Editor’s Note: Erin “Iggy” Svoboda, CPP, is the Payroll Manager for Clif Bar & Company headquartered in Emeryville, California. At Clif Bar, she supports U.S., Canada, U.K., Netherlands, and Germany payroll operations. She has been a payroll professional since 1999, specializing in time management, payroll accounting, and global expansion. Svoboda’s passion for payroll knowledge led her to volunteer in the payroll community by joining the board of the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the American Payroll Association (APA) in 2007. In 2019, she expanded her volunteering efforts by joining the National Speakers Bureau at the APA, where she continues to share her discoveries to the payroll community. Current initiatives in which she is involved include time and labor management, tool replacement, mobility, global payroll service upgrades or replacements, and growing the global payroll operation for Clif Bar.
What is the changing role of the payroll professional?
Everyone knows what payroll is, but often people don’t know where the payroll operation sits. Every company is different, and according to numerous surveys throughout the years, the consensus is that the payroll team is usually found in either HR or accounting, so it makes sense why people get confused about where to go.
Neither department is a wrong answer because payroll’s “home department” is only a foundation for the payroll function. No matter which department payroll is assigned to, or even if payroll is its own department, building a strategic and efficient payroll operation requires strong partnerships across all functions of the business.
The Payroll Manager essentially has many bosses, all of whom must be met with on a regular basis. Naturally, the primary boss who determines the raises and approves time off will get the most attention. However, every department must be given a lot of attention, too. For example, checking in regularly with Accounts Payable to review payments made to employees can identify compliance gaps. Meeting with IT to learn about its security initiatives can identify opportunities to partner on implementing enhanced security practices for payroll. Touching base with the strategic leaders who grow the business (the product, service, etc.) can gain payroll the early insights into what new cities, states, or countries the company will go into next, instead of being the last to know.
In order to be fully compliant and highly effective, the payroll team must know every aspect of the entire business. Therefore, all payroll professionals must be integrators to connect all facets of the business.
The best integrator is an educated one. When it comes to payroll, time never feels like it’s on your side; however, it is critical to take the time to learn how the business operates. If the payroll team doesn’t know what kind of fringe benefits are being given out, or where people are traveling for work, it is impossible to be a compliant business. All businesses rely on the payroll operation to cover compliance. Remember, payroll spends years of dedicated training to know the complex compliance rules, but most other departments don’t because they can’t or they don’t know they need to. Therefore, it is up to the payroll team to be ambassadors of compliance by educating and collaborating with all departments of the business.
One of the best ways to stay connected is through strong relationships. It took me 17 years of failing at building good relationships before I was successfully able to build strong bonds with people in every department. The culture at Clif Bar fosters and encourages relationships, so everyone is putting in the effort, and I truly believe that makes the difference in my success.
What resources do you use to stay current on the latest trends and legislation in payroll?
The payroll profession is blessed with many organizations throughout the globe that offer memberships to receive notices on compliance and best practice updates. Of course, the American Payroll Association (APA) is my main source, but I also participate in other organizations associated with the needs of Clif Bar, such as the Canadian Payroll Association (CPA), the Global Payroll Management Institute (GPMI), and the Chartered Institute of Payroll Professionals (CIPP) in the U.K. I also sign up on mailing lists for businesses that I purchase resources from or attend training from such as Bloomberg BNA or Deloitte. Most importantly, I attend at least two conferences a year to connect with other payroll professionals to hear about what they have learned and collected over the years.
It takes time to manage all of these resources, especially going to conferences. However, it is critical for a payroll professional to stay up to date and be involved in the community.
What are the biggest challenges for payroll teams, and what is emerging to address these challenges?
The number one challenge for payroll teams is obtaining knowledge. To be fully compliant and ensure that people are paid accurately, the payroll team must know about all the initiatives that impact payroll before they are implemented. The best way to get informed is to take a break from processing and to take the time to connect with everyone. This must be a part of the operation of payroll, not just a “nice to” but a “must do.” To be informed, we must be connected.
