Enabling a People-focused Culture through Total Rewards


Unlocking a People-Focused Culture with Total Rewards. Enhance engagement, attract talent, and drive success with effective strategies. By Dr. Ranjit Nair.

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In today's competitive business landscape, organizations are increasingly recognizing the importance of developing a purposeful, meaningful and authentic people-focused company culture that helps to drive employee engagement, workplace satisfaction, and ultimately, enable high organizational performance. One crucial aspect of cultivating such a culture lies in implementing a comprehensive total rewards model that integrates benefits, pecuniary pay and career and learning development. This article explores how organizations can leverage a total rewards framework, centered around four themes  to foster a culture that enables a sense of belonging in a high-performing workforce: 

  • Social (engagement)
  • Emotional (sense of belonging)
  • Financial (pecuniary rewards)
  • Physical wellness (health benefits)

Fueled by the desire to have strategic organizational success, business leaders are realizing the influence a well-crafted total rewards strategy can have in driving high performance by fostering transparency, openness, respect and trust in the workplace. Articulating a compensation or total rewards philosophy is a critical first step in this strategy. A total rewards philosophy has multiple roles – not just in the presence of a comprehensive total rewards strategy– but more so in its ability to demystify pay and explaining why people get paid what they’re being paid.

A total rewards philosophy is a comprehensive statement or framework that outlines an organization's guiding principles, beliefs and approach to compensation and rewards. It serves as a foundation for designing and implementing a total rewards strategy that aligns with the organization's goals and values. 

Total Rewards in the Real World

For example, Google's total rewards philosophy centers around the principle of attracting, developing and retaining exceptional talent. The global tech giant emphasizes a total rewards approach that goes beyond traditional compensation to include a combination of competitive pay, comprehensive benefits, career development opportunities, work-life balance initiatives, and a stimulating work environment. Accordingly, Google's philosophy on pay is based on the belief that a happy and motivated workforce leads to innovation and success. More so, it integrates this belief throughout its people processes, practices and policies from hire to retire. The company believes in engaging all employees as an “always on” task.

Another example where a well-crafted rewards philosophy that enables a sound pay strategy is that of the hotelier Ritz-Carlton. The Ritz-Carlton's total rewards philosophy is centered on the concept of service excellence and creating a culture of exceptional customer experiences. They believe in recognizing and rewarding employees for their commitment to service excellence through competitive and transparent compensation, performance-based incentives, recognition programs and extensive training and development opportunities. As such, this philosophy emphasizes the importance of treating employees as valued partners in delivering memorable guest experiences. This financial component of rewards also is expected to be competitive, and employees want to know how that pay was derived.

At IBM, employees understand that meritocracy and continuous feedback and engagement are key pillars of the total rewards philosophy and, accordingly, its vast, diverse, and broad global employee base understand that the company prioritizes providing competitive pay, comprehensive wellness benefits, and opportunities for career advancement. IBM's philosophy also emphasizes the importance of fostering a culture of innovation and providing employees with access to cutting-edge technologies and development programs to enhance their skills and expertise. Employees want to have a feeling of belonging at their workplace where they are demonstrating their humanity and personality while delivering great work.

These examples demonstrate that a total rewards philosophy is a strategic framework that guides organizations in designing and implementing a comprehensive set of rewards and recognition programs that align with their values, culture and business objectives. It reflects the organization's commitment to creating an environment where employees are valued, engaged and motivated to contribute to the organization's success.

The impact of a total rewards strategy accompanied by a crystal-clear philosophy around pay and the mix of pay elements, helps employees better appreciate a meaningful connection to the organization's mission and values, and work collaboratively towards shared goals. By aligning the total rewards framework with the desired company culture, organizations can reinforce these principles. The rewards and recognition programs should be designed to promote a sense of purpose, encourage teamwork and celebrate individual and collective achievements. Moreover, to develop a people-focused culture, organizations must prioritize the social and emotional well-being of their employees. 

