A guide to getting the most out of your payroll training A guide to getting the most out of your payroll training

A guide to getting the most out of your payroll training
04 Nov 2017

So, you’ve just been appointed as global payroll manager tasked with boosting the performance of your new team and ensuring that operations run a bit more smoothly. But you are virtual strangers to each other and have no idea what or how much they know. You also have yet to determine what improvements need to be made. So where to begin?

The first thing to do is to examine existing processes and evaluate the team’s knowledge. This phase is vital and will prove invaluable in bringing your people on in the best way possible. Quite often you will have inherited a team with some level of knowledge, but unless you ask the right questions you will not know for sure.

Another important consideration is to make enough time to sit down with business managers in order to understand where they feel that payroll is not delivering. Here are some possible questions to ask:

• What do colleagues think of the payroll team and their performance, and where do they believe there is room for improvement?
• Are there too many errors or issues with people not getting paid at all?
• Is there a tracking process in place to provide the full picture of what is going on?
• Are there problems with information flow and if so, what is contributing to data being missing or late?
• Are there sufficient payroll controls and if not, where are they falling down?

Understand each team member’s role

In order to work out training requirements, it is necessary to understand each individual’s role and the various elements of which it comprises. While initially it may seem as if training should focus on payroll applications, other information will often be required too. For instance, if the software is integrated with the HR system or candidate database, training may be required there as well. Cultural training will also be vital for teams processing overseas payroll.

From a compliance standpoint, it is just as crucial that everyone understands key components such as tax, social contributions, pensions, holiday entitlement and overtime rules. Also if you invoice, VAT knowledge is a must.

“When building a training plan, pretend you will be developing someone with no prior knowledge of the payroll function and how it works.”

Here are some useful questions to ask:

• Do payroll reports show gross to net payments and tax and social contributions? Do they also include deductions/payments and payment method reports that indicate relevant currencies?
• Will it be necessary to train team members on how to deal with payroll reconciliation or currency conversion spreadsheets? If working for a client, will you need to produce spend reports?
• When paying in a foreign currency, are you required to convert taxes into the host country’s currency for payment to the relevant tax authority?
• Are there any reports that need manual intervention? What level of Excel experience is required to produce these reports and what does the process entail?

Another area that is extremely important to understand is timing, which includes everything from payroll calendars and information flows to payroll and legislative deadlines as well as penalties. Without understanding these elements, it will be impossible to achieve good outcomes.

Understand each team member’s skill levels

It is essential to make enough time to sit down with each team member and understand what they do, before writing a report on each. Here are some possible questions that may help:

• Do they have any formal payroll qualifications?
• How many years’ experience do they have working with systems, billing, different clients, UK or foreign payrolls?
• What training have they received in the past?
• Who provides cover if they are on holiday or off sick?
• How many people do they pay/bill? What processes do they use to do so, what are the information flows, what documentation is required and how are records kept?
• What taxes and social contributions are applied to these payments and what are the timelines?

It is also crucial to establish what it is about their job that they enjoy doing most and least, and in what areas they would most like to improve their knowledge.

As you go through the process with each team member, it should become obvious that each individual possesses different levels of knowledge, skill and emotional intelligence. Identifying each person’s strengths means it should be possible to enlist their help in up-skilling the rest of the team – within reason. For example, just because one person speaks Russian does not mean everyone else will be able to learn.

Also be aware that some team members may not have much confidence in their own ability to train colleagues and so may need encouragement.

Fill the knowledge gap

These initial findings will enable you and your staff to identify any gaps in their skills and knowledge that require filling, perhaps due to changes in legislation or insufficient proficiency in a software package such as Excel.

Cross-training should likewise be considered not only to ensure adequate holiday and sickness cover, but also as standard good practice. Making provision for additional training to cover new clients or entities makes sense too.

The training plan

When building a training plan, pretend you will be developing someone with no prior knowledge of the payroll function and how it works. This means you will need to list everything required for them to perform their role as well as the processes they undertake.

Create an overview of the business, the client and the payroll function, and break everything down into its constituent parts. In terms of payroll, this includes activities such as how to set up new starters, process deductions and the like. Also refer to payroll procedures as they will help to provide a fuller overview.

The same applies when developing cross-training plans, except that here it is only necessary to capture process differences and idiosyncrasies. 

By the end, your plan should look a bit like a shopping list to help create your favourite meal – in other words, the detail matters.

But it is important to remember that, although the human brain is like a sponge, not everyone can absorb information and retain it at the same rate. Moreover, not everyone has the same learning style. Some people are happy to be shown how to do something, while others prefer to refer to notes. Still others prefer to be hands on and only learn through ‘doing’ things for themselves. So bear this in mind when creating a plan.

Training in action

In an ideal scenario, it is better to break learning into smaller blocks and spread it over several days. Providing a mix of learning opportunities, some external, some internal, some based on team member contributions (the ‘sitting-by-Nellie’ approach), others based around presentations or reading pre-prepared notes, also helps.

