Every month, we sit down with transformational HR leaders to discuss hot topics in rewards and recognition, employee engagement, HR, and leadership.
MEET REBECCA SHIPLEY
Rebecca Shipley is a leader in the Total Rewards space with experience in the strategy, design, and implementation of all types of Total Rewards programs. Rebecca has developed a deep background in compensation and has led multiple Total Rewards teams. She has led and designed overall Human Resources mission, vision, values, and long-term roadmaps. Prior to joining Hays Companies, Rebecca owned her own Total Rewards company for six years. She held in-house roles before that, leading Total Rewards teams at Vail Resorts and Sports Authority.
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LET’S JUMP INTO THE INTERVIEW
Let’s talk about the power of Total Rewards. It’s a passion of yours and a realm you’ve gained more than 15 years of holistic experience in. What makes a Total Rewards strategy powerful?
When we think about Total Rewards, we typically just think of compensation and benefits. That turns into what we “have to do”. But if you look at it on a bigger scale and you believe that your talent is your most powerful resource to making your organization successful and sustainable, then attracting, engaging, and retaining the right talent for your specific organization is critical.
I believe that Total Rewards is everything you offer an employee in exchange for their skillset and contribution to your organization. Not just compensation and benefits. Of course, you have to get those two things right (right = truly designed for your specific organization) and make sure that they are competitive enough to attract people. But when you think about everything you can give employees in exchange for what they contribute to their organization, that should include much more than these two foundational elements.
Being able to articulate your Total Rewards strategy to your employees helps set expectations and allows people to be focused on their work vs. spending energy on things they think are missing or think they deserve.
“Total” Rewards elements include culture. Does the culture resonate with people? Do they like working here? It includes being explicit that you are an organization that invests heavily in management training. Employees leave their managers more often than they leave organizations. To me, Total Rewards includes everything that touches what employees experience at work in their day to day. Managers and their level of training and effectiveness is part of that experience.
It also includes communication. Do people feel like their voice is heard? Do they know what’s going on? It even includes specific, relevant offerings, such as commuter benefits for folks who work downtown. How you answer these questions and what you ultimately offer will interest the right people.
What trends or new offerings are you seeing within Total Rewards to attract and retain top talent?
The best trend I see is companies focusing on Total Rewards offerings that work for the specific type of talent they are attempting to attract and retain vs. just focusing on what everyone else is offering. I think there is value in understanding what is popular in the market, but truly taking the time to understand what is important to your particular employees and what they value can be a game-changer for companies.
One thing I see when companies do this is adding ‘choice’ to their offerings. What’s important to me may not be so important to someone else. It can be tricky and takes a lot of planning to pull this off, but it’s a great way to ensure that each individual in your organization can, to some degree, pick what makes the most difference to them.
When I was at Vail Resorts, we had our benefits broker come in and talk about the notion of wellness. But they led with a cookie-cutter approach around smoking cessation and weight loss programs. We knew that didn’t match our employee demographics, so we asked the broker to look at claims over the last five years. Turns out, we had a large population that had skin cancer, which made sense given our industry and location. Our employees were outside all the time on the mountains, both at work and after work.
So for Vail Resorts’ employees, we created a program that offered free skin cancer screenings. Every single employee received a carabiner with a tube of sunscreen so everyone had access to sunscreen right on their jackets, anywhere they went. This was just one way we put aside the cookie-cutter approach and looked at what truly mattered to our population in our organization. Ultimately we saw a dip in skin cancer after that, and our employees thought it was cool because we were paying attention to their true needs.
Beyond that, what are some of the pitfalls in taking a cookie-cutter approach to Total Rewards?
Without taking the time to sit down with employees and listen to them, you miss the chance to attract and retain the talent you want. Employees will talk to you! They want to be happy and feel fulfilled. So when you slow down and ask what is important to employees, you will come up with unique solutions that are tailored to your workforce.
Additionally, the risk of taking a cookie-cutter approach is that you have the potential of sending mixed messages to employees. Perhaps you have compensation plans that are all designed to drive performance but then your benefits plan is paternalistic and drives no engagement. Here, you risk creating an environment of entitlement vs. appreciation or gratitude. You also miss the opportunity to connect with employees and keep them feeling loyal and connected to the organization.
