This quote from playwright, George Bernard Shaw is well worth remembering when it comes to leading a global payroll project. As a project manager embarking on such an initiative, success or failure often rests on your ability to gain the support of your individual countries. Your goal is to take the company forward, yet in doing so, it’s going to be tough to please everyone all of the time.
That said, if a new global approach to payroll isn’t accepted and adopted at a local level, the group’s grand plan is going to quickly turn into a huge headache with massive wasted investment. It is likely to be a fine line to tread.
So why would a country resist the opportunity to benefit from a global solution that brings improved processes and better visibility? In this post, we’ll outline a few of the typical issues and look at the steps you can take to get your local teams onside.
Potential payroll ‘protestations’
The group benefits of global payroll are compelling, such as centralized reporting, standardized processes, tighter compliance and improved efficiency. But for your local, in-country teams, a global payroll initiative might represent the relinquishing of power. Individual country payroll heads don’t necessarily want to lose control of their own systems, and may feel uneasy at the prospect of re-learning processes they’ve had in place for years.
There are cost concerns for local country leaders too, often believing they’ll be forced to pay more for a new solution out of their own budget. There may be questions raised about the future of the local payroll team and their role in the new way of working, whether that’s with new technology, an outsourced partner or a combination of both.
On rare occasions, the local team maybe a little jittery - fearing that the implementation project might lift the lid on any dysfunctional practices that are being carried out at a local level, potentially exposing compliance issues and other risks.
Empathizing with these fears and perceptions is the first step. There’s little merit in bulldozing your way through a project without trying to show a level of understanding of what’s driving behaviors. A good project manager will know how to navigate this environment applying the right level of emotional intelligence to develop collaborative relationships.
However, whilst empathy and building rapport are very important when leading a global payroll project, there are a number of more pragmatic actions and activities that you can take to overcome these objections.
8 ways to engage your local country teams
- Establish a centralized project team: It might seem obvious, but your global payroll project is going to need you (the project manager) on a full time basis. This initiative is going to require your 100% commitment and focus. Then, you’ll need to seek support from each country, asking them to nominate a subject-matter expert who you can count on for part-time project assistance, as well as for championing the program on the ground. Ideally, you’ll also need a global executive who you can turn to if you need help to overcome major objections. Once this team is in place, start communications with your countries as early as possible, giving them time to prepare themselves for change.
- Appoint Super users: If your budget allows, a very prudent step would be to designate a couple of full-time ‘super users’ to the project – either from within your business or externally. These experienced and knowledgeable global payroll practitioners will know payroll, have worked with the technology and/or in an outsourcing environment and can communicate regularly with the in-country subject-matter experts. Effectively, you’ll be building a project team of individuals well versed with the solution, ensuring every country implementation retains an element of consistency, and gets easier as time progresses.
- Review local-level processes and concerns: To fully understand local concerns, and in order to develop the best possible solution, undertake a full review of existing processes and operations (local, national and even regional). Get a complete picture of how processes relate to each other, how optimized and streamlined they are, and where and how they can be improved. Address any in-country anxieties by getting everything out on the table before the project kicks off. Take the opportunity to reinforce the benefits of global payroll (group savings, improved reporting, single contract, less administration etc) and sell the vision, promoting good corporate citizenship – calling for their support for the greater good of the company.
- Streamline requirements gathering through centralized resources: By making resources, tools, frameworks and templates available through your central project team, you can ensure implementation is rolled out in a consistent fashion across all your territories. Templates provided by your payroll solution vendor can help to define payroll calendars, collect pay-code details, general ledgers and calculations, as well as capture key data flows. Not only does this ensure uniform documentation along with a common approach, it will save you, the project manager, a good deal of time and effort.
- Hold a project kick-off meeting: As the newly appointed project manager of a global payroll program, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re about to rack-up some serious air miles. However, with modern technologies most of the project governance and ongoing communications can, and normally are, handled remotely. Nevertheless, an initial project kick-off event gives you the chance to get key stakeholders together for a few days, meet face-to-face, and present the proposed global payroll solution. Use this session as an opportunity to provide an overview of any new technology and services, as well as to conduct a walkthrough of new processes. This is another great vehicle for addressing any lingering local concerns face-to-face, ideally with the help of your senior sponsor and other champions.
- Consider subsidizing the central cross-charge: If financial objections are likely to be a major hurdle at the local level, with country managers unlikely to buy in to a system based on a perceived hike in costs, its worth seriously considering subsidizing the cross-charge. Let’s say it’s costing one of your local entities £10,000 to run their payroll and the new system (for all the benefits it brings) might cost £12,000, offsetting this extra cost can help to alleviate any potential stumbling blocks, at a relatively low cost to the group.
- Phase the implementation: Rather than delivering global payroll to all your countries in one ‘big bang’, instead roll out to clusters of your countries one at a time. Unless your company has the resources to appoint mini project teams for individual regions, dealing with more than 8-10 countries at once may be biting off more than you can chew. A phased implementation allows you to refine and streamline your implementation methodology as you go, and also enables you to acquire more ‘champions’ of the solution by rolling out to smaller, less complicated countries first. A smart approach is to group countries by geography, rather than by size of population or some other criteria. Neighboring countries tend to work in similar ways and the time zones are much easier to manage too.
- Get support from IT: There’s no doubt that IT will play a crucial part in your global payroll project, both at global and local level - so you’ll need a time commitment mapped out and agreed with your IT department from the outset. Consider all the data requirements that feed into your payroll systems, most if not all will require IT to develop interfaces with them. An easy way to think about this is to break it into two parts. Part one covers the systems that feed payroll, such as your HCM and time and attendance (T&A) systems. Part two includes the payroll outputs, such as the data flows from payroll into your finance systems, pensions, insurance, tax offices and other benefits systems, covering company cars for example.
Your countries hold the key to success
An element of resistance to change is to be expected in any major project of this kind. And when it comes to global payroll projects, the objections are mostly always at local country level.
The steps we’ve outlined here should help you break down these barriers and if you address the issues head on, keep communicating with your countries, respond to feedback and deliver an agile, phased approach, the transition will be as successful as it is rewarding.