May 2023

Meet Michael Francis, Director of Global Payroll at SBA Communications—Part 2

By Frank J. Mendelson

Editor’s Note: Michael Francis has 20 years of experience in global payroll operations, HRIS, and consulting services. He has worked for Fortune 100 companies such as HBO, Johnson & Johnson, Applied Materials, Ernst & Young, and SBA Communications, where he currently is the Director of Global Payroll. In addition to payroll management and operations, he has driven full lifecycle programs as an industry resource leader and as a trusted consultant. He is highly experienced working with challenging systems’ implementations for clients in different industries such as entertainment, energy, oil and gas, manufacturing, and technology, with clients in Great Britain, Australia, Malaysia, Canada, Brazil, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Chile, Philippines, Tanzania, South Africa, Peru, Columbia, El Salvador, and Singapore.

Part 1 of this spotlight was published in the March 2023 Global Payroll issue.


What emerging trends in global payroll are demanding your attention? How will they exert impact?

The emerging trends demanding my attention are compliance, utilization, the implementation of one human capital management (HCM) system of record and managing and paying remote and mobile employees. I have also found that as current payroll practitioners are aging and retiring, younger generations are not choosing payroll as a viable career path. As a result, I am concerned and constantly looking at how we can leverage artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and robotic process automation (RPA) to close the talent gap.


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

I leverage my professional network, maintain, and use my PayrollOrg membership for continuing education, publications, webinars, specialized classes and conferences, and subscriptions to publications that provides a robust research tool.


What are the things you would like to see payroll vendors address in the next three years?

Payroll vendors depend on in-country providers (ICPs) to deliver payroll services globally so I would welcome vendors either establishing their own ICP function in as many markets as viable, or at the very least, improve their vetting and/or compensation structure to find dependable ICPs to meet needs. I would also love to see our vendors investing in research and development and improving their platforms to be more seamless and user friendly. Improvements also with customer service and adjusting service level agreements (SLAs) to create the same level of urgency for the employee level issues.  I have found that not enough time is dedicated to the employees’ issues, which is the heart of whether payroll is considered successful in meeting the needs of our most important customers, the men and women who drive revenue for our organizations.

How did you get started in your career?

I, like many payroll professionals, did not chose payroll. Payroll chose me. I started my career with Swiss Bank Corporation that was located at 4 World Trade Center in New York City as a payroll clerk.


What are some pieces of learned wisdom from your on-the-job experience that you can share regarding being effective and efficient?

I can honestly state that I did not envision how this career would have exposed me to how business operates. My exposure to how an organization operates required that I intentionally seek out opportunities to partner and collaborate with other functions of the organization outside of instances where we are forced, such as HCM system implementations. My advice to anyone who is navigating a payroll career, just entering this world of payroll, or aspires to advance in their career is to understand the importance and relevance of what we do as payroll professionals. We must recognize that our role is primarily to process data and understand the impacts bad data has to our processes, and to get as far upstream as possible to effect organizational improvements. In other words, partner, collaborate, and network. Do these and the vast world of payroll—aside from processing paychecks—be open to you?  


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

I sincerely believe that there is an effective leader in each payroll professional. However, that potential can only be achieved if payroll professionals learn the softer skills, such as emotional intelligence, collaboration, empathy, and communication. Payroll transactions are, in fact, simple arithmetic and, at the surface for those not in the know, payroll is easy. The difference between arithmetic and payroll however is the human factor. With all of that said, certification such as PayrollOrg’s Certified Payroll Professional (CPP) or Fundamental Payroll Certification (FPC) provides you with the credibility to tangibly show the depth and breadth of your knowledge, building your business acumen through certificates, and/or getting a business degree and taking courses that will improve your softer skills will be key to advancing into a managerial role.


What were some of your early career lessons?

Payroll at its core is not overly complicated, however, it does require a superior level of detail orientation. I learned that very quickly when I was with Swiss Bank, where I had numerous errors when I processed my first payroll. Payroll is not an island, and we do not know it all, so I quickly learned that no matter how smart I thought I was, I was never too smart to learn and to consider others’ points of view. I felt early in my career that I was underappreciated, so I had to learn to change my perspective. Rather than looking for validation through a “thank you” or “good job,” I learned very quickly that no phone calls meant invariably that no news is good news and that I have done my job. Lastly, I had to recognize, understand, and be able to articulate my vast contribution to any organization that I served. After all, one’s value is attached if you are saving or making money for your company. 


How do you personally manage to balance work and pleasure?

I can be very honest and say that I did not do a good job of balancing work and pleasure early in my career. I would work countless hours ignoring my family and personal well-being and that came at a high cost. So today, the “mature Michael” focuses on the things that are important to my family and makes those things a priority. Here is my line of demarcation: If I passed away today, would the company suffer, or will my family suffer more? I opt to focus and set the boundaries between work and pleasure by focusing on my family. My strong advice to everyone, even those who are focused on career growth and getting to the highest level of their career, is to understand that balance is essential, and work and pleasure are not mutually exclusive. They work together to make you a more well-rounded and adjusted person, co-worker, and leader.

Frank J. Mendelson is Acquisitions Editor for PayrollOrg.
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