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Professional Spotlight

Meet Deborah Piacitelli, CPP, Global Payroll Compliance Leader at W.L. Gore & Associates

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By Frank J. Mendelson, with Deborah Fallon Piacitelli, CPP

Editor’s Note: Deborah (Fallon) Piacitelli, CPP, is the Global Payroll Compliance Leader at W.L. Gore & Associates. She has been leading the payroll function for more than 20 years for both privately-held and publicly-held organizations. Piacitelli is a solid payroll technician with substantial experience in compensation, benefits, equity, and accounting. Piacitelli’s current professional initiatives include building harmonized payroll processes across the globe, developing audit ready payrolls, standardizing and automating repetitive tasks, and developing a high-performance global team.

What are your thoughts on how the role of the global payroll professional is changing?

The role of the payroll professional of the past processed properly authorized documents. Today, tremendous advances in technology constantly change the way we do business.  Employee and manager self-service have been around for years, processes are automated end-to-end, functions are outsourced, and rarely does the payroll professional touch individual records.

Unless you are in an environment that has not kept up with advancements, the role of the payroll professional today requires audit, analysis, and forensic skills in addition to depth of knowledge of employment laws, pay and disbursement practices, employment taxes, technology, and payroll accounting. For business leaders who have not caught up to the impact of this shift, the result is exposure to compliance risk, inefficient practices resulting in high payroll costs, and high error rates—all with a direct impact on employee satisfaction.

The data privacy rules require changes to the way in which data is reviewed and shared—providing much more pressure on internal governance to mitigate risk, also often overlooked until it is too late.

What emerging trends in global payroll are demanding your attention?

Robotics! But the challenge is always governance. Bad data in is bad data out. We must solve the governance and compliance challenges upstream before payroll teams can really embrace robotics as an efficiency tool.

What are the chronic challenges for companies experiencing or moving into global expansion?

The biggest challenge for payroll is that the payroll operation is always at the end of the information chain, leaving the payroll function in a reactive position.

The true cost of expansion is a challenge, as disparate and disconnected systems and implementations result in off-line, manual processes. Rolling up data to analyze costs is nearly impossible. Harmonized processes, system and data connectivity, reporting, filing, and data retention seem always to be an afterthought.

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

I rely on subscriptions and memberships to the following publications and organizations: The American Payroll Association (APA), the Global Payroll Management Institute (GPMI); Chartered Institute of Payroll Professionals (CIPP), Bloomberg Tax, and the Canadian Payroll Association (CPA). Also, be a part of vendor communities, partner with audit firms such as EY, PwC, WorldatWork, and the Forum for Expatriate Management and, of course, network with your colleagues during the day and at training and conferences.

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

A global payroll compliance leader can alert leadership of compliance risks across regions and recommend risk mitigation steps. Payroll can anticipate and project cost increases due to legislative or rate threshold changes. Payroll sees unusual turnover patterns, as well as patterns of policy violations and exceptions. Armed with knowledge, continuous training, and support for the work, the payroll team can be an arm of the firm’s risk and compliance team. Payroll professionals have a keen eye for detail and are instinctive auditors. Engage!

What are the challenges being faced by global payroll teams?

Staffing is a big challenge global payroll departments face. Gaining support for experienced payroll professionals is challenging. Leaders often choose staffing for revenue-generator areas over support functions. There are risks involved in failing to develop policies and practices with controls built in for compliance.

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

I recommend partnering with a consultant with demonstrated experience leading a payroll function, system implementations (both in-house and third-party), and exposure to multi-country work. A compliance background is a huge plus. This is not the type of project to engage on-the-job training, or consulting firms with no actual operational experience. Vendor project teams have depth of knowledge in their product—not in the function.

The payroll team should have a well-rounded training course in the basics of employment standards, pay and benefit practices, employment tax rules, and cultural differences. This will help develop trust with the new vendors and employees.

What are some essential practices and strategic choices to manage risk and compliance?

  • One should ensure processes are audit-ready. To do this, there are five points to my approach.
  • Always look to external rules, then internal plan documents and policies, and ensure the payroll configuration is aligned
  • Develop periodic checks of system configuration to confirm
  • Develop pay-period audits to validate populations and variances
  • Remember to inspect what you expect
  • My golden rule: First Time Right

Why and how did you become involved in payroll?

