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#HighGrowthMatters Spotlight: VP of People Mike Kohn on Crafting a Total Rewards Philosophy for a Global Team

|By Lexie Sirak

This interview with Mike Kohn, VP of People at Kevel, explores creating and implementing a total rewards philosophy capable of serving a globally dispersed team. 

This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and concision. 


What's your background? What led you to Kevel?

I’ve always worked in the people and HR space. I got my start in professional services and higher education, and then spent some time in human capital consulting. For the last several years, I’ve been at smaller organizations and scaling startups, which eventually brought me to Kevel.

I really came to Kevel because I felt a lot of alignment on values, philosophies, and principles - a couple of people I had worked with previously had been at Kevel for a while, so when the opportunity came up, they reached out since they felt the same way. We’re building a human-centric culture-first organization. I felt that the whole way through my hiring process and in my conversation with the leadership team, particularly in my conversation with our CEO, James Avery. There’s a lot of alignment in our approach.


What are you working on right now? What are your top priorities for 2023?

The biggest push when I came in was establishing some kind of clear total rewards philosophy to align our teams globally. We actually just finalized this, so our next step is building out a performance framework, and really helping people to provide feedback – particularly our people managers, but also encouraging this to be a two-way process. 

Secondly, we’re going to build in some engagement solutions to solicit company-wide feedback. These are two different areas of focus that will be prioritized in Q1. Beyond that, we’re building out a roadmap that has a lot of related outputs from these two things, in addition to a focus on DEI so we can ensure that we build a healthy, inclusive, and equitable workplace.

We’ll also continue to develop our people management strategies on the learning and development front, whether that’s leadership development or people management training sessions that are going to help our team learn from one another and enable us to grow collectively.


What has the process for creating and implementing Kevel’s Total Rewards Philosophy looked like for your team? 

Making sure this was something that I could carry us through was top of mind for me when interviewing. That was sort of a requirement and we had a lot of good dialogue about what a total rewards philosophy could look like very early on. We thought about things like, “What are the tenets that are important to us?” and “What are the things that we are prioritizing?” So from an overall philosophy standpoint, we focused on making sure we're maintaining our shared values, providing transparency into how we are approaching this process, using comp data so that we can minimize subjectivity, and also keeping this process dynamic and adaptable. 

It was really important for our total rewards philosophy to emphasize openness. People should  understand why we make the decisions we do around compensation.

What we wanted to do was make sure that we had a clear system that reflected who we are and who we want to be. This is challenging as we’re distributed all around the globe. Having people in the US, the UK, Portugal, and Singapore means that we need to be thinking holistically about how we’re approaching compensation. And then within the US, we’re distributed across the county. We have to think about how we adapt to these components while enabling people to be flexible within our approach. 

We really wanted to make sure that we were benchmarking everyone appropriately to that external data and looking at what the data shows. We use OpenComp for that, so thank you for that. We also think through how we are going to approach merit increases and raises over time. Right now, we’re sticking with a cost of living adjustment based approach to make sure all employees feel like there is growth within that setup. We are also aligning new compensation based on promotion and leveling. We’re going to add some elements over time to expand our approach to increases.


How do you create a total rewards program that appeals to Kevel’s global workforce? 

Our overall goals are transparency and commitment, but I can't say that I have the silver bullet. We want people to know how compensation decisions are made, and I think we’ve achieved that. The next step is the commitment to see us through. I won't say that we have a hundred percent satisfaction with the output, and I don't think that's possible, but I do think there is clarity of how we’re going about things and making decisions. We’re upfront with employees, value their feedback, and want to engage with them about this dynamically. These conversations don’t happen behind closed doors. 

One tangible thing that tells me this is working  is that people are asking the next set of questions like, “how do I continue growing?” or “how do I get feedback about where I am in the leveling process?” While we don’t yet have all the answers for these questions across all of our teams, I think it’s a good sign that they’re digesting our total rewards philosophy and focused on what future outputs will look like.


At the time of this publication, pay transparency legislation will be officially law in many states and municipalities. What is Kevel doing to ensure compliance? 

Now that we have this philosophy, we have a solid structure on how we’re going to pay. In order to comply with pay legislation, we’re going to put our compensation in the job descriptions and we’re going to clarify what the compensation philosophy is. I’m a big advocate for this in general because I think it has a two-way appeal: 

For candidates, this is information you want to know. I don’t want people to waste their time if they think that the compensation doesn’t match what is appropriate for the role - whether they are well beyond that, or  not quite there. And let’s be clear about that – there’s also an element of equity and inclusion. There are a lot of studies out there that show that the people that are benefiting most from that transparency are women and people of color. To me, this is very important both at Kevel and in society at large.

From an employer side, publishing the salary range facilitates compliance with the various state legislation within the United States, but it also helps our recruiters for the same reason that it helps the employee. We now have a philosophy in place, that we publicize, which shows what we’re doing. We reinforce our pay transparency and our compensation philosophy within this. If you’re not a good fit for that, people can self-select out up front. That being said, we still want to talk to these individuals because now we can at least have a conversation about what is going to make the most sense moving forward.


OpenComp recently predicted that economic uncertainty will make bonuses, alternative perks, and L&D more popular in 2023. Given  continued market oscillation, how are you thinking about boosting compensation and employee engagement given continued economic uncertainty? 

Given the state of the economy, this makes sense to me. At Kevel, we have consistently done cost of living adjustments to keep up with inflation. We took the social security index provided number and we actually applied that formulaically across the company. I think we’re likely an outlier because I know a lot of companies are not in a position to be able to do that. At companies where this is not possible, I think the one-time bonus or the ancillary benefit type of thing becomes more important. 

We are continuing to operate with a focus on efficiency. Instead of adding new things, we are staying true to our philosophy while making sure we continue to recognize our amazing people, support them, and tee them up for success as much as we can. We’ve spent more time focusing on this and less on the one-time perks, but we will see how the next 12 months unfold.

What big bets are you making at Kevel for 2023? 

As a company, we’re thinking about a few things for 2023. We’re focussing a lot on sustainable growth, so how do we grow successfully and responsibly? This brings a few topics into play, like maximizing efficiency. How can we do more with what we have right now? Thinking holistically, we probably won’t  add a lot of new employees but instead will focus on building momentum within the teams we have and finding ways to further enable our existing team members. Ensuring our teams are aligned, motivated, and driven is a key part of our success here. We’re trying to build the momentum that can help expand our strategy and mission in the years to come. 


About Kevel: 

Founded in 2010, Kevel is helping brands everywhere launch customized ad businesses. Our APIs make it easy to build custom ad platforms for retail media, sponsored listings, native ads, DOOH, and more. Customers include Yelp, Klarna, Ticketmaster, WeTransfer, Bukalapak, and many more. We’re working every day to keep the Internet free by making it easier and more ethical for brands to monetize their corners of the web. And we’re just getting started.



Lexie Sirak is a Senior Campaigns Coordinator at OpenComp and previously worked at JPMorgan Chase & Co. She pens the monthly High Growth Matters Spotlights. Connect with her on LinkedIn here.