A lifetime of learning

25 May 2019

This article was featured in the June 2019 issue of the magazine.

Jerome Smail, freelance journalist, conveys views and knowledge of experts

Payroll isn’t an easy job, and it takes specialist knowledge to perform the necessary tasks at every level. Moreover, it requires constant learning. But where to start? What do people entering the profession, or those considering a career in the industry, need to consider in terms of training? And how can payroll professionals maintain the necessary level of learning throughout their career?

As Janine Lennon, customer engagement director at Moorepay, comments, “in today’s workplace, payroll is perceived as a very technical career, both in terms of increasing legislation knowledge requirements for payroll specialists, but also in terms of complex customer management skills, in order to continually engage employees and managers while working to tight timelines and company budget constraints”.

She adds: “New entrants to the profession should consider whether they are going to get the support they require to be successful from their employer when looking at distance-learning programmes that support their long-term career prospects. They should be looking at the opportunity to gain skills and qualifications that are both recognised and transferable. These may be gained ‘on the job’ or through formal qualifications.”

 Rhiannon Cambrook-Woods, managing director of Zest Recruitment Consultancy, believes a thorough onboarding process is the key step in establishing an effective learning strategy. She says: “This is the prime time to have an in-depth conversation about the progression plans that you can put in place. Not only will this make the candidate feel valued and purposeful, but it will also allow you to set targets and benchmarks from the initial stage.

...areas of potential training opportunities to help transition the employee...


“When this personal development plan is developed,” she adds, “it will allow you to mark out areas of potential training opportunities to help transition the employee into each new stage. Regular one-to-ones are recommended to ensure the employee remains on track, while also encouraging open communication. Building a safe and open environment will encourage your staff to analyse their weaknesses, and you can respond with a training and development resolution that will help aid them through areas of low confidence – allowing your employee to grow and develop with the needs of the business.”

Of course, the learning doesn’t stop once the employee is settled in and on track. So, what should employers do to ensure members of the payroll function continue to get the training they need?

“Employers need to be aware of the development they need for each of their teams in order to maintain appropriate service delivery metrics, but also to attract and retain key talent,” says Lennon. “They can do this via a documented career pathway supported by an up-to-date learning matrix.”

This can encompass formal qualifications or more bespoke learning opportunities, explains Lennon: “These may include internal courses or using on the job coaching and experiential learning opportunities. 

“Recording of these development activities becomes important in identifying the top performers and those who need extra support to develop potential. In doing so they can develop their teams and promote their top performers. It’s important to embed the merits of a formalised training plan in any department or team and to also empower the learners themselves to manage their own progress in learning.”

Central to the process, of course, is the team leader. “Payroll managers should be able to continually identify and recognise learning opportunities for their teams,” says Lennon. 

“Adopting a coaching style will help to provide great learning for teams,” she adds. “For example, they can discuss why the impact of certain behaviours or activities will consolidate learning. This extends learning beyond the traditional classroom-based development styles. It will also help where learners are following qualification courses. Feedback and coaching will help the learner recall knowledge as well as demonstrating an understanding of context to their learning while completing coursework or exams.”

Similarly, such managerial coaching in the follow-up to course attendance or events will help to continue the learning opportunity. Managers and employers can also look at other forms of development such as secondments or acting up, as well the simple options of attending meetings and events, or just being asked to participate in stretch discussion topics that may be outside the learner’s normal scope for their role. 

“The key to many of these elements is identifying creating and discussing those opportunities with the learner,” says Lennon.

Understanding members of your team on an individual basis is critical when implementing training procedures, says Cambrook-Woods, particularly when it comes to group events or workshops. “Everybody’s learning style is different and acknowledging this from the offset will allow you to tailor development plans effectively,” she explains.


Continual learning is key to keeping pace with the ever-changing payroll landscape...


“Not only is providing a personalised approach a great way to avoid wasting money, resources or the team’s time, but it indicates a commitment to each employee. It makes them feel valued and trusted and is likely to encourage longevity and staff morale.”

It’s not all on the employer or manager, though. Continual learning is key to keeping pace with the ever-changing payroll landscape, so what can professionals in the sector do to ensure they stay up to date?

First, payroll professionals need to be in a position to be aware of these changes, says Lennon. She explains: “Often these present themselves as new articles or trending news items via social media that maybe become high-profile perhaps because of employee wellbeing issues or items that relate to pay, which, after all, is a very emotive subject. Payroll professionals can contribute to the debate by adding knowledge and gaining insight into corrective actions in the payroll arena.”

There are, of course, appropriate publications and journals – such as this – that give insight and learning.

Lennon adds that employers can help with regular updates and the process of presenting the changes to their teams. They can also facilitate discussion internally using online collaboration tools.

But it’s not just payroll-specific changes that employees should be mindful of, according to Cambrook-Woods. Artificial intelligence, for example, is increasingly being touted as a game-changer in the not-too-distant future for payroll and the wider world of work.

