Effective Onboarding Practices for Payroll Consultants
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By Dave Foxall
Reducing Ramping Up Time for Software Consultants
Introducing or changing payroll technologies is a complex project to undertake; and often specialist consultants for payroll software selection and/or implementation need to be brought in to assist with the process. Yet, much like the payroll application itself, simply dropping the consultant into the organization and expecting great results will not result in the best return-on-investment (ROI). While, the payroll consultant’s expertise, experience, and unique skillset can make for a seamless and successful project, ultimately the onus is on the organization to ensure that an acceptable ROI is achieved from the consultancy relationship—a responsibility that a clear onboarding process can help with.
Essentially the concept of onboarding payroll software consultants is no different than introducing any other new member to the organization. In fact, as Clarity Consultants emphasizes, "The themes are the same when onboarding a consultant and onboarding an FTE. It's about helping them build strong connections to the goals, values, history, people and language of the company." As such, a payroll consultant will undoubtedly benefit from that same type of structured introduction that allows them to understand the context in which they are working; and to make their contribution as quickly as possible. The major on-boarding difference compared to that of a regular employee however, is the lack of any honeymoon period for the payroll consultant. Indeed, these consultants must be functioning near optimal levels quickly; and as such the organization must leverage a number of supportive aids to ensure that this quasi-staff member can deliver results from the very beginning of their tenure.
Part of planning ahead for the arrival of a payroll consultant is to ensure basic system and location access. The Yellow Giraffe consultancy recommends that organizations, "[proactively] request access to all computer systems, laptop/desktop equipment, ID badge, and other supplies needed." While specific requirements will depend on the agreed-upon scope of his/her role, the new payroll consultant will likely need an ID, a level of IT access, and a list of key contacts with email addresses and phone numbers. As with any other onboarding process, preparation is key and this sort of detail can and should all be in place prior to the payroll consultant's first day on the project. After all, expensive consultancy time is best spent completing critical tasks rather than filling out forms for building passes.
An early round of meetings (face-to-face when possible) with the most influential stakeholders allows the opportunity for expectation setting and relationship-building—communication venues that can pay dividends later on in the project. Reaching out to an influential C-level sponsor at a key juncture of the project is often easier (and consequently better received) if introductions have already been made and bridges have previously been built. As Clarity Consulting reports (in their white paper How to Successfully Onboard a Consultant), an initial “kick-off meeting” with the rest of the project team allows the organization to introduce each team member involved in the project, and gives everyone a chance to get acquainted—fostering the collaborative environment that is needed for success. Clarity further suggests designating an in-house member of the project as the single point of contact for the payroll software consultant; in order to give a clear channel for inquiries and basic information.
Being clear about expectations regarding the payroll consultancy goes two ways. On the one hand, the people within the organization who will interact with (or feel the impact of) the consultant's work, need to understand the payroll consultant’s role. Resistance can be minimized (and support maximized) by paving the way and explaining the consultant’s presence, responsibility, and value as part of the project's communication and change management strategy. As Yellow Giraffe says, "Team members who are unsure of the consultant's role may: feel they need to compete with the consultant; may worry that their own jobs are in jeopardy; or may not understand how to best utilize the consultant's time and skills." On top of that, the consultant must have no doubts as to the scope of their part in the project, including the desired outputs. As Clarity Consultants suggest, “let the consultant know how success will be measured, [and] gain agreement and confirmation with the consultant about the scope of work to be performed.” This shared understanding of expectations between the organization and the payroll consultant is fundamental to project success.
The reasonable hope is that during the payroll consultant selection process, a thorough awareness of matters such as corporate structure, size, business priorities, strategic goals, etc. has been imparted. However, assumptions and ambiguity can be project-threatening. As such, an initial frank exchange of objectives and views between the internal project manager and the payroll consultant must be conducted so as to create a common contextual framework. Indeed, as Fieldstone Alliance's Carol Lukas warns, "Withholding of knowledge or opinions by either party will reduce the potential benefit to the organization." In addition, the briefing for the payroll software consultant should cover more than just publicly-stated positions; regardless of how awkward this might be. As Clarity Consultants acknowledge, "Something a lot of clients are often reluctant to do early on is to share the political landscape...knowing this information is an important aspect of getting things done; [especially] on projects that involve multiple functions or levels in the organization." In order to successfully plan for contingencies, the payroll consultant needs to know the potential organizational pitfalls which may lie beneath the stakeholder map.
Payroll Software Consultant Onboarding Tactic #5: Support & Management
The relationship between the payroll consultant and the in-house project manager is of critical importance. As Carol Lukas says, "Build a relationship with the consultant characterized by open, honest discourse and mutual influence." However, not only must the project manager be a colleague and business partner to the software consultant, but he or she should also be something of a mentor and a line manager (i.e. providing support without removing responsibility).
Payroll Software Consultants: An Onboarding Conclusion
Minimizing the ramping up time for a payroll software consultant is paramount to keeping an organization’s project on budget and under control. Yet, few organizations approach these consultants as members of the project team—consequently neglecting those basic best practice strategies such as onboarding. While the above tactics may be simple, they are effective; and (if implemented correctly) can be a critical factor in both the payroll software consultant's and the software project's success or failure. Organizations that neglect these strategies do so at their own risk and are inviting a reduced ROI.
Resistance can be minimized (and support maximized) by paving the way and explaining the consultant’s presence, responsibility, and value as part of the project's communication and change management strategy.”