different personality types. “If you think about a worldwide workforce of 60,000, every culture is in that mix, and within that there are staff who are adventurous and staff who are conservative. So choice is one of the key things in building a reward selection.”

Programme should have local feel

Despite a range of cultural tastes and personalities, a truly international recognition programme should have a local feel while maintaining a global reach. Dr Jill Flint-Taylor, business psychologist and director at Robertson Cooper, says: “What counts as appropriate recognition and what works is different for different individuals, never mind the cultural differences.”

Irvine adds: “The reality these days is that there are multi-country and multicultural teams, as well as locals and expatriates. It is important there is a consistency in recognising one employee compared to another.”

Cultural differences will often throw up challenges in aligning recognition schemes globally, particularly when deciding which rewards are appropriate in which country. Steve Baker, head of recognition and incentives at Grass Roots, says: “What may be appropriate, not only in terms of what the reward actually is but the way an employee is recognised and the way it is delivered, will change culture by culture. Differing cultures will respond to different types of reward.”

Language can also be an issue for employers aligning recognition schemes. Global organisations will generally use English as their international business language, so the recognition scheme’s website can use a single language. However, more employers now require programmes to be language-specific to each country.

Kuljit Kaur, head of business development at P&MM, says: “The quality of the programme participation very much reflects the employee’s ability to understand what they need to do to earn a reward.”

Irvine adds: “Employees want to receive recognition in their local language. We are up to 17 languages as the largest requirement of one employer. We offer everything from the various Chinese languages, Japanese, Brazilian and, for one [organisation], French Canadian as opposed to European French.”

Local distribution of rewards

Once the type of reward and the language that will be used to deliver the scheme in each country has been determined, employers must ensure the rewards can be distributed locally as required. Baker explains: “Varying import duties can apply to differing types of goods, which can impact on the cost-effectiveness of the programme.”

One solution is to use reloadable, pre-paid reward cards that can be company- branded and used worldwide.

Once an employer has sorted all this out, the next step is to communicate the recognition programme. Madison’s Thornsberry says: “When we talk to employers with global constituencies, we take them through a process where we bring together their different audiences and have a frank dialogue about the different schemes operating around the globe; leverage a moderate amount of consistency, and hopefully settle on a number of changes that can be tailored for an audience, yet still have a common nomenclature.

“[Employers] are done with that broken buying pattern, with surrendering the corporate objectives to the parochialness of geography, and they are looking at recognition from a one ownership perspective [or] one service bureau objective. In doing so, much like employers align corporate values across an organisation, they can have a global recognition programme as well.”

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