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The search for rewards strategies that please ’em all

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There are things you just can’t do in life – when it comes to rewarding employees, you just can’t please them all. The best you can do, however, is understand exactly what their needs and motivations are, and find creative ways within your framework to address them.

Aditi Sharma Kalra interviews HR leaders across Asia to discover lessons from three very different rewards scenarios.

Beloved author of witty books on travel, science and the English language, Bill Bryson, once wrote: “There are things you just can’t do in life. You can’t beat the phone company, you can’t make a waiter see you until he’s ready to see you, and you can’t go home again,” referring to his love for the unparalleled joy from visiting a new country.

As far as HR leaders go, another one to add to that list of things you just can’t do in life – you can’t please all employees, when it comes to rewards and compensation. The best you can do, however, is understand exactly what their needs and motivations are, and find creative ways within your framework to address them. Our three interviewees across Asia have done just that. From Singapore, Tarun Gulrajani, of Rehau opens up about a problem that didn’t seem connected to rewards to begin with. From Malaysia, Puvathy Nadarajah, of Berjaya Roasters highlights reward schemes that work well in a hectic restaurant environment. And from China, Ruby Ru, of Glanbia Nutritionals, finds ways to incentivise internal trainers to up their professional game.

In this Human Resources feature, we put together these three differing aspects of incentives, and identify some dos and don’ts.

CASE 1: How to cut attrition down to 9.3% by putting benefits dollars in the hands of employees

Based in Singapore is Tarun Gulrajani, currently head of HR for APAC at Rehau, speaking about his past experience with another employer, when he faced a problem that didn’t seem connected to rewards to begin with.

He says: “We experienced high attrition of close to 25.8%, particularly among our sales professionals. As ours was a niche industry, it was not only costly to rehire and retrain, it affected our business performance as well due to loss of productivity.”

To get to the heart of the matter, the HR team carried out surveys across the region asking open ended questions to understand what employees were passionate about. An analysis of their answers pointed to an interesting trend – once a fair level of compensation was benchmarked across the industry, money wasn’t a motivator, or even if it was, it lasted for a very short time. However, employee benefits were dear to all employees, and their needs changed as they progressed in their career and life.

“We noticed a common theme, from employees who were single, to those married and with kids, to our mature workforce – their needs varied, from continuous learning, to giving up smoking, to giving back to the community. What appealed to Baby Boomers may not necessarily appeal to Generation X or Generation Y,” Gulrajani says.

The solution: A flex programme to allocate benefits

Upon brainstorming and multiple conversations with key stakeholders, the HR team decided to look into the entire employee benefits process.

Gulrajani details: “To experiment this new idea, I decided not to go for a big-bang approach, but see what would work on a smaller scale. I decided to target a country office with 30 employees. I involved the entire country HR team and not only the benefits team.”

The team looked at benefits as a whole, that is, the amount of money spent on insurance, L&D, CSR and career progression. Taking this into account, S$2,000 was allocated per headcount per year, towards a flex programme where employees could decide how much they wanted to allocate to four wellbeing initiatives – health, social, educational and professional.

They had to meet the basic health coverage, after which they could decide how they wanted to internally allocate their flex dollars. A flex table was created for each employee through an in-house web-enabled application for them to modify and reallocate their dollars. The changes would be in effect for a year, post which employees were free to alter their benefits plan.

The outcome: Employee attrition down to 9.3%

“What we achieved was an engaged and productive workforce that could literally decide their fate and lives instead of complaining that the company did not do enough,” he says. “More importantly it helped meet our objective of reducing our attrition down to 9.3% thus helping the company save money in the long run.”

CASE 2: Why Kenny Rogers Roasters gives busy managers time off to reward achievement of targets

Makers of rotisserie roasted chicken, Kenny Rogers Roasters (KRR) was incepted in 1991 and has since expanded to restaurants in Malaysia, Singapore, China, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines. The chain in Malaysia launched a series of rewards and recognition 10 years ago, which have since been improvised yearly.

Puvathy Nadarajah, senior HR development manager at Berjaya Roasters (Malaysia), spoke of two such initiatives – the KRR enthusiasm activity and the annual business plan trip – to highlight reward schemes that work well in a hectic restaurant environment.

The first, the enthusiasm activity, aims to recognise individuals and teams living the company’s core values and mission. It comprises monthly or bimonthly fun activities in which all support centre team members, who have been employees for six months or more, are encouraged to participate. “Apart from motivating them, it builds and strengthens teamwork cohesion,” Nadarajah says.

