How to Plan for the Total-Rewards Revolution

It’s time for total-rewards professionals to become champions of transformational change, shaping the employee experience while advancing the organization’s mission with a tailored approach.

Why now? Because so many total-rewards programs are designed using an employment contract that no longer exists. They treat the masses of their employee population similarly and rewards professionals should be disrupting this process. They should be building new programs that foster innovation and provide their people with the freedom and agility for success.

Total-rewards pros are facing a future of reinvention and will need to employ a fresh set of skills (interpersonal, advisory and analytical) to create change driven by:

  • A collaborative work environment that demands an understanding of departments outside the rewards domain;
  • Artificial-intelligence applications that help facilitate the onboarding of new hires, and eventually perform job evaluation and market analysis;
  • The increasing presence of contingent workers and independent contractors; and
  • A culture that ties diversity, inclusion and wellness into TR practices, programs and philosophies.

Stretching the Boundaries

As we plan for the coming revolution, TR professionals need to focus on building better people, not just better employees. And this changes as people go through various life stages and includes everything from compensation to benefits, wellness—to anything and everything that shapes their experience. It’s essential for TR professionals to be ready and willing to completely blow up their program and start over. Why? Because the world is changing fast and benefits that were meaningful to workers five years ago—or even just last year—may not be relevant to your workforce today. Think of your program as building for future years to come and make sure that your current workforce understands them.


A rewards program must also be aligned with three critical components: strategy, leadership and culture.  All are equally important to help the organization perform at its highest level. When any one of these is off, there are downstream implications. The challenge is to make sure that the TR program is aligned with all three and, to keep in mind that a reward is not a reward if it doesn’t fit or have synergy with your employee’s lives.

To make the revolution happen, it’s important to make massive changes frequently, with good intention. Recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all strategy and the program is not static. As the workplace changes, you need to keep it fresh and current. While there are legally mandated rewards, it’s those things that you offer that go beyond that sends a message of how much you value them. Make a list of these things and review them regularly to see what needs to be tweaked or changed completely.

You Only Get as Good as You Give

The employee experience is the same as the human experience and it’s a two-way street. In today’s environment, contract workers want and expect the same fulfillment as part and full-time employees. Whether that’s access to the C-suite, a parking spot or free coffee, the TR professional must look at everything that impacts an employee’s ability to perform and build a plan accordingly. Proof of successful rewards programs (including compensation, goals, benefits, wellness programs, etc.), are visible signs of employees giving back. That’s a winning organization.


The revolution is also being driven by the application of artificial intelligence. As routine parts of compensation and benefits become automated, TR professionals will need to focus more on data analytics, deciphering what the data means and translating that into better programs. They must be able to understand how rewards impact specific behaviors, how they hit at both the individual and the team level, why it matters to the organization, and how to get from point A to point B.

Annual reviews (or frankly, anything annual) are no longer a viable tool. Ongoing, constant opportunities change what TR professionals are delivering and the speed at which it is delivered. Mechanisms (like spot checks) need to be put in place to constantly absorb and process any signals employees are sending. With continuous feedback, TR professionals will identify opportunities and focus on the right things. In other words, if your main focus is on hierarchy, you’re missing what’s possible.

There’s no magic formula that will invariably result in engagement. Employees today desire much more from their job than pay and benefits. They desire a place to be themselves, give back to causes important to them and develop a meaningful career.

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