VIBs Reward Champion of the Year 2015 Kieran Smith discusses his revolutionary HR strategy with the Making Reward Personal delegates

Kieran Smith

“We must all behave like farmers – growing our crops!” This was how Kieran Smith, the enigmatic (and award winning) HR assistant at Boston College described the role of benefits heads in cultivating the interest and goodwill of staff when deploying new perks.

Smith, who won Reward magazine’s ‘Reward Champion if the Year’ award described how he overcame the dual challenges of low budgets and institutional malaise to turn staff who sometimes behave negatively into true advocates of the HR strategy.

“The key for us – in implementing our employee assistance programme, and a suit of perks negotiated with local suppliers – was involving staff and giving them ownership of the process. Also, we turned people who were against us into the schemes’ biggest advocates,” he said.

“We didn’t accept an ‘I didn’t know this’ attitude, so to counter this, spoke to staff face to face about the discounts they wanted, and worked hard in helping those who might be opponents into champions of the project,” he said. He added: “As soon as these people saw our vision, it was like watching a cold spread! Once one person ‘gets it’ – they all get it, and goodwill spreads quickly.”

Smith introduced more than 3,000 discounts – at no cost to the college – and with constant communication, he says the cost of implementing the EAP was more than paid for by improvements in absence (which has improved from 8.6 days’ per year to 6.8 days).

“We used all the free software we could find – to build a simple, but effective website – and we also used the free ‘Mail Chimp’ software to send communications emails to staff. What was brilliant about this, was that we could see open rates, and click through rates. We’ve hit 18.6% average open rates for our comms – far better than average, and 6.7% click through rates.”

He adds: “Saying you haven’t got any money is simply no excuse. Limited budget is not a reason not to try.”

Smith’s achievements are all the more impressive considering the college has suffered a 20% drop in budget over the last three years. But will the help of local businesses, and communications that show stories of how staff use their benefits, he says engagement has never been stronger.

“We’ve improved on 89 out of 92 HR measurements,” he announced proudly. “We now reached a point where the senior leadership is totally bought into benefits. I never thought I’d hear them say that!”