Strength in diversity for Western Union

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 December, 2007, 12:00am

Keeping the workforce engaged in a culturally and geographically diverse company such as Western Union can be a challenge. You only have to consider that there are 14 Western Union offices in Asia, 40 globally and 75 languages represented by 5,900 employees.

With 27 nationalities across the region, the range of ethnic backgrounds and cultures might prove to be a handful. But at Western Union, the company's motto is finding the right employees to serve the right customers, and communication hasn't really been an issue.

According to Martin Timmis, vice-president of human resources at Asia-Pacific Western Union, finding the right people to work in the 156-year-old global money transfer company is important.

'Our employees reflect our customers,' said Mr Timmis. 'Our customers are multicultural and diverse. As you know, we essentially serve migrant workers and Asia is a great exporter of migrant workers right round the world and within Asia itself.

'We have a huge global network and that means we can reach our customers - both senders and receivers pretty much anywhere in the world. Our target customers are often people who don't have sophisticated financial services or financial provisions,' he said.

'We have eight nationalities just within the executive group, so it is very multicultural, and this reflects the nature of our business. Our model in terms of recruitment is essentially to look for local expertise, so most of our countries or regions are headed by people who are indigenous to that particular market or country.'

Mr Timmis said one of the priorities when recruiting was to find the right people to fit the company's culture. Western Union is a 'fairly flat' organisational structure which allows for effective employee engagement.

Hiring employees who had comprehensive local knowledge was also important because, as Mr Timmis pointed out, they were serving people who were essentially migrants from other countries.

'When we are hiring in our region,' said Mr Timmis, 'we look for people not only with local knowledge but with an open mind and who are comfortable with different cultures.'

English is the company's business language, although employees working locally would use their own mother tongue.

'We're an American company and obviously people have to feel comfortable having conversations with people outside of their immediate country,' said Mr Timmis.

So how exactly do you keep employees engaged in such a large, multicultural company such as Western Union? 'We put [the] emphasis on people,' said Mr Timmis. 'We have executive meetings every two months with Ian Marsh [executive vice-president and managing director of Asia-Pacific Western Union] here. He always puts human resources first on the agenda.

'He ensures that we have an engaged human resources population and he sets goals. We measure things like people's intentions of staying with the company. We actually conduct an annual engagement study.'

Western Union pays a lot of attention to opportunities, growth and enhancing people's skills. The company also invests a great deal of time in equipping its staff with classroom-type training dealing with leadership, presentation and negotiation skills, among other skills.

The company also has rewards and recognition programmes. It recently introduced the Accelerator programme, an online tool that allows employees to recognise and reward other employees.

'It's almost like a frequent-flyer programme. You basically get points and at some stage you cash them in,' said Mr Timmis. 'You can get a smaller prize or smaller gift or wait until it accumulates and get something more substantial. We have moved away from spot bonus cash types of incentives.'

At Western Union, employees were also asked what kind of culture and values they would like to see in the company. Through meetings and focus groups, employees spanning the globe have come up with five core values used to gauge performance: integrity, passion, opportunities, partnership and teamwork.

To keep employees within the company connected and to make them feel they are all part of the 'family' in the region, Western Union publishes online a 5.15 Report accessible to all employees every Friday evening, which is a summary of events and happenings within the company, plus a quarterly magazine, Scoop. 'It's important to keep them engaged and connected, too,' he said. 'Internal communication is very important.'

Longevity secrets

Find the right employees to fit the company's culture and serve the right customers

Hold regular executive meetings, putting human resources first

Recognise employees' efforts with rewards and recognition programmes

Use five core values to gauge employee performance

Keep staff up-to-date by publishing newsletters and magazines