Max Paping, Global Director of Compensation and Benefits at LeasePlan, muses on the nature of his role and his profession as the world of work transforms.
Now more than two decades into a career within compensation and reward, Max is perceptive and articulate on the unique role he fulfils within a company and the profession as a whole. “As Head of Compensation and Benefits, you’re the spider in the web. You connect with all departments, with different stakeholders, at all different levels of the business,” he explains. “It’s operational but it’s also strategic – there aren’t many roles like it.”
Armed with a Masters in Corporate Law, the challenges and complexity of work in reward have never been a drawback for Max, who only found himself in reward after a brief stint in a law firm made him realise that he didn’t relish the prospect of a legal career, after all.
“It just didn’t feel right and then getting into reward was chance, a job opened up at a reward consultancy firm, but I liked the diversity and versatility of the role,” he says. “You are talking to people on the shopfloor, hearing about their problems and challenges, then building solutions for them.” He also found, as the years went by and he moved from consultancy work with firms Watson Wyatt and Towers Perrin, into internal roles for LyondellBasell Industries, CEVA Logistics, Aegon and ING, before joining LeasePlan in 2019, his legal knowledge proved an asset.
“There’s lots of law and legal regulations to be aware of and a lot of reward is about compliance, especially in financial sectors, so it’s been a useful background to have” Max says.
While he recognises that the nature of his role results in him being the “one with all the rules and boundaries”, he also notes that organisations themselves are increasingly getting bogged down with compliance: “they want to tick all the boxes, and of course that’s important to prevent harm, but I think it would be more interesting to ask ‘what are we trying to achieve’ and find opportunities within the restrictions to deliver that.”
Cultures and changes
For all his aura of placid calm, Max is an individual with a determined, creative mind, who works incredibly hard and has found satisfaction in a role that inadvertently fulfilled his earliest, somewhat vague ambition: to work for a large company as a manager.
“I came from an entrepreneurial family and I remember thinking, I don’t want to work for myself, I want to be a manager in a big company,” he says. He also wanted a career with international companies, drawn to the variety of cultures and approaches, not to mention the global mindset, it would provide access to.
“When I was a student, I spent a year studying in the US and it really opened my eyes to the differences between people and countries,” Max recalls. “I realised that my way, the Dutch way, wasn’t necessarily the best or the only way of doing things.”
This open-mindedness and appetite for accommodating differences enables Max to see the changes in reward as opportunities for improvements rather than as limitations. It also helps him to connect with the many, varied stakeholders he must communicate with, and often persuade. When asked to pick some of the most seismic changes he has faced down – or continues to tackle – he points to loyalty as fast becoming a sticking point for organisations.
“When my parents took a job, they were seeking lifetime employment,” he says. “I was probably looking for a role that would last me around ten years when I joined the workforce, but now a long-term role is seen as around three years. Brand loyalty is not in peoples’ perception, they are focused on other things, so the organisation has to work hard to offer something attractive.”
Technology is, understandably, another driver of transformative changes in the workplace. “Digital development has a huge impact and of course it’s still developing at the moment, it’s not yet 100% trusted just like cars weren’t back when they were first being created. But we’ll get there and the speed of change is increasing.” In an ideal world, Max sees technology as serving to automate and therefore speed the processes reward leaders use; a vehicle for the human elements, not a replacement of them.
Discussing the future
One of the most powerful ways to understand the wider trends across his profession and at different organisations as the pace of change increases is, for Max, via networking events. Indeed, it is one of the reasons he joined TR2050 as soon as he understood its purpose: to explore and shape the future of reward with fellow reward professionals in a non-commercial space.
“It’s nice to be part of this group and have access to these people,” he says of the fellow reward professionals that are his peer Membership. “It’s also very comforting to hear that we’re all struggling and all facing the same challenges.”
For Max, learning what his peers are trialling or facing at their organisations is hugely valuable to his own position in the company, “as it gives me credibility in compensation and benefits because I can say, ‘well at x company they have tried this and found this’. It’s very much who you know and what information you have when it comes to persuading the people in charge to make decisions.”
The issues Max says he is most keen to explore with his TR2050 Members are simplification and communication – how to achieve and improve both to help reward meet the challenges that are ahead. “I don’t think technology will solve simplification and already so many companies don’t really understand what it is they are offering. We need a holistic view of the reward system in order to create a structure that we understand, then can deliver, and from there offer choice” he says.
There is also little use for technology when it comes to tackling communication challenges. Max feels organisations need to improve the opportunities for and quality of internal communication, whether that be training, education, or trust-building activities that are critical to ensure employees are on board with the reward approaches and inevitable changes. “Communication is so key and there is never enough time, or resources, and its not prioritised in the pressure of everything else,” he says. “I’d like to see how we can improve this.”
As TR2050 is looking to the far future, he ponders what his ideal reward model would be in 30 years’ time. Unsurprisingly, he would like something that is simple to operate and communicate, “with a focus on just a few principles. It would be fair and consistent, giving managers choice and flexibility within the structure.” He anticipates having to sacrifice nuances to achieve the desired simplicity, which could present a challenge when trying to offer the personalisation that many believe the workforce will increasingly demand.
There are many knotty issues to tackle as TR2050 looks to the future, but Max is certainly an asset to group discussions, bringing with him his experience, calm lucidity and open-minded attitude. “Reward is a very interesting area and I think it’s fun to be part of exploring what’s coming next and helping our organisations be ready for it, even if we won’t be working in 2050 to implement it.”