TR2050 interviews Mike Piker: “Reward is stuck in the past – we need a sense of urgency for change.”
Member Interview

Over three decades Mike Piker has gathered broad, international insight into how reward can influence both organisations and their staff. He tells us what he’s learnt – and what now needs to be done.

Mike Piker, Global DE&I and Reward Director at Flutter Entertainment Plc. is firmly in his prime. He’s currently taking on “one of the most fulfilling roles of my career” after decades of experience in reward across nine countries and some of the biggest companies in the world (including Naspers, Philip Morris, Lenovo, Mercer, and Syngenta).

From eagerly gleaning the insights offered by his mentors, “some of the smartest people in the industry”, at Worldwide ORC during his fledgling days, he has since handled the “tectonic shifts in the way we approach reward” and adapted his approach to manage cultural and geographical difference alongside the major global changes to society, markets, and technology. And yet, for all the upheaval in reward, he still considers the profession can be “slow and stodgy” in its approach.

“In many organisations, reward is stuck in the past,” he laments. “We’re still talking about the same things we were talking about years ago. We need to instil a sense of urgency for change.”

Inheriting the family profession

Change has always been something that Mike has striven for. His father was an HR consultant who worked globally and filled his young son’s mind with far-off places and intriguing individuals.

“He’d come home with stories of all these exotic countries he’d worked in, and it seemed like a pretty cool career,” Mike remembers. “Being a global traveller, working with some amazing people, moving around all the time. I knew I wanted to do the same.”

He started his career alongside his father at ORC, before building his own impressive CV – and reputation – as he moved between in-house roles and consultancy positions, bouncing around the world (Japan remains a firm favourite) and working for some of the most influential global corporations.

For someone who made their mind up on his career while still so young, he has the great gift of never regretting his decision. “I really found my calling,” he says firmly, “and have had some incredible opportunities. With Mercer, I got the chance to present on talent mobility at Davos; that was quite an honour.”

The recent addition of DE&I (diversity, equity and inclusion) to his remit as Reward Director at Flutter has offered him a chance to “find my second calling,” he explains. “It’s enabled me to be true to myself at work in a way I haven’t always been able to be.”

As a gay man with a Chinese partner, he’s faced discrimination, intolerance and bullying in the various nations he has called home. “It’s changed so much now in certain countries and certain companies. For example, Flutter, a global organisation with over 19,000 employees, is driving meaningful, long-lasting change through our Positive Impact Plan. My own team has representatives of every community from the four global workstreams: gender, LGBTQIA+, multicultural and accessibility. I’m so encouraged by the fact that diversity, equity and inclusion is taken seriously by our ExCo and words are backed by actions, especially in HR. This approach for global corporations is huge progress.”

Mike sees reward and DE&I as symbiotic, and “when both are done well, they’re a powerful combination. We know empirically that companies that are more diverse are also more innovative and possess a competitive advantage. Evidence like that will start to change things and attract and retain talent. It brings connection and a sense of belonging.”

Tectonic shifts in reward

Attracting talent remains the perennial challenge no matter how the workforce and the world around it has transformed over the past thirty years. Mike thinks the difficulty of securing talent has been exacerbated in recent years as the baby boomer generation retires and the younger cohort demand a shift in the power dynamic.

“There’s a rise of ‘me’-ism, and things like quiet quitting, where we really see the individual assert more control over what they are willing to do and what they want from their work.”

These changes demand that companies think carefully about the reward offering to ensure they secure the talent they need. It doesn’t, however, mean that the advantage has entirely shifted to the employee. “It’s too complex to say who has gained from this power change,” he says, “but it’s clear to me what has caused the change over the longer term.”

Mike sees three “tectonic shifts in the way we approach reward.” Firstly, the relationship and compact between the employer and employee has transformed. “For example, the idea of long-term employment has been obliterated completely; individuals aren’t seeking pensions or continuation in the way previous generations did.” The second shift is the world becoming “hyper-connected and globally-led”. This links into the third change; “the world has flattened, which changes the way we buy and secure talent.”
Pipeline of upheaval

Upheaval will become a constant. Mike predicts the next major shifts will be brought on by a rise in Asian dominance and greater convergence in places like India – where population size is booming – and China, the latter of which he believes will become the top global economy in the coming years.

He welcomes the move away from an “Anglo-Saxon dominance” in the world, with a shift towards powerful BRIC countries, but worries about the “rise of meta corporations with a lot of power”, especially in the US. He explains: “effectively we will have a few oligarchs who will start to run the world because they have so much money and influence. They could use it for great things, but equally they could not. It’s concerning.”

Mike also raises concerns about the failure of the current education system to train young people for the way the working world will need them to operate in the years ahead. “This must change. We won’t spend four years studying and then work for life in the same role. There will be dips and troughs, we will need to become ‘hyper employable’ with lots of different skills so we can jump from job to job.”

He admits such a high level of adaptability will be a challenge for everyone involved – the workforce and the organisations – but remains optimistic about the opportunities it could provide.

Challenged to think differently

These predictions concern the next five to ten years, but Mike also has an eye on the more distant future, hence why becoming a TR2050 Member appealed. “We really need to instil a sense of urgency in our profession” he says, stressing that change as imperative – indeed, long overdue. “This industry can be slow to react. We need urgency to adapt.”

In an ideal future, Mike envisages that the employment contract construct “won’t even exist because people will shift around so much” and expects a “normalisation of pay in major economies regardless of industry and or organisation” to allow for a more gig-focused approach to work.

He ponders what may become the “unit of incentive – it could be crypto if that doesn’t implode, but I don’t think it will be national currencies anymore” and he expects that “capital accumulation will negate the need for a pension”. The bonus will be replaced by “in-the-moment recognition, which is actually more powerful and more important to the individual.” He sees a serious challenge for all organisations will be to “draw more productivity from an older workforce because the notion of retirement won’t exist anymore.”

Track record in change

For Mike’s part, his past experiences ensure his insights are wise, as he has been the architect of various innovative initiatives that proved pivotal for the organisations involved. When asked for an example, they come thick and fast, from creating “learning maps” at Syngenta that “used visualisation techniques to help People Managers make reward decisions”, to designing and introducing a system to encourage “solution-based selling behaviour” at Cisco, completely changing the way the salesforce was incentivised to drive exponential growth.

At Naspers he created an internal “bespoke consultancy” to provide tailored reward solutions for each of the operating companies – which included Tencent, it’s largest investment – while Philip Morris provided an arena for introducing a “new notion of agile rewards by using on-demand performance management, rewarding the ‘how’ more so than the ‘what’.” At Flutter, he talks passionately about their global DE&I programme and the benefits of creating an inclusive and equitable environment where every voice matters, and how this links to reward.

There is an interesting dichotomy in his recognition that many influential companies have made major changes in their approach to reward, and his well-meaning frustration at the lack of true flex and dynamism in the reward space. “I want to instil change,” he says several times, with a quiet determination that speaks volumes. “I’m optimistic too. We can handle this. We always do.”

As with many other TR2050 Members, Mike relishes the chance to “shape the destiny of this industry” by exploring these issues with TR2050 and creating strategies for the future. “We’re sharing some of our collective wisdom before we all retire and start skiing!” Or, in his case, own a winery and get involved in eco-tourism.

These are no throwaway ambitions for the hard-working executive; “I’m going to do that, when I’m ready, definitely.” Considering that his teenaged ambitions have been more than achieved, it seems likely that Mike will succeed in anything he puts his mind to – but only when he’s ready to remove his wise counsel and innovative mind from the receptive world of reward.

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