TR2050 interviews Mariia Lytvyn, GFG Alliance: “Slow and steady wins the race.”
Member Interview

Mariia Lytvyn, Global Head of Reward at GFG Alliance, shares her thoughts on the pace of change in reward and the value of peer collaboration.

It comes as little surprise to hear that the passionate, energetic and hugely driven Mariia first wanted to be an astronaut. “I was only about eight and it was a bad idea really; I get motion sickness!” The ambition was quickly replaced with a more earthbound one: financial services. “My dad ran a financial firm in Ukraine and he inspired me to want to work in finance. It seemed like a good option as I was good at maths, good with numbers,” she explains.

Following a move to London for college and a degree, she spent a summer on an internship at the Royal Bank of Scotland before embarking on a decade of consultancy work. She was employed first at AON, then with Mercer. Like many reward leaders today, the focus on and move into this profession was more serendipity that intention.

“I actually had no idea what reward was but when I started doing it, I found it easy. It utilised all my skills with numbers, data and finance as well as my communication skills. I progressed quickly, which of course made it satisfying. The consultancy work in reward was great because there was so much variety and it gave me such insight into how different companies and industries change at different paces.”

It was, however, with its limitations. “You handed a solution over to a client but weren’t part of the whole process. You didn’t get to implement it or see how it worked,” she explains. She joined GFG Alliance, her first in-house role – and moved to Dubai – just over one year ago and hasn’t looked back. “I love it! My colleagues are like extended family as we’re all expats and Dubai is just a super place to be with my family. The lifestyle is amazing.”

Change should be slow and steady

That said, Mariia is committed to her role and, despite a forceful personality, isn’t a reward leader who acts impulsively or hastily. Her caution and care are products of observing such variety of reward approaches across industries and regions in her work as a consultant.

“You saw how every industry or perhaps a region is at different stages, doing different things, meeting certain needs. It shows you what might be coming. For example, a new change happens in a more developed economy, and then impacts other economies few years down the road, or it’s obvious how something that works for some isn’t going to work for others,” she explains.

One thing she noted is how fast the tech and fintech industry change, continuing to adapt to new realities quicker, while retail, manufacturing and production are slower to innovate their reward function. “You’re also never going to have a global solution or a uniform reward offering because industries are so different,” she continues. “What works in Europe doesn’t suit Asia employees; people want different things and culture is a big part of any motivational drivers.”

When advocating for or adopting change, Mariia believes that “slow and steady wins the race. You have to do research, run trials, get data, talk to employees, be really sure that the solution is going to work because you don’t want to get it wrong and you can’t keep changing reward plans all the time. That makes employees feel insecure.”

She stresses the importance of providing the security and stability that she believes staff need and taking the time to “understand how the change is perceived by the staff”. Such sensitivity helps ensure the right changes are made for the business without losing sight of the people who make it all happen.

Little conscious change

When reviewing reward approaches over her career so far, Mariia notes that there have been few ‘conscious’ changes. Rather, organisations have been driven to change by external factors such as regulation or policy. “They’ve changed because they felt obliged to. Even aspects like diversity and inclusion have been something companies have been forced to tackle. Very few changes have been driven by internal factors, as part of the spirit of a company.”

She suggests that one example of the ‘conscious change’ was bringing in more flexibility and increasing the options within the reward offering; “this is how companies differentiate themselves at the moment,” she says. She sees the pace of change starting to accelerate, not least due to fast-developing technologies, and hopes conscious changes will start to take centre stage.

When asked to consult her crystal ball and review reward in 2050, Mariia sees skills-based pay becoming more common than the current approach of paying for a role to be fulfilled. “This won’t be applicable to all jobs, though, and as skills change constantly, we need to have the right technology to help us deal with the fluidity of this. I don’t see that available yet.” She adds that the future may see tokenisation or a points-based system, that helps employees to accumulate variable reward and recognition elements though ongoing feedback rather than through year-end performance reviews, become more prevalent.

Linked to fluidity of skills is the influx of gig workers, a demographic she predicts will comprise up to 30% of the workforce at certain organisations or within specific industries. “We have to adjust our pay philosophy to cater to these people; they’re driven in a different way, taking on a variety of jobs,” she says. “They’re not going to be motivated by long-term incentives.”

Whatever happens, she firmly believes “salaries will still exist, no matter what people predict!” The human need for a value exchange won’t be replaced and workers will always seek compensation for the labour as well as a sense of security. Quite what that will look like, she isn’t sure.

Collaboration on the future of reward

These issues are among many that Mariia brings her knowledge, experience and enthusiasm to discussing at TR2050 Think Tank meetings as a Member. She is quick to praise a platform that she views as largely unique in the way it provides a space to collaborate with peers and collectively develop solutions to reward challenges.

“I very much believe that two heads are better than one and when you bring together all these super knowledgeable people, we can achieve so much more,” she says. “Together we can test solutions collectively. Instead of doing it a 100% each, we all try 10% of it, test it, share our results, discuss what worked and develop solutions together.”

She also welcomes the emotional support she gets from her fellow Members and notes how reassuring it has been “to hear that everyone is facing the same challenges as me and finds things hard. It makes me feel I’m not alone on this journey but we’re all together. Driving the change in a large organisation can be daunting but when you can do it with peers and have their advice and support, it makes all the difference.”

She has already been speaking with her counterpart at Nestle for insight into a change she may make at GFG; it’s collaboration in action and she relishes it. “It’s like having a mirror and seeing your reflection, which can help guide you in the right direction. It’s really unique and it’s thanks to TR2050. We can only shape the future of reward in the way we’d like it to be if we work together. TR2050 is really helping us do that.”

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