My story is probably familiar to most in payroll—I fell into the role and loved it.

Payroll touches every employee at every level, every function, routinely and consistently. The payroll function crosses all specialties and requires understanding of all upstream functions and how each element of data needs to behave through systems. The payroll function includes elements of compliance, audit, accounting, cash management, HRIT, IT, mobility, tax, equity, compensation, benefits, budgets and forecasts—and people. Payroll is one of the most diverse and interesting functions in an organization.

What are some of pieces of learned wisdom that lead to being effective and efficient?

Try to be a part of the conversation—every conversation—because all business decisions eventually make their way to the paycheck.

New benefit plans, new compensation schemes, new taxes, new entities, new cost centers, new job codes, new pay cycles, you name it—payroll needs to be part of the conversation to be sure proper execution.

Ensuring accurate pay is a year-round event—year end starts as soon as tax statements are out the door and year-end reports are filed. Having all stakeholders involved in the Year-end/Year-round cyclical process ensures everyone is successful.

Payroll elements should be reconciled with each pay cycle through to the general ledger and the benefit plans.

What kinds of skills, training, and education would be most useful for someone moving into a managerial role in payroll?

The depth of one’s knowledge of payroll is critical to leading the function. Unlike other areas, it is difficult to be effective without having that depth of diverse knowledge. My mentor—the woman who led my Certified Payroll Professional (CPP) study group—was an HR leader responsible for human capital management at the time, but she had led compensation, benefits, and payroll.

Understanding the requirements that go into all elements of pay, deductions, and taxes truly provides the muscle needed to ensure accuracy and protect your organization.

What were some of your early career lessons?

Listen for understanding, inspect what you expect, uncover root causes, and avoid makeshift solutions.

What career and life advice do you give to a new employee in payroll?

Payroll is a rewarding career if you love wearing multiple hats, digging into details, working with all kinds of people, but most of all, payroll is a job for someone who believes in “servant leadership.” According to the Center for Servant Leadership, it is defined as, “… a philosophy and set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations, and ultimately creates a more just and caring world.”

If you love the feeling of making someone’s day, you will love coming to work because you are the reason they come to work!

Everyone who is serious about becoming the best they can be and contributing their full potential needs to become certified: Fundamental Payroll Certification, CPP, global certificates, Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), graduate level degrees. I advise that whatever you need to keep up with current legislation, do it.

What is your approach to management and leadership?

I have a coaching style. I enjoy sitting with the team to plan, troubleshoot, and collaborate. Ensuring the team is plugged into other parts of the organization is critical in building partnerships and keeping abreast of changes.

Explain the approach you take to include religious and cultural diversity awareness to make yours a high-performing organization.

I think recognizing our unconscious bias, then talking openly about diversity and inclusion (D&I) challenges teams are facing, ensuring D&I is a priority during the selection process, creating opportunities for teams to test themselves and their biases—so many opportunities.  The organization must support and foster D&I not only by their words, but by their actions.  

D&I is not just about gender or race or ethnic background, it is about respect for another way of thinking, a different way of viewing a problem. It is the only way to a high-performing, innovated, and inclusive organization. 

There should be methodologies established in all team meetings on how to ensure everyone is heard in the way they need to be heard—to ensure sensitivity to words and behaviors that can be misconstrued and to be open and embrace different thoughts and mannerisms that are part of a culture. This could be a weeklong discussion because I feel it is so important.

How do you personally manage to balance work and pleasure?

Maintaining a balance is really hard. Making sure I have plans to do things with others is really important. These include date nights/movie nights with my husband, routine massages and other self-care appointments, museum memberships, keeping track of local artists to make sure we take advantage of live music, tickets to concerts and events, etc. In essence, it is anything to book time on our calendar to represent fun and balance.

What books are on your recommended reading list for business professionals?

I recommend these five books I’ve read that remain on my bookshelf for reference.

  • The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller
  • That’s What She Said by Joanne Lipman
  • Start with Why by Simon Sinek
  • The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann
  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

What stress management techniques have you found useful?

Three elements of my daily routine include:

  • Journaling
  • Yoga
  • Meditation