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How to Succeed With a Global Payroll Implementation Project

By Mary Holland, CPP


Editor’s Note: In June 2021, Payslip hosted a virtual roundtable discussion covering a multi-country global payroll implementation project. The forum was of interest to those considering developing a new process for managing multiple local country payroll providers via a technology platform.

Global payroll implementation projects can be quite challenging, but stakeholders will nonetheless agree on the long-term value they can bring in terms of a cohesive international payroll.

There are things you can do to ensure that everything goes smoothly when preparing for and delivering a payroll implementation project designed to onboard new countries and local vendor providers for multi-country global payroll. Let’s look at a few of them.

Identify, Document Your Needs

It can be difficult to measure results unless you first clearly define the needs of your organization. This includes knowing the reasons why you want to undertake a global payroll implementation project, what you hope to achieve from it, and what will define success.

Start with gathering the key stakeholders to include the global payroll manager, senior payroll and HR team members, and your digital project manager and ascertain what is feasible and achievable. This may involve making concessions for what is unlikely to get done this time around. You may only get a specific number of payroll countries live in this phase, or you may not have time to work on a specific objective, like an employee self-service portal.

Document everything in a pre-agreed format in a shared services portal, like SharePoint or Google Docs, and share with all stakeholders to allow them the opportunity to give feedback and share initial thoughts. This ensures everybody involved in the project understands the goal. Stakeholders then have the full context on what to expect in terms of outcomes. These outcomes should include the number of countries to go live, deadlines, go-live dates, new reporting capabilities, and relevant platform integration details.

This will be your master document and will prove to be a very valuable part of the implementation process. This document will define the scope and objectives of the project, allowing you to consider other potential needs when assessing the suitability of local country vendors and the capabilities of any global payroll technology partner you may consider bringing onto the project.

Manage Your Stakeholders

Organizing stakeholder involvement is crucial at the beginning of a global payroll implementation project. It isn’t imperative for all stakeholders to have direct involvement to ensure the project’s success; however, they do need to be kept apprised of progress, challenges, and outcomes. This is about managing stakeholders, so they remain committed to the long-term success of the project long after their initial opinions have been received.

Focus on getting the right people involved in the project. Key stakeholders would include global payroll managers and professionals, the HR and IT project managers, and finance executives. Data security analysts can also be consulted. It’s always a good idea to also include someone with an understanding of global compliance requirements. This helps ensure that all the people you need to get the implementation project over the line are in the communication loop. Some stakeholders, such as finance executives, may not have a day-to-day role in the project but they may be the people who authorize budget spending, so they will always need context and understanding of the project.

Don’t forget about your employees who are stakeholders too. They should have an interest in payroll beyond their salaries simply hitting their bank accounts, especially if a new implementation project will result in a better employee experience. For example, a project may provide employees with self-service access to their paychecks and year-end tax information.

Ongoing communication is crucial, and this means principal stakeholders should always be kept in the loop. Otherwise, they risk losing sight of the reasons why an implementation that enables multi-country global payroll is so important for company stability and growth. Payroll efficiency is crucial to hiring and paying employees when companies are expanding into new regions and payroll reporting provides insight for informed decision making.

Prioritize the Planning Stage

If enough time and effort is put into this crucial stage, then the implementation project can begin from a position of strength. Conversely, if you don't fully outline and define the basic needs, then you are off to a rocky start and are creating unnecessary complications for yourself.

Establish key needs by asking the following questions:

  • What is our current payroll process lacking?
  • Are we pleased with the service from our local country vendors?
  • What kind of reporting do we need to satisfy demand?
  • Is our data formatted in a way that facilitates good reporting?
  • What digital tools could our payroll professionals really benefit from?

Ensure you notify the action owners of any deliverables that arise from answers to these questions. All the pieces need to fit in the project, so making sure these are part of the scope right from the start will help you meet the timelines and manage everything on budget. Document everything for any compliance confirmation or written evidence that could be required at a later stage.