What are some questions a company should ask to determine if there is a good fit with a prospective vendor?
All third-party vendors supporting payroll should always be considered a part of the core payroll team. They are an important source for ensuring accurate and timely delivery of payroll and therefore must be treated like everyone else on the team. Direct payroll team members are paid with salary, and vendors are paid from invoices, but they are both providing the same service for the payroll operations. Therefore, make time to meet with them regularly, like you would do with your direct team. Ask them if there is anything you can do differently to better support their service. Coach and provide feedback when they make mistakes. Ultimately, make them a part of the strategic payroll operational plans. Lastly, be careful with the expectations. Check in on whether the expectations you have for their services are reasonable. If something unexpected occurs, talk to them rather than make assumptions. Most importantly, don’t let emotions get in the way of progress and development.
When selecting new vendors (i.e., a new service or a replacement to an existing service), carefully evaluate how they partner with their clients. Interview them as if they were a candidate for a direct hire position. Ask the same questions about how they deal with problems or how they can be proactive to prevent problems. These qualities are just as important as how many reports they provide and how much a payroll cycle costs, etc.
What kinds of skills, training, and education would be most useful for someone moving into a managerial role in payroll?
Someone considering moving into a managerial role should be certain they are clear on what managing means. Particularly in payroll, managing means many different things. Most of the time it doesn’t mean managing people, as very often smaller companies have one person, a Payroll Manager, running the entire payroll operation without any staff. Managing operations, or tasks, is very different than managing a person or supporting an entire team. Anyone moving into a management position that requires responsibility for others must be ready to take accountability for other people’s lives and be ready to shift from being involved in the work to delegating and having a primary role in the development of the people.
What professional and personal challenges have you faced as you moved into global payroll from domestic payroll?
My first experience in global payroll was saving a spreadsheet of the Costa Rican payroll for my manager in 2008. I was fascinated and had so many questions, most of which did not get answered because I was not intended to support global processing at the time, and they were big questions to answer so there just wasn’t time. However, because I was curious (and demonstrated this by asking so many questions), and eventually my manager needed help, I was given the honor to try processing the Costa Rican payroll.
My first challenge was how to communicate with the team in Costa Rica: Who was the main point of contact? Who could speak English? How do we collect change data? What are the laws? When I find the laws, how do they get translated? What are the resources available to me to answer all these questions? I had to create a payroll manual to keep track of each answer I found, so I eventually got educated on how to run the Costa Rican payroll efficiently and accurately. Of course, the Payroll Manager had a lot of information to get me started, but the growth of the company created changes even they did not experience before, like out-of-country work assignments, visas, and tax equalization.
I had to become an expert in research, documentation, and education to ensure the payroll was compliant. I follow this methodology still to this day every time I get involved in a new country or start at a new employer. I never assume someone else knows what to do. I will always double-check the facts and rules. Besides, rules can change anyway, so it is critical to always be curious when it comes to payroll.
What are the most important qualities of effective leadership?
The most important quality of effective leadership is to be the example. Do what you want others to do. Never ask someone to do something you would not be willing to do yourself. For example, if someone on the team often reacts emotionally, don’t ask them to stop if you are also one to react emotionally. Instead, correct your behaviors and lead by example. Most importantly, if you want someone to step outside of their comfort zone, demonstrate how you are willing to step outside of your own comfort zone. Heck, perhaps you could even do it together. Leading is about more doing and less talking.
Hear what this global payroll subject matter expert has to say in the feature “Global Payroll Transformation: Moving Toward Payroll 2.0,” also in this issue.
Do you like our content? Join the GPMI community to get free education and articles straight to your inbox!
Frank J. Mendelson is Acquisitions Editor for the Global Payroll Management Institute (GPMI) and the American Payroll Association (APA).