But for the best outcomes, learners must have the chance to repeat the training if they need to in order to build their confidence. It is also important to allow time for practice as grasping something new can take time and effort. So if possible, try to arrange training sessions for periods in the week when there is space for team members to practice without feeling under time pressure.

Another key factor in getting it right is providing a suitable learning environment. If material requires concentration, it is only fair to choose somewhere that enables people to learn without distractions in order to give them the best chance of success.

Trainers also need to be patient - even if they are asked the same question over and over again. Just think how you like to be taught yourself. You are unlikely to appreciate being made to feel stupid. So it is important to build time into your training plan to allow for questions and a period of reflection in order to let information sink in.

“Trainers also need to be patient - even if they are asked the same question over and over again.”

Measure learning effectiveness

A good training plan should always incorporate an opportunity for both the trainer and trainee to express their views of the learning experience, how it was delivered, if it was relevant, whether the trainee understood everything and feels comfortable enough to move forward onto the next phase.

This feedback is crucial as without it, the training itself may fail. For example, trainees should not be afraid to say that they did not comprehend something or that they would like information to be repeated as they felt the delivery was too rushed.

This input needs to be captured formally in order to measure how effective the training was, how long it took and whether further training is required. Internal training generates its own cost, which includes the time taken by both the trainer and trainee to go through the process when they could have been doing other things. So it is important to understand what the business benefit is upfront.

Conclusion

From a global payroll perspective, ensuring that the team is fully trained should reduce the potential for errors. If staff fully understand issues such as tax, social contributions, pensions and local working regulations, it should also increase the company’s regulatory compliance levels. Audits should be more successful and employees and contractors should be paid correctly and on time.

As a result, the overall company will benefit by earning a reputation for doing things properly, which will help it in keeping existing business and winning new deals.

From a trainee’s perspective, they will also see that the company cares about their development and is prepared to invest in their career. This increases confidence that the role they are doing is important and valued by the business, which in turn boosts loyalty and engagement – and that’s a win-win situation for everybody.

 

Colette Tierney has worked in payroll for about 30 years and has a Masters degree in payroll and business management. Her team at Airswift scooped the prestigious accolade of Expatriate Payroll Team of the Year at the inaugural Global Payroll Association Awards in May for their commitment, flexibility and relentlessly positive attitude in the face of working across complex jurisdictions, tackling multiple currencies and conforming to tight deadlines.

So, you’ve just been appointed as global payroll manager tasked with boosting the performance of your new team and ensuring that operations run a bit more smoothly. But you are virtual strangers to each other and have no idea what or how much they know. You also have yet to determine what improvements need to be made. So where to begin?

The first thing to do is to examine existing processes and evaluate the team’s knowledge. This phase is vital and will prove invaluable in bringing your people on in the best way possible. Quite often you will have inherited a team with some level of knowledge, but unless you ask the right questions you will not know for sure.

Another important consideration is to make enough time to sit down with business managers in order to understand where they feel that payroll is not delivering. Here are some possible questions to ask:

• What do colleagues think of the payroll team and their performance, and where do they believe there is room for improvement?
• Are there too many errors or issues with people not getting paid at all?
• Is there a tracking process in place to provide the full picture of what is going on?
• Are there problems with information flow and if so, what is contributing to data being missing or late?
• Are there sufficient payroll controls and if not, where are they falling down?

Understand each team member’s role

In order to work out training requirements, it is necessary to understand each individual’s role and the various elements of which it comprises. While initially it may seem as if training should focus on payroll applications, other information will often be required too. For instance, if the software is integrated with the HR system or candidate database, training may be required there as well. Cultural training will also be vital for teams processing overseas payroll.

From a compliance standpoint, it is just as crucial that everyone understands key components such as tax, social contributions, pensions, holiday entitlement and overtime rules. Also if you invoice, VAT knowledge is a must.

“When building a training plan, pretend you will be developing someone with no prior knowledge of the payroll function and how it works.”

Here are some useful questions to ask:

• Do payroll reports show gross to net payments and tax and social contributions? Do they also include deductions/payments and payment method reports that indicate relevant currencies?
• Will it be necessary to train team members on how to deal with payroll reconciliation or currency conversion spreadsheets? If working for a client, will you need to produce spend reports?
• When paying in a foreign currency, are you required to convert taxes into the host country’s currency for payment to the relevant tax authority?
• Are there any reports that need manual intervention? What level of Excel experience is required to produce these reports and what does the process entail?

Another area that is extremely important to understand is timing, which includes everything from payroll calendars and information flows to payroll and legislative deadlines as well as penalties. Without understanding these elements, it will be impossible to achieve good outcomes.

