Psychology training has helped Samantha Gee, director of resourcing and reward at Cancer Research UK, develop the people skills she has employed in a wide-ranging career, says Tynan Barton
Early in her career, Samantha Gee, director of resourcing and reward at Cancer Research UK, discovered that her degree in psychology stood her in good stead for a role in HR.
When she became group retail resourcing manager at electrical goods retailer the Dixons Stores Group (now known as DSG International), her psychology training came to the fore when validating psychometric tests and designing centres used to test job candidates. “There was a clear link between my psychology background and the kind of work you would do with an occupational psychologist in recruitment,” she says.
Gee believes experience in a generalist HR role is important to get a perspective of the entire HR function, including reward and benefits. It was during her stint as a generalist HR manager at KPMG that she realised her key strengths and experience lent themselves to the world of benefits.
“I have always had a slant towards being quite analytical and numerate, liking data and liking the quite hard commercial parts of HR,” she says. “I had always looked at the rewards and benefits area and thought I would quite like to be a part of that.”
In 2004, Gee was appointed head of performance and reward at KPMG, and it was this role that posed one of the biggest challenges of her career: engaging employees with reward. Gee and her team worked hard to get line managers to see reward as their responsibility and fully understand KPMG’s strategy. When this effort was combined with effective communication to all employees, Gee saw all the hard work had paid off.
“We put all the foundations in place that allow the line managers flexibility to make the right decisions, and to use reward to motivate people to perform at their best,” she says. “What was great was that perceptions of reward saw such a huge improvement. We got a really good return on the money that we invested in communicating reward.”
At Cancer Research UK, Gee has found a role that merges resourcing and reward, which she admits is an unusual combination, but the kind of work she feels is made for her. “The good bit for me is that both [reward and resourcing] have an operational delivery in terms of salary review and managing benefits, but they also give me the opportunity to provide thought leadership and do some proactive work aligned to business strategy.”
For Gee, the key to being a successful benefits professional is the ability to take a broad-brush approach. Total reward brings much more to the table than pay, bonuses and core benefits, she says. It also includes the likes of flexible working, performance management, key performance indicators and talent programmes in an employee’s benefits package. “Sound technical compensation and benefit expertise is the foundation,” she says. “What really makes a difference is a commercial approach that enables you to translate business objectives into realistic reward solutions, as well as skills at engaging and inspiring those around you and absolute clarity in all your communications.”
Gee says communication is crucial to ensuring the success of any benefits programme and staff engagement. “There is no point putting a shiny new benefit in if you are not going to communicate it in a way that engages staff in taking it and valuing it.”
- April 2010-present director of resourcing and reward, Cancer Research UK 2004-2010 head of performance and reward, KPMG
- 1999-2004 generalist HR manager, KPMG
- 1995-1999 group retail resourcing manager, Dixons Stores Group
- 1992-1995 HR graduate trainee, BT
Who is your role model?
Rachel Campbell, who leads the people function at KPMG, is a pretty inspiring role model. She took the time to give me feedback, and recognise a contribution I had made, even thought she was terribly busy
How would you describe yourself?
Analytical, innovative, focused and positive. I have heard other people describe me as calm and decisive.
What is your favourite benefit?
Flexible working. I worked part-time for nine years, so have tried many ways of working flexibly. It is a benefit that is really valued and cost-effective.