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Professional Spotlight

Meet Catherine Honey, Vice President, Strategic Partner Relations at Safeguard Global


By Frank J. Mendelson

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.

Part 2 of this spotlight will be featured in the August/September Global Payroll issue.


What is the changing role of the payroll professional?

I see the payroll professional’s role evolving in the same way that the human resources (HR) professional’s role has evolved over the past years. As systems grow more robust and technology increasingly leverages artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and smart systems, the payroll professional’s role will shift to a more strategic orientation. With all of the data and information available within payroll, its time to start leveraging that to aid in business planning and analysis work. Data analytics capabilities have matured to the place where they can help drive meaningful insights. With all of the raw data available (i.e., hours, costs, etc.) that is available for the global workforce, payroll professionals are in a strong position to serve as a source of very strategic information around labor and workforce management.


What emerging trends in global payroll are demanding your attention? How will they exert impact?

Emerging trends include increasing sophistication of data analytics tools (along with broader deployment) and greater applicability of robotics and AI to facilitate processing. We are also seeing a more pronounced move to regionalized/centralized operations (which typically still include a local component), tighter and more mature governance, as well as a heavier emphasis on strategic talent deployment and governance. These trends are driving a shift to more strategic payroll management. Much as we’ve seen in HR in years past, now payroll professionals are able to spend less time managing day-to-day payroll operations (due to better tools and tighter governance/management) and more time informing business decisions using the massive amount of labor and cost data they have available.


What are the chronic challenges for companies that have moved, or are moving, into global expansion?

Global expansion remains a challenge with some common challenges facing most who enter the global domain. These include compliance, talent acquisition and deployment, lack of consolidated data, operational transparency, and fragmented and inconsistent processes. Of course, global data privacy concerns and regulations remain a key consideration as well. Fortunately, there are more resources and solutions available to help companies as they embark on the global journey.


What resources do you use to stay current on the latest trends and legislation in payroll?

I leverage the American Payroll Association (APA) and Global Payroll Management Institute (GPMI) quite heavily—both online resources and in-person/live events. I also have a strong network of friends and colleagues with whom I exchange ideas and information. Working internationally, I am fortunate that I have resources around the world that I can call upon.


How can a payroll department provide support on a strategic level to corporate finance, HR, and other departments?

This gets to the heart of the matter! Payroll is in a unique position in that it has access to detailed data on the true global workforce. This includes salaries, of course, but actual pay, including shift pay, overtime, etc. And with a global delivery model including consolidated data (best practice!), this data is available globally. With this, payroll is able to offer strategic support to finance, HR, operations, and other departments to help answer pressing business questions including (but certainly not limited to) the following:

  • What are my total overtime costs?
  • How much do those costs vary by country?
  • What is my total labor cost, including shift, overtime, and other variable compensation costs?
  • Where should I plan for extra production, informed by these overtime and shift costs?
  • Where should I locate a new plant/facility, based on total employment costs?
  • Where do I have excess capacity (i.e., where my overtime costs are very low)?
  • Where should I expand, based on total labor costs?

Add in trends and modeling capabilities, and the power of this data to inform business decisions is truly amazing.

What strategic advice would you give to a company moving from a domestic to a global payroll?

Do your homework! And educate everyone involved, including those at the highest levels, about the complexities (including compliance, language, culture, currencies, processing times, etc.). Establish a plan and a strategic direction so that you are managing global payroll rather than it evolving on its own. Part of that includes governance—ensure accountability and reportability so that you have full transparency into operations and data. Do not underestimate the cost of noncompliance (yes, it can happen to you!) and get educated on the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and other data privacy considerations. Leverage your colleagues who have “been there” to increase your own knowledge. There’s no need to learn by fire! Bring in other experts as needed. And make sure your partners, vendors, and advisors have the knowledge, experience, and expertise to help you on your journey.

