Technology firm Hewlett-Packard focuses on what binds countries together, rather than their differences, when implementing a cross-border benefits strategy
In June 2002, when my manager at Hewlett-Packard offered me an EMEA benefits lead role, my immediate reaction was “what position is there in leading benefits when the countries are so different?” However, my manager articulated a vision of how key this role was, in an international company like HP, in delivering high quality benefit programmes across the region. I accepted the role and the rest is history.
HP operates across more than 40 countries within the EMEA region, delivering benefits programmes within its total reward strategy into very different legislative and cultural environments. However, one critical key to managing international benefits is to focus on what binds countries together, not on their differences, while at the same time respecting their diversity and not trying to make them the same. Environments might be different but the underlying needs are broadly the same, such as design, management, delivery, communications.
With this in mind, a simple strategic focus for benefits across the EMEA region was agreed. It entailed delivering the best return on spend, providing simple and rewarding benefit experiences, achieving world class cost structures and producing focused benefits design and innovation.
It’s important to remember that, whether in one country or 40, benefit programmes can touch employees, and their families, more personally than any other total reward component. At HP, our goal was to ensure that, big country or small, we delivered benefit programmes to the same standards across the entire region. To that end, we identified key factors that would help deliver our strategic focus consistently and successfully across the region. First we had to come up with the right programme design for the market concerned and its specific business conditions. The benefits programmes also had to be implemented to the highest standards for the best possible price. Lastly, we had to ensure that employees fully understood and appreciated the benefits package with the aid of in-house or supplier driven communications and education initiatives.
A key enabler in deploying our international benefits strategy to great effect has been our operating model. At the centre, at an EMEA level, subject matter expertise has provided strategic direction, co-ordinated partnerships, enabled knowledge sharing and helped build best practice platforms. Our geographic HR partners were the feet on the street leading local design and delivery in partnership with the centre of expertise. Both also had to work with other key stakeholders and partners – global peers, business customers, and functional partners like procurement.
Getting this model to operate seamlessly is key. My advice is to build up a track record of success and win-wins. Remember, respect diversity and acknowledge that different skill-sets exist and leverage them together. One of our key collaborations in recent years has been with our procurement team. This close working relationship has been one of the most important change enablers over the past six years. Together we have, through a regionally-adopted sourcing framework driven improved and more consistent supplier service levels, improved and more secure terms and conditions, as well as reductions in the cost of benefit programme delivery.
We have leveraged a consistent framework and our operating model across the full spectrum of our benefits programmes in the past six years – retirement, fleet, health and welfare – yielding significant opportunities and successes that have benefited both HP and its employees. We have made a lot of progress and have now got an international benefits framework, which is flexible enough to meet the continuing changes in the different countries.
Euan Hutchinson is Europe, Middle East and Africa rewards director at Hewlett-Packard
Best practice tips
- Focus on what unifies countries not what makes them different.
- Create a framework to drive consistent, high quality delivery.
- Create win-win partnerships.
- Focus on building a track record of success.