From recognition and rewards to employee value proposition and HR, David Litteken, Vice-President Asia-Pacific Region, BI WORLDWIDE presents his perspective on the mutability in the engagement, rewards, and incentive industry
Prior to this, David was the Managing Director for APJ and China and has been a member of BI WORLDWIDE’s Executive Team since 2002. He has served as Vice President of various divisions including its Employee Performance Group and Healthcare practice.
Prior to joining BI WORLDWIDE, David worked in commercial sales and client services at Maritz Inc. for six years, where he focused exclusively on automotive accounts. David also had a 3-year stint as the President of Edina A Better Chance, a non-profit educational organization that recruits minority youth with an academic promise from across the United States to pursue educational studies at one of America’s leading public high schools.
You have worked in the performance-improvement industry for over two decades, focusing on the world of recognition, incentives, motivation, loyalty, and events. Tell us what has been the inflection point of the engagement, rewards and incentive industry.
When you think of rewards and recognition, there are a couple of points to note. Firstly, think about “What is recognition and why should we do it?” “Is recognition about thank you?”, “Is it about giving thanks?” or “Is it performance-based?” With this big shift in trend towards performance-based recognition, we need to think if we are setting the right targets and rewarding people appropriately. Ultimately, it is about striking a balance between giving people specific targets, making sure that they are recognized for their meaningful work, and rewarding them with memorable experiences that they cherish forever. One big change we have seen is in the thought behind the kind of recognition that should be offered, and whether it should be business-oriented or geared towards creating a happy work environment. Secondly, as companies have grown and are connecting globally, there is also a discussion about how recognition programs can be local while connecting people globally.
How can leaders be empowered at their level to create rewards and recognition initiatives that truly make a difference?
The key is to provide managers with discretionary budgets to calculate, identify the scope and impact of rewards and recognition while guiding them on the kind of rewards (cash or non-cash reward) they should use to motivate their team members. Organizations need to provide managers and leaders with discretion but also give them the power to identify rewards that are commensurate with the exhibited behaviors. They need to put some basic rules in place while putting trust in leaders and giving them the leeway to move and lead.
How is technology enabling companies to personalize or reach out to people in a unique and segmented way?
If you look at the recognition prep line, there is enough information that the HR department can provide to the system, for example, basic information like employee birthdays or work anniversaries. In some countries like Singapore or the USA, the military is revered. If organizations in such regions know the veterans or current military members working in the organization, they can thank them for their service to the country through a small gesture like sending them a greeting card. It is quite simple but also an incredibly powerful thing. What we are looking at is — harnessing such information, putting it in automated segmentation, and giving people the recognition they deserve. Technology is a tool that needs to be harnessed, but many times people become reliant on technology and don’t do the diligence to keep up with it. Technology is a great tool, but it is about making things personal.
How do organizations ensure that global recognition programs also cater to local and cultural needs?
I have had the privilege of living in several countries and working in offices all over the world. What I have realized is that we are more alike than different. We all have hearts. We all have brains. We all want to do meaningful work and work towards our future. But the culture part is crucial. It’s the cultural nuances that make life interesting and us unique. For example, in north Asian countries, there is more of collectivism, and hence teams automatically become more important than individuals. Here, awarding teams become important than rewarding individuals. Another thing is to look at the kind of rewards that motivate people. For example, experiences are critical for the millennium generation. In Asia, cosmetic and skin-care products translate into high esteem rewards for men and women and are one of the most redeemed items in Asian culture, when compared to other cultures. Simply put, cultural nuances play a really crucial part in designing rewards and recognition programs.
How critical is it to have an employee value proposition that is clearly defined? And how do you think HR needs to contribute on that front?
The proposition that an organization makes to its consumers is different from the proposition that the organization makes to its employees. Taking the corporate branding message and trying to make it fit for employees does not work, as they are two distinct things. The first thing that organizations need to do is mine their internal and external data, including social media data, and try to find correlations and insights. This can then be used to develop a simple employee value proposition, which can be followed up with branding communication. How you convey it, should be distinctive, and this is where the marketing team comes in. HR needs to involve marketing in the EVP process, bring in external parties like consultants or agencies that specialize in business, employee and PR communication to hit the mark.
What do you think will be some of the trends related to rewards and recognition that would be inevitable in the future?
I think the trend will be personalization. It’s like how Nike does it — they let the consumers design their own shoes and the way they want them to look like. Organizations need to leverage technology to make sure that the recognition system is healthy and personalized for employees — what the employees want to see, how they want to be recognized, what they want to receive and then translate this information into individual rewards. Rewards need to appeal to the desires, aspirations, and motivations of employees. Organizations need to leverage technology to ensure what they are doing is highly personalized. That’s the biggest trend we’re going to see.