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Western Union: Connecting Strategy and People Globally

For more than 150 years, The Western Union Co. has helped to connect friends, family and businesses around the world.

February 5, 2008
Related Topics: Technology
KEYWORDS technology

For more than 150 years, The Western Union Co. has helped to connect friends, family and businesses around the world. The company is an industry leader in global money transfer, with more than 320,000 agent locations in more than 200 countries and territories. The global scope of its operations creates many challenges. Dave Roberts, vice president of talent management, and Lisa Jacoba, senior vice president of talent management, took a moment to explain how the company integrated its talent management approach and leveraged technology systems to ensure that more than 5,600 employees being managed virtually or remotely around the world are connected to the organization’s strategy and goals.

TM: Describe Western Union’s approach to talent management.

Roberts: One of the key strategic areas of focus is integration. We want a one-stop shop for the various clients of talent management. The company had a history of very siloed, separated talent management processes. We’re pulling those together around a set of key talent imperatives, things that people in the organization need to do in order to drive the business forward and accomplish the strategic goals of the business. One imperative is bring very consumer- or customer-centric. One is delivering value to our shareholders, our employees, consumers and our agent network. Our talent management strategy really pushes ownership to the individual employee, giving them tools and training to take charge of their own career success and development. Our business model is one driven by our agent network. There’s over 300,000 agent locations, and they have a very small core employee base. That allows us to do things easier and more efficiently than a larger organization. We spend a lot of time and a lot of work understanding global trends, industry trends, talent trends, all sorts of external trends, as well as what’s happening internally in the company to identify talent imperatives so we can be successful now and in the future.

TM: What processes have you established to improve workforce performance?

Roberts: We’ve started this integration idea from a technology point of view with performance management and learning. One of our key performance deliverables is to really drive from the very top through every level of the organization. We want employees to be aligned with the imperatives of the business. We use technology, process and change techniques to get people focused on goal setting and performance management on those imperatives. We’re moving away from strictly appraisals to a performance management approach that involves a lot of dialogue between the employee and the manager. We have an annual review process. In the past, we did that twice a year; we’ve gone to once a year from a compensation perspective. We’re trying to separate that from the performance management, which happens throughout the year, on an ongoing basis. We know from great research from the Corporate Leadership Council the most powerful impacts on employees’ performance are the day-to-day interactions with the supervisor, and if the supervisor is providing solutions to help them get their work done and providing good targeted feedback on a daily basis. Peer-to-peer learning also has a big impact on performance, as do real-world work assignments.

Jacoba: In April 2007, we implemented a new program to drive performance management, learning and succession, and we’ve created a tool. Our employees set goals and manage their performance activity, as well as access learning opportunities within the same tool that might help them reach their performance or development goals. We’ve also instituted a recognition program based off some of the same values and attributes as our performance and learning program. It recognizes our employees for putting into action the values of our company.

We utilized Plateau’s system for performance and learning, with the intention to use their succession module at a later date. The leader and the employee sit down and collaboratively work to establish performance goals. We ask that those employees align their goals with the strategic plan and goals of the company, and the leader should help. A couple of times a year we have a pit stop. Our theme is all around driving performance, so you’ll hear themes around driving in the car. The pit stop is an opportunity for the employee and the manager to reflect on goals and progress toward those goals so far in that calendar year, perhaps make some adjustments or changes if necessary. It might mean adding another goal they need to work on for the rest of the year. Our strategy going forward is to make sure that is happening about three times a year. At the end of the year we ask employee and manager to sit down again. The employee should do a self-assessment toward their goals, and the manager should give feedback against performance. We’ve also integrated our values. Our company has a set of five, and within each we have two competencies. All employees are assessed against those competencies and values. All of these pieces are integrated with our internal Web site. The tool provides a lot of reminders to employee and manager on where they should be in the performance management cycle within that calendar year.

TM: How does Western Union develop organizational culture and employee attitudes to facilitate workforce performance?

Jacoba: We started establishing our values right before we spun off from our parent company, and we interviewed and held focus groups with over 1,200 employees in the company. At that time, our company was a little bit smaller; it was before we had an acquisition. Employees were interviewed to ask what do you want, what do you believe the culture should be for Western Union, and/or what do you see it being today? We worked very closely with our executive team, so our values come from within, and we’ve established these competencies to continually reinforce the behaviors and the culture we strive to achieve at Western Union. These performance management programs, as well as our recognition program, very much support the employees putting all those into action.

TM: How does Western Union measure workforce performance?

Jacoba: We use our company’s overall financial performance. Our compensation program is tied to not only how the company performs, but how the business performs financially and how all employees perform against their individual goals and competencies. We also do some assessments with our leadership team around leadership quality, attributes, behaviors.

TM: What compensation practices does Western Union employ to manage talent?

Jacoba: We are pay for performance, so we reward based on what people have achieved and how they’ve achieved it. Our compensation and bonus structure is mostly for our manager and above population. They’re eligible for an annual bonus, which is tied to three metrics: the company’s overall financial performance, a certain percentage comes from the business unit they’re in, and their own goal achievement. A calculation at the end of the year weights each of those categories and determines the percentage of bonus payout an employee can achieve. Up to 125 percent of their bonus could be paid out. It can range from zero to overachieving depending on how they performed and the company performed.

Our recognition program is designed to reinforce our company values and competencies. We have three tiers within that program and an automated tool to help us administer them. The first is an electronic thank you card that comes in real time through the system to reflect on the values I saw you put into action. The next one is an anytime award, which also has monetary value. Any individual can nominate another individual, but it needs to be approved by the supervisory level. We give an employee points through this recognition system, and the monetary value is around $200 to $300, so it’s very on the spot. The third tier — I guess we really have four — is a quarterly award. The point value and the monetary value continues to increase. It’s for something a little bit more significant, and a team of leaders select a core group of winners each quarter around the world, in every region. Then, at the end of the year, all the quarterly winners are eligible for an award where the monetary figure is increased even more. They go into a catalog specific to their region of the world and select gifts, anything from a George Foreman Grill to tickets to the Super Bowl, if they get enough points accumulated.

TM: Tell us about succession planning at Western Union.

Jacoba: Our focus is primarily our director level and above. We want to have really open and continuous dialogue between employees and their managers, working to understand what’s next and what we as a company can help do to develop them for that. We’re just getting started, but we’ll be instituting two formal talent forum discussions each year, where all leaders bring in the information from those individual dialogues and present their top leaders. Through this leadership review we identify who our high potentials are, who we’re developing, what roles we see them moving into. The executive team will have the conversations individually with their organizations, and they will meet as an executive team and roll it up to the next level. This is our way to get input and key insights from other leaders on some of our top high-potential folks. Right now, we’re doing everything manually, but our hope is to utilize a system that would continually be updated, so we clearly understand for every one of these director-level and above employees what their strengths and development areas are, what their potential next steps are, whether or not they’re mobile and can move to new countries. Our hope is to utilize the data on the performance and learning sides, and then integrate all of that to help us make some of those key decisions when we have to back fill a role or get into a new line of business, and really use this as our search engine to look at the talent and make some decisions on how to mobilize our talent.

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