By Toby Burton. Published on 6 July 2017
Masha Boldyreva has most recently been HR Director for Northern Europe at global giant Mondelēz International (formerly Kraft Foods/ Cadbury). She has a background steeped in strategic reward roles across Centres of Expertise, and more broadly in business change projects.
I caught up with Masha prior to June’s general election, to hear her views about ‘what good Reward looks like’ for Mondelēz, and how to best connect Reward with the broader business agenda. Masha is high energy, high impact, and inspiring, particularly when discussing the value that Reward can bring to the table.
TB: Masha, can you give an initial feel for your career in Reward; what made you the leader you are today?
MB: I naturally fell into Reward, like many people. But it fitted my mindset as I really gravitated towards facts and figures, which I found helped me logically come up with credible insight to assess situations. I grew up in specialist international roles, and my first role in Reward was when Cadbury
decided to move their European operation into Switzerland. This was a project role where I was asked to lead and set up their compensation and benefits in Geneva.
I was responsible for the full set up, so I got into much broader territory in terms of benefits, packages and contracts – not simply Reward. I was lucky because I was in at the start. I found myself sitting around the leadership table talking about very broad level Reward areas such as “how do we get people motivated and how do we invest?”, and “where should we invest in the people?”.
So, from that point on I became very passionate (when taking decisions) by considering how we make the right investment. I felt like a fund manager, managing the biggest investment the company makes! We made some great decisions and we learnt from some too.
When I then went into the broader European role with Cadbury, I kept the foundations I’d developed; this passion for Return on Investment – and it has stayed with me to this day as a trigger when deciding which lever to pull. I moved into the HRD role, it stood me in good stead, and it really allowed me to bust some myths and gets facts on the table, and then work with what is real and connect with the business.
So ultimately, Reward for me is the perfect fit for the way I like to operate. It is clearly a very
important role in the business, and I have been very fortunate to have a seat at the leadership table throughout my career, using Reward as the backbone to decision making.
TB: Did you put your hand up and ask for the opportunity to move into the HRD role?
MB: Yes, it was a very conscious choice. For me it is very straightforward; Reward strategy is one of the key factors of how we deliver a business strategy. So, having worked in Reward roles for many many years, I felt that I needed to get closer to the business to ensure that what I designed in a Centre of Excellence was exactly the right route to successfully deliver the business strategy. So, when the opportunity came up I jumped at the chance, and I’m delighted I did as now I have a great insight into which elements work best and which need evolving.
I can now go back into a Reward role better equipped to answer the question, “how do we make Reward even better?”. What we do in Reward needs to be entirely supporting of the organisational goals – and the time as HRD helped me form a more experienced view.
TB: What does ‘good Reward strategy’ look like?
MB: It must be completely targeted at supporting organisational goals on a practical level; in essence, it is the “how” of delivering a business decision.
A good example to share; one of Mondelēz’s goals is “creating a great place to work” and of course, this is all about engaging people.
We know for a fact that one of the key pillars for being engaged is actually being recognised for the work you do. So, we need to step up our recognition – not just our financial piece, but our non financial recognition because that is key to people’s engagement and discretionary effort. It is not simply all about the traditional Reward levers. Peer-to-peer recognition is so important – it drives behaviours. Recognition, even if it just a simple thank you, adds so much value.
Therefore, empowering and training our line managers to be able to recognise effectively in a simple, but powerful way is key.
All too often the business will come to Reward for a fix, because they think the solution is obvious – financially driven. Often the request is for more salary, however, when you actually get into the detail, it is the last thing the employee is looking for, or anything to do with what is really driving their motivation.
The opportunity is about every one of us (management) leading by example, giving thanks where thanks is due, taking the time to write a thank you card as part of a culture where good work is recognised in a small way, engrained as part of the company’s DNA.
TB: Does the broader business recognise that Reward should be leading a strategy around behavioural recognition?
