Career Confidant |

Going to Bat for Development Opportunities

Doug Friske 
Managing Director, Willis Towers Watson 

Doug Friske, an executive compensation consultant, has a message for those in the field looking to advance: Focus on experiences and opportunities rather than job titles. Friske has held numerous leadership roles within Willis Towers Watson, including global leadership for consulting, data and software products. He has a bachelor’s degree in finance and a master’s in management.

What is the No. 1 career assist you received?
Early in my career I was looking to make a change in employer. I felt I had plateaued and needed to move to a new company to advance my career. As always, money was also a factor, but not a primary consideration. I had a mentor who was significantly more senior than me at the time and he suggested I put aside my then current role, as well as the offer I was considering, and envision the type of experience that would accelerate my development and allow me to escape the plateau. I went away to think, followed by a series of discussions with my mentor, and we came up with the idea of doing a six-month sabbatical with a client’s HR department in areas that had nothing to do with rewards. Many companies have these types of development opportunities, but it was a radical idea for the company. My mentor worked with my manager, HR and a client to secure the opportunity, so I stayed with my employer and took the sabbatical. This was a critical turning point in my career and life. Without my mentor’s challenge, support and willingness to go to bat for me with various constituents, I believe my path would have been very different and much less fulfilling.

What key career advice would you give to others?
Focus on experiences and opportunities rather than job titles. Instead of focusing on a given job or role, I have looked for what experiences I could take from the opportunity that I would find interesting and would address a personal development need. Making sure you remain passionate about what you are doing is also important. From a classic organizational standpoint, certain actions might be questioned, as the assignment might appear to be a step sideways or back. However, it could also free you up to opportunities you never imagined were possible or desired. For example, at one point in my career I voluntarily stepped out of a large management role, which is not something most people do. I felt I didn’t have much more to gain from that particular experience and my passion for it had waned. Doing so freed me up to get involved in projects I never would have been exposed to if I stayed in my other job and it ultimately led to even greater organizational opportunities. So, be willing to take risks to get the experiences and opportunities you can be passionate about.


What is something HR can’t live without?
Like virtually all aspects of work and life, data and analytics will be critical for HR professionals in the years ahead. We can’t lose the empathy and humanity we have always had as a profession, but those are simply table stakes. These very important qualities will only be enhanced if we leverage data and the analytics it enables. This is particularly true with rewards. In many respects, how rewards are determined, managed, delivered and valued by participants is largely the same today as it was 40 years ago. This presents significant opportunities for change driven by data and new forms of analytics. Who receives a salary increase, the size of that increase, when it is delivered, and how it is perceived by the participant can all be enhanced and the return on the investment made in rewards improved by leveraging technology. And while much has been made about how AI and related technologies will replace humans, I don’t believe this will be the case for many HR practitioners. Technology will change what work is done and how it is done, but it will also make the human side of HR even more important and impactful.

What are two out-of-the-ordinary skills every rewards professional needs?
Intellectual curiosity and business acumen are two very important skills. One of the things I have loved about my almost 30 years as a rewards professional is that while the core aspects of what we do remain the same, how we apply those skills and the situations against which they are applied vary in almost every situation. That is one of the great things about people — everyone is different. So, the rewards professional needs to have an intellectual curiosity to always be seeking out what is new and different about the application of rewards, and how factors and considerations outside the rewards space can be leveraged to create more effective rewards systems. For example, Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) is a hot topic right now, with relatively little direct impact on rewards programs today. However, rewards practitioners should be interested in ESG, why it’s important, how it is measured, what organizations like BlackRock think about it, etc. This is also related to business acumen. We have been talking about HR professionals needing to think strategically to get a seat at the C-suite table. However, this needs to start long before someone is contemplating a seat at that table. It needs to start off someone’s rewards career, as you think about what is an appropriate level to pay for a Python programming, for example. Why is that role important to the organization’s business? How will that importance likely change as the business and external market change? We need to consider how we can use this business acumen to drive greater returns on rewards investments.


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