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EY Insights


Attracting the Ideal Payroll Professional (Part II, with video)

By Jeff Brown and Colleen Dooley

Payroll impacts every employee within the organization, from the CEO to entry-level staff. It is a very delicate part of the employer-employee relationship, and if payroll is not considered a high priority, the relationship could experience turmoil. Therefore, organizations should understand the need for an effective global payroll department and passionately seek to hire global payroll professionals who can keep the company compliant, deliver accurate pay, and do so at optimal costs. 

While organizations know that regulatory actions are among the most important services they offer, many companies struggle to recruit professionals with these global payroll skill sets from within the increasingly competitive job market. As a result, developing a coordinated recruiting strategy across payroll, HR, finance, and talent acquisition that focuses on the ideal candidate profile is key for organizations in finding the best talent to meet their payroll objectives.

Key Competencies of a Successful Global Payroll Professional

In the March 2017 Global Payroll issue, Part I of this two-part article covered several key competencies of a successful global payroll professional: quantitative skill sets and detail orientation; data analysis skills; well-rounded payroll language capability; business acumen; knowledge of payroll technology;and relationship management experience. The following are seven more key competencies of a successful global payroll professional:

1. Transformation, Change Management Experience 
Payroll professionals who have gone through at least one major transformation process are better able to ask the right questions needed to ensure efficiencies, effectiveness, and compliance. Furthermore, a payroll leader with transformation experience will be better able to develop impactful change messages in times of process changes. Experience with both mergers and acquisitions and divestitures (global transactions) can yield tremendous value in reducing risk, and knowing how to adhere to necessary timelines can positively impact transition service agreements. 

2. Fluency With HR Policies, Total Rewards Administration 
When payroll professionals deal with employee data, they should have fluent knowledge of HR policies pertaining to payroll, such as incentives, leaves, and benefits. They also should be familiar with all employee pay schemes and possess the ability to understand and interpret different types of reward packages. Portability and global data privacy are key areas payroll professionals should be familiar with, as these are constantly changing with regulatory shifts. 

3. Timeliness, Ability to Work Under Pressure
The payroll function weighs heavily on a company’s performance, requiring timely reporting and accurate data. In addition, the ability to work under immense pressure and find creative solutions to challenging problems are requirements of the environment. To achieve this, successful payroll professionals must be able to meet deadlines regardless of time-zone differences and obstacles, escalate issues appropriately, and manage stress. A successful payroll professional also must display a patient, understanding demeanor and be able to navigate through various countries’ barriers (e.g., language, different paces of doing business, disparate operating systems).

4. Commitment to Process Excellence
A payroll manager or director must seek excellence and lead the effort to continually implement process improvements. Even in high-performing payroll departments, there can be resistance to improvements. Therefore, a potential for complacency can become reality. An effective payroll professional overcomes these challenges through team-building efforts and collaboration with the internal team, HR, finance, IT, and treasury to make the payroll process a success. Significant knowledge of payroll automation, payroll accounting, tax, and regulatory matters also provides teams with the essential expertise to stay ahead of the competitive market curve. 

5. Strong Problem-Solving Skills 
Annually, one in four payroll offices receives 75 payroll-related inquiries for every 100 workers, this according to a 2016 analysis by Bloomberg BNA HR and the Payroll Resource Center. To resolve these payroll inquiries and other issues that may arise, organizations need a payroll professional who tackles challenges head-on and can conduct a root cause analysis. At the leadership level, payroll professionals teach their teams how to solve problems on their own instead of stepping in and becoming part of all problem-solving situations. 

6. Honesty, Confidentiality
Outstanding payroll professionals must be trustworthy and be able to keep information such as employees’ personal data(e.g., bank accounts) and a company’s fund information confidential. These individuals understand that it is an employee’s right to have his or her payroll-related information remain private.

7. Self-Development
A high-performing payroll manager takes time to thoroughly understand day-to-day operations and leverages this knowledge to further develop skills and competencies. A strategic approach focuses on areas such as system knowledge, personal development, and leadership knowledge targeted at a new project. 

Identifying the Ideal Candidate

While defining whom organizations are looking for may help them develop a strategy, the perfect payroll professional rarely exists. Therefore, organizations are often forced to compare individual experience across candidates. In such cases, it is important to eliminate candidates who think completing a task a handful of times is enough exposure to assume all responsibilities the job requires.

To do this, payroll leadership should encourage talent acquisition to leverage behavioral interviewing techniques. This approach allows hiring managers to evaluate the qualifications of candidates who can advance the company with improved decision-making and outcomes, and also provides a more positive recruiting experience.

Using behavioral questions, interviewers can gauge concrete past actions as opposed to “hypothetical” scenarios while looking for key indicators of experience. For example, a candidate well-versed in Argentinian payroll would be expected to refer to Argentina’s social security program as “DNI” (Documento Nacional de Identidad) rather than simply “social security.” Similarly, a candidate with U.S. experience would refer to federal social security taxes as “FICA” (Federal Insurance Contributions Act). To identify experiential knowledge, the payroll department should first identify which questions to ask. Sample effective behavioral interview questions include the following:

  • Walk me through your most recent complex global payroll project and your specific role. Why was it challenging? What was the outcome?
  • Tell me about a time when going the extra mile in researching a payroll matter led to a very positive client response.
  • Describe a time when you needed to communicate with all of the employees about a payroll topic or issue. Describe the related process of planning, obtaining approvals, distribution, and reaction.
  • Describe an experience in which you identified a cultural difference that you needed to address. How did you resolve the situation?

Retaining Payroll Talent in an Ever-Changing Workforce

Once they have hired the ideal candidate, payroll leaders must understand that a large component of sourcing payroll professionals effectively is minimizing turnover and maximizing continuity to develop the existing payroll team. Global recruiting needs to identify creative ways to retain top talent by offering part-time roles, flexible work arrangements, teleworking, etc. They should also promote exposure to complex scenarios, such as implementing a global payroll system, or challenge payroll professionals to develop their remote management and cross-cultural skills. Companies that are able to develop a strategy that pairs effective recruitment with retention are likely to ensure payroll operations that lead the market, control compliance risk, and minimize errors and costs across the function.