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Key Communication Skills for Global Payroll Managers

By Ken Neal, ECMP

1450857143_86043Communication counts. This article expands on this idea and provides concrete suggestions on how to communicate effectively. Communication counts particularly for global payroll managers. 

Why this group of professionals? Because global payroll managers have to communicate a complex idea, namely, that their department and programs can help the organization succeed. If you are a payroll manager and you can’t get across why implementing a new payment technology will reduce errors and improve your operational functions—and also enhance the company’s bottom line—chances are that your proposal will be passed over. 

Besides technology, communication is at the heart of solving many other challenges with which payroll professionals must contend. These include clearly understanding and heeding cultural nuances around benefits, holidays, and payment cycles combined with the added complexity of language barriers. To be effective, payroll managers often have to bridge a cultural gap. Having a great, motivated team is crucial to meeting this goal. Without persuasive communication, motivating that team and bridging the cultural gap will be difficult. 

Step Up and Lead

To be effective, payroll managers often need to step up and be leaders. This includes those times during which managers have to make unpopular decisions. Without the skill of strategic communication, helping staff members to understand the “why” of a decision, and thus better enable them to get the job done, will be a challenge.

It has been pointed out in the pages of Global Payroll  that one of the key challenges specific to the payroll arena is training and education. Training in effective communication is as important as helping global payroll managers hone other vital technical skills. Toward this end, three skills can enable managers to significantly advance their function and their careers:

  • The skill of being strategic
  • The skill of being credible
  • The skill of being persuasive

This article includes brief case histories spanning technical fields such as information technology and records management to which payroll managers can easily relate. Most importantly, managers can start implementing each skill right away, perhaps as they write their next report or plan their next presentation. Let’s start with the skill of being strategic. 

1450857147_44193Strategic Communication

Perhaps the most effective way to accomplish a mission in business, and in life, is to know your purpose, have a thorough plan to fulfill that purpose, and take effective steps to carry out your plan. Strategic communication is similar. It’s communication backed by a purpose and a plan. Your purpose comes first, and being clear about it is critical to communicating with maximum influence and persuasion.

The purpose of strategic communication. To use this approach successfully, it is critical to understand the difference between strategic and expressive communication. The purpose of strategic communication is to motivate and influence someone to take action, whether to go on a date with you or accept your business proposal. However, if you are going to influence others, you need to take the time to understand them and tailor your message to them. This means your communication is purposeful. It is not just about you—but just as much about the other person. This form of communication offers the best chance of helping you get what you want in business. 

The purpose of expressive communication. Expressive communication, the other major form of interacting with others, is different. It is not designed to motivate. It is about expressing thoughts and feelings. It’s about “me.” I don’t necessarily need for you to do anything. I just need you to listen. No doubt this type of contact is important, but it will not give you that best chance of motivating others in business. 

In my experience, the biggest communication mistake most people make in business is that they use expressive, self-centered communication when they are trying to motivate and influence others. This approach, which might include harsh criticism, condescension, or even yelling, often leads to miscommunication, frustration, and failure. One reason this strategy doesn’t work is that using expressive communication to motivate is often accompanied by “magical thinking.” Behind magical thinking is the belief that influence is possible simply because I strongly wish it to be the case. I convince myself that if I yell loud enough, the players on my team will be motivated to play better and win. I choose to believe that if I criticize a staff member in front of others during a meeting, he will improve. 

The key point to remember is that expressive communication is natural because it is the way we communicate from birth. It is instinctive. Strategic communication is more challenging. It requires training and more effort to use effectively because we have to tailor our messages to the needs of the audience. 

If I want to effectively communicate a proposed program to global payroll executives, I need to:

  • Address the specific challenges they are experiencing, 
  • Use language that is meaningful to them, and
  • Highlight solutions that will help them meet their goals. 

This is strategic communication. You have a purpose and a plan—a much better choice than using expressive communication to get the results you want. 

Perceived Competence—Credibility

One of my favorite quotes, from Making Good in Management author Clarence B. Randall, captures the essence of credibility: “The leader must know, must know that he knows, and must make it abundantly clear to others that he knows.” There are other ways to define credibility, or trustworthiness, but in my experience “knowing your stuff” and making it clear to others that you know your stuff is critical. 

