Former scientist Colin Miller, reward manager at Kent County Council, seeks to create a ‘golden thread’ of engagement between the authority and its wide variety of employees
It might seem a long way from an honours degree in cell biology and a masters degree in analytical biochemistry to the role of reward manager at Kent County Council, but that is the route Colin Miller has taken.
Miller has been with the local authority since 2002, after moving from research science to HR because “you could see what you were doing and what the results were”. The opposite was true for his role as a research scientist in the drugs industry, where a product can take years to come to market, if it even manages to get that far.
“I could see what I would be like in five, 10 or 15 years’ time,” says Miller. “People could spend a whole career in research and have a product that does not even make it to market.”
Since Miller moved from his role as a research scientist at Pfizer to the company’s personnel department in 1995, he has never looked back. His subsequent move from the private to public sector was made easier by the fact that Pfizer and Kent County Council have characteristics in common.
“Both organisations are forward-looking and want to do things properly,” he explains. “Because of that, the transition between Pfizer and Kent County Council was not that difficult, although there are different decisionmaking processes.”
Make life better
Miller’s work ethic is driven by his desire to improve and make life better for the employees he serves. “There should always be an optimism that you can do something you have not thought of before or improve something you are doing already,” he says.
“Part of it is to see what is round the corner and try to get part of that [done] before anyone else does. If you can do that, you have more chance of being a success.”
Miller’s current role certainly requires a high degree of forethought. With 45,000 employees across a wide variety of departments and services, including schools, he has many different types of worker to think about, so communication is key.
“It is worth taking the time to bring things together in a way that makes sense, so the sum of the parts is better than the individual elements,” he says. “There is a particular challenge around how you get people to fully engage because it is all very well having all the benefits in place, but unless they are used in a way that makes people have a greater engagement with their employer, then [employers] are underselling what they have actually got.
“I call it a ‘golden thread’, in that people need to have an awareness of what they can get from and through their employer. If they have that understanding, then there is more chance of an employee delivering that little bit more.”
Alongside his day job, Miller also sits on the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s reward forum, and has regular discussions with other benefits and reward professionals about issues affecting the sector.
“My sitting on the forum helps us to ensure that the council has an external profile,” says Miller. “It helps to emphasise the message around what we are doing.”
Miller’s profile has helped him share ideas with other members of his profession. “I share a platform with both the public and private sector,” he says.
There seems little doubt that Miller’s decision to move from science to HR was a wise one. Science’s loss appears to be reward’s gain.
Who is your role model? There is not really any one person who I have looked at and said to myself: ‘I want to be like them.’ It is more a case of being able to better understand what employees value in their reward packages.
How would you describe yourself? I would say I am pretty pragmatic. I try to learn what other organisations are doing and stay one step ahead of it.
What is your motto? Choose what you do wisely and do it well. If you try to do too much, there is a danger that your big bang could become an explosion.
- 2002-present head of reward, Kent County Council
- 1995-2002 reward adviser, Pfizer
- 1990-1995 research scientist, Pfizer