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Excellence Program Empowers Teams During Year of Distraction

By De Ann Doonan, CPP

PursuitExcellence InsideIn a year of upheaval and tremendous change, you might ask yourself, “How do you retain talent and keep engagement high?” In a year full of distraction, “How do you help your team remain focused?”

Throughout the extraordinary circumstances wrought by the pandemic, these are the questions central to our global payroll organization. Adapting to change is a strength. Granted, these questions are not just for today. These conditions have presented themselves in many forms over time as companies transform. Change may include leaders who leave or retire and companies acquired or merged. Focus, retention, and engagement continue to challenge the leadership team. It grows even more complex when you are managing a cross-functional or cross-geography team.

A global company like mine fits this description. My Center of Excellence (COE) team sits half a world away in the Philippines. Our customers, employees, and business partners are based in 27 countries across the globe.

Last spring, while working in the garden, I sorted through the challenges that lay ahead as we prepared to set our goals for the upcoming year. Keeping our team strong throughout the turbulent days ahead was the priority. Engagement during a time of uncertainty would help empower our team. The best strategy would be to pack the year full of learning and opportunity to develop new skills. What could keep someone more engaged than building personal skill sets and raising visibility? Skills improve one’s professional profile and bolster confidence.

The answer to these questions, and the solution we landed on, was to launch an Excellence Program designed to improve performance, not just to the benefit of our company but for every participating team member. We developed a yearlong program led by our team of processors and mentored by managers who centered on three focus areas:

  1. Accuracy
  2. Efficiency
  3. Innovation

The program has meaning, real time savings, and quantifiable metrics.

Attention to these three areas resulted in improved paycheck accuracy, reduced employee queries and/or improved response time to those queries, better communication, and a higher level of engagement with HR business partners—business leaders and managers. Pushing payroll to the front of the curve moves global payroll from a reactive to a proactive position.

For our team members, the program provided an opportunity to build analytical acuity, polish presentation skills, and develop experience and knowledge in process improvement.

Build, Plan, Execute in 15 Weeks

To keep the program engaging, we broke it into three 15-week phases. Each team would rotate to a new focus area at the end of each phase. I have been asked many times, “What is so magical about a 15-week program?” Some wonder why we can’t compress it to four weeks for quicker results or extend it to four to six months to provide time for deep process reconstructs. There is a benefit to using 15 weeks (approximately three months). It provides enough time to review data, build a plan of action, and execute, but is condensed enough that employees must stay focused to execute within the timeframe.

Our goal is not payroll transformation. Our processes are strong; therefore, our intent was to view payroll through the eyes of the employee or our business partner and make it easier for them to comply with our processes or to support our workforce. In essence, we are growing partnerships as we improve our performance.


How It Works

Members rotate from each team and present the team’s progress in our monthly “All Hands” meeting. Team mentors provide administrative support and coaching and liaise with outside groups.

Visibility into each team’s progress was important. Not only did it help management understand the team’s direction and goals for the focus area, but it helped the other teams align and check for redundancy or areas where collaboration would be key. Team mentors met biweekly with leadership to discuss roadblocks, challenges, or areas where additional resources might be helpful.

We are nine months into our yearlong program and are seeing measurable results. Our teams dug into our issue logs. They researched and dissected employee queries. They also conducted surveys and interviewed employees, managers, and HR business leaders to understand the root of recurring queries. Feedback sessions enabled us to understand the issues our business partners were facing as they worked with our global payroll team.

Our teams are engaged and excited to share their findings and results. Retention is 100%. Paycheck accuracy is up and employee queries are down. When queried, the team’s favorite part of the program is getting the opportunity to present in the monthly “All Hands” meeting to senior leadership and engage with HR business partners. Our teams feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment knowing that they are making a difference. They have learned skills that have improved their process, increased their visibility, and strengthened our benchmarking. They have launched training videos, held “Ask an Expert” sessions, conducted manager and employee refresher training, and are currently working on communications that will help new and existing employees navigate our tools.

In a year of distraction, the Excellence Program has provided opportunities for our teams to drive improvements and remain focused. In doing so, the company and our employees have benefited. That’s a true win-win.


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De Ann Doonan, CPP, is the Executive Director of Global Payroll at Maxim Integrated Products where she leads an international team responsible for payroll operations, time and attendance, and payroll general ledger for 8,000 employees in 27 countries. Doonan has been responsible for assembling transformation projects, leading and managing global payroll and timekeeping implementations, building shared services offshore, and leading automation and RPA initiatives. She was awarded the Dallas Chapter Payroll Professional of the Year in 2005 and the Texas Payroll Professional of the Year in 2008. Currently, she is a member of the American Payroll Association’s (APA) National Speakers Bureau and is scheduled to be an industry expert speaker giving a presentation during the Opening General Session of the APA’s Congress Xstream on May 18.