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The secrets of a rewarding career: Interview with Harriet Kemp, director of group reward & people processes at Compass Group

Posted on from Eton Bridge Partners Limited

Harriet Kemp is director of group reward & people processes at Compass Group, a foodservice and support services firm. Toby Burton, reward practice lead at Eton Bridge Partners, asks her what it takes to succeed.

Tell us about your role

I look after the Compass global leadership team of 450 senior managers, plus 40,000 employees who are mainly middle managers in operational and office roles such as finance and HR. I also have an oversight responsibility for the rest of our 500,900 global workforce, many of whom are covered by collective agreements. I am part of a small, UK-based group HR function, reporting to the group HR director. Supporting me, I have a reward manager, an international assignments manager and a projects manager. A talent director is also on board and we have regional HRDs and small HR teams in different countries.

What do you need to be successful in reward?

A lot of HR people say they can’t do numbers and don’t want to engage in reward – it’s like a mental block. On the other hand, reward people are often guilty of making what they do seem overly sophisticated and don’t explain it very well. In reward you’re often managing processes much more than other parts of HR do, so you have to be well suited to using technology and have an analytical quality – it isn’t just about producing numbers.

Reward is all about remuneration committees, talking to the board and engaging with non-exec directors. You need the ability to act at these senior levels.

What is the most effective communication method when delivering a total reward message?

You can’t beat face-to-face communication. Last summer, when we made a big change in our incentive programme for the top 450 senior managers, we talked to them directly in the countries they are based in. People felt we had taken the time to listen.

We could have communicated via webinar, but when you are explaining complex issues – such as share options versus performance shares across diverse geographies – you need to be there. It also boosts your credibility.

What skill do you look for in your team?

It’s essential to have good analytical skills and be able to analyse information and play it back in a very simple way. When we’re explaining things to people, particularly senior people, we work really hard to keep it concise.

For example, if you are having a conversation about moving an employee, you need to have all the data about the cost of living and different tax rates. You must explain it in a clear, intelligible way to people who don’t eat, drink and sleep this stuff.

If you are talking to senior managers, they don’t have time to absorb many pages of information. You need to have the facts at your fingertips and know the background because you might be asked for it. Some will want to go through all the detail – part of the skill is in knowing what works for different people.

Which skills are in short supply?

There is always a shortage of reward people – it can be a difficult field to get into. A good route is to go into consultancy and get exposure to reward across different organisations, picking up technical experience. From there, you can become a practitioner. I’ve seen finance people come into HR and do reward jobs really well and I’ve seen HR generalists come over to reward. It’s certainly possible to make those moves but you need to have an instinctive desire to do that analysis and not be frightened by numbers.

What’s your best piece of advice for reward managers looking to be directors of the future?

Rather than sitting at a desk working on an Excel spreadsheet, make the effort to engage with the business, understand what it is trying to do and the issues it is trying to solve. It always comes back to finding solutions to support the business goals – that’s what makes a good reward director.

Reward is not about rules and having only one plan. It is having a conversation about why someone should have a 15% pay increase and working out the ways it can be achieved. Ask if the increase can be split and if it should be tied into the delivery of goals. There are rules and regulations but our role is to work out what we can do for the benefit of the business.

What keeps you motivated to remain in reward?

I enjoy working across a range of countries, understanding the different cultural and economic dynamics. I find the business endlessly interesting – we can be dealing with scuba divers in Colombia one day and window cleaners in Dubai the next.

I think of myself as a generalist wearing a specialist hat, with reward at the core of what I do. This is the one job in HR where you get some fascinating insights into what is going on at the top of the organisation and what motivates some of those people.

Toby Burton

Toby Burtonpartner, Eton Bridge Partners

Toby has a track record in delivering executive-level reward solutions across the private sector.

Eton Bridge Partners Limited

Eton Bridge Partners Limited

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