Personally, plan to enjoy the adventure. There will be challenges and difficulties, but you’ll learn so much about global payroll, of course, and also about other cultures and other aspects of doing business. Maybe you’ll get to travel the world as well!


What are your experiences on successfully navigating cultural and other differences on a worldwide stage?

The best advice I have been given—and continue to follow to this day—is to be open; open to other ideas, to other cultures, to other ways of doing things. As a veteran of two expatriate assignments, and having managed teams around the globe, I have learned so much, and it truly has been a very rewarding experience. But that requires understanding your own frame of reference and biases (because we all have them) and doing your best to put them aside. Being successful internationally requires you to be open to other points of view and to appreciate the differences between cultures. “Our” way isn’t necessarily the best way, and it is certainly not the only way to live, communicate, and do things. Going out of your way to understand and try to accommodate differences is very helpful, especially as an American working internationally. Yes, Americans have a reputation too! Personally, I’d also suggest trying to learn a few phrases of other languages your colleagues speak and ask them about traditions and customs and what specific holidays they are recognizing. These are all ways to build rapport and better bonds, which will help make the workflow go more smoothly and will help you all enjoy it more.

What are some of the considerations a company should ask to determine if there is good fit with a prospective vendor?

Of course, there are the basic processing requirements, but when working with prospective vendors, try to focus on the things that are different or unique about managing payroll in your company. What are the specific aspects that continually challenge you or your team, require a long time/lots of hours to complete, or are regularly causing problems? Asking the vendor to focus on those aspects will help determine if it is a good fit for your situation rather than generically “good.” I am a big fan of scenarios and use cases—provide several that highlight your unique needs and ask the vendor to show how it would manage those scenarios. I’d also ask questions about future direction—where is the company going from a product perspective? What’s its longer-term growth strategy? Where is it focusing its energies? Is the vision compatible with or in alignment with yours?

Regarding implementation and planning, assess whether the vendor really seems to understand your specific timelines and needs, or is it just providing generic timeframes and approaches? Especially in the global space, there are often other variables to be considered (timeline of an acquisition or divestiture, end of a contract with a current vendor, etc.), and an experienced vendor will consider those and also help identify any other factors impacting timelines. They should also be able to provide options and suggestions (and perhaps a bit of a pushback based on their experience) as well as feedback on impacts and implications.

I’d also pay attention to how the vendor interacts with you during the sales cycle. Companies have “personalities” just as people do, so do yours mesh? And when speaking with references, ask for current clients but also clients that have left (we all have them!). How a company works with clients that are exiting is often more revealing than how a company works with you during the sales process.


How did you get started in your career?

I was fortunate enough to land a position in HR (compensation, specifically) right out of university, and I had managers and colleagues who were willing to help me, coach me, and teach me. From there, I branched out to HRIS, then payroll (with exposure to other areas of HR—benefits, recruiting, employee relations, etc.) along the way. I moved into consulting about eight years in to gain experience across multiple industries and also spent some time with providers. I have had a wonderful career full of opportunities, aided by some fantastic mentors, and supported by great teams. It’s been, and continues to be, quite the ride!

What were some of your early career lessons?

One of my most memorable lessons came from one of my early managers and first mentor. I had made a mistake and was being called out by some of the senior leaders at the company. My manager in turn called them out, took the heat for me, and told them that they needed to take it up with him as he was responsible for me at that level. He came to me, we discussed my error, and he held me accountable, but he also made it clear that he had my back. I carry that with me to this day. As a leader and as a manager, you’re responsible for your people. Take care of them, let them know you’re on their team, and they will work hard for you! And, no, I never made that same mistake again!

I’ve also learned to communicate expectations clearly—to let my team and my colleagues know if I am looking for something specific, and by when. And I have learned to respect boundaries; my own and those of my team.

Hear what this global payroll subject matter expert has to say in the feature “Managing From Afar—Challenges of Remote Teams, Part 1,” 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).