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Motivating Workers Worldwide

October 4, 2007
Related Topics: Compensation, Benefits
Employees at Dow Chemical didn't lack opportunities for recognition. For years, corporate leaders at the multinational corporation, which counts some 45,000 employees in 62 countries, had managed hundreds of programs highlighting exceptional work.

    Still, satisfaction proved anemic, and the scattershot approach made usage and other results difficult to track, says Sylvia Kronwald, program manager for Dow's global recognition program. In 2005, Dow officials wiped the slate clean, hiring international recognition provider Globoforce to provide an approach that was centrally controlled but could be locally tailored to the interests of employees from Italy to Indonesia.

    Since then, nominations increased from more than 107,000 in 2005 to 133,000-plus in 2006, Kronwald says. More than 75 percent of Dow employees have been nominated; 95 percent of them have received awards ranging from e-cards to gift certificates. Kronwald declined to detail Dow's investment, but she believes the money is well spent. "If a colleague, someone the employee works with, recognizes them officially, that helps with motivation and teamwork,'' she says.

    As the recognition industry matures into its second decade, multinational companies are moving away from regional programs and expanding to the global stage, recognition professionals say. Motivating across time zones, though, still requires tight adherence to core recognition principals to make such investments worthwhile, they say.

    Rewards should be closely aligned with the company's strategic goals and return on investment should be analyzed. Additionally, gift cards or other rewards should not be considered a substitute for less tangible rewards, such as managerial support and interaction.

    In short, companies must learn to manage recognition globally, but customize such efforts locally, says Christi Gibson, executive director of Recognition Professionals International, located near Chicago. "What works in another country may not work here,'' she says. "And what works here may not work there.'' The nonprofit professional group, founded in 1998 as the National Association for Employee Recognition, changed its name this year to reflect that 10 percent of its 850-plus membership is internationally based.

    If done well, effective recognition can develop an international cadre of engaged employees who help drive the company's long-term goals, says Bruce Bolger, executive director of the Forum for People Performance Management and Measurement, which is affiliated with Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. The potential payoff can be substantial, says Bolger, pointing to a 2006 analysis by the Russell Investment Group, which compared stock performance for companies listed in Fortune's "Best 100 Companies to Work For'' with the S&P 500. Its findings: From 1998 to 2005, the cumulative returns were 200.6 percent for the "Best 100'' list, compared with 45.6 percent for the S&P.

    But cultivating engaged employees doesn't happen over night, Bolger cautions. "Corporations today tend to prefer initiatives that can get them a result in a year or less,'' he says. "The major obstacle related to the implementation of people performance strategies is that it's a longer-term investment.''

Preventing job hopping
    Today's employees may be less inclined to put down corporate roots than even a few years ago, if the latest "World at Work'' survey by staffing company Randstad is any indication.

    In 2003, just one-third of employees were scouting out job alternatives. By early 2007, more than half—54 percent—were poised to go elsewhere, according to the survey results, which involved 3,139 employers and employees.

    Companies may not be taking sufficient steps to retain employees. Genia Spencer, Randstad USA's managing director of operations and human resources, says more employers—60 percent versus 55 percent—reported searching for new talent to fill anticipated vacancies than those who were grooming people from within.

"That personal touch—the personal thank-you, whether through a phone call or a quick e-mail—is so important."—Sylvia Kronwald, Dow Chemical
"Are we creating our own self-fulfilling prophecy?'' Spencer asks. "We expect for [employees] to leave, so we put our resources into planning for them to leave, versus finding reasons for people to stay.''

    Job angst isn't confined to U.S.-based employees. According to analysis by Kenexa Research Institute published this year, positive employee perceptions toward their job experience in U.S. and European multinationals varied substantially among nationalities. Indonesians were most likely to report a positive job experience, at 77 percent, compared with 45 percent by Japanese, according to the institute's analysis of more than 29 million survey responses from multi national companies. The overall average was 64 percent; U.S. employee perceptions were 67 percent.

    In some Asian countries, where skilled employees were once satisfied with landing a job, the bar is quickly moving higher, says Kurt Hosna, international solutions manager for St. Louis-based Maritz Motivation. Employees in bustling tech centers may move to a nearby building—changing companies in the process—every six to 12 months for salary differences of 5 percent to 10 percent, he says.

    To meet that challenge, corporate leaders have been moving to a more globally consistent recognition approach to attract and retain talent, Hosna says. In 2006, Maritz unveiled its global rewards product.

