Editor’s Note: Catherine Honey joined Safeguard Global in 2017 as VP, Strategic Partner Relations. Honey leads alliances and channels for Safeguard Global, developing relationships and managing both formal and informal partnerships to help enhance the company’s industry presence and build out the solution ecosystem. She is responsible for enhancing Safeguard Global’s market presence and fostering industry awareness of the solutions and services offered by the company to organizations that are growing and operating globally. She is charged with promoting the advancement of global payroll strategies and operations through open dialogue around challenges, opportunities, and approaches.
Prior to joining Safeguard Global, Honey garnered almost 30 years of experience in human capital and has worked as a practitioner, service provider, and consultant around the world. Her experience focuses on strategy and execution of HR and payroll services through organizational alignment of systems, processes, and delivery capabilities to help organizations drive operational efficiencies and effectiveness in their global HR and payroll services.
This is the second part to a two-part article. See Part I in the June edition of Global Payroll.
What career and life advice do you give to a new employee in payroll?
Establish those boundaries! This is true especially in the global arena, where the day can literally never end. It’s important that you communicate your working hours, when you’ll be available (or not), and to stand by those. For example, as a working mother, dinnertime was precious for me. So, while I might work until 6:00 p.m. and, if necessary, would work again later in the evening, the hours between 6:00 p.m.-8:30 p.m. (dinner, family time, and bedtime) were sacred to me. I would not take calls or think about work during those hours. Those were my boundaries. I knew another colleague who called home every single day at 7:00 p.m. local (to his home) time. No exceptions. That was his boundary. Yours will likely be different but determine what works for you and communicate those needs and expectations.
For your career, accept some challenges. Take on some new roles. Explore opportunities to be involved in cross-functional teams or projects. Look for ways to expand your capabilities.
What professional and personal challenges have you faced as you moved into global payroll from domestic payroll?
Global payroll is incredibly challenging but also incredibly rewarding. All the challenges of domestic payroll are there, with the added layers of time zones, languages, compliance, data privacy, and cultural differences, etc. Understanding that you, personally, cannot know everything, cannot handle everything, and cannot be the single expert on everything is a bit humbling but can also be empowering. As I mentioned above, leveraging help and expertise is critical in this environment.
What is one of the most difficult payroll situations you have been in?
One of the most difficult situations occurred when I was in France running operations for multi-country payrolls for a provider there. We had a large outage occur that affected one of our premier clients. Their payroll was scheduled to run the following day and all our operations people had already gone home (being the sole American, I was the only one still there). The problem was mission-critical. I wanted to solve the issue myself, but I could not. I made the difficult decision to call the ops manager and have him come back in and also bring in a couple of staff members. I had to interrupt their dinner and their evening to solve the problem. I told him, “In this case, the sun won’t rise tomorrow—at least for us—if we don’t get this fixed!” It took a few hours, but the issue was resolved, and the payroll successfully ran the next day.
This was a great example of acknowledging the culture differences but also managing the reality of a pressing business issue. Because we had been working together for two years at that point, my team knew me well enough to know I would not call them in if it wasn’t absolutely necessary. I acknowledged their sacrifice and willingness to go above and beyond through a corporate recognition but also a gesture of appreciation from me personally.
Describe a professional accomplishment or situation that you dealt with successfully.
While working in France, I was leading a project to build out a new offering that was to be based in Spain. My team included more than 50 people from three continents and six countries, speaking four languages. The offering included technical components, service delivery capabilities, external partner relationships, and marketing. As I prepared and presented the business case to the CEO, I was asked to justify my rather healthy line item for travel. “Couldn’t more of this be done remotely?” he asked. I replied, “Yes, it could, but it would not be as effective in building the team.”
When crunch time came and the project was nearing the go-live date, I explained, tensions would be high and tempers might flare. Having personal relationships would help counteract that and enable us to work together to address those issues more quickly and effectively. I assured the CEO that we would be diligent about tracking and managing those expenses. But I would not do the project without this budget.