Establish Accountability

Find someone who will hold you accountable and be there to support you, and vice versa. A project leader who can look for responses on reporting can be a global payroll professional who understands the reporting, for example. This accountability really matters when it comes to following up on tasks, monitoring commitments, and ensuring specific deadlines are met. When individuals with connected responsibilities hold each other accountable, it is much easier to keep the pace of the project similar for everyone. When there is no accountability, then there is a risk of momentum slipping, and you want to avoid this; forward momentum is one of the things that gets the project done.

Communication is a key part of this accountability exercise with internal and external stakeholders. Progress reports can be useful documents, since they help everyone involved understand what is going well and not going well, especially when multiple actions within the project are happening simultaneously. Ensure all participants are able to provide any updates on a weekly call and encourage everyone to highlight any issues or obstacles to progress they might be experiencing. This should all be included in action plans going forward.

Research Potential In-Country Partners

It is always important to do full and proper due diligence research on any local country provider where you want to establish a relationship. Global payroll professionals are best placed to ask the right questions in these circumstances and should be involved in the initial conversations, typically weeks before a decision is made. Consult them when drawing up the RFP document to ensure it contains core questions that must be answered. This will ensure you can immediately move on from any in-country partner (ICP) who is not a suitable fit. Obviously, you want to develop a relationship with an ICP who is the best fit for your organization, so you will need to ask some detailed questions to gather the information you need to make an informed decision.

A good ICP will be understanding, forthcoming, and transparent with information. They will highlight the positives, but not be afraid to let you know about potential negatives. The more honest and open they are, the more likely you are to establish a strong relationship with them. It is always good to consider some of the specific challenges you may have encountered in other countries, and to use these as examples in conversations you are having with new ICPs. Provide scenarios and ask them how they would handle a similar situation. This will give you a strong insight into how they deal with similar challenges.

Measure Success

Although complex and time consuming, a global payroll implementation of multiple countries will help with overall payroll operational efficiency. For starters, it is often the case that it just simply must be done. Perhaps you’ve scaled into new territories and regions, and now urgently need global payroll capabilities in these countries.

It is still always important to measure success, record results, and document everything. The CFO and finance stakeholders who approved the budget will require a summary conclusion document explaining what has been done, and if the project was in budget and within agreed timescales. Several months or longer could have passed since the original project started, so it is useful to remind them of the reasons why the project happened, and to show them the positive results in action.

It is during this phase that you are reminding the wider business why you did this implementation in the first place, and what successes have been achieved. For example, crucial general ledger data going across to the finance team several business days faster than previously could be one great benchmark. You can show how a new system generated an employee joiners and leavers report, which means the HR team has instant access to this important data—this is a big win for them. Or show that an online payslip is now available to an employee via a self-service portal where this was previously unavailable, which is a real bonus for employees in that country. These are all project success benchmarks you can point to.

The statistics and evidence will always be there, so select the ones that are most relevant for particular stakeholders and highlight them. More examples could be new reporting functionality and integrated and automated data flows between HR and payroll or a new employee self-service portal.

Highlighting how key project deliverables have been met will validate the whole global payroll implementation project and help to bring attention to the business-critical nature of global payroll. Despite operating efficiently and quietly in the background, nobody should ever underestimate the importance of global payroll, and everybody should be aware of the crucial work carried out by diligent global payroll professionals at multinational organizations around the world.

Read Mary Holland’s feature, "What You Need to Know About Payroll in Brazil", in this month’s Global Payroll.

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Mary Holland, CPP, Chief Customer Officer (CCO) at Payslip, is a recognized global payroll professional and has held leadership roles in global payroll and operations, finance, stock equity, global mobility, project management, and enterprise customer service. Holland leads the client implementations team and customer success team at Payslip, ensuring global clients are boarded onto its global payroll technology platform with speed and efficiency along with industry-leading customer support.