"Companies want to treat their workforce as one workforce,'' he says. "They say it's really key that employees outside the United States don't feel like they have a substandard program compared to the U.S. program.''

Aligning strategy and rewards
    Before 2003, Reuters recognized exemplary work, but the media giant's approach wasn't doing much to cement employee loyalty or effectiveness, says Danny Hackett, a Reuters program manager. The programs tended to be one-time efforts rather than part of a larger strategy or program, he says.

    Of equal concern, employees perceived that the initiatives were largely confined to sales, and the same people always seemed to garner kudos, Hackett says. "That was a very negative perception to have.''

    Reuters revamped its approach with an eye toward aligning recognition with the multinational company's business strategy. The Living FAST Recognition Program was born. FAST stands for Fast, Accountable, Service and Team-focused—behaviors the company wanted its 16,000 employees to embody.

"The main focus was to get people invigorated and believing in the value of our FAST values,'' says Hackett, the manager of the program developed by Globoforce.

"[Companies] say it's really key
that employees outside the United States don't feel like they have a substandard program compared to
the U.S. program."
—Kurt Hosna, Maritz Motivation

    From January 2005 to December 2006, Reuters invested about $2.6 million in awards. In the process, employees have become more focused, Hackett says. "Do people now know what it means to go above and beyond? Absolutely,'' he says.

    Although specifics differ among products, global recognition programs generally allow corporations to centrally administer the distribution of employee points or awards, but with a local twist. Typically a variety of languages are available. Cost-of-living differences also can be incorporated. Both Globoforce and Maritz adjust awards based on a country's purchasing power. Otherwise, a $200 award in some parts of the world might be enough to launch a new business, says Derek Irvine, vice president of global marketing and client strategy at Globoforce.

    With such fierce competition, human resource directors must be savvy shoppers, says Bob Nelson, author of 1001 Ways to Reward Employees and president of Nelson Motivation Inc., a San Diego-based management training firm.

    Be sure to delve into details, such as how the data is tracked, to make sure a particular vendor meets the company's strategic needs, Nelson says. Figure out how much flexibility and customization is available on the local level. Also, ask if the company pays for rewards as they are compiled or only once an employee redeems them. "That one statement could save you millions of dollars,'' he says.

    As you define your global recognition approach, don't fall into the trap of relying solely on gift cards or other tangible rewards to nurture cross-cultural loyalty and commitment, Nelson says. Dow's Kronwald agrees. Informal daily recognition is crucial, she says. "That personal touch—the personal thank-you, whether through a phone call or a quick e-mail—is so important.''

Addressing cultural differences
    Complex cultural differences can potentially undercut the most well-intentioned recognition effort, says Spencer of Randstad USA. "Different cultures have different motivators,'' she says. In some cultures, respect is the No. 1 driver, she says. "In fact, giving [an employee] a gift card could be extremely insulting because it could be saying that you are bribing them to do what they already do.''

Ask if the company pays for rewards
as they are compiled or only once
an employee redeems them.
"That on statement could save you millions of dollars."
—Bob Nelson, Nelson Motivation Inc.

    That's why local tailoring of rewards—both their selection and presentation—is so crucial, experts say. Team recognition often carries more weight in Japan, while public recognition of individuals is preferred in other locations, such as Bangalore, Hackett says.

    Reward preferences also can differ significantly, says Globoforce's Irvine. In India, a big reward might be tickets to a newly released movie. Employees in Great Britain or Germany might prefer a reward related to home improvement. In France, food- and wine-related treats carry significant appeal.

    Regardless of whether companies contract out such efforts or oversee them internally, the challenges of motivating cross-culturally are further accelerating the demands placed on busy recognition professionals, Gibson says.

"I'm hearing more from different CEOs that they have their own [recognition] section now,'' she says. "Eventually we're going to be seeing vice presidents of recognition.''

    In the end, multinational companies are simply trying to persuade employees to mirror the behaviors and values corporate leaders already tout to the outside world, says Bolger, of Northwestern University's performance management forum.

    Dow Chemical, he says, provides a great window into how that effort can unfold. In 2006, the company unveiled its "Human Element'' marketing campaign, which officials described as emblematic of the company's commitment to solving human problems around the world.

"You create an expectation now with Dow that they are really focused on human beings,'' Bolger says. "So if a scandal comes out about how they are treating their employees or their customers, they are really on the line.''

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Workforce Management, September 24, 2007, p. 25-31 -- Subscribe Now!

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