MB: Some parts do, some don’t. We have to work very closely with our Talent teams to develop insights into what motivates people and why it is that perhaps people don’t feel recognised. This is how we start to solve the business problem, by looking at the whole picture – Total Reward. Yes, as we’re discussing it goes beyond into recognition, however of course we must get the basics right first. We developed our four R strategy – Recognising, Rewarding, Retaining, Re-energising.
As a business, we need to play in these four spaces. We have the basic Reward elements and of course, you need to get your salary and bonus pitch accurate. An example of Re-energising is hosting our key annual conference where we treat employees to lots of free learning sessions – it is a fantastic way of reconnecting and engaging our workforce.
Recognition is our broadest concept. You can have a bit of cash, a promotion, a conference, a project, all sorts of different things play into this. The business will generally come to us with a problem (either broad group or specific to an individual) and we will then partner extremely closely with our Talent teams to work out what is the accurate mix of the four Rs that will provide the best strategic solution. This will always serve to help managers understand what is the right action?. And we will challenge the business, asking them to dig deep and look at a long-term solution rather than a quick fix.
The line will always have a diagnosis, and part of our role is to challenge and educate around that diagnosis. This is how we start to drive a Total Reward mindset out into the Mondelēz business.
We start by asking, “what are we trying to do here?”. At Mondelēz we are set up with Centres of Expertise for strategic Reward, then we are underpinned by Reward Business Services which operationally ensure we are delivering what we say we will. This set up allows the strategic team to have the space to ask the right questions, and partner with the business effectively.
TB: How important is technology in bringing it all together? Would it all fall over without effective HRIS?
MB: I don’t think it would fall over, as hardworking employees we can overcome system challenges, the issue with poor systems when it comes to Total Reward is, the connections get missed. The system must be integrated. If you look at a system like SuccessFactors, you can integrate, and therefore effectively link aspects of strategy such as Performance and Reward together. Poor systems lead to a greater HR and line burden of manually having to try and make connections. Common sense therefore dictates that a strong system will certainly help execute business strategy by allowing us to get the basics right and allow great ROI higher up the chain.
TB: Masha you’re very passionate about the Total Reward ethos, how do you bring the strategy to life and get your passion across the organisation a global scale?
MB: Firstly, I really try and connect to the individual, I talk to lots of people, I do not focus on corporate jargon. Words mean nothing until you bring it down to the individual’s level and what it means to them.
Secondly, transparency is key, we need to get communications right, they should be open and connect on a personal level.
To use recognition as an example, I was speaking recently at a Town Hall where we were talking through just how fantastic the financial Rewards are at Mondelēz, and how (to many of the people there) that was a critical factor. I then explained how being personally recognised had a big impact as well, so to you, as leaders, please recognise and thank your teams (and therefore transparently connect the different Reward strands) in the right forum. Recognition is then embedded into the line managers’ objectives, so it is part of their yearly strategy to get out and recognise their teams. Having it in writing makes it real and brings it to life.
TB: How is Reward evolving?
MB: Part of the challenge is getting the Reward strategy accurate for the current employees, whilst also having an eye on the next generation. We need to be able to attract and retain both. Retention for the next generation is likely to be completely different – there is a real lack of longevity about tenure; they demand ultimate flexibility, they are anything but lifers! Flexibility in the workplace is hugely important and very much an issue that transcends Reward. We need to think about a variety of contract types; different types of compensation structures for different types of worker.
It feels like compared to ten years ago, businesses need to operate in a much leaner way, and many are more efficiency driven as they grapple with the improvement in technology.
We are all having to work really hard, longer hours, and at the same time there is expectancy on flexible working, especially from the next generation.
I see a trend in building sabbaticals into our reward offering, so giving the choice in the short-term would support retaining in the medium (if it is never quite going to be longer term) with the next generation. If service length requirements are being built into this recognition strategy you could offer a sabbatical say, after five years of service.
