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Yes, we've always done it that way, but it’s so not sexy anymore

Yes, we've always done it that way, but it’s so not sexy anymore

As promised, this week I'll speak about the talent and skills required to be a true payroll professional. Therefore, my latest LinkedIn poll was: “What is that one crucial payroll skill you look for in a payroll hire?”

My last article' Please don’t outsource me’, is what inspired the poll. This triggering title was a quote from a local payroll team that smelled that they’d either be offshored (to a Shared Service Center) or that their process would be fully outsourced to a provider, leaving them without a job.

So with this in mind, I decided to present the poll options in the form of personas that embody certain skills which, in my view, every payroll professional should have in 2024 and beyond. Here are the results as per the date of writing this article!:

  • 67%: Sherlock: Detail-focused
  • 16%: Fred: Status-quo breaker
  • 9%: Frodo: Curious and adventurous
  • 7%: C-3PO: Communication master

I find these results very interesting, especially in the context of the constant transformational pace of international businesses. What skills do you need to manage change, what do you need to deliver global payroll, and what is the best mix?

Before we explore these, as a standard framework, I’ll be linking the theme of each article to the global payroll management best practices that I’ve developed over the past 18 years. In today’s article, I will talk about the skills of a payroll professional which relate to the impact of the Global Payroll Operating Model (responsibilities) and Global Payroll Operating Model (organisational structure).

The four personas, and their crucial skills

The payroll profession has evolved over the past years, and will continue to do so. We went from more traditional processors (give me data, I’ll process it flawlessly), to payroll coordinators (we expand internationally and outsource, but need tight control), to bringing value to the organisation (business partners, advisors). This evolution means that the required skills in this day and age have significantly changed. Or have they?

Sherlock: Detail-focused

It’s no surprise that this skill received the most votes in the poll. Payroll professionals have always been detectives with a very keen eye for detail, checking and rechecking data and finding compliance or process flaws in policies. This skill is still required and important to ensure accurate, compliant and timely pay. Whether you process a payroll in-house or outsource, you need teams in-country, regionally and globally that enjoy crunching the numbers, completing checklists and controls. But the way this skill is used is changing drastically due to technological advancements. How you look at details, spot anomalies and use tools isn’t what it was in the 80’s, 90’s or 00’s.

You can now do much more in the same amount of time. I still vividly remember manually typing in timesheets and reconciling the outputs on actual printed payslips, one by one. When I then felt all was in order, I handed over my work (all printed and annotated) to my supervisor. She, in return, went through all of this once again, with annotations for me to review and correct. This was then iterated until we reached perfection. Just let that sink in, as we now talk about AI.

If we fast forward to today, for instance Payzaar’s automated data validation feature. This functionality automates the input vs output reconciliation to highlight differences between what was instructed and what was processed, for all field types (i.e. values, numbers, dates, tex). This saves about 80% more time in what would usually be a manual process. Of course, you’d still want to look at a few payslips to get a sense of how this landed on the payslips. Then, once you’ve automated variance comparisons on a pay element and employee level, you can complete your review, proving assurance the payroll is flawless.

This makes your payroll team’s work faster, more accurate, and means you can scale and expand without needing to increase headcount. It also changes the way the ‘Sherlock Holmes’ within you works, meaning you need to align your internal organisational structure to attract and retain that talent. However, just having Sherlocks in your teams isn’t enough, in fact, one commenter on LinkedIn even suggested we also need Fox Mulder (from the X-FIles).

C-3PO: Communication master

While Sherlock Holmes is a great character, he perhaps wasn't the most loved in the public domain. He had some trouble relating to others and getting his message across. Although Doctor Watson played a role, he would have benefited from the skills of C-3PO. As payroll has transcended from the hidden back-office, to the forefront not just domestically but internationally, good communication skills are crucial. Let’s unpack this.

I believe that communication skills are required across all layers of the global payroll organisation, yet with crucially different nuances:

  • Operations. You need to communicate with peer stakeholders in the organisation, and relate to their point of view: finance, HR, treasury, equity. And of course, the employees. With almost all generations in the workforce, pay-related questions differ. The tone, the level of detail required, and how to answer: phone, chat, video, or in-person.
  • Management. The management communication across those different generations also differs. This requires a more tailored approach and not a one-size-fits-all approach. The younger generation needs to buy into the ‘why’, be part of something and feel empowered. But for more seasoned professionals, and I quote from experience, “just want to be left alone and do their thing”.
  • Leadership. More than ever, global payroll is a strategic function within most, if not all, organisations. But we have traditionally not been very strategic, tactical at best. Now having a virtual seat at the table, we need to elevate our thinking and partner with the business. 

Communication is just as important as an attention to detail, yet requires a different profile and the true gems in the workforce possess both skills.

Frodo: Curious and Adventurous

For those of you who followed me for a while, you’ll know I love the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies. So Frodo could not be missed out here. Frodo teaches us to be curious and adventurous: take on any challenge full of excitement! Say yes to a new project and step out of your comfort zone. Global payroll is the aorta of all employment and labour related data, so naturally there are many cross-functional projects that we are involved in. Admittedly, sometimes too late in the process, but in the end we are always involved.

I personally have always, without exception, been a Frodo in any team I have worked in. Is there a new project, challange or initiative? Max raises his hands to help. This can-do attitude has helped me develop skills I would never have imagined, and exposed me to so many sides of the business, it’s just incredible. I am fortunate to have had these opportunities, and I always encourage everyone to bring out the Frodo in themselves. Global payroll managers and leaders need Frodo’s, so be one for them.

Fred: Status-quo breaker

Last but certainly not least, Payzaar’s very relatable friend Fred holds the skills to truly transform your global payroll. I think the best way to describe Fred is to quote a LinkedIn commenter on the mentioned poll:

“Great idea! At my current company I'm mainly looking for a ‘Fred’ to advance my team. I need someone who breaks the mould, professionalises processes and challenges the "we've always done it that way" type of thinkers!”

This, to me, explains Fred. Fred is a Global Payroll Manager that shreds sticky payroll paradigms around preconceptions about a one-size-fits-all approach, that payroll is too local to standardise, and that his team just needs to accept their situation.

Fred would be the one to state the elephant in the room, to not give up when there is resistance to change, to be bold enough to try out new methods and ways of working. Fred is not tied to a specific layer in the global payroll organisation, as these skills can be in everyone. What is crucial, is to bring these skills to the surface and give them a voice. Create a culture that fosters speaking up and supports (bold!) initiatives. Let me hear what you think, let me support your initiative and reward your good intent. Global Payroll needs Fred, but Fred needs you too. So if you have a great idea but haven’t shared it with your leader yet, I encourage you to do it! Not tomorrow, not later, but now.

So, what now?

Good question. I have laid out these four key skills which I always look to have a mix of in my global payroll organisation. You might have more, or favour one over the other. Linking this back to the best practice of managing global payroll; when designing service delivery models for instance, make sure you map the skills needed to deliver the transformation and an accurate, compliant and timely payroll. Make skills fun, instead of a daunting write up of whatever that skill requires, use personas like these ones instead. Make it relatable, and it will come to life!

I am a Global Payroll Professional, and a passionate one too! After managing global payrolls across the world for about 20 years, I found there must be a better way of doing this. I joined Payzaar - the global payroll management platform everyone needs and can easily implement.

Oh yes, we are just fun to work with too - Let's chat about the Payzaar Experience!

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