4 Key Steps to Developing Your Payroll Leadership Skills to Meet Ever-Changing Industry Demands

Do you have what it takes to be a payroll industry leader in today’s world of constantly changing legal and regulatory developments and rapidly emerging new technologies?

At the American Payroll Association’s Congress XStream annual conference, payroll consultant Brent Gow, Managing Partner of BRGow and Associates, answered that question during the opening general session on June 2, 2020, in Your Future in Payroll Requires Expanded Knowledge and Skills.

According to Gow, the payroll professionals who get recognized and advance in their careers today are those who make a point of pursuing exposure to as much payroll knowledge and skills as possible to be better able to make informed recommendations to managers on payroll process improvements (e.g., ways to minimize manual data entry).

Today’s aspiring payroll leaders will increase their career path options, Gow says, if they are able to:

  • Educate themselves;
  • Fill gaps in their knowledge; and
  • Cross train with other departments within their organization to gain broader knowledge on how they interact with payroll.

But broad payroll knowledge and skills may not be enough. According to Gow, who is in the business of helping companies around the world implement and improve payroll processes, his clients often remark that it is getting harder to find talented payroll leaders who have the enhanced technological skills that are needed now and that will remain essential in the future to remain competitive.

So how can aspiring payroll professionals rise to the level of fulfilling such a tall order? Gow recommends mapping out a plan that includes the following four key steps:

1. Learn How to Do Compliance-Based Research

Aspiring payroll leaders need to be able to perform research to stay on top of legal, regulatory and industry developments that impact their organization, rather than merely rely on being filled in by their managers.

Connecting and interacting with colleagues in other departments within your organization, such as legal, finance, IT, benefits and operations, will help you understand how they too are affected by new developments. That will help you become better able to develop business requirements for system changes and to develop and validate payroll system test scripts, says Gow.

He also recommends preparing a payroll audit to ensure compliance with all legal and regulatory aspects at the federal, state and local levels relating to wage payments and deductions and tax withholdings, among other payroll functions. Enlisting the support of your internal audit department will help you to discover any high risk compliance areas in your organization and enable you to request the support of managers to address troublesome issues.

2. Increase Your Advanced Excel Skills

It’s crucial to increase your advanced Excel skills. Among other things, this may include your facility with:

  • Pivot tables;
  • Formulas;
  • Functions; and
  • Macros.

According to Gow, doing so will better equip you to develop payroll test scripts based on changing business requirements or create formulas to compare expected results during testing and to detect discrepancies. For example, Gow noted that test script formulas can be used to help detect improper codes that produced payroll processing errors or when testing and implementing new payroll systems.

3. Expand Your Strategic Analytical Skills

Developing the Step 1 and Step 2 skill sets will naturally lead to the expansion of your strategic analytical skills, Gow said. For example, this will occur as you analyze the data you have gathered using those skills to prepare and present reports and recommend plans to management.

4. Exposure to Emerging Essential Technology.

Finally, Gow said the skills gained in all three of the above steps will increase your exposure to new technology that is essential now, and will remain so in the future, for continual payroll process improvements. These include technologies such as:

  • Robotic Process Automation (RPA);
  • Software robot (Bot) and Chatbot;
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI); and
  • Machine Learning (ML).

Gow also remarked that the strategic end-result of improved automation is the drive down of payroll costs, which all organizations strive for when it comes to their bottom line.

So if you are an aspiring payroll leader, Gow’s overall recommendation is that “When you are knowledgeable in other areas, you will be able to make better, more informed recommendations on payroll process improvements. That is when you get recognized and advance in your company and profession.”

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