This is me - part one... the corporate me…
Posted on 15th June 2022 at 19:26
Or should I say the old corporate me… since I’ve been running my own business since 2004 and had dabbled before then…
My first love was science, but sadly severe eczema on my hands ruled out working in labs and the career path I’d planned; trying to find a role that I could do and loved proved harder than I thought… in part without science I didn’t know what I wanted to do but every role I applied for I was either deemed overqualified or under experienced. It felt that no one seemed wanted to open the door to give me an opportunity to gain that much-needed experience; sadly, an experience that many have had and still do.
Then one day I was told the local Co-operative Society was looking for someone to join their payroll team, so I rang them and had an interview that day.
I was given the job as I was the first person they’d interviewed who could cross cast a spreadsheet (no calculators and Excel wasn’t even invented) and I could write a decent letter. Thank heavens for the education that I’d had at Hatcham. I started the following week on a 6-week probation and passed my probation in 2 weeks - result.
It’s true to say that I took to payroll like a duck to water. And after 9 months the manager said to me” Yvette, we’ve taught you just about all we can here. You should start looking for a job elsewhere to broaden your knowledge in payroll. “
And so I did….
What did I learn at that next job?
• A lot more in the art of communication
• Even more complicated terms and conditions of service
• Advanced my problem and solving and critical thinking skills
• Started to learn about systems implementation.
The interview in itself was interesting as I was asked what the likelihood of my getting pregnant was since that would be very disruptive to the team… can you imagine that question being asked now – and this was a local authority!
As the Council was putting in a computer new system I had the chance to work on the testing and parallel runs which fascinated me - little did I know how useful it would be in the future!
I did dally with Uni as a mature student i.e. I was 20 and not 18… but it was short lived; after a year I knew it wasn’t for me and went back to the world of payroll which I knew and enjoyed.
For the next ten years I worked in payroll in both the public sector and large corporates:
• Learning more and more about the legislation,
• Further developing my skills in communication,
• A deeper understanding of systems and processes,
• Expanding my knowledge on running projects,
• More experience in critical thinking and problem solving
• Working with stakeholders
Very often we only think of transferable skills if we are applying for a role that’s completely different from one that we’ve done before but transferring them to similar roles is just as important and means you’re bringing more than just technical know how.
Then I got the chance to work on the Channel Tunnel for the company leading the joint venture in the UK but we were like a start up; every department except estimating and quantity surveying (the same team that had worked on the bid for the project) starting from the basis of being a brand-new company.
This time there was no payroll system, no processes, no procedures, nothing but some manual records and an exponential growth in employees month on month.
What an opportunity to have the chance to take the best from all the places I’d worked, setting up everything from scratch. I’d hit gold in so many ways.
I had the experience of leading on my first sourcing, procurement and implementation of a payroll system working.
It’s where I was first involved in recruitment and then I had to learn all about managing people. There were no courses or books – it was using my wisdom, thinking about how I liked to be treated, what had I learnt from the best and the worst managers I’d worked with.
We were a great team; working long hours, dealing with all sorts of situations and based opposite or on the constructions site for a few years so we got to see part of history in the making.
Here my Uni studies finally proved useful as I had to learn the report writing tools - so the computer programming skills and logic, I’d developed came into their own.
I had the chance to work with the software provider reviewing system improvements and changes - improving the functionality, the user friendliness and the scope of the system. Again, something I really enjoyed on an intellectual basis.
After 8 years of enjoying the craik, a construction term, I was made redundant and moved on. No surprise at being made redundant – it was after all a project and had an end.
The next role, in another council, was way more complicated - I was a function head with a headcount of nearly 50 employees spread across the borough. A team recovering from a dreadful few years with a poor internal reputation with much to do on morale, upskilling, getting better processes and systems in place, rebuilding stakeholder relationships and proving we could deliver to improved service level agreements.
Yet another system replacement project but this time a fully integrated payroll and HR system however before the implementation was complete the Council decided to outsource the whole function because it would be cheaper. That was the point when I decided to move one – I wasn’t enjoying it any more.
We’d achieved a lot in 3 years - the reputation of the department had been turned around, the systems improved, the service levels met. A lot of upskilling and training had taken place which helped quite a few to go on and develop their own careers in payroll and I’ve loved seeing them fly.
My final corporate role was at WH Smith, back in those days it was a much bigger group of companies than now – we also acquired and sold several businesses whilst I was there bringing its own challenges and insights.
They were another team struggling due to some horrendous system problems that we had to turn around and eventually could only do so by implementing another system which became almost the fastest implementation in history for a payroll of tens of thousands of employees with a staff turnover of circa 65% across multiple companies and 90% of the data being received on paper.
It's also where I became more and more interested in the business of business. As a senior manager I participated in various events and projects outside the day to day the department and absorbed the information like a sponge.
To meet the needs of the business we restructured, we were able to respond in a far more agile and effective way than in the public sector, and whilst WH Smith was going through a lot of change that took time because of the sheer size of the organisation, we could respond fairly quickly and provide solutions in consultation with stakeholders that enabled the front line staff to spend less time on so called ‘back office’ processes and more time in the end on the business.
We were early adopters of many HMRC initiatives which enabled us to cut down significantly on data entry and paper exchange with HMRC. The changes we made to the process reduced the time it took people to get the right tax code and so get paid the right amount added value to the business and helped with the retention of seasonal staff.
I had a budget in excess of £1m per year and reduced this by 10% or more year on year by having better contracts in place with suppliers and the continued automation.
The team took on other functions including expenses and benefits; HMRC were so impressed with how we handled the VAT element that they reduced the number of reviews they undertook. A win for the group VAT team.
My role expanded and I attended the Group Remuneration Committee and started to work with the group non execs as well as the chairman.
So there I learned:
• A completely different level of stakeholder engagement
• Went through another bigger and more complex ITT development and procurement
• Step changed my project management and collaboration skills
• Managed some very complex contractual agreements
• Participated in an IT court case
• Developed further managerial skills
• Started to understand what being a leader meant
• Had some first class skills around employment tax and expense and benefits
• Managed integrations and divestments from the payroll aspect
• Participated in due diligence for acquisitions
• Developed legislation knowledge for several countries for our global operations.
So, widening technical skills, deepening managerial and leadership skills, starting to understand about business and gaining much more in depth project management and project director skills.
But organisations change their priorities and WH Smith decided to outsource the whole function. Sadly for me the way this was done trod all over my values and I couldn’t work in that environment any more and decided it was time to leave and set up my own consultancy.
My final few months were spent as part of the project team finding the new provider and leading on the due diligence and most of the main contractual work – again tools and skills that became very useful for future clients.
And on October 4th 2004 I started my consultancy and my first day on my first contract... but that’s all for another blog.
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