6 Top Takeaways From the 2017 WorldatWork Total Rewards Conference

Christina Zurek
Christina Zurek

2017 Total Rewards Conference

The 2017 WorldatWork Total Rewards Conference, held May 7–10 in Washington D.C., gathered more than 1,100 of the world’s top HR and total rewards professionals.

Industry-leading experts spoke on a wide variety of topics, including business environment trends, work-life effectiveness, engagement strategies, organizational culture and compensation.

Here are six impressive takeaways that we learned from the conference and exhibition.

1. Be Mindful of Motivators

“Research has shown that intrinsic motivators actually increase performance more than extrinsic. That’s not to say that extrinsic motivators don’t work, they just need to be relevant.”

—Melissa Page, Chief of HR Policy, National Security Agency

Work life balance
What motivates one person won’t necessarily motivate another. That’s a fact that carries across the ever-changing demographics of your office—across age, cultural identity, life stage and more.

But by identifying and targeting the individual intrinsic and extrinsic motivators your employees find most important—from awards to praise from their boss and everything in between—you set the foundation for a strategy that keeps your people engaged.


Organizational Change
2. Organizational Change Is a Necessity

“Nothing changes if nothing changes...enjoy the birth of big ideas, but use them to create results.”

—Peter Sheahan, Author and Karrikins Group CEO

No matter your industry, change is going to keep coming. And if you aren’t prepared to think differently than your competition, your company will be left behind.

In just about every session we attended, organizational culture was the hot topic. Companies are seeing the need to groom their cultures and people to accept and embrace change. Doing so will nurture innovation and encourage a continual pursuit of improvement, which drives market relevancy and creates a forward-thinking company.

3. Put Your People First

“We tend to look at [our employees] with broad brushes when we know consumers want to be treated individually. We need to treat [our people] like consumers, too.”

—Brit Wittman, Director, Executive Compensation and Corporate Design, Intel

Put your people first
In “The Customer Comes Second,” Hal Rosenbluth and Diane McFerrin Peters write that a client-first focus won’t get results.

“Caring has to begin with the company,” they write, “then emanate to its clients through caring people in the right environment.”

Across industries, the success of your culture is directly linked to the emphasis you put on your people. Today, it’s important to put emphasis on the way your employees personally experience your culture, just like you consider how customers experience your brand.

When employees are treated well, they create better customer experiences, helping your company succeed.

4. Stress Isn’t a 9-to-5 Issue

“We know that the top priority in recent studies is stress and it’s not work stress—it’s people worried about foreclosure, not being able to pay for healthcare, student loans.”

—John Bremen, Managing Director of Human Capital & Benefits,  North America, Willis Towers Watson

As Dr. Gregory Jantz writes in a Psychology Today article, stress leaches health out of your body and can lead to anxiety. Both of those don’t just hurt you emotionally, they can damage you physically.

Especially for high-pressure occupations such as nursing, feelings of stress can be successfully lowered through a concentrated focus on whole-employee wellbeing solutions—including performance, career, social and community wellbeing, not just physical. Implement a comprehensive employee wellbeing program to help your people excel on and off the clock and decompress from the day-to-day rigors of work.

5. One Problem Implies Another

“Our job as total rewards professionals is to find solutions to solve the problem. Often, it isn’t the problem that first comes to us. It’s not about giving people what they ask for.”

—Tracy Kofski, CCP, CBP, GRP, Vice President, Total Rewards, General Mills

To resolve manufacturing problems, Toyota uses the “five whys.” Through persistent inquiry—asking “why” to every answer—they get to the root cause of problems. And, often, they weren’t related to the initial issue at all; rather, something upstream that caused a chain reaction of concerns.

It’s much the same in HR. The problem you’re presented with might have a root cause, deeper than the obstacle at the surface. That’s why it’s important to be creative, tenacious and inquisitive to address underlying organizational issues in your company, not just the low-hanging fruit.

Just like Toyota’s “five whys” implies, resolving one problem usually uncovers another. Dig in and address all subsequent concerns to get to the true resolution.

6. Culture Trumps Risk

“The only thing that can override risk is a strong culture. You need a powerful enough culture that enables people to have that backbone and to feel supported so that they can raise their hand and not be scared of it being cut off.”

—Jerry Warren, CCP, Senior Vice President, Total Rewards, McKesson Corporation

Culture has been consistently proven to differentiate a struggling company from a thriving one.

Today’s world isn’t going to stop getting more complex and there are only so many rules and regulations you can mandate in an effort to achieve excellence.

Your organization must be agile to withstand the pace of change and disruption today. If your culture is not aligned, the change can be devastating. Foster a culture that emphasizes employee wellbeing and engagement and your people will rise above the challenges they are given in extraordinary ways.

Christina Zurek

Christina Zurek

Christina is an experienced leader with a passion for improving the employee experience, employee engagement and workplace culture. Few things excite her as much as an opportunity to try something unfamiliar (be that a project, development opportunity, travel destination, food, drink or otherwise), though digging in to a research project is a close second.