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Avoiding Change Fatigue in Global Payroll Transformation

By Paul Bartlett

Paul Bartlett is CEO of CloudPay, a global payroll solution for multinational organizations.

Change is a constant in business, emphasized by the recent push for process standardization. The demands of global operations and new technology have made it necessary and possible to consolidate and optimize most processes, from restructuring enterprise HR functions to improving the way we communicate with each other by email. The majority of employees will say they’ve seen a lot of changes in the past decade. And while the end state is typically an improvement over the old way of doing things, the journey to get there can be challenging, if not downright chaotic. At this point in our technology-aided pursuit of process perfection, it’s common, understandable, and almost inevitable for people to experience change fatigue. The key word—almost.

Change fatigue doesn’t need to happen. In fact, implementing a massive process change can be an opportunity to recharge or re-establish good relations and communication throughout your organization. The trouble lurks in implementation plans that take years to execute, common in large-scale multinational change initiatives.

When an organization operating in 30 countries, using 30 different providers to process 50 payrolls, undertakes a global payroll transformation, it could take two years to complete. The organization will likely tackle the countries in groups, and by the time it gets to the fifth group, those local payroll managers may have no connection to or understanding of the initial decision to make the change or the intended benefits.

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Why We’re Tired

Passivity or apathy toward changes within an organization can pose a real problem for growing businesses. However, understanding the causes of change fatigue can help prevent it. Often, the decision to undertake a global transformation initiative is made at corporate headquarters yet requires buyin from satellite offices, sometimes years after the project begins. The buyers who understand the need and benefit of undertaking the transformation may ultimately not be involved in its implementation, while the local end users—who likely stand to gain the most from the change—may see it as unnecessary interference in how they do their jobs. Turnover or promotions could mean managers involved in initiating the change are no longer there, and the remaining employees may begin to push back.

What You Can Do

Change management involves important considerations like establishing a change architecture and allowing ample time for implementation challenges. However, change fatigue management requires more attention to interpersonal and departmental relationships and communication. Really, successful change begins with the way you buy the product and the way you begin the project. This is what I recommend:

  1. Ask the experts—Your employees are experts in how to do their jobs. They understand the requirements and challenges of their tasks, as well as opportunities for improvement. Group meetings, discussion forums, and even email surveys can glean valuable information about their roles and how a change could impact or improve them. Employees who feel involved and listened to are more likely to appreciate and even identify with the change initiative, which can yield enormous benefits months or years down the line when it’s their turn to change things up.

  2. Enlist and empower managers—Changes can place significant strain on managers and team leaders, especially if they must promote, explain, or defend large or difficult transformation initiatives whether or not they agree with them. Engaging with local leadership early in the project is key to making a smooth transition. Give managers the information they need to inform and guide employees, and be sure to listen to and address their concerns. Most importantly, empower them with the tools they need to help their teams, as well as to question aspects of the implementation in a constructive manner and offer any suggestions they may have.

  3. Have a change champion—For every large-scale process transformation, an individual (or two) stands out for their enthusiasm for the project’s success. This is your change champion. This is the employee who can sell the initiative to doubters, answer even the most left-field questions, and maintain enthusiasm for the duration of implementation. This person is a crucial member of your successful change management team, even if they have no prior change management experience or related skills. They can connect with employees in satellite offices and liaise with headquarters, acting as a familiar face and ongoing point of contact and reassurance throughout the project.

  4. Document the decision—A lot of time and consideration goes into making the decision to consolidate global payroll, with most of that work happening separately from the day-to-day payroll function. That’s why it’s important to define and document the reasons behind the decision, as well as the possible challenges and anticipated benefits. Take into account how the change will affect employees and consider the benefits from their perspective, not just the company’s. By popularizing the rationale ahead of time, you can offer employees insight into the process and help them see the value of enduring a potentially complicated transition. Plus, when you’re 18 months in—and people are forgetting why they chose it or you’re onboarding new hires—the record is there to clarify the value and intention of the change.

  5. Anticipate disruption—The very nature of change is disruptive. Transforming an essential global function like payroll takes considerable time and effort—which likely will come from the employees who already have fulltime jobs. It’s advisable to anticipate a temporary dip in performance or productivity. The key is to adjust expectations from the company’s perspective and to communicate that to employees, who may otherwise feel burdened to perform at their usual level while also facilitating the process change. It’s also helpful to provide a forum for employees to submit feedback on the project or new process, both to maintain employee involvement and to gain useful information.

  6. Provide progress reports—By the time a payroll transformation project begins, the overseers know the strategic plan inside and out—yet the employees may be wondering whatever happened to that global payroll idea.

Circulate the implementation plan ahead of launch, then provide regular, consistent updates to keep employees engaged. These progress reports are your opportunity to document wins as you go, as well as share lessons learned along the way. This can help maintain awareness of and perhaps even build anticipation for the change as it rolls out.

Just being aware of or even anticipating change fatigue isn’t enough to avoid its disruptive effects on a global payroll transformation project. Rather than learning lessons in hindsight, you can make a small investment of time and effort at the outset to ensure employees and local leadership understand and support the initiative—a modest investment in your company’s future that’s sure to pay you back.