Exclusive: Karen Gaynor from Siemens on leveling systems, flexible benefits and diversity

By The HR Observer

Karen Gaynor is the Head of Rewards at Siemens UK and north-west Europe. With over 14 years HR experience in major global conglomerate organisations, her contribution to initiatives at Siemens resulted in winning various awards. This includes the 2011 Employee Benefits Awards for ‘Most effective benefits communications strategy for employers with more than 5,000 UK staff’ and Gold Award for the ‘Employee Recognition’ category at the Institute of Promotional Marketing (IPM) Awards 2012.

Karen was a guest speaker at last month’s Compensation and Benefits Forum in Dubai.  We had the chance to catch up with Karen and ask her a few questions about rewards at Siemens.

Let’s talk about your leveling system. How is it different from other grading methodologies?

The leveling system is a very qualitative methodology of employee evaluation. This is very different from the highly analytical, numerical, quantified grading methodology. Even though grading schemes are typically very precise, only an expert can understand it. Here at Siemens, we have gone more towards the leveling side for the majority of employees, which is where managers can get heavily involved.

It looks more like a catalogue of descriptions, with the different jobs, incremental changes, etc., which is easier for managers to understand and get involved. Therefore they can make changes based on the employees profiles. When you just give the managers an outcome grade from a numerical, quantified grading methodology, it doesn’t make any sense to themand it will be difficult for them to explain to the employees the justifications for those numbers. This high involvement from managers is what I find very appealing about this scheme.

And this programme is already being implemented at Siemens?

Yes. Before the implementation, we have done a number of pilot countries where we tested the first catalogue of jobs and we checked how it would work. But now we are rolling it out in our offices around the globe because we want to see that level of transparency of having all of our employees knowing their grade structure from the top to the bottom of the organisation.

How effective do you think is this scheme in your Middle East office?

It’s working well. Every country has a level of flexibility where they can complete the matching process but then potentially not communicate it. So some countries might do the matching process, but not share it with the individual employees, but it would be used for reference for salary benchmarking, career progression and talent management etc.

In the UK we decided that the best thing to do is to share it. I recognise that offices in some countries prefer to use such information only as reference and choose not to share it with the individuals perhaps for some cultural reasons.

Do you find it challenging to implement a system that was created in the headquarters in a completely new culture with different values and dimensions?

There usually aren’t any issues with the matching process. In some cultures there might be some differences like how transparent they want to be. Some countries have already gone to the next level of implementing this system and are already attaching rewards to their leveling schemes. Meanwhile, others find it very difficult to be that transparent and prefer privacy.

For instance, some regions like Scandinavia prefer transparency where individuals would not mind sharing their salaries with everybody because it works in their culture. But that is not the case everywhere. It is up to the HR in each country to work out how they can take this fantastic tool and make it useful for the local culture. Throughout the different stages of maturity, there might be a slower phase for some while it’s much faster for others.

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What are the benefits of leveling in terms of diversity?

One of the things that I anticipate is that it will give us a greater transparency of our diversity. For example, right now it’s very difficult for me to do something like an equal pay audit. I can’t really compare male to female or an ethnic minority with a white national / majority. One of the things that the leveling system will give me is more data on which wewill be able to do some more analysis.

This I believe will help me realise what is the level of diversity at each level of the organisation and maybe even within job families in which case I might be able to use focus groups and communicate with the individual employees in order to understand any underlying issues. Only when I understand and acknowledge these issues will I be able to  improve them.

How much space does the employee have to disagree with the leveling evaluation that’s been given to him/her by the manager?

A: Once the matching is done, there’s a robust calibration process. This constitutes of a board of other members from the senior management and a HR facilitator who will examine the evaluations. This process entails studying and maybe questioning the leveling evaluation details of every employee. So we create an environment of honesty and challenge. We also look across other businesses to compare them and understand the differences and similarities.

So this methodology is not based on employee’s performance?

No. It’s not dependent on the individual’s performance, it’s rather dependent on the job description. It’s basically to evaluate the purpose of the employee in a particular job. The performance element is a separate process for which there would be a separate discussion on an annual basis. You might also link that to the leveling analysis and examine them in contrast to each other.

How do you think the digital revolution can contribute to such a methodology?

It increases the flexibility by enabling people to work from home and manage their priorities in life, including children etc. It provides an increasing flexibility in terms of the working hours, which is very useful now with globalization where people have to conduct meetings with individuals who live in different time zones.

Do you think this leveling methodology can help companies in attracting the right talent?

It depends on your supply and demand. It’s not just about getting the right talent, it’s also about retaining them. When an employee leaves the company within the first year of employment, that’s very disruptive to the business. The things that will attract employees to apply to a job might not be the same as the things that will keep them in that job after getting hired.

What are your expectations in terms of compensation and benefit in the region for the next year?

I can see  reluctance in somepeople about new initiatives like flexible benefits in the Middle East. I find that very intriguing because in other countries these initiatives have been the norm for a number of years now. Flexible benefits is actually a very good starting point for any organisation to attract and retain their employees, and to support their business with more flexible reward solutions. For those companies who are refusing to implement it I think they have to start questioning and challenging their reluctance.

Finally, how do you like the Compensation & Benefit Forum?

I like the structure of the conference and I especially liked the networking session earlier, which was a really good opportunity to build relations. I have LinkedIn with a few people already. The event also gives you the chance to test where others are up to, which is very thought provoking. It’s great to have an opportunity to reflect on our own practices and on what we could do differently.

In a lot of the events that I go to in the UK, there would be a hundred stands with different suppliers, and someone is always trying to sell you something in the coffee break so it’s a bit more commercial. So this environment here is slightly different and it’s very open.

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