Editor’s Note: Nicholas McJannet, FPC, is a global payroll professional with more than 20 years of experience in the industry. About half of his career has been spent in his native U.K. and half in his adopted home in the United States. Experienced in U.K. and U.S. payroll administration, global implementation, and project management, McJannet gained the Chartered Institute of Payroll Professionals (CIPP) Payroll Technician Certification in 2012, followed by the American Payroll Association’s (APA) Fundamental Payroll Certification (FPC) in 2019. He currently coordinates a growing global payroll portfolio as a Global Payroll Specialist at Red Ventures, a portfolio of influential brands, digital platforms, and strategic partnerships that work together to connect millions of people with expert advice.
How did you get started in your career?
Like many payroll professionals of my generation, I developed my career in payroll by accident. After college, I took a temporary administration job working for a rail engineering company in London. The payroll manager needed an extra pair of hands and asked me to join her team. She taught me the basics of U.K. payroll and encouraged me to keep learning. I loved the logical nature of the job, the fast pace, and that I got to help hardworking people get paid. As the circumstances of my life changed, I transferred my skills to U.S. payroll and then into the global payroll arena.
What is the changing role of the payroll professional?
The role of the payroll professional is evolving very quickly. The key drivers for me are technology and globalization. Technology is steadily eliminating much of the heavy lifting in terms of validation, calculation, and even compliance. Globalization is driving more and more companies to look beyond their borders for customers and employees. While much of the manual work is becoming a thing of the past, there is an emerging need for payroll professionals who can interpret data, communicate findings to other parts of the business, and assist in critical, strategic decision making. There is a growing niche for those with strong technology skills who can implement and administer a modern HRIS. Similarly, more payroll professionals are being pushed from administering local payroll to joining global payroll teams, which is exciting. While change is always a little scary, I think we are seeing the coming-of-age of the payroll profession. There are some excellent opportunities emerging.
What are the chronic challenges for companies that are moving into global expansion?
The level of complexity in global payroll can be high, not only for the payroll team but also for those higher up in the organization. Each new location brings unique challenges and new rules to learn and incorporate, so process maturity takes time and continued effort. For growing companies that are expanding into new locations, it can feel like they are continually in “project mode.” Additionally, the need for continuing education and growth within payroll teams can also be considerable, especially in the light of everchanging regulations.
What resources do you use to stay current on the latest trends and legislation in payroll?
Most of my focus right now with Red Ventures is on the United States and U.K. sides, so I find the information provided by the American Payroll Association (APA) and Chartered Institute of Payroll Professionals (CIPP) to be invaluable. It is so important to have trusted sources to go to, particularly for legislative guidance. The Global Payroll Management Institute (GPMI) is, of course, very helpful for staying on top of global trends. I find the APA and GPMI’s Guide to Global Payroll Management to be especially insightful when approaching global payroll from a U.S. perspective. Some global payroll companies provide regular, high-level snapshots of the payroll landscape in individual countries, which can also be extremely helpful if you find your role shifting into unfamiliar geographical locations.
What strategic advice would you give to a company moving from domestic to a global payroll?
I advise that you take stock of your current payroll team. Determine what skills they need to take on their expanding role and determine how to upskill where necessary. Decide if you need to bring additional expertise into the team, especially if you will be processing foreign payroll in-house as opposed to outsourcing. Evaluate your systems, processes, and lines of communication. Determine if these are robust enough to deal with the coming complexity. Look for trustworthy partners in the locations you are expanding into.
Most companies moving into the global space will need to go through a period of outsourcing to local providers until scale makes either hiring one of the global payroll providers or hiring internal experts for all locations an option. Finally, as much as possible, try to plan with growth and change in mind. If your company is still expanding into new countries, then the solutions you have in place right now may not fit down the road.
What have been your experiences on successfully navigating cultural differences on the global stage?
Achieving success as part of a team is always rewarding, but experiencing success in a global team—one that crosses borders and cultures—is a very special experience. I was very fortunate to have strong mentors to learn from when I first started working in global payroll. They taught me how to listen more than I spoke, to appreciate the skill and expertise of others, and to expect widely different practices than I was used to. I learned to be interested in the places and people I work with. Not only is it helpful to know about things like local holidays and events from the practical perspective, but it also helps in building genuine relationships when people show an interest in each other’s lives. Cultivating a bit of humility goes a long way in global communication of any kind, and it is essential for success in global payroll. The more I have managed to do that, the more successful I have been.
What value does effective communication have in global payroll?
The complexities of modern payroll make concise communication essential. When you add in language barriers, time zones, and differing cultural reference points, clear and concise communication takes on added significance. Keeping communication direct and logical can reduce the chance of misunderstanding, minimize errors, reduce rework, and help the whole team to feel connected and confident.
How do you personally manage to balance work and home life?
This can be difficult for global payroll professionals because we can usually find a reason to be online. I have a set start time in the morning. There are a couple hours before work begins that I guard closely. I use this time to meditate, eat a proper breakfast, and take a short walk. The evenings are a little more fluid, but my family and I have a set dinner time that we share together except in real emergencies. I try not to sit at my desk late into the evenings doing things that can be done the next day. The same is true of my weekends.
What career advice would you give to a new employee in payroll?
Payroll is a challenging, but very rewarding career. I know it is a cliché, but you really do get out what you put in. There are so many opportunities for education, networking, and growth today that were simply not there when I started my career. Keep learning and growing because the payroll landscape is always changing, and there are a lot of opportunities out there.
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Frank J. Mendelson is Acquisitions Editor for the Global Payroll Management Institute (GPMI) and the American Payroll Association (APA).