Operating within a global and highly complex business environment brings many challenges to any organisation: culture, language, compliance and regulations, environmental impact, technology and communication, just to name a few.
But globalisation also creates great opportunities to review and improve how the organisation approaches employee engagement across territories.
So, what are the key aspects to consider when thinking ‘globally’ about growing the business and ensuring employees are on the ‘growth journey’ and engaged? MARGINALIA spoke with Adam Mason (pictured right), Consultancy Director at Benefex, who explains their approach to global growth and how they help clients think about employee engagement across countries and cultures. In this interview, Mason advises leaders to deliver great employee experiences as a pathway to growth, and shares views on the role of technology in creating an experience that maximises employee engagement as an outcome.
GL: As part of your work and research, you have developed a particular approach to business growth in the context of globalisation, all of which ensures employee engagement is delivered too, whilst delivering meaningful outcomes for organisations to support their wider strategies. What are the building blocks of such a model?
AM: Globalisation is inevitable as much as the rapid expansion of social mobility, and the fact that there are no barriers to trade. From the research that we do, we tend to see that there are six key areas that are driving growth in globalisation of our clients’ employee engagement platforms.
The first category is the employee experience. There is a need to make sure that companies are engaging with each of their employees in a way that feels personalised and relevant.
In a bank there will exist a diverse range of employees, for example, you might have retail employees at the call centres, dealing with queries coming in through the phone from their customers; elsewhere, you’ll have investment bankers on the ‘trading floor’ skilled to understand complex financial instruments. How they interact with the organisation as a whole will be very different.
If we look back over the years, in the UK, based upon their demographics we’ve tended to see organisations communicate very differently to these populations. Both will have different expectations from their employer, whether driven by the market or by their own personal situation.
Now, if companies wanted to build that up to global, they need to bear in mind the ‘glocalisation’: taking global policies, procedures, and branding, and making sure they are relevant for somebody who’s based in Berlin as well as for someone based in Birmingham. It is about thinking global but taking into account the local cultures and areas. At a simple level, it includes thinking about the language. But it’s so much more than that: it’s actually about thinking how different employees behave; what they resonate with; what will draw them in and make them feel involved with what’s happening in the organisation. It is about investing in personalisation as a way to support and drive engagement. Communicating to employees those things that mean something to them rather, than communicating to them everything and hoping they find their way.
Multinational companies should be prepared to develop engagement approaches that are adaptable for different parts of the world, and yet strategically aligned. There’s no reason to accept poor engagement in Germany while engagement levels soar in the UK.
GL: What comes after employee experience?
AM: The second area is about choice, and flexibility. Flexible benefits are quite commonplace in the UK and US, whereas in some European countries for example there’s less flexibility and a weighting toward more traditional and static ‘risk focused’ benefits, some of these may not have changed since the point of the employees contract commencing. That’s not necessarily a reflection of where the market is going.
Employees need to have flexibility and choice, no matter their location. It can start simply – it might be about determining the level of a cover on a particular life insurance policy, or private medical cover to reflect their changing circumstances.
Beyond that, it should certainly be about harnessing technology to support the narrative of choice and using what we know about that employee to deliver relevant communications that informs an employee of that choice. This is often choice in relation to things that an organisation provides and therefore already paying for but are often not widely known. Let’s say I’m an employee in the Spain who is transferring to Australia for a time. It’s crucial that my access to my benefits is uninterrupted – that the technology works everywhere so I can continue to receive communications and manage my choices (subject to local regulations). Transferring to another division or country shouldn’t disrupt communication, especially at a time where there may be a need to communicate change or something less familiar, the connection should continue.
The next area is about driving process efficiency. There’s inevitably an attraction to make things standardised; which is one of the reasons global players such as Workday or SAP, have been successful with their global roll-out – they’ve enabled employers to standardise their approach to enterprise resource planning, and make sure that the systems that govern those processes are joined up regardless of the location.
Even something as simple as enabling a form to be signed or key terms and conditions to be viewed through a technological portal can remove the burden on the HR team. HR administrators should be focused on adding the value their internal audiences need, rather than wasting time wrestling with the filling in of forms, management of spreadsheets or sending the communications to ensure employees or providers.
Fourth, there is managing compliance and risk. Fewer systems reduces risk by having a centralised view and one way of doing things. While no single platform is going to do everything a global enterprise needs, I do believe employees need a simple, easy to use digital workplace. Every organisation should want to reduce risk, and many IT strategies focus on risk, compliance, and simplicity.
