Embracing change, initiative, professionalism key to success

Payroll manager Frank Lilley discusses his career, changes in the profession

"Payroll is where things get real." That is the message payroll manager Frank Lilley likes to convey to colleagues working in other areas of Nexen Energy ULC.

Based in Calgary, Lilley is responsible for managing the payroll for the oil and gas company’s 3,500 employees in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. He also makes sure the company’s employees on international assignments meet their income tax obligations here and in their host country.

As a payroll manager, he says it is important to ensure people in departments whose work can affect payroll, such as human resources, pensions, compensation, legal and corporate, understand how payroll works.

"We try and keep a good relationship with them so that they think of us when they’re contemplating changes," he says.

Lilley has worked at Nexen for three years. He started working in payroll in 1993 at TransAlta. Lilley has also worked in payroll at Suncor Energy and Petro-Canada.

Lilley came to payroll as a certified general accountant, having taken business administration at school with a major in accounting. "I asked to be moved to payroll because it appealed to me," he says.

Lilley says his first experience with payroll occurred in 1979 when he was a student and helped to run an office one summer.

"I had to do the payroll by myself and the Revenue Canada taxation guide was all I had for information to figure out what I was supposed to do in terms of paying people twice a month," he laughs.

He says having an accounting background has been beneficial for him.

"Payroll is one of those fields where, most of the time, it’s either in HR or it’s in finance/accounting. It doesn’t really perfectly fit in one or the other, but it impacts both, so for me it’s been helpful that I understand the financial impact of the payroll function in terms of where it hits the company in the balance sheet from a liability and expense perspective," he says.

Lilley says one of the things he likes about payroll is the constant change. "It’s never-ending in terms of what’s (new). You need to be up to date on payroll legislation and regulations."

While there are new procedures to learn, Lilley says he enjoys the challenge that change brings.

"That’s what I enjoy, having constant new challenges, new things that need to be implemented and trying to tie things together with the other people in the organization."

Lilley says professional development is important for him. He has been involved with the Canadian Payroll Association (CPA) for close to 20 years, as a member of its Federal Government Relations Advisory Council and, most recently, as a director of the association’s governance board.

Lilley enjoys working with the federal government representatives on the council and has learned that payroll and the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) have some things in common.

"The people we work with (in the CRA) are very similar. They don’t write the legislation. They have to implement it, so they try to find the most effective way to implement legislative or regulatory changes."

Lilley is also involved with two payroll roundtable groups in Calgary. The first one was set up 12 years ago by payroll managers in the city who wanted a forum to discuss common issues. The group consists of payroll professionals from 10 large companies. They get together to talk about complex payroll issues.

The second group was formed two years ago. It deals with international payroll, focusing on issues related to running payroll from other countries and sending employees on assignments.

"There is a lot of value because we close the door and say everything we say here is just to share amongst the group. We’re not here to criticize each other. We’re here to help each other and that means ‘tell us what you’ve done.’ It might be embarrassing, but we all have experiences," he says.

Lilley says he likes the roundtables because they provide a place to learn from others and be proactive. He says the roundtables are also an example of how payroll is becoming more professional. The sense of professionalism is something he has noticed growing over the years.

"One of the big changes is that people are choosing to go into payroll and they are more aware of it as a career choice," he says, adding at one time payroll tended to be a field people accidentally fell into.

For payroll professionals looking to advance their careers, Lilly stresses the importance of professional development through the CPA. He also again emphasizes the need for payroll practitioners to be proactive and promote the idea that payroll can be a valued business partner.

"You have got to be looking at ‘where can we make this better?’ ‘Where can we improve?’ ‘What aren’t we doing that we should be doing? ‘What should we stop doing that we don’t need to do anymore,’" he says.

"There are so many things influencing you and some people just choose to wait and see what influences them. I have always tried to say, ‘you don’t have to wait to see what is going to impact you. You can go out and influence those that are going to develop programs that affect the pay.’ It’s better to do that than sit back and wait."

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