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Professional Spotlight

Meet Victor Garcia, Senior Director of Global Payroll at Microsoft


By Frank J. Mendelson

Editor’s Note: Victor Garcia is Senior Director of Global Payroll at Microsoft, one of a number of key positions he has held at the firm since 2000. Currently, he oversees realignment of the payroll organization into a new global organization responsible for the U.S. and international payroll transformation program OnePayroll. His global payroll team at Microsoft is presently functioning effectively in 109 countries. Garcia has earned Microsoft’s “Circle of Excellence” award, been recognized as “Best EMEA F&A Regional Controller” and named “HR Superstar” by HRO Today in 2016.


What emerging trends in global payroll are demanding your attention?

As a strategic partner to the business, payroll needs to look for ways to play a bigger role in building the overall employee experience. Greater use of technology, artificial intelligence, and innovation in how we interact with employees and deliver service are the latest trends that require attention. Understanding the best use of these emerging trends is important so that impacts are carefully managed. 


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

Having just moved to a global model for payroll across more than 100 countries, Microsoft is well aware of the challenges that come with this approach (read all about this in the November Global Payroll issue). It is crucial that you understand the needs of the business and manage both the big picture and the minute details. Aligning global stakeholders on direction and approach is the key. Payroll can be a very emotive area, and ensuring all employees are paid accurately and on time has to be in the DNA of the service for it to be successful and support any expansion.

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

Data is the key. Enabling visibility to payroll trends, costs, and changes by location and level can offer meaningful insights to shape strategic decisions. Payroll data combined with HR data is a very powerful tool to help enhance employee satisfaction and manage cost.


What are the biggest challenges for payroll teams, and what is emerging to address these challenges?

This very much depends on the scope and scale of the payroll and method of delivery. For an in-country payroll managed locally, the focus is on having capable, skilled resources that meet delivery expectations using accurate and compliant systems. For outsourced payroll services, it is more about careful management and approach to ensure that the scope of the services contracted for enables successful delivery. We want to ensure changes and issues can be effectively managed. There isn’t one solution here, so understanding the needs of your business and providing the solution that best supports your payroll function is the key.


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

Know your business and what needs to be delivered and take time to decide how you want the finished services to look. Things can always change along the way, but knowing what you are aiming for will help you to make the right decisions along the way.  Not knowing what the finished services will look like will make the journey a whole lot harder.


What should a company ask to determine if it has a good fit with a prospective vendor?

Have a clear understanding of the needs of the business and what you want your vendor to deliver to support this need. Know what you want to manage yourself, what you need the vendor to do, and clearly articulate this from the get-go. You need to understand how the vendor fits with your ways of working, and if it understands the scope and scale of what you are asking of it. Be mindful that though you may be a multinational company, the vendor you require to work with may not necessarily be of the same scope and scale. Evaluating a vendor’s ethos and approach are just as important as considering financial stability and breadth of service. Take time to understand this from both sides and openly discuss. The more open you are, the fewer surprises you’ll have along the way.


Why and how did you become involved in payroll?

I ran various transformation projects in finance, shared service centers, and procurement that involved many of the same factors we focus on in payroll: interaction with stakeholders, improving the employee experience, service focus, and controls and compliance enhancement. I was asked to take the payroll project to change our way of working with vendors and turn around payroll operations while improving employee experience and drive a big change. My background gave me a wide view on finance and procurement so I could bring those insights to payroll. Understanding the landscape, payroll is broader. Procurement focuses on the finance function, but payroll includes improving the employee experience as a top key focus. We went from siloed, country-based operations to one global team. The key is to deliver with your team and to get the right people in place to support your direction.

What are the most important qualities of effective leadership?

At Microsoft, we’re focused on creating clarity, generating energy, and delivering success through the team. As a leader, you must be able to help your team by synthesizing the complexity and ensuring a shared understanding while defining a course of action. It is equally important to inspire optimism, creativity, and growth in an environment where everyone does their best work. Being boundaryless in seeking solutions while tenaciously pursuing the right outcomes through innovation will ensure a successful delivery of results. All this normally ends up creating organizations that are stronger tomorrow than today.


What is your management and leadership approach today?

On top of the three aforementioned leadership qualities, I have two additional drivers: Fully trust in your team and assume change is always possible. The most important piece is to have the right team at the right time in the right place. You need to understand whom you want to work with, not for. Who’s going to work with you and your leadership team? Attracting and retaining a diverse team is a top focus. Recognizing the team’s contributions and building relationships is a priority. I never drive on my own; I look at what’s important with them and drive results through the team. You’re never finished. Leadership needs to create clarity on what we want to accomplish and how, through the team, to deliver success. If change wasn’t possible, we wouldn’t have accomplished all we did with OnePayroll. Our work as a team in payroll has transformed the employee experience at Microsoft. Our focus remains teamwork through leadership, results through teamwork.


How has your approach to change management helped to make a successful organization?

Always keep the end employee experience in mind. Whether you’re in country with two employees or 65,000, the experience should be the same. We frequently ask ourselves, “What’s the experience for the end customer?” The answer to that question leads us to change the experience.


How do you hire?

When I look for someone, I don’t look at only the position. I look at how they fill in the team, how are they going to work on behalf of the whole team, not just the team or position they’re filling. You can roll out functional positions, such as global process, but you need to ensure they are part of the team that will drive change across the organization for the benefit of employees. For example, if we have an issue with one stakeholder, we expect everyone on the team to help to address it, leveraging their knowledge and experience globally, not siloed. I look for those who complement me, whose skills and experience balance out the team.

How do you personally manage to balance work and pleasure?

I have the same agenda—my business agenda includes what I need to do with my family—so there’s no confusion. It’s the only way I can manage both. Microsoft provides flexibility, and I’m grateful for it. What counts is not how much time you work, but how much you deliver. 


What books are on your recommended reading list?

Satya Nadella’s latest book “Hit Refresh” is an interesting look at how Microsoft evolved under his leadership and how he brought a fresh era into the company culture. The book explains how the new “growth mindset” culture at Microsoft makes a difference by leading all of us to a) become more customer-obsessed to meet the needs of customers by connecting empathy with technology b) actively seek diversity and inclusion by including a wider range of opinions and perspectives in our thinking and decision-making, and c) collaborate across the organization and the industry by getting out of the comfort zone to do things that matter most for our customers.

There’s a book I give each team member that long ago made a big impact on me: “Zapp!: The Lightning of Empowerment” by William C. Byham with Jeff Cox. It’s a short history of a manager and how he changed his team. The book explores different ways to build ownership and pride, satisfaction in the job, and dedication to improvement. The book was given to me more than 20 years ago and it opened my eyes to empowerment. To me, empowerment is the key to superior performance as it motivates every employee toward continual improvement in quality, output, and customer satisfaction. I’m trying to live by that example.

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