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Interview: Rachael Wallwork, HR Director, YASA

YASA, an Oxford University spin-out, is a real success story. The business, which designs and manufactures next-generation electric motors, has executed a highly effective growth strategy, culminating in its acquisition by Mercedes earlier this year. As part of our C-Suite Compensation Report 2021, We asked Rachael Wallwork, HR Director, about YASA’s approach to compensation and how this has helped the company to scale.

UP: YASA has been really proactive in its approach to compensation and ensuring there is an appropriate reward strategy to attract and retain talent as the business grows. Can you share a little about how you approached remuneration planning and what your key considerations were?

RW: Remuneration planning became more of a business priority as YASA grew. The hiring of some key c-suite roles meant we had to position our offers at the right level to ensure we attract top talent. We also felt that it was vital to review our remuneration across the whole of the business.

Obtaining a remuneration report helped us with this by providing vital benchmarking data across all areas of the business. We recognise the importance of key roles in helping to deliver on our ambitious business plans. Without offering the right level of compensation we won’t attract and retain top talent.

Getting the right balance between basic salary and longer term incentives is often crucial in growth businesses – has this factored into your compensation strategy?

Offering a longer term incentive has been key in attracting some of YASA’s talent. We are constantly thinking about how we can improve our benefits package to retain and attract employees. We try to be creative and think about the type of people we want and tailor our benefits around them. We have taken pulse surveys to make sure we are on the right track.

You’ve worked for large, well-established businesses in the past – is it more challenging to get the remuneration structure right in an entrepreneurial / high-growth environment?

There are challenges in setting the right remuneration structure in a high growth environment as, typically, there aren’t the usual market data points to help make these decisions.

You need to understand what each role is expected to deliver. Once you understand that, you can pitch the salary appropriately. It’s important that you don’t get drawn into having salary bands if you want your company to remain agile.

It’s also important you can reward entrepreneurial talent – this might mean a 10% increase one year but a small increase the year after. The key thing is to stay agile. The rigidity of large organisations means you can pretty much map out your salary for the next five years. It’s important for any start-up to allow flex in terms of reward.

You need to create a dynamic environment, not only in allowing people to create great things, but also reward them appropriately.

YASA has been very successful in making key hires – what have you found to be the main factors in attracting talent?

We believe there are a few key factors which help to attract the best talent:- the intellectual challenge, content and scope of a role, development opportunities, the company’s culture and, finally, remuneration. We’ve found that all these elements need to be present to attract talented people.

How has Covid affected your approach to hiring and onboarding?

YASA is always looking for ways to improve our search and selection techniques. Covid has helped to accelerate the way in which we carry out interviews. Candidates no longer feel uncomfortable doing a first stage interview remotely. However, there is still no substitute for carrying out an interview face to face. We feel it’s important that a candidate gets to meet as many colleagues as possible and ‘feel the culture’ of the company, this can only be done in person.

Covid has accelerated the introduction of flexible working where, depending on the role, an employee may spend time working from home rather than being in the office 5 days a week. Flexible working is now expected by employees and is included in all our employment contracts.

What advice would you give earlier stage businesses that are starting to think about their own compensation and reward strategies?

It’s important that you understand your sector, you should carry out a competitor analysis as soon as possible to understand what benefits are being offered by your competition. All of this will help you attract and, more importantly, retain your people.

You should always be thinking about how you are going to develop your remuneration at different stages as the organisation grows. Most importantly, you can’t rely on a good base salary to retain people, it’s a combination of the things we’ve already talked about.


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