Having spoken with a number of other reward professionals, I think my route in was fairly typical. Having studied Economics and Statistics modules at University, as well as Psychology, I knew I wanted to work with numbers and people. I was able to find a route to reward through a first post-grad job as an HR Generalist. I made my intentions clear that I wanted to specialise in reward and in time a position was created for me to be part of the Reward Team. From that point on I have always worked in reward.
For someone looking to get into reward there are quite a few routes, and having a mathematics-type qualification is beneficial. Several reward professionals I have worked with came from a Finance background and have qualifications in that area, and although the necessary skills aren’t exactly the same, they are transferable. If you can manipulate and derive meaning from data, as well as being able to communicate effective recommendations to all levels of the business, then reward is an excellent career path to take.
Keep it simple. This is advice from my current Manager who is a strong advocate for taking every opportunity to remove complexity and inefficiency by designing simple and easy to understand reward programmes so that employees can better understand and value them. As reward professionals, we can tend to create schemes or plans that are overly complex, purely because we are able to write the formulae to do so. However, just because we can, doesn’t mean we necessarily should. A combination of stakeholder engagement and employee understanding, as well as return on investment, should always be at the forefront of a reward professional’s mind when working on a new plan/scheme or programme.
Keeping it simple also helps us to document clear and consistent processes, reduce administrative burden, communicate more effectively, and will ultimately improve knowledge-sharing across the business.
Accuracy and attention to detail – these are skills that will appear as essential requirements on every Reward job advert and they cannot be underestimated. Beyond that, an advanced knowledge of Excel or an equivalent spreadsheet programme is crucial to have a successful career in reward. The good news is that even if you currently do not have this skill set, there are plenty of courses available that can bring you up to speed. Another essential is being able to engage with all levels of the business: You may have devised the best reward programme out there, but in order for it to make maximum impact, you will need to be able to acquire buy-in from key stakeholders, as well as being able to effectively communicate the programme to all eligible employees.
Another essential skill is dealing with ambiguity. The great thing about working in reward is that you have the opportunity to create and deliver something from an initial idea. However, that does mean that it is not always clear how to reach the end goal and that the end goal may change throughout the design, implementation, or even delivery period. Being able to cope with such flux is crucial to becoming a successful reward professional.
A working knowledge of a Human Resources Information System (HRIS) is also very helpful as you are likely to be reporting data from whichever system the company uses. However, once again, using HRIS systems can be learnt “on the job” in case this is a skill you do not currently possess.
Meeting employees from all levels of the business. Quite often you will find yourself discussing reward programmes with very senior employees – the access afforded as a reward professional tends to be much greater than for more front office-type roles. This can be nerve-wracking but is also a great opportunity on a professional level. More often than not, when speaking to your stakeholders you will also get an insight into the passion and dedication that exists within a business. I have always found this uplifting and motivating in its own right.
I also like that reward is involved throughout the employee life-cycle, i.e. attracting, motivating and retaining the workforce. Different skill sets are needed to achieve each objective which means reward tasks can be very varied from day to day. There are many different facets to remunerating employees and reward is a discipline that needs to keep pace with internal and external changes to the business and the economic climate, and therefore it is ever-evolving and exciting to be part of.
I also enjoy working on recognition programmes – recognition can be seen as a less important part of reward by some companies, but I believe this is a mistake. Recognition can be every bit as effective as reward programmes in terms of motivating and retaining the workforce, and is quite often achieved at a lower (or zero) cost to the company.
The on-going volatility in the global economy can provide certain challenges to the reward professional as it may affect the company resources available to create, for example, a new incentive scheme. As we all know, one errant Tweet can affect global market confidence and it is something that is challenging to manage pro-actively. However, this challenge also provides the opportunity of looking into more creative methods of effectively remunerating the company’s employees, as was the case in the aftermath of the economic crisis in 2008.
I’m also aware that in some people’s opinion reward roles are under long-term threat of being automated, but personally, I don’t see this happening for the foreseeable future. The reason being is that I believe there will always need to be a human element to reward. Relationships, trust and discussion are all parts of the role that I don’t believe could be adequately covered by an automated process as we’re dealing in such a sensitive and often emotive discipline. Even if I am wrong and automation was to happen at some point, I think it would just change the nature of the role, rather than make it redundant. Other than that, I don’t see any challenges for future reward professionals and I think it is a particularly exciting time to be involved in the discipline.
Things will go wrong and mistakes will be made. However, if you can learn from those mistakes and improve the way you work to avoid making the same mistake in the future, then you will be a better reward professional for the experience. I would also say to my younger self to be more confident in asking for feedback from stakeholders about a piece of work I had delivered before it was launched. Feedback, whether positive or constructive, is the best way to gain insight into how a piece of work would land with the business and could be a crucial way of identifying what needs to be tweaked or amended before sharing it with the business.
I would also spend more time preparing for important meetings with senior stakeholders – if your data is accurate, and presented in an effective way, it is likely to be so much better received, which increases the likelihood of getting a project over the line.
I would also advise my younger self to spend more time researching the industry I work in – this might be attending more reward events, spending time speaking with salary survey providers, or simply arranging to speak with employees in the front office/on the shop floor etc. to really understand what the company does.
I would like to thank Mark for his time and I am sure you will agree that the insights he has provided are extremely valuable and provide an excellent perspective of the reward industry and what it takes to be successful.
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