Posted by: Lauren Jones-Barrett

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“What is Interim Reward to you, Victoria Milford?”

“What is Interim Reward to you?”

The Interim Reward world has seen a huge evolution over the last few years with the emphasis moving away from regulatory change and focusing more on broadly skilled, commercially focused Reward practitioners who can also operationally manage. It’s often a tall order, but Senior interim Reward professionals have had to develop their market offering accordingly and the salesmanship of the Reward interim has never been more important; Reward professionals can no longer rely on their experience and technical attributes, whilst senior interims need to get better at selling themselves and their brand. Despite the looming IR35 legislative changes, interest in becoming an independent consultant and moving away from the permanent Reward world has not decreased but does lead us to ask ourselves – what does it really mean to be an independent Reward Consultant in the current landscape?

Victoria Milford has been an independent Reward consultant since 2013 and has carved out a particularly interesting career specialising in the Retail, Hospitality and Service sectors. It was apparent upon meeting with her that she has carved out a unique proposition and personal brand in the market. I was lucky enough to get some time with Victoria to discuss her interim journey and what it means to be a true interim in this changing landscape; offers some food for thought to all aspiring Reward Interims.

Victoria Milford

Victoria started her career as a Chartered Accountant, working initially within Audit and then the Consulting practice. She moved away from the Consulting world and joined the retailer Comet’s finance team. In this role for two years, Victoria decided that she wanted to make a difference and have an impact on the bottom line rather than purely reporting on it. Victoria moved into a Regional Manager role at Comet for a further 6 years and quickly built up a strong understanding across Finance, Operations, HR and Reward. After 14 years with Comet, Victoria had developed a broad and unique profile, and coupled with a strong operational understanding of a retail business, she felt it was time to explore the interim reward contractor world.

What attracted Victoria to making the transition to the Interim Reward space?

Initially, Victoria started her Interim career for one reason– flexibility. She had just had her second child and wanted to have the flexibility to work part-time in a market that had not yet developed an understanding of the benefits of part-time, job sharing and flexible working. Later, family needs changed again, and she wanted to transition to a full-time but term time only route; contracting remained the obvious option. She developed a partnership with other independent reward consultants who also sought flexibility but felt the part-time permanent roles they were going to be able to achieve would undervalue the strong skills and experience they had. Victoria currently works with multiple clients on different projects at one time, which allows her to offer a cost-effective and bespoke solution to her clients. She currently works one day in London with the two other consultants working two days from home - a set-up they would not have unless it was through contract work.

What is Interim Reward now and how is the landscape changing in light of IR35

Naturally, there is a keenness to lean on an experienced reward professional on an operation basis and you need to be adaptable and able to roll your sleeves up when required, but especially now with IR35 changes in sight, the lines need to be less blurred and roles need to be more defined. Victoria highlights that the difference between contracting should be less focussed on managing the annual reward cycle or the business as usual activities and centred on key projects and deliverables whilst allowing for permanent teams or FTC headcount to manage the day to day. This should, in turn, allow for a more cost-effective solution which will move away from your Senior Interim contractors being dragged into year-end activities and allow them to focus on the complex change work they were brought in to do.

What is the most important Client consideration to have when starting an interim assignment?

Victoria works with multiple clients across a number of similar sectors, but always appreciates that every client’s needs are different, and they must be considered on a case by case basis. She enjoys delivering a tangible outcome for her clients with a strong focus on project and change work. You must assess and review the current reward problems or challenges a business is facing and create a bespoke solution for the client.

Advice – Take the learnings from all previous assignments but ensure that your recommendations and approach is tailored to each client’s individual challenges in order to add value.

What are the benefits of organisations hiring an Interim Reward Contractor rather than using the Consultant services of the Big 4?

What organisations are buying with the big 4 is a process, you are buying their framework and their data which is of course, valuable to any organisation. The benefit of a Senior Reward Interim is that they are taking the time to understand the culture and the legacy. It is hard for someone who isn’t on the ground and is limited to formal interactions to gain this information. The value-add for clients is that an interim reward professional can navigate the business, join everything together and connect the dots. Reward, like HR, is now a relationship-driven function so consulting from afar will offer an off the shelf approach whilst an interim Reward professional can leverage years of in-house experience to shape their recommendations.

Advice – Reward is all about people and you need to be able to develop good relationships quickly with people, sometimes without knowing where they fit in the hierarchy and what the history of working with Reward and HR has been. Don’t expect an induction. Clients are not employing you, rather they are paying you to deliver within 20 minutes of walking through the door. You need to hold your own and represent your key stakeholder in the best way.

What does it take to be a successful interim Reward professional?

It is important to remember that clients are paying you for your existing and previous experience. You need to establish your personal brand and wave your flag high. Reward is a broad specialism and as much as being openminded in your approach when exploring the market is advised, you need to understand your strengths and know-how to sell them to prospective clients. Victoria has a focus within the retail and hospitality sector and this is where she adds value quickly and has a wealth of insights and previous experience to the table. She doesn’t dilute her brand with trying to break into the Investment Banking world, she can deliver the best results and consult with her clients in the most effective way within this sector and has been successful in building a name and reputation for herself.

Advice - Find your niche – niche by sector and niche by Reward. People should not try and do everything as this will undervalue your own brand – you need to be conscious about your brand and the people who are championing you.

 

The takeaways here are clear, line managers need to adapt to the changing IR35 landscape in order to properly assess positions and why they do require interim support. Established interims have carved out a niche in the reward market where they can really get under the skin of a business and understand the challenges in order to be able to offer valuable advice to organisations which they can then in turn use to make commercial decisions moving forward.

If you wish to have a conversation about your interim career, anything relating to IR35 or recruiting interim Reward positions then please do not hesitate to reach out on laurenjones-barrett@oakleafpartnership.com

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