You’ve worked in Compensation and Total Rewards at companies like Time Warner, Vail Resorts, and now, Hays Companies. Tell us about a time when you learned a tough but necessary lesson.
The biggest lesson I learned was debunking the myth that “anyone can do HR”. HR is tricky, complex, and full of emotion. One thing I’ve learned through going through my own career is seeing the power that HR can bring to an organization — and if you’re not careful, the detriment it can bring. But most of all, I have learned that HR has to have our feet in both camps: the employee camp and the company camp.
During my career there was a time where I felt I needed to be a certain way. I needed to show up a different way. I had to have a quiet voice. I wasn’t allowed to really contribute. To me, that was me not being authentic and genuine. I was being out of integrity with myself. HR professionals are there for a reason. We need to have a voice in both camps, and we need to speak up.
The other major lesson I learned is how to drive an HR strategy and a Total Rewards strategy in intensely difficult environments, where executive teams completely took their eye off the ball of talent. That company hurt as a result. I had to ask myself, “Could I have stood in that more? Could I have persuaded the executive team to not take their eye off their talent? Could I have influenced them to make better decisions for the employees and for the organization?”
In HR we are in a unique position to make a difference on both sides: to the employees and to the employer. We have a responsibility to do so. We have to stand up for people. We must attempt to create healthy, productive work environments, and to do this, we have to stay true and authentic to ourselves — especially in tough situations.
You’re a big believer in the impact HR can have on businesses. Can you share a little about your philosophy of HR’s potential to “play a bigger game”, and why this matters now more than ever?
Historically, HR used to be called “personnel”, responsible for party planning. There was no option to get a degree in Human Resources. Now, as we know, there are hardcore specialists in elements like healthcare benefits, compensation, diversity, inclusion, and more.
Yet, HR is a business function that can easily get wrapped up in just “trying to keep the wheels on the bus”. Days can easily be filled with engaging/talking with managers and employees, administration of benefits, keeping data current, processing payroll, ensuring compliance, and making sure nothing falls through the cracks.
In doing that, HR professionals can sometimes miss opportunities to network and learn about new tools and trends in the space. Most importantly, HR misses chances to show up as a critical partner to the business by anticipating what’s coming down the path.
I often see Human Resources professionals take a more quiet, passive voice. I believe that is where the opportunity is missed. Here’s the thing: you don’t have to be loud or stand on the table and bang your chest, but you do have to contribute to the item at hand.
HR must have a voice, offer perspectives, and stand in the discomfort of holding leaders accountable to their actions.
HR has an amazing opportunity to raise the bar for the executive team and the organization by driving change, staying agile, keeping talent top of mind, and supporting executives in showing up as their best selves.
How can Human Resource professionals challenge the status quo and become key strategic stakeholders within their organizations?
Take it one step at a time. If you’ve never spoken up in a meeting or asked a question, speak up. Be nervous. Have butterflies in your stomach. Get used to standing in discomfort. It’s okay!
Take the small opportunities to speak up anyway, even if you’re scared. Get used to hearing your voice out loud. Each time it will get easier, and you’ll begin to experience yourself as someone whose voice is valuable and gets heard.
Having a voice doesn’t mean you should battle everything or disagree with everything. It just means you have power in holding the company accountable to its values, to do the right thing, and when needed, drive effective change.
Find ways to be a true business partner. Your thoughts may not always fit nicely into a structure, but if you can get to the core of what the business is trying to do, you can almost always influence that path in an equitable, talent-centric way.
A little off-tangent, but in the same vein, I would encourage CEOs to find and hire great HR talent and always make them a direct report. Being connected to the organization’s talent and a true HR partner brings perspective and direction that can genuinely support the success of the organization.
As a company, Wishlist is passionate about people and technology and what we can achieve by blending those two elements. Know someone who may be interested in a rewards and recognition solution? Refer an organization today and receive a $100 Wishlist reward if the organization signs up!
This interview was hosted by Ginger Kern and Dan Kasper from Wishlist. If you are a transformational HR leader and would like to be featured in Wishlist’s interview series, contact email@example.com.