By offering comprehensive benefits packages, including health insurance, paid time off, flexible work arrangements, and wellness programs, organizations demonstrate their commitment to their employees' overall well-being. Such benefits not only address employees' physical health but also promote work-life balance, reduce stress, and support their emotional needs. This, in turn, enhances employee engagement, loyalty, and satisfaction, fostering a positive and collegial environment.  

Total Rewards – More Than Just Salary

In short, employees should look beyond just the fixed elements of pay (salary, wages) and appreciate a wide range of tools to assess whether they are paid what they are worth. Company culture, for instance, is not an obvious – let alone pecuniary – element of pay or rewards but it goes a long way in engaging employees to feel wanted, respected, engaged and enjoy a workplace experience they are proud to tell their friends and family about. All of this is rooted in a well-crafted pay philosophy and stewarded by an effective total rewards strategy. 

Developing a purposeful, people-focused, and collegial company culture is vital for organizations aiming to thrive in today's ever-evolving and complex competitive landscape. By designing and implementing a comprehensive total rewards model that encompasses benefits, pecuniary pay, and career and learning development, organizations can cultivate such a culture. 

By integrating the total rewards framework, say, around the four wellness themes of social, emotional, financial and physical, organizations ensure a holistic approach to employee satisfaction and well-being. In this culture of integrated rewards, high-performing individuals and teams are enabled, driving organizational success in the long run. In doing so, a total rewards strategy can play a vital role in nurturing a collegial and collaborative work environment. 

By emphasizing teamwork and collaboration as core values, organizations can structure rewards and recognition programs to encourage collective efforts. For instance, team-based incentives and bonuses can be introduced to incentivize collaboration, knowledge-sharing and the achievement of shared goals. Recognizing and rewarding teamwork not only enhances cooperation but also fosters a supportive and inclusive culture.  

For example, the technology company Atlassian implemented a unique reward program. This program allows employees to give and receive virtual "kudos" to their colleagues for their help, support and collaboration. This platform fosters a culture of appreciation, teamwork and collegiality, where employees feel valued for their contributions to the collective success. No form of cash is offered but this type of reward goes a long way in establishing a sense of belonging in its workplace. 

A total rewards strategy can also act as a catalyst for innovation and creativity within an organization. By valuing and rewarding innovation, organizations encourage employees to think outside the box, take calculated risks and contribute groundbreaking ideas. Incentives such as innovation challenges, recognition programs for novel ideas, and dedicated resources for research and development can ignite a culture of innovation, where employees feel empowered to explore new possibilities. 

3M, a global company that perennially makes the top 10 list of innovative companies, has a long-standing culture of fostering innovation through its "15% Rule." This global program allows employees to spend 15% of their working time pursuing innovative projects unrelated to their core responsibilities. By providing the time and resources for innovation, 3M encourages a culture of creativity, enabling employees to contribute to the company's success through groundbreaking ideas and inventions.

A well-articulated and executed total rewards philosophy and ensuing strategy go beyond financial compensation, encompassing a range of elements that contribute to building a high-performing, collegial, and innovative culture. By empowering employee engagement, enhancing retention and attraction, and promoting diversity and inclusion, organizations can leverage their total rewards framework to drive financial and strategic success. 

There are countless examples of organizations that have demonstrated success in leveraging total rewards to create cultures that inspire excellence, foster collaboration and drive innovation. In an increasingly competitive business landscape – now moving at break-neck speed because of advances in artificial intelligence – organizations that invest in a comprehensive total rewards strategy will gain a significant advantage in attracting, motivating and retaining top talent while achieving their long-term strategic objectives.

Dr. Ranjit Nair is an author, talent strategist, educator and executive coach. He is the CEO and founder of Potluck Culture Solutions and has taught in Southern New Hampshire University’s human resources management program since 2017. 

SNHU does not endorse or sponsor any commercial product, service, or activity offered on this website.

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