He reluctantly agreed.
As the project went on (it lasted about nine months), as a team we shared numerous experiences and developed our own relationships and “stories.” For example, we met in Madrid for dinner one evening at 10:00 p.m. The French complained that it was so much later than their normal time of 8:00 p.m.; the Americans said what about our normal dinner time of 6:00 p.m.! And then the Spaniards, of course, arrived later than that. We did have challenges and we did have problems to solve and we did have several very late nights. But we went live on time and it was a market success. We came in under our travel budget and, to celebrate, our CEO allowed us to spend a bit more to have a celebratory launch party (in Madrid, beginning at 9:00 p.m. as a compromise).
What are the most important qualities of effective leadership?
Lead by example. Don’t ask your team to do anything you wouldn’t do. I think this is critically important! Also, setting clear communications and expectations, of course, and being fair, honest, and consistent. Being responsible for your team and accountable to them is important, as is taking an active part in their career development and growth. And, of course, respecting them as people!
Tell me about your management and leadership approach today.
I try to be “real” with my team. I let them know a bit more about me as a person. Did you know I ride a motorcycle? And I’m a frustrated Broadway star? I try to be upfront with them about my style and what I need and expect, and I ask them the same. Most of all, I try to get to know them a bit as people and adapt my style with each to what will help them work most effectively.
How has your approach to change management helped to make a successful organization?
There are so many elements to this. Communication—clear, concise, consistent. You can never overcommunicate. Make the messages relevant to the audience. What does this mean to them, what do they need to know and why, what are you asking of them, and what’s in it for them? Also, involving them in the change (focus groups, surveys, task forces, and change agents), and helping them “buy in” to it and making it successful. Provide training where needed, along with job aides and assistance to make it easier to adopt the change. Build excitement and enthusiasm.
Describe the communication challenges of a global payroll leader.
Language. There are so many books and articles about this. I’ve spoken and written about this many times as well, but it simply cannot be overstated. Even with English as the language of business (if, in fact, it is for your organization), don’t assume everyone has the same level of comfort and fluency. Be sure to speak slowly and clearly (especially when not in person), and avoid using idioms and analogies (especially sports analogies; we Americans use those all the time), and keep the messages as clear and concise as possible. Provide written communications in addition where possible (especially if the message is critical), as that gives people time to read and interpret at their own pace. Also, be aware of nonverbal communications—in style and body language, etc. Time zones also present a challenge. Try to be considerate. I took over a team once that had standing Friday meetings at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time. This was fine for the East Coast, a bit early but doable for the West Coast, and end of day for my colleagues in London. But my team members in Hong Kong and Shanghai? It was a late Friday night for them—every Friday. The timing of that meeting was the first thing I changed.
How do you personally manage to balance work and pleasure?
These days, it’s hard to establish a boundary between work and personal life (especially if you work at home as I do), so I try my hardest to leave my work phone and computer in another room once I’m done for the day. I turn the sound off, so I don’t hear it pinging.
I try to be respectful of my family. When I’m with them, I give them my full attention without the distraction of work calls and activities. Likewise, though, they understand the reverse is true. Unless it’s urgent, when I’m working, I’m working. I try to communicate the same to my teams when they’re on holiday or have the day off.
I try to live by the motto my French colleagues taught me, “The sun will still rise tomorrow.” Go and enjoy. The work will still be here tomorrow. And go ahead and enjoy that glass of wine.
Share some stress management techniques you have found useful.
Taking breaks is key, especially when you’re in the midst of a difficult project or seem to be stalled. Removing yourself and doing something else for a few minutes can be very beneficial. I also try to get up and move regularly. Taking a walk helps clear my head and refocuses my attention. I also find keeping to a regular fitness routine works for me.
Hear what this global payroll subject matter expert has to say in the feature “Managing From Afar—Challenges of a Remote Team, Part II,” also in this issue.
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Frank J. Mendelson is Acquisitions Editor for the Global Payroll Management Institute (GPMI) and the American Payroll Association (APA).