Editor’s Note: Christine Stolpe, CPP, of San Jose, California, has more than 20 years of experience in the payroll industry. She says she was “adopted” into the payroll profession from human resources when it was discovered that she had a knack for rules, details, and numbers. She is a results-driven and accomplished global payroll enthusiast with broad experience in both domestic and global payroll teams, ensuring accurate payroll operations through efficient leadership of staff. Stolpe joined the American Payroll Association (APA) and received the Certified Payroll Professional (CPP) certification in 2011 and completed the Global Payroll Management Certificate Program in 2011 as one of its first 50 recipients. Her professional vision is to lead the drive toward global payroll quality assurance procedures that provide simple solutions for compliance, accuracy, and timeliness. Stolpe is currently developing a business plan to open consultancy services for payroll strategies from strategy development to team development, requests for proposals, vendor selection, implementation, and finally go-live.
What is the changing role of the payroll professional?
Like everything else in this beautiful world, the payroll professional adapts. We learn basic programming skills, whether we know it or not, when it comes to our payroll systems. We learn another set of programming skills when we figure out how to get a custom report to successfully provide quarterly data, so the data isn’t having to be manually gathered once every 12 weeks. And we find other languages to learn, systems to run custom reports from, or teams to join.
In addition to adapting, payroll professionals congregate. We find like-minded people, other payroll professionals, with whom to share stories, ideas, struggles, concerns, and successes. Many times, these interactions can help develop us as individuals by providing us with new challenges, new ways of thinking about problems, and new ideas for ways to solve those problems.
What emerging trends in global payroll are demanding your attention? How will they exert impact?
The trend that has my attention these days—and this really shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to anyone who has ever met me—is how social media plays a role in payroll, for payroll, and to payroll. In addition to using social media as a way to stay connected to my “like-minded” friends, social media is one of my primary means of consuming work-related news about upcoming rules, regulations, or requirements. There are podcasts to listen to with industry leaders chatting about the important things that payroll professionals need to know. There are webinars being sponsored by vendors all the time that help keep us updated on their technology as well as live chats happening online in real time where payroll professionals can have multiple conversations at once while sharing answers to a prescribed list of questions.
What are the chronic challenges for companies that have moved or are moving into global expansion?
It has been my experience that companies that choose a U.S.-centralized global payroll structure hire a Global Payroll Manager to lead the charge, and the strategy ends there. To be successful, the plan should include resources, money in the budget, timelines, and a lot of support from upper management. The strategy needs to be fully thought out from end to end, not just up to the point of hiring the Global Payroll Manager and then leaving it up to that individual. Partnerships within the company will need to be developed and teams included in the strategic planning sessions so that there aren’t any business requirements that are not considered and turn into issues that prevent any project from being successful.
What resources do you use to stay current on the latest trends and legislation in payroll?
The Internet of Things (IoT). To say that I use the internet to stay current on the latest trends and legislation in payroll would be an understatement, completely predictable and beyond cliché. I would like to dive into the weeds on this topic because the internet isn’t a thing anymore; now it is the IoT. Gone are the days where my only source of viable information about coming changes in payroll regulations was a year-end preparation course offered by a vendor, chapter, or the APA.
Not only do I have instant access to content published about the possibilities of new reporting requirements, but I also have the ability to connect almost directly with the agencies that make, monitor, or manage the policies. My web browser and favorite search provide instant translation on-screen right before my very eyes, which throws the curtains back on finding payroll-related information from around the globe.
My mobile phone is a mini-computer, Blackberry, video game console, virtual reality headset, DVR, jukebox, file cabinet, camera and photo album, video camera and VCR, and finally, telephone. Recently I have added a wearable that gives me a quick “bzzt bzzzt” on the wrist to let me know that someone I follow has posted new content on a social media platform. This is the IoT.
How can a payroll department provide support on a strategic level to corporate finance, human resources, and other departments?
