Article: Reward programs need to be innovative and real-time: Alok Bhatia, McCann Worldgroup

Rewards & Recognition Technology

Reward programs need to be innovative and real-time: Alok Bhatia, McCann Worldgroup

Alok Bhatia, Regional Director, Talent and Rewards, APAC, McCann Worldgroup, talks about impact of technology on rewards, McCann’s strategy to retain top talent, and focus areas for the company in 2019.
Reward programs need to be innovative and real-time: Alok Bhatia, McCann Worldgroup

Alok Bhatia leads the Compensation, Rewards, HR Technology and wider HR/Talent Strategy for the Asia Pacific at McCann Worldgroup based in Singapore. His role is to help develop and implement best in class talent strategies across the Asia Pacific that are future-ready and aligned with the MWG’s mission and strategy.

In an interaction with People Matters, he shared how technology is changing rewards and what McCann is doing to retain talent and key focus areas for the year 2019.

You handle talent and rewards for McCann Worldgroup which is one of the most celebrated Marketing and Communication companies in the world. What is the one thing that you are doing radically different from other organizations?

The Marketing and Communications industry, as a whole, is going through an interesting time, driven by digitization and new technologies and the squeezing of marketing budgets. Agencies are, therefore, at a crossroad - one path leads to transformation and the other, probably a dead end. MWG is at forefront of this transformation, in the region and globally. This brings a unique challenge and opportunity from a talent perspective and especially so for us in the regional talent team, managing employees in 12 countries across the Asia Pacific.

Our talent team, led by Global Chief Talent Officer, Marjan Panah, has made tremendous strides in the past few years. Being a global and diverse organization, we have worked to shift the talent function from a traditional back office/admin role towards playing a leading part of business conversations. We have done so by closely aligning our talent strategy with business outcomes, starting from the very top. MWG’s vision is to “Be the #1 creatively-driven global marketing company” and we complement that in our HR vision of “Unleash the creative potential of every employee”. I would say we are on a journey with moving goal posts, and the only way to succeed is to constantly outdo ourselves. There is no one thing that I can point finger at and say that’s the differentiator - Talent Management is like an orchestra where one off-beat can spoil the whole symphony.

How do you see technology disrupting the Rewards space in different organizations? Is it helping the companies to use it more in a meaningful manner or its creating trouble? 

Like it or not, the reality is that technology has drastically changed the way HR functions and delivers forever. I believe technology is an enabler - what’s more important here, is a clear understanding of the Future of Work. Traditional hierarchies are moving towards a network of teams, 9 to 6 work is shifting towards more project-based, short-term work. Remote work is already here, and the gig economy is growing. 

What needs to catch up is how we recognize and reward our employees. The compensation and rewards function is not immune either. We have all seen the waves of innovation happening, some at their infancy stage, whilst others are more matured. In my view, generally speaking, progress is slow. Slow as compared with what today’s workforce wants. Just as an example, a decade ago compensation and pay information was kept confidential - there wasn’t an easy way for employees to find out more. Today, with just a couple of clicks, one can find how much compensation one is worth, to a relatively high degree of accuracy. The world of compensation is much more transparent now.  HR/Talent teams can no longer hide behind 30-page policy manuals and age-old processes. Employees are demanding better processes and rightfully so. 

I believe that compensation/rewards technology, with the right intent and right execution, will not just help HR strategy, but also create a relevant employee value proposition that addresses workplace transformation.  

What have been your core people strategy drivers?

As I briefly mentioned earlier, the beauty of any successful talent strategy is its close alignment with the business. McCann Worldgroup’s Mission and Strategy is to “Help brands play a meaningful role in people’s lives” through “Strategically-driven creativity” and “Interdisciplinary Integration”. We complement that in HR by “Attracting and Retaining the Best and the most diverse talent”. As a Talent/HR team we ensure that every employee has a great manager and that they get meaningful work experiences. 

We operationalize this by connecting the right people with the right career opportunities at the right time. 

Another key driver is our Diversity focus. With such a dynamic business environment, you need people with varied backgrounds and creative thinking. For me, diversity acts as a catalyst in the creative process. 

Some of the companies choose to adjust the pay with bonus and rewards, but it does not go well with the employees. As an HR leader, how do you manage such a crisis?

Well, we have to look at the larger picture here. Addressing this once a year in the pay cycle is no longer effective, be it performance feedback, compensation, incentives, recognition or rewards. With more and more industries reshaping, start-ups mushrooming all over, automation of work, etc. pay and rewards have to be almost real-time to be effective in engaging and motivating top talent. If a company fails at this, employees will find another place that does better. 

We have to find the right mix of rewards that are not only effective but also resonate with our people. How to do it, is simple, just listen to your employees. At McCann Worldgroup APAC, we have been running comprehensive employee engagement surveys for the past three years. Every year has seen over 80% participation, and we listen to the feedback. Business and HR/Talent teams work together to fine-tune our Talent Strategy. 

Among the many incentives and reward offering, for us, Talent Mobility is at the core, as indicated in feedback from our engagement surveys and need from the business itself. The talent mobility program, which launched in 2015, offers our top talent the ability to move within the network across the Asia Pacific for short or long term assignments, ranging from 6 months to secondments, to permanent moves. All our surveys show that the workforce of today strives for new experiences. Moving talent across the region is a strength for us at McCann Worldgroup, with our operations in 12 countries across APAC. 

How would you describe the company culture at McCann when it comes to retaining talent?

At McCann Worldgroup, we live by our values of Integrity, Bravery, and Generosity. This defines our culture. What we are trying to do differently here is to operationalize these values in our day-to-day business and talent processes. In 2018, we revitalized our values in the region, by relaunching these values. We called it the #McCannValues Challenge 2018. True to our alignment with the business, the initiative was led by our Regional President, Charles Cadell, and managed by the regional talent team. As part of our re-launch, we invited our employees to participate in a competition (with prizes), telling us what these values mean to them and their office in a creative challenge, judged by Prasoon Joshi (Chairman MWG Asia Pacific), Pat Baron (Creative Leadership Council Chair Asia Pacific) and Charles himself.

I was pleasantly surprised, not just by the quantity of the entries, but more so the quality of the submissions. It was heartening to see the huge effort that our people went to and that is what we call “The Discretionary Effort”.

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Topics: Rewards & Recognition Technology, #RedefiningRewards

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