What does it mean to know your stuff—and to make sure that others know that you know? The latter is important to ensure that you’ll be perceived as competent, and perceived competence, in turn, is critical to your persuasiveness.

When executives listen to your proposal, such as implementing a payroll technology, they are listening to have a number of questions answered. They will want to determine if your solution will meet the organization’s needs, how much it will cost, why it is better than other solutions, and why they won’t be making a mistake in approving your proposal. They can’t feel confident in their decision unless they are convinced that you know your stuff. Therefore the more capable you appear, the more influence you will have. 

1450857152_99128Perceived competence is particularly important in global payroll. The reason is that global payroll professionals must have multiple competencies. They must master the basics of their discipline, and their knowledge must incorporate an understanding of the latest technological solutions as well as industry trends, rules, and regulations spanning such areas as compliance and security standards across multiple countries and cultures. To put their trust in you, people need to know that you are proficient in all these and other areas.

Whatever your professional discipline, including global payroll, life would be easier if people believed you were competent in everything. But most likely you’re not—and sometimes you need to be persuasive in areas where you fall short in expertise. In that case, you have a few options to support your credibility. One is to become competent and thereby more persuasive and more trustworthy. You can read (the pages of Global Payroll for example), talk to experts, research organizations that offer classes and certifications, watch online tutorials, and attend seminars. 

Team competence. Another option is team competence. Let’s say that you’re a senior executive at a firm that provides accounts payable (AP) outsourcing services and you are competing for business. Your capabilities and track record in most areas of AP services are impeccable. There’s one problem. Your experience in the front-end invoice imaging processes is limited, yet this will be an important part of the proposed solution. What can you do? You can bring in a member of your firm who does have solid imaging expertise. You can build team competence. Because your expert would be part of the team working on the account, your firm has credibility, not just you. Your chances of winning the business are much greater.

Are You Persuaded Yet?

Persuasion is power. The dictionary defines “persuasive” as “having the power to induce action or belief.” Possessing the skill to induce action or belief can make a huge difference in getting your target audiences, including senior and middle management, to accept your global payroll program proposals. 

Key to understanding and leveraging the power of persuasion is to remember that it incorporates the other two skills we’ve examined. Without being credible, what are the chances of persuading the leadership team to approve costs for increasing the payroll staff and implementing new training programs? My guess is close to zero. Besides incorporating the other communication skills, there is at least one other important element to consider in your goal to master persuasiveness. I call it the experience factor.

The Experience Factor

The statement “seeing is believing” makes the point that you are more apt to believe something if you can experience it with your senses. Think about how much daily interaction centers around people trying to persuade other people to do something. Parents try to get children to clean up their rooms. Entrepreneurs try to motivate individuals and financial organizations to invest millions of dollars in their enterprise. Information managers try to get management to consider new initiatives. 

One of the most important elements to success in these and countless other scenarios has less to do with logic or data and much more with creating the right emotional experience. In essence it’s following the principle of show, don’t tell.

An excellent example of this concept is spotlighted by Brian Fugere, Chelsea Hardaway, and John Warshawsky in Why Business People Speak Like Idiots:

In 2003, the film remake of “The Italian Job” was released. This high-speed caper flick, a remake of the 1969 classic, featured the beautiful Charlize Theron. Co-starring, and almost as beautiful, was a fleet of BMW Mini Coopers. Like Theron, the Minis were shown cavorting around Los Angeles doing all sorts of fun, daring maneuvers. The shots highlighted not only the performance of the Minis, but also their playful personality. In later research, BMW learned that sales increased 20 percent in markets where the film was shown. 

Notice what the filmmakers didn’t do. They didn’t assert anything about the Mini. They didn’t talk about dual-cone synchronizers, equal-length drive shaft, or four sensor independent channel anti-lock brakes. They simply demonstrated. They let the car do the talking for them.

We all need to take a cue from “The Italian Job.” Demonstrate, don’t assert. 

Global payroll executives face many challenges in today’s business arena. These challenges include bridging cultural gaps, getting proposed payroll technology systems and training programs approved, taking the lead in certain initiatives, and much more. Enhancing your communication effectiveness with the three skills highlighted above can significantly improve your chances of succeeding, today and in the days ahead.