The fifth aspect, is about talent. The best people are in short supply, and recruiters are looking through the same pool of talent to find people that fit roles and personally align with company values and who can deliver their strategic ambitions.
Globalisation itself presents an opportunity. Companies can begin using technology to create a global brand and message that’s supports HR and recruitment, helping to draw in great people. Having an engaged, dare I say, happy staff, is part of that brand. People talk, they make recommendations. Reputation matters.
GL: What is the final aspect to consider when looking at global growth and employee employee engagement?
AM: The last aspect is around bringing data together. All businesses have data, but what the business needs is to be able to distil meaning. Pulling off lots of different spreadsheets can be helpful sometimes. But much more powerful for HR is being able to discern a narrative from the data, and then being able to take deliberate steps to change the narrative and achieve desired results across the business.
It’s much easier to make global-level decisions with collated data. Many organisations have dashboards that give them a snapshot – key facts, graphs, and KPIs. But a more narrative-focused approach to using data can be more enlightening. Insights about the past and current positions are needed, so that evidence-based decisions, and actions, can be made to develop or change the story in the future through predicting what are the most likely outcomes.
GL: The first aspect of your approach to global growth is about the employee experience. How would you define a ‘great employee experience’ within a global environment, taking into account the diversity of people, cultures, business practices, and management styles?
AM: The key to delivering a great employee experience, is enabling employees to feel and be connected. As an employee makes use of the various apps, systems, platforms, and information they need to do their job, what does that journey look like? Physically and digitally, how does the organisation support the employee’s professional objectives, and treat them like a valued colleague?
The whole experience needs to be joined up. Leadership want employees to deliver value, to create value, and contribute to the company’s strategic aims. To enable such valuable contribution, the employee journey through the digital workplace and through the social aspects of work should be well planned and implemented.
People want to feel valued, that their work matters, and that their employer cares about them. Nobody wants to be just a cog in the machine. Managers need to understand the employee experience and remove any friction an employee has in doing their job. More than this, they should remove any barriers between the person and the business; the organisation is of course made up of people, not separate from them.
Inevitably we tend to see that in focusing on its employee experience, leaders in multinationals will get to see different employee experiences in different countries, and the impact on engagement. So the question must be posed, ‘should these local approaches be made global?’.
Further, there may well be things happening in certain locations that really shouldn’t. Maybe management style is impacting morale, maybe key messages are not being delivered or maybe local economic factors are detrimental to business and to individual’s personal lives. Maybe a newly acquired business doesn’t yet have the necessary technologies to fully integrate it with the organisation. In such matters, leaders have to continue to think globally while acting locally.
I’m sure we all agree that part of the overall employee experience is treating people as individuals, rather than just resource numbers in a spreadsheet.
GL: Beyond the research and its consulting, Benefex also provides a digital workplace platform, OneHub. What’s your view on the role of technology when it comes to enabling great employee experiences?
AM: I’ve been talking about the importance of a connected employee journey, and it’s technology, in part, that makes that happen. Historically, organisations have provided a great many systems and tools to employees. The onus has been on the employee to discover what works for what task, and when to use what. Not ideal, especially as so many tools are hidden or hard to find for new starters or for someone who only has a need for each element at limited times during their career.
In recent years, there’s been a shift away from implementing such a diverse collection of products, to deploying more powerful platforms that guide employees through the tool options, through the journey.
Let’s take the example of an employee who is suffering with a period of ill-health. They’ll want to understand what sickness cover their benefits provide. Trying to find the right information, perhaps talking to multiple people, can be time consuming and pretty unpleasant when you’re unwell. Technology, when properly deployed and easy to use, can guide that employee to all the things they need in this particular situation: the policies, the claim process, occupational health information, contact details, etc. All these elements should be connected, making it a joined-up journey for the individual.
The role of technology is joining the dots together for the employee. And when you enable those connections meaningfully for the individual, they begin to engage with the organisation in a much more powerful way, because they feel like the employer is taking care of them. It is about an employee centric view of the role of technology.
It’s always about providing a tailored experience: it’s not necessarily about offering everything to everyone, but ensuring that those things that the business does offer, have real value to each of its employees.
Adam Mason picture credit: Tina Downham