Without fail, not including payroll in strategic decisions at the corporate level leads to complications, compliance issues, or, worst of all, loss of employee confidence. There are a lot of mundane tasks that payroll professionals just “know” how to do because we have to know in order to be good at our jobs. The same is true of an automotive technician. I can stare into the engine of my vehicle for 10 minutes without it making any sense to me, but ask my auto tech to explain a payslip to a new hire, and we’re all reminded why we stay in our lanes. Payroll knows things. We think ahead. What can we provide on a strategic level? Planning for those situations that we did not know were coming. Bringing a strategic planning mindset to the table is what payroll professionals do every day, every pay cycle, every month, every quarter, and every year-end.
What is the difference in responding to urgencies in global payroll versus U.S. domestic payroll?
The most difficult part of managing a global payroll is responding to urgencies that occur during off-business hours. For example, if the processing in Mumbai encounters an error that only the U.S.-based Payroll Manager can remedy, there will be a need for 24-hour availability. Likewise, if the payroll trial reports are found to have errors, the global team needs to be available to make the corrections before the U.S. Department of Treasury deadlines for international money wires. So, even urgent matters have a tendency to move at a slower pace in global payroll than domestic.
What have been your experiences on successfully navigating cultural and other differences on a worldwide stage?
I have experienced an acquisition that involved a large global operation. The organizational structure of the former company had payroll reporting up through human resources, while the acquiring company chose to include payroll in finance. The integration stalled out before it even began when the global teams made it well-known that they were not interested in becoming part of finance, nor were they open to making any changes to their current payroll processes that would include sharing information with the new company. This was an important lesson to me about how other cultures view their chosen profession as well as how averse certain areas of the world are to change.
Can you comment on the consequence and value of effective communications in global payroll—internal and external?
Communicating across national borders can be tricky, especially when writing in less formal tones. It is my opinion that keeping the conversation professional, using formal greetings and salutations is the safest and most respectful way to communicate with the rest of the payroll world, regardless of their location. Once I have established a rapport with a teammate who is located internationally, I will allow myself some humor, but only within the confines of payroll-related matters.
Using an online translator is sometimes useful for ensuring that your greetings and salutations are accurate if you choose to write them in the receiver’s native language. This can also be risky, as the formality of your message may or may not translate appropriately into the foreign language. This is an error I have made, and I was fortunate enough to have made it with one of the nicest French teammates I had at the time. She laughed at my choice of words and told me how old and stuffy it made the message sound. “Funny,” I thought, “that’s exactly how my father speaks.”
How did you get started in your career?
The person doing payroll got my check wrong, so I went and sat with her to understand what had happened, why it happened, and how to make sure it didn’t happen again. The next time she ran payroll, I sat with her to ensure the error didn’t happen again. And two weeks later, the job was mine.
What kinds of skills, training, and education would be most useful for someone moving into a managerial role in payroll?
Managing payroll is managing a process. The basic concept—where your input comes from, how to get the input computed, and where your end results go to—doesn’t change much. This can bring about a mindset that it would be counter-productive to spend a lot of time and money on professional development for an individual who manages only a process. Now that the world is shrinking, and we are able to communicate and complete processes faster, managerial skills in global payroll need to include not only people management, but the newest challenge, a virtual workforce requirement.
What were some of your early career lessons?
Payroll is the rope in the tug-of-war between human resources and finance/accounting.
What professional and personal challenges have you faced as you moved into global payroll from domestic payroll?
The biggest professional challenge I faced when I first started in global payroll was where to find answers to questions about country-specific laws and requirements. My personal challenges were more in line with my feeling like a freshman in high school all over again.
What has the emotional experience of being in your position and some of your experiences been like?
I call myself curious. Others may call me nosey. I love that I am a work in progress. I began studying global payroll because it interested me. I really enjoy doing domestic payroll. Finding out what’s different and what’s similar between global and domestic is what drew me to learn more about global payroll. Each time I get to learn a new country, I realize that I am going to be back at square one again on the learning curve, so I learn what I can, as quickly as I can, and I make myself lots of notes, so I can come back to them over and over again.
How do you personally manage to balance work and pleasure?
Established offline hours are necessary for me to keep the boundaries between work and home solid.
Share your thoughts on how to incorporate professional development into the lifestyle of a full-time job.
Being close friends with other individuals within a professional organization can present a fun, personal feel to the professional development path offered.
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