Editor’s Note: Lubomira Kostova is Lead, Strategy and Planning, Global Payroll at Uber, where she manages a portfolio of projects helping the global payroll team to automate and optimize processes and improve the employee experience. She has several years of experience in payroll implementations, with focus on Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA); Latin America (LatAm); case management systems; and business process transitions. Born in Bulgaria and brought up in Spain, Kostova moved to the Netherlands when she was 18. A few years later, she obtained a B.A. (Hons) in Law and Economics in addition to an LLM in European Law.
You truly have a global profile—where did you begin you career?
I started my career in payroll at EF Education First, where my focus was on U.K. and Ireland. I continued expanding solely on the European continent when I joined Crocs. Today, I’ve had the opportunity to learn and understand the processes and legislations of more than 40 countries around the globe and work on projects with a global impact. In 2015, a former team member reached out to me via LinkedIn mentioning a job posting at Uber.
What additional payroll challenges did the new job at Uber bring?
At first, I didn’t know much about the company, but I quickly became excited to be part of a highly motivated and diverse team. Back in 2015, we were a global team of 18 spread across four regions. Now, we have more than 40 team members based in North, Central, and South America; LatAm; EMEA; and Asia Pacific (APAC). From the start, the work required strong cross-functional collaboration on several projects, supporting the business needs and expansion by launching new payrolls in addition to the day-to-day payroll activities mainly focused on EMEA. After two years, I was given the opportunity to join the newly created Global Process Owner team, which focused on leading global projects to support the business and the operations teams in addition to strategy and governance. Over those years, several of my main goals have been to drive payroll implementations in LatAm, deploy a data collection and analysis mechanism with a case management system and a knowledge base, and drive global projects with our main stakeholders—for example, HR.
How would you describe the evolving role of the global payroll professional?
With the recent changes in the workplace and technology, the world of payroll likewise keeps evolving. In addition to the multiple complexities faced by payroll teams, regardless of portfolio size, the role is continuously evolving to one that needs to be run by a “jack of all trades.” Payroll professionals find themselves wearing many different hats in their day-to-day activities—from advisors to leaders of projects of key business processes. It is quite possible that in a few years, the payroll function will look entirely different and further develop into a strategic partner to any organization. To achieve this, payroll professionals around the globe need to further develop skills to accommodate for the change in the payroll function and the environment in which we operate. Think of evolving technology and the bigger use and awareness of data.
What do you see as the main areas for skill development for those seeking a profession in global payroll?
There are four key areas that I see as skills necessary for a global payroll professional. They include the following:
- Data savvy—In a world driven by data, any payroll team holds a lot of it! From actual cost to process opportunities, payroll teams are developing a more data-driven mindset by setting up mechanisms for data collection and analysis based on which strategic conversations and initiatives can be driven with stakeholders and the business, in addition to within the payroll team. This data helps the payroll team to make more informed strategic decisions based on facts and, consequently, establish themselves as a strategic partner for initiatives across any organization. Further, merging the payroll function with data analysis is bound to steer a profound change in the payroll function and create new positions and required skillsets.
- Technology and automation—It is no secret that different technology and automation improvements are being introduced in the workplace, from improved and automated mechanisms to pull data to robotic process automation (RPA), payroll teams’ work evolves to require more technological skills. The mix of the human approach together with a machine will be a key point, requiring payroll professionals to learn how to best collaborate at this intersection combining the human approach and leveraging these automations. It will inevitably shift the focus of the professional from administrative tasks to tasks that add more value, in turn, allowing more productivity and job satisfaction.
- Relationship management—This is important—from cross-functional (cross time zone) collaboration across any organization to vendor management—payroll teams are becoming more interconnected, which in turn requires a solid skillset in communicating with various partners, both external and internal. While the payroll function slowly progresses toward a strategic business partner, payroll professionals need to develop the necessary skills to communicate across the different parts of the business and, depending on the organization, on different levels and regions.
- Employee experience—This area is at the forefront of any organization and across multiple teams. Payroll is often the last team that has contact with an employee, and this can have a huge impact on how the company is perceived. For instance, if an employee doesn’t receive a reply within three days, they might not feel well cared for. Payroll teams here are emerging as a key partner on providing insight and collaborating with other teams to anticipate the customer’s needs, design processes, and use the right technology to ensure a smooth experience to the employees.
How have books played a role in your professional development, and which would you recommend to colleagues?
I firmly believe that books can provide a valuable insight into acquiring new skills, looking at opportunities from several angles, and teaching us about valuable items. Some of the books I’ve found have added value to the above four areas have been the following:
- “The Culture Map” by Erin Meyer–In this book, the author outlines different communication styles around the globe for better understanding and achieving better results in a cross-regional workplace environment. This book is especially insightful for broad organizations that cover several regions.
- “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek–For understanding how to ask the right questions and how those questions can result in higher job satisfaction and more productivity. Understanding “why” we do something can make us better team members and better strategic partners, in addition to improving our communication skills when leading cross-functional initiatives.
- “Give and Take” by Adam Grant–An insightful book on the different profiles of employees in any organization with one of the main points being that every team that achieves the best results has a fair balance of givers or employees who go out of their way to achieve the objectives of the organization.
- “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson–This book is particularly interesting for the current environment. It outlines how to anticipate, monitor, and adapt to change, which is interesting when it comes to the evolution of the payroll profession with new skills being required and the adoption of the strategic partner hat.
Hear what this global payroll subject matter expert has to say in the feature “Data Series—Improving Processes, Customer Experience, 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).