A five step guide to assessing your payroll processes
The question, “which came first?” may be relevant to chickens and eggs but there’s little debate to be had concerning payroll software and payroll processes. Any new software is an opportunity to review and examine the current processes for potential improvements, and payroll is no exception. However, if you select the software first, then any changes to processes and procedures will be driven (and restricted) by the capabilities of the technology. Far better to assess your payroll processes beforehand, as part of researching and gathering the requirements before you go in search of the ideal software package. Let’s examine the basic steps in reviewing your payroll processes.
The importance of having good payroll processes
It’s a cliché in business to say that your people are your most valuable resource. That may be true. But what is true for virtually every business, is that your people are your most expensive resource - with payroll commonly being one of the biggest overheads across the board.
Which brings us to the process of compensating that resource: payroll.
Why is a good payroll process important? First of all, regardless of how many internet articles there are about ‘doing what you love’ and ‘being inspired by your life’, the reality is that almost all of us work in order to fund our lives (food, shelter, clothes, maybe some exotic foreign travel if the paycheck is up to it). So payroll is far more than just the employer’s half of the employment contract, it’s fundamentally necessary to most employees. This means that if it goes wrong, if there’s a mistake, then the response is likely to be strong, the complaints loud.
Other benefits of having a good payroll process include:
- A good reputation as an employer – employer brand is important and if your rep is that of an incorrect or slow payer, you won’t attract top-level employees.
- Compliance – most countries labor legislation mandates accurate reporting on some aspect of payroll, not to mention paying taxes and other contributions on behalf of your employees. Errors can result in problems for the employee and a fine or sanction for the employer.
And finally, returning to the ‘workforce as the biggest expense’ point, if your biggest overhead uses inefficient or error-prone processes and systems, the impact on the organization’s finances can be significant.
Now, let's move on to the five steps to assessing payroll processes...
1. Process mapping
Take some time to map out each payroll process under review. Track the information from action to action, person to person. What you’re looking for are bottlenecks, those steps which slow the flow of data, which can be ripe for a different way of doing things. Furthermore, search for errors; some stages will cause more mistakes than others. These can then be examined for the causes of those mistakes; are they human, procedural or technical? How can they be avoided? Finally, the mapping process should show up any redundancies, such as unnecessary checks and monitoring; what are the touchpoints for the data?
2. Be clear what you’re aiming for
Tempting as it is to fix mistakes and redundancies as soon as you spot them, be patient. Now that you have all the information, take time to agree on the strategic priorities for your review. For example, no doubt you want a payroll process that is both faster and more accurate, but if faced with a process stage that can be tweaked for one or the other, not both, which do you choose? Knowing up front the organizational priorities as they apply to payroll provides a clear framework for the review process. Consider the wider picture, including budgets, other ongoing organizational change projects, relevant legislation (current and upcoming), and the overarching business goals.
3. Process design
Now you can start to change the processes, addressing the issues discovered earlier. Bear in mind the following constraints and opportunities:
- The differing roles and responsibilities (such as budgetary approval levels) in the organization
- Opportunities for building in self-service functionality
- Issues of risk and information security
- Possible access via mobile apps (and even social media)
- Compliance issues (legislation, regulations, reporting, etc.)
- Impact on other HR functions (e.g. workforce planning, time and attendance, and benefits administration)
- Employee reaction (however good your changes, they have to be fully adopted to be of benefit)
4. Payroll maturity
Global payroll experts CloudPay use a 4-point scale to categorize a company’s payroll according to its maturity. The four stages are:
- Immature – payroll is decentralized, error rates are high, few or no self-service HRMS features, limited reporting options.
- Reactive – payroll systems divided by country or region, processes are more reliable but take time to carry out, some intervention is required while processing.
- Controlled – mostly centralized at a regional level, integrated employee and manager self-service, largely hands-off processes, global reporting options.
- Strategic – a single global payroll system, payroll fully integrated with other key software, non-manual transactions are standard, employee satisfaction is high.
The point is that each advance up the payroll maturity scale brings cost savings, efficiencies, and improved productivity. You may have some solid processes in place that fit your organization, but how mature are they? Considering payroll maturity offers the chance of almost continuous improvement in your payroll management.
5. Payroll audit
Consider engaging a professional third party to conduct an expert audit of your new, improved payroll processes. A professional will walk through your processes, examining them with a fine-toothed comb, checking every aspect for its fit with the whole and potential points of improvement. Not only does an audit act as an independent review of your payroll processes, but it also picks up any losses from error or fraud.
Finally, to return to the chicken and egg question… although you should ideally never allow the software to drive the process review, it is worth researching the market in general to know what automation is broadly possible, and what isn’t.
Reviewing payroll processes is an essential step prior to selecting and implementing a new system. The potential cost of not doing so is that you attempt to automate processes that are cumbersome, inefficient, out of date, or just simply broken. And even the best software won’t fix that.
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