By Frank J. Mendelson
Editor’s Note: Danny Schulz, CPP, is Senior Manager of Payroll, Systems, and Taxes with Kohler, Co. He is a passionate corporate payroll professional, HR tech, and tax specialist with more than 15 years of accounting experience. His passion lies with focusing on developing processes and systems to streamline operations, reduce expenses, and boost overall efficiency. Schulz has been with Kohler, Co. since 2012 in a variety of roles relating to payroll and oversees a team of 15 global associates. He is responsible for developing and driving an overall global standardization for payroll and time systems, as well as overall payroll processes. As a detail-oriented team leader with experience building long-term and adaptable strategies, Schulz is always incorporating new technologies he enjoys while looking at the future of payroll and how technical advancements can be leveraged to enhance the role of payroll within the organization.
What do you see as the changing role of the payroll professional?
Discussing the emerging opportunities within the payroll profession is one of my favorite topics. I truly think the payroll profession is at a tipping point.
Having correct and accurate payroll data is more important now than ever, and organizations have discovered the added value of payroll data. Often, this data is in multiple places and has better accuracy than enterprise resource planning (ERP). Where we get the data, how fast can we have it after payday, and what metrics we deliver are strategic and operational questions whose answers drive the best insights for others in the company. A final step is delivering an analytics package that can be picked up and understood even if you aren’t in the room.
Of course, delivering an accurate payroll will always be an important aspect of payroll. But the profession needs to continue to shift, to be more strategic thinkers, and identify how we as payroll professionals can drive employee experience and satisfy our end customers as we deliver pay. Perhaps your organization needs to explore earned wage access (EWA) or make pay available in cryptocurrency. I recently saw a statistic where some employees would like to receive a non-fungible token (NFT) as a reward, so how does payroll handle that type of transaction?
This shift and focus will provide stronger connections to the business, provide an opportunity for payroll to be that strategic partner, and ensure the data is at the table.
What emerging trends in global payroll are demanding your attention and how will they exert impact?
It’s important to me to see and understand how global employers are now looking to implement EWA. This is something that has gained traction in the U.S. markets. Now, it is starting to gain traction globally.
Data privacy laws are also gaining in popularity. It’s something payroll professionals should watch carefully. Understanding how payroll uses and stores data and knowing our partners are doing these things are important. We do our best to keep compliant on the global landscape.
Employee mobility and place of work is a challenge payroll needs to keep in mind, especially in a post-pandemic world where employees expect to be able to work from (almost) anywhere. Payroll should partner with legal, tax, and HR to understand where the employees are planning to work, especially if they are crossing borders.
What is the difference in responding to urgencies in global payroll versus U.S. domestic payroll?
The trend in the United States is moving more toward instant EWA. This is also starting to be adopted globally. Internally, our organization was working on shifting the processing of a small international payroll and asked for the payroll calendar. This county didn’t have one. They merely said, “If it’s before the end of the month, the employees won’t complain.” It’s interesting to see the cultural difference in urgency, even with something like payroll. However, payroll is so very personal. I believe you need to exhibit a strong urgency in this role to provide the best customer service possible.
What is the value and limits to emerging technology, robotics, and AI in managing a global payroll?
Within five years, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) will emerge as a crucial development in payroll. I expect these offerings to be included within payroll systems during this time frame. It’s interesting to see how much has already been done, yet how much further I think we can go.
Specifically looking at robotic process automation (RPA), I think companies need to understand the whole process. Many top leaders might not understand the end-to-end process. For instance, at my organization, we have seen celebrations when part of a process is automated, but the full process was not. If you want real victories, those at the end need to get the rest of the automation in. A full scope analysis and swim lane business process map (a flow chart that shows the organization structure) should be done to review the process, then put the automation in for as much of the full process that is allowable.
AI will be a great tool for payroll teams to provide guidance in areas we should be focusing on. As companies grow globally, it will be especially important if global payroll teams can get the payroll data all in one place.
What are the most important qualities of effective leadership?
Empathy is so important. I truly believe that people don’t leave companies they leave ineffective leaders or managers.
It’s important to note that not all people have a desire to lead, but still want more from their career. Companies should allow for employee career growth without negatively impacting the organization by pushing them to manage people.
If you do become a leader, be sure to read up and train on empathy. I feel this helps me lead across multiple generations. It also helps me spot when employees need a quick pick me up or help in a situation. Not all employees will raise their hand and ask for help but taking note and understanding if they are struggling is important. Leaders need to be able to identify obstacles and know how to help the team get past them.
How do you manage to balance work and pleasure?
The continuous work that COVID-19 brought in my life caused me to assess how I get this under control. In the fall of 2020, my wife who works in education went back to the classroom in person while my children and I stayed home. This was a very stressful time as I focused on teaching and on my job. When the workday ended and my kids were in bed, I went right to my computer to catch up on work. I needed to do that to ensure people were getting paid. However, it wasn’t sustainable for my health or my relationships with my family. I needed to step away, and I did. We took an impromptu weekend vacation, and I haven’t looked back. I try to not work too much off-hours and there are certain times where I don’t accept meetings. The first and most important jobs I have are father and husband.
What are some stress management techniques you have found useful?
Sometimes it’s more productive to just walk away for 5, 10, 15 minutes. You can reflect, sit back, and really take a breath. There are great apps out there as well for mental health that can help.
How has your approach to change management helped you sustain a successful organization?
I’ve been burned before on change management. When that happened, we were working on a project that was initially successful. However, because I didn’t have full leadership authority across the group, it eventually fizzled and returned to past practice. I learned a valuable lesson.
On future projects, I find ways to lead across organizational structures. That is the way you will be most successful, especially in a cross-functional change. I would also advise to bring in areas that may only see slight change to tell the story of why the change is happening. Having a cross-functional team that has bought in will set you up for a win.