“The interesting thing about living during a skills shortage is that processes are continuously changing,” comments Cambrook-Woods. “It can be hard to keep up.”

The most important thing to take into account when it comes to training and development, she adds, is whether or not you are truly future-proofing your workforce and your company. “Continual learning is encouraged to stay on top of the latest innovations, whether they are tech-related or legislative,” she says. “Also, it’s important to invest in your team and upskill them with the techniques and abilities that they will need to progress their careers. The last thing you want to do is let an employee stagnate – that is one sure way to haemorrhage top talent.”

Conor Gilligan, vice president of eLearning training provider Webanywhere, points out that ‘peer-to-peer’, or ‘employee-to-employee’, training can also play a key role in helping payroll professionals keep up to speed. “This is something every business should harness,” he says, “especially in increasingly challenging times to compete. A quick scan across the office will underline that there are so many knowledgeable people with expertise to offer. They might not even know it, either, or could be too fearful of shouting up because they question their experience.

“However, it’s a great way to upskill, and often colleagues prefer to learn from one another – rather than trouble management for the answers. The tools are all there in-house to develop on the job. Organisations need to keep reminding themselves about how crucial, and cost-effective, a peer-to-peer solution is to supercharge skillsets.”

Similarly, collaborative meetings can prove invaluable. Gilligan explains: “There isn’t a business out there that doesn’t want to do things efficiently – and that’s where productive sessions come into play. These kinds of ‘get-togethers’ can encourage other colleagues to speak up who might not be involved in meetings usually. They could have recently started in the business, or they may have been there for some time and even feel they don’t have the gravitas to offer valued insight. But they do!


... constantly enhancing your in-house team and staying ahead of the curve...


“It’s about changing that mindset,” insists Gilligan, “and encouraging teams to share the responsibility to collaborate – as well as overlook any kind of power or hierarchy.”

What’s more, such simple, structured meetings can help employees feel more engaged and productive, and they can use these sessions to improve their decision-making and public-speaking skills. “Not to mention,” adds Gilligan, “overall collaboration can bolster team-working and encourage more employees to take greater responsibility when it comes to owning bigger projects.”

So, whether in-house or outsourced, a programme of ongoing learning enhances staff development. But these sessions don’t necessarily have to be directly linked with the core business, says Gilligan. For example, they could focus on how to manage conflict or ways to build leadership qualities.

Strong mentoring is also an effective method of ongoing learning in the workplace. In fact, according to Gilligan, it can be a “defining moment for a company” because it empowers employees, and they’re then likely to share knowledge with colleagues, continuing the in-house development theme. “There is an art to picking the right mentor, though,” he says, “whether outsourced or internally selected. Make sure they’re the right fit for the business, and that staff feel they are getting value for the time and resources spent on learning.”

The relationship, though, is flexible, according to Ed Johnson, co-founder and chief executive officer of mentoring platform PushFar. He comments: “It’s largely down to the mentor and mentee to set the expectations, determine how often they should meet or speak, how long the mentoring relationship should last and realistically what the mentor feels able to guide and support the mentee with. This could be anything from general navigation through an organisation or industry, through to specific internal politics, challenges and career progression. 

“Mentoring relationships can be conducted virtually through phone and video calls or in person. Traditionally, they are between two employees within the same organisation. However, we’re now seeing an increase in cross-company mentoring too.”

There are added benefits to solid mentoring relationships beyond workplace learning, too. Johnson explains: “Mentoring can help with diversity and inclusion agenda and initiatives. Reverse mentoring – the concept of those more junior individuals mentoring senior leadership – can help to spread awareness of certain challenges that underrepresented employees may face, such as disability accessibility, LGBT+ rights internationally and a whole host of other less considered challenges. Diversity schemes can flourish and grow.”

Gilligan points out that mentoring also helps to develop more senior staff. He says: “Passing on the ‘knowledgeable baton’, strong in-house leaders help to improve a workplace atmosphere and morale, as well as develop skills. A happy, engaged employee will increase individual productivity, too – and bring everything back to the company’s objectives of maintaining a healthy staff retention rate, while providing an attractive hook when hunting for talent.”

In fact, Gilligan advocates taking the concept of mentoring one step further: “Businesses can match up workplace ‘champions’ to help one another,” he explains. “So, a colleague better at public speaking could help someone struggling with stage fright. Or an executive keen for promotion might ask for leadership skills, and advice from a line manager or company boss to progress their role. Making people feel valued in the office will often empower the direction of an organisation.”

Not every employee might be as eager as the next to develop – or go at the same speed – but if there are options within an organisation to upskill, then staff members are more likely to stay, says Gilligan. “It’s about getting the right kind of training for your business, and making sure that the learning on offer is working well so that you’re constantly enhancing your in-house team and staying ahead of the curve in a competitive marketplace.”

Learning never stops, from the start of a career to its end. In fact, there are many payroll professionals who continue to share the benefit of their experience long after they’ve left the coalface. There is plenty of knowledge out there. Seek and you will find!