The second campaign is the 2016/2017 annual business plan trip to reward department managers and above – area managers, restaurant managers and managers in-charge – for having consistently met the monthly budgeted sales in their restaurant or area. Their performance is measured on criteria which includes a minimum 75% of A level in QSCH (quality, service, cleanliness and hospitality); 50% of GCP (good catering practices) at A level; and excellence in performance review.

The stakeholders for both activities are the same – senior managers and leaders at Berjaya Roasters – and she admits she received their unanimous agreement for the campaigns.

“We took into account the long-term commitment and support the employees can bring to the company, which aided in the implementation of these projects.”

The challenge, however, came in the form of the time invested in rolling out both activities as it required proper planning and commitment from all parties involved. “To curb the situation, all team members involved were given time off as an encouragement for more participation.”

The outcome: A healthy balance between work and play time

Team members continue to look forward to the upcoming activities. “This has served as motivation for them to stay on to work with the company, with a healthy balance between work and play time,” she says.

Other initiatives that have contributed to this raised morale are quarterly awards for best area manager and best restaurant manager; the monthly support centre ‘healthy day out’; breakfast for the support centre team and daily meal for all restaurant teams; complimentary monthly coupons for all management staff; and the organisation of corporate social activities. Looking ahead, Nadarajah is keen to implement flexible working hours at the support centre.

CASE 3: How attractive rewards incentivised a higher quality of internal training at Glanbia Nutritionals

A number of organisations prefer to scale their in-house training programmes over an external solutions provider for reasons such as lower cost and closer quality assurance. One of these is Glanbia Nutritionals, an Ireland-headquartered performance nutrition and ingredients group, operating in Asia through more than 10 offices in Singapore, Malaysia, Shanghai, and a plant in Suzhou, among others.

Based in Shanghai is Ruby Ru, head of HR at Glanbia Nutritionals for Asia Pacific, and she spoke about the impact the right incentives can have on internal training professionals.

“Like many companies, we have a group of people responsible for internal training, as facilitators. But when the HR department conducted training quality assessment, we found that the training was not being delivered in a very professional way, therefore the takeaway from the training was limited. Additionally, more and more critical customer auditors challenged us, saying our internal trainers needed to be certified,” she explains.

The solution: Eliminating the “extra workload” tag for internal trainers

In response, Glanbia launched a series of initiatives in August 2016 – a specific selection criteria for trainers, an upgrade of their training skills, and a host of cash and non-cash rewards to incentivise them for better quality of training.

“The programme certifies and professionalises our internal trainers by reviewing their performance based on the feedback from trainees. Excellent trainers are rewarded with an incentive bonus. This programme is driving our internal trainers to deliver higher quality and more professional training. Moreover, it is benefiting the trainers by developing their careers.”

The selection process is not only more stringent now, but also differentiates the performance of trainers, with employees who clear the process called junior internal trainers. A number of written and public presentation activities are designed to push potential trainers to step out of their comfort zone and upgrade their competency to a higher level. “Internal trainers are divided into different levels – junior, intermediate and senior,” Ru says.

As an incentive to attain the next level, they get an increasing training allowance along the scale as well as greater development opportunities. Special awards and bonuses are given to excellent internal trainers every year during the annual dinner.

So what was previously perceived as an “extra workload” has now been replaced with an evaluation system with elimination as well as reward mechanisms. While internal training responsibilities were previously designated by line managers, with a lack of systematic training skills identification, this has been replaced by a process of selection, certification, development plan and management. “Where previously there was no recognition from the company to reward this ‘extra’ contribution from trainers, we now have rewards – both cash and non-cash – for example, a training allowance to create a winwin situation for internal trainers.”

In her view, the key challenge in rolling out this campaign was the support of the line managers, who were also the most important stakeholders. “HR needed to let them know we are their partners; and they, in turn, are the key persons for an employee’s development. So their role in this programme is to give inputs and be actively involved in every step of this programme, as the biggest benefit for them is the development of their employees.”

In line with this, she lists three clear don’ts for others engaging in such a project: don’t fail to align the programme to the line mangers; don’t allow the programme to be perceived as purely an HR event; and don’t leave development solely up to the internal trainers.

The outcome: Respect for training

Glanbia is tracking its success metrics on the quality of internal training courses. Assessment is being done not solely on the satisfaction rate, but additionally towards the effectiveness of the trainers in accelerating what trainees are being trained for. “More than that, through the series of events we improved the engagement and morale; and several ‘star’ employees came forward, who could be targeted as our high-potential staff,” she says.

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