Siemens' Recognition Rebuild
By Leo Jakobson
June 5, 2012
There are many ways to go about convincing upper
management to invest the time and money needed to turn dozens
of independent, local employee recognition initiatives into one
umbrella program every manager in the company can use.
But when the compensation team at Siemens Corporation, the
60,000-employee, $20 billion American arm of the global
manufacturing, technology, and services giant, began creating
the You Answered recognition program six years ago, the
argument that really convinced top management to approve the
plan was all dollars and cents, says Susan Brown, the firm's
director of compensation.
"We started looking at what the spend was," she says. "One
division had an external vendor. They knew exactly what they
were spending. Another group, of our 12, had some idea but
wasn't tracking all the cost factors. In many other groups it
was hidden in expense reports or the random expenditures line
item. We had to ask ourselves: 'Are we getting the value for
the money we're spending when we don't know what we're
That was an argument Brown and her colleagues could bring to
management. Which was useful, because while the company's
management supported employee recognition programs, the impetus
to review Siemens' recognition programs didn't come from the
top. At that time, Brown says, Siemens worldwide was structured
as a conglomeration of a dozen independently operated
businesses in fields as diverse as medical technology, power
transmission, and industrial automation systems. But it was
starting the process of reorganizing into what the company is
today - four businesses: energy, healthcare, industry, and
infrastructure and cities, employing some 360,000 worldwide.
"At that time, any kind of collaborative effort was just an
informal arrangement," Brown says. "The compensation team was
not a team at that time, they were independent departments.
There was no mandate or authority. We did it because we thought
it was in the best interest of the organization and the best
way to either save resources or piggyback on each others' best
Because of the complexity of the task and the informality of
the working group, it was not a quick process. But the program
Brown's compensation group - which is a cross-division team -
created with the help of New York-based Madison Performance
Group has proven popular with managers and, after two years,
coincides with a substantial improvement in Siemens' employee
engagement and retention survey scores.
Here's how Brown and her team transformed an employee
recognition strategy from a Tower of Babel into one strong
Defining The Goals
The biggest problem Brown and her group encountered was setting
goals for a program that covers many different, independent
divisions that have goals that don't always match.
"I laugh about it taking six or seven years to do," Brown says.
"It wasn't the internal roll-out, it wasn't the build. It was
trying to get 12 different groups to consolidate."
In fact, she says, her group originally considered building a
back-end umbrella program that would accommodate completely
separate divisional engagement programs. But in the end, she
says, "We said , 'We're looking to the Siemens values and
results.' Being results-oriented in our water technology
business might look and feel and sound different than in our
energy business, but it's still the same outcome. And our
coaching text could cover each group. We needed our tool to be
high level enough to embrace all the differences."
To accomplish this, the Siemens recognition program had to
revolve around the company's three main values: responsible,
excellent, and innovative, Brown says. "Responsible means
committed to ethical and responsible action, excellence in
terms of result and performance, and innovative, just to
continually create value," she says.
That was the right decision, says Michelle Pokorny, vice
president of engagement and recognition solutions at St.
Louis-based Maritz Motivation Solutions. "That tight alignment
and shared sense of purpose in the company comes from a
consolidated and consistent employee recognition program.
Regardless of where you are, what division or what your role is
inside the company, there's a set of values and behaviors that
everybody knows is important to delivering on the brand promise
and to accomplishing the goals. Having alignment around the
things that are important to create the brand promise delivery,
is really where recognition and engagement programs can play a
The fact that Siemens' global leadership was taking the entire
company in that direction at around the same time helped the
new recognition program get off the ground. As the company
reorganized itself into the four, more centrally controlled,
divisions it has today, Siemens was rolling out a major
branding campaign called Siemens Answers, in which it
positioned itself and the products and services it offers as
the answer to a variety of different problems, in fields as
varied as urban planning and medical diagnostics.
That ongoing ad campaign ended up giving Brown's recognition
program its name. "We thought, 'If Siemens has the answers,
what are our employees? They are the ones getting the answers.'
So we brainstormed and came up with You Answered. I think the
most amazing thing about our program is our connection to the
external brand. I think it really brought everything together."
It also gave the employees a "way to take those values and
translate them into behaviors that individual employees can
relate to and learn from," says Mike Ryan, senior vice
president of marketing and client strategy for Madison
Performance Group, who has worked closely with Brown on the You
Answered program for about four years. "I think that really
created a very cohesive message for the employees in terms of
their role within that value proposition."
A Simple Plan
From the user's perspective, the You Answered
recognition program Siemens Corporation created is very simple:
When an employee does something above and beyond that furthers
one of the three values, a manager doles out praise and a
branded American Express gift card worth $25 to $500. For
actions with an exceptionally large impact on the company,
larger cash awards are available.
This page is protected by Copyright laws. Do Not Copy
But creating a simple recognition program for a large and
complex company like Siemens is a complex task, says Ryan,
whose firm built Siemens' You Answered program on its Imagine
recognition and reward platform.
"You want the process to be intuitive and seamless for
managers," Ryan says. "If a manager wants to give an award,
there shouldn't be this complex algorithm they go through to
make sure that award is properly generated and approved. The
system should do it automatically, or they won't do it, or it's
going to get hung up in the process. The back end will
determine who needs to approve this, if anybody; it'll send
reminder emails to people - you've got X amount of awards in
your queue; the back end will generate a default approval if it
hasn't been handled in a while."
The You Answered interface has just two blanks to fill in: the
reason for the award and a personal message to the recipient,
as well as drop-down menus for points to be awarded, the
company value his or her action furthered, and the result it
achieved. "You click through three screens and you're done,"
Brown says. "I can do an award, as a manager, in less than two
minutes. If you build it to be clean, to be intuitive, then
they will absolutely embrace it."
One of the big fights Brown had was getting buy-in to
streamline the approval process. That required "a lot of work,"
she recalls. "Some groups, literally every award was being
approved by their division head and in other groups [awards]
were being approved by their HR rep and that's it. There was
anywhere from one level of approval to five or six levels. One
of the main philosophies around recognition is to make it
immediate and when you have six levels of approval, there is no
way it's going to be immediate."
Finally, management has to be able to pull information out of
the program, Ryan says. Beyond basics like who's getting awards
and where is money being spent, that means "the ability to do
'what if' scenarios in the HR suite," he adds. "If we were to
improve performance in one area over another - in other words,
shift recognition dollars from one spot to another - what would
that do in terms of our overall economics? Can we make a case
that recognition does drive the high level of results we're
The initial results show the work on Siemens' You Answered
employee recognition program has been worth it.
Siemens does a broad employee engagement survey every two
years, and the most recent results showed engagement was up 3
percent and retention scores went up 5 percent compared to the
survey two years ago. That two-year period corresponds with the
time that Siemens' You Answered program was fully rolled out
and in use. Brown notes that with 60,000 employees, 5 percent
equals 3,000 employees who did not seek other jobs. "That
translates into much less disruption to the workforce," she
says. "There are studies that say there is a clear cost to
replace someone - lost opportunity costs, recruiting costs, and
training costs - and this translates to real dollars."Then
there are the usage numbers. "In our first year, less than five
percent of managers used You Answered, because we rolled it out
in slow stages," she says. Now fully 85 percent of the
company's managers have used the recognition