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Rick Blabolil

How Culture and Economic Shifts Affect Engaging Your International Workforce

The costs of employee disengagement are staggering and they are magnified when an organization has a global workforce. Stock prices lagged that of industry competitors by five to one in multinational companies characterized by low morale, according to research including 920,000 employees from 28 companies in Dr. David Sirota’s book, The Enthusiastic Employee: How Companies Profit by Giving Workers What They Want. The benefits of engagement are equally staggering. Watson Wyatt researchers found that an increase in past employee engagement correlates to a 1.7 percent increase in market value, or about $230 million for a company with a market value of $14 billion.

But engaging a workforce that represents diverse cultures and widely divergent economic conditions—especially in today’s scenario where those conditions are in continuous flux—is no easy matter. There are issues of multiple technology platforms and business practices that vary from country to country. From an award perspective, the use of gift cards was triggered in the U.S., but the use of a mobile device as a “virtual gift card” was driven by Europe. Smartphones are central delivery devices for content and award fulfillment in many parts of the world that never fully developed their “hard wired” infrastructure.

Then there’s the length of incentive programs. In the U.S., we’re accustomed to 12-month incentive programs, but markets are so volatile that in other parts of the world they have adapted more quickly to shorter, start-and-stop programs. This is definitely true in Europe and in Chile, for example. We’re seeing that companies need to bifurcate annual goals to be as agile as the world is volatile. The trend is definitely toward programs that are focused on shorter periods of time, and are specific, measurable, attainable and relevant.

A program has to be very sensitive to the profile and economic condition of each participant. For example, in seeking to engage employees, do you offer a way to extend their buying power by rewarding with items that are in reality staples, or do you offer only luxury items they may not have the opportunity to buy if they weren’t in your company’s awards program? Families’ and individuals’ economic well-being has been highly volatile, and their associated needs and wants have ebbed and flowed in parallel.

Given the multiple variables that impinge on engaging a global workforce, we find that program centralization is essential to program and brand continuity. Technology is driving and supporting programmatic centralization. For example, there are incentive-program software packages that can be translated into multiple languages and customized on a regional basis to reflect local customs and practices. Here are some things to look for when building a centralized program:

  • The right web technology for execution. This includes a customizable screen interface, one-on-one communications, tracking and translating.
  • Rules structure that is well defined, customizable and trackable.
  • Reporting that is accessible to all key management and specific to their region or area of responsibility.
  • Communications tools that respect regional customs and languages.

The investment in time and resources will pay off. Consistency, cost control, and the generation of valuable business data on a global and regional scale are among the benefits. Certainly, the driving force here is the engagement of your people…your brand ambassadors…the true drivers of your company’s market share.

What is your experience with engaging your international workforce? What challenges have you encountered and how have you met those? Please share your thoughts, using the “comment” box below.

Useful links:

Motivating People Getting Beyond Money

Cass Business School and Cranfield Management School Identify Four Types of Employee Engagement