Understand each team member’s skill levels

It is essential to make enough time to sit down with each team member and understand what they do, before writing a report on each. Here are some possible questions that may help:

• Do they have any formal payroll qualifications?
• How many years’ experience do they have working with systems, billing, different clients, UK or foreign payrolls?
• What training have they received in the past?
• Who provides cover if they are on holiday or off sick?
• How many people do they pay/bill? What processes do they use to do so, what are the information flows, what documentation is required and how are records kept?
• What taxes and social contributions are applied to these payments and what are the timelines?

It is also crucial to establish what it is about their job that they enjoy doing most and least, and in what areas they would most like to improve their knowledge.

As you go through the process with each team member, it should become obvious that each individual possesses different levels of knowledge, skill and emotional intelligence. Identifying each person’s strengths means it should be possible to enlist their help in up-skilling the rest of the team – within reason. For example, just because one person speaks Russian does not mean everyone else will be able to learn.

Also be aware that some team members may not have much confidence in their own ability to train colleagues and so may need encouragement.

Fill the knowledge gap

These initial findings will enable you and your staff to identify any gaps in their skills and knowledge that require filling, perhaps due to changes in legislation or insufficient proficiency in a software package such as Excel.

Cross-training should likewise be considered not only to ensure adequate holiday and sickness cover, but also as standard good practice. Making provision for additional training to cover new clients or entities makes sense too.

The training plan

When building a training plan, pretend you will be developing someone with no prior knowledge of the payroll function and how it works. This means you will need to list everything required for them to perform their role as well as the processes they undertake.

Create an overview of the business, the client and the payroll function, and break everything down into its constituent parts. In terms of payroll, this includes activities such as how to set up new starters, process deductions and the like. Also refer to payroll procedures as they will help to provide a fuller overview.

The same applies when developing cross-training plans, except that here it is only necessary to capture process differences and idiosyncrasies. 

By the end, your plan should look a bit like a shopping list to help create your favourite meal – in other words, the detail matters.

But it is important to remember that, although the human brain is like a sponge, not everyone can absorb information and retain it at the same rate. Moreover, not everyone has the same learning style. Some people are happy to be shown how to do something, while others prefer to refer to notes. Still others prefer to be hands on and only learn through ‘doing’ things for themselves. So bear this in mind when creating a plan.

Training in action

In an ideal scenario, it is better to break learning into smaller blocks and spread it over several days. Providing a mix of learning opportunities, some external, some internal, some based on team member contributions (the ‘sitting-by-Nellie’ approach), others based around presentations or reading pre-prepared notes, also helps.

But for the best outcomes, learners must have the chance to repeat the training if they need to in order to build their confidence. It is also important to allow time for practice as grasping something new can take time and effort. So if possible, try to arrange training sessions for periods in the week when there is space for team members to practice without feeling under time pressure.

Another key factor in getting it right is providing a suitable learning environment. If material requires concentration, it is only fair to choose somewhere that enables people to learn without distractions in order to give them the best chance of success.

Trainers also need to be patient - even if they are asked the same question over and over again. Just think how you like to be taught yourself. You are unlikely to appreciate being made to feel stupid. So it is important to build time into your training plan to allow for questions and a period of reflection in order to let information sink in.

“Trainers also need to be patient - even if they are asked the same question over and over again.”

Measure learning effectiveness

A good training plan should always incorporate an opportunity for both the trainer and trainee to express their views of the learning experience, how it was delivered, if it was relevant, whether the trainee understood everything and feels comfortable enough to move forward onto the next phase.

This feedback is crucial as without it, the training itself may fail. For example, trainees should not be afraid to say that they did not comprehend something or that they would like information to be repeated as they felt the delivery was too rushed.

This input needs to be captured formally in order to measure how effective the training was, how long it took and whether further training is required. Internal training generates its own cost, which includes the time taken by both the trainer and trainee to go through the process when they could have been doing other things. So it is important to understand what the business benefit is upfront.

Conclusion

From a global payroll perspective, ensuring that the team is fully trained should reduce the potential for errors. If staff fully understand issues such as tax, social contributions, pensions and local working regulations, it should also increase the company’s regulatory compliance levels. Audits should be more successful and employees and contractors should be paid correctly and on time.

As a result, the overall company will benefit by earning a reputation for doing things properly, which will help it in keeping existing business and winning new deals.

From a trainee’s perspective, they will also see that the company cares about their development and is prepared to invest in their career. This increases confidence that the role they are doing is important and valued by the business, which in turn boosts loyalty and engagement – and that’s a win-win situation for everybody.

 

Colette Tierney has worked in payroll for about 30 years and has a Masters degree in payroll and business management. Her team at Airswift scooped the prestigious accolade of Expatriate Payroll Team of the Year at the inaugural Global Payroll Association Awards in May for their commitment, flexibility and relentlessly positive attitude in the face of working across complex jurisdictions, tackling multiple currencies and conforming to tight deadlines.