The Nordics are at the forefront of work life balance arrangements. Russia and Turkey are the other end of the spectrum with the UK somewhere in the middle. The intent may be there in some quarters to be more like the Nordics, however let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It will take a long time to shift the cultural way country-by-country and the way we live our lives.
The new paternity laws we now have in the UK are very similar to the Nordics, however the take up to date has been very low indeed – it is a slow generational, cultural transition.
TB: What do you look for in recognising top quality Reward talent?
MB: Resourcefulness. Can they deal with ambiguity? Especially in a matrixed organisation with a high pace culture, can they connect the dots and work out what needs to be done? A self-starter who makes accurate decisions based on small amounts of data. Someone with resilience, self-awareness and overall emotional intelligence, who can build relationships remotely as well as face-to-face. They must inspire trust through their honesty and non-political actions. Attitude is key.
At Mondelēz the pace of change is high, we deal with huge volumes. We are collaborative, and we couple that with a ‘can-do’ attitude as an ethos to try and breed success.
Ultimately, being human and respectful is so very important to growing the right culture.
TB: What are your thoughts around Interim Managers?
MB: They can add significant value. For me it comes down to embracing diversity; diversity of views and also perspectives. Around any leadership table it is helpful to have people who have been around the business for a while, people who have recently joined permanently, and people who come in as interim management specialists who have no pressure of being “native”. This variety brings value.
It works as a blend, however a team should be balanced and a good proportion of the team needs to live the consequences of their decisions and then lead through their own legacy. Knowing they are living what they create drives an accountable mindset.
TB: What advice do you have for future Reward leaders?
1 – Reward is not a separate subject or a separate part of the business, treat it as a key enabler of the business. Having the confidence that Reward is a huge part of the business, given that Reward is where the business pays the bulk of its money. So, therefore you can be proactive and courageous about where waste is and how the business should be spending it better.
2 – To get the job done, you’ve got to know exactly where the Finance Director, the HR Director and the CEO are at with their agenda. They are the three that will inform you about the strategy. But you must also connect with the employees. Their perception of Reward is vital to determining how to drive any Reward strategy. The programmes could be brilliantly designed, but if they are not perceived that way by employees, then the employees will not alter their behaviours, and it’s a waste of money.
3 – Through engaging with our employees we realised that around 90% of the workforce placed no value on the bonus scheme that we were spending hundreds of millions of pounds on. So, we fundamentally changed the way we operated the scheme because of the feedback we received. It is a balance, yes stay close to the top team, but remember to keep in touch with the workforce at large to drive insight based decisions.
4 – Remuneration Committee. Being clear on what the committee’s objectives are. Once you know what they are trying to achieve, you can marry them as best as possible with the organisational goals, and help position this with the incumbent HR Director to support and add value to him/her using the language that suits both sides. Finding what’s in common, rather than being divisive – listen, build relationships, much like you would with any senior leadership team.
TB: What are you most proud of?
MB: From a key project perspective – when we harmonised conditions when Kraft acquired Cadbury. I’m proud of ‘how’ we delivered it, rather than the ‘what’. I realised through spending time with the business, through engaging with the line that success would depend on trust, and building trust where it was lacking. This was my insight.
I then influenced the leadership to believe that we should be completely open as to how we communicate the changes in the contract, to show where we are going from and to. In doing so we were transparent, we built trust, we consulted, and ultimately got a great outcome.
4,000 people agreed and signed up to the new terms and conditions, and we communicated this consistently and openly. This was the first time as a leader that I didn’t follow “the standard route”, but tapped into the people, and really worked and engaged relentlessly with the line. I felt like I had showed courage and it paid off. I knew then that insight-driven HR was going to be central to my career.
The other thing I’m truly proud of is creating very effective teams. I like teams to be able to run themselves, and to be able to do my job. I base my success on whether my team are able to make my role redundant. I put huge energy in to team effectiveness and making sure they are self-reliant.
TB: Masha, thank you for taking the time to share some of your views and experiences in driving change at Mondelēz. I’ve really enjoyed our conversation.