From fish plant to multimillion dollar company

Dianne Winsor’s interesting payroll journey over the last 20 years

The time cards came straight from the production floor smelling like raw fish and, sometimes, even with a few stray fish guts.

Dianne Winsor was in charge of payroll at a local fishing plant in small town Triton, N.L., and accepted the fishy time cards at the end of every day. This was about 20 years ago and Winsor did payroll manually with the “good old” tax tables, a huge spreadsheet, a ledger book and a McB system to write the cheques.

A lot has changed for Winsor since her years at the Fishery Products International plant. She’s now a Certifed Payroll Manager (CPM), the vice-chair of the Canadian Payroll Association (CPA) and the payroll manager at telecommunications company Bell Aliant in St. John’s, N.L.

On a daily basis, she manages a group of 17 individuals on a payroll team that includes payroll processors, business analysts and time and labour analysts.

“My day is comprised of managing multimillion dollar systems or upgrades or being involved in strategic planning for multimillion dollar projects,” she said.

Like many people in her industry, Winsor “fell into payroll” she said. She was 23 years old when the manager at the fish plant asked her to replace the current payroll associate who was moving to a different position.

Eager to try something new, Winsor accepted the position that launched her payroll career. Over the next 20 years, Winsor worked for a variety of companies.

When she moved to the fish plant’s head office in St. John’s, she joined at a challenging time where the company was using T-4s for the first time and not everyone was on the in-house payroll system. She made it her personal goal to get everyone on the system before the year was up, and she did it.

“Going through the process of figuring out the nuts and bolts really piqued my interest in payroll,” she said. “I started to learn about a whole new world of compliance and realized I had a very important job.”

The next big challenge was working for customer management company Convergys in St. John’s when the company went from zero to 1,500 employees in six months, and Winsor was the only person in payroll.

She had to train all the managers on proper procedures and worked many long 16-hour days. During that time, she received her CPA certification and started her bachelor of commerce at Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John’s where she graduated with honours in 2007.

Two years after joining Bell Aliant in 2006, the company went from a corporation to a trust which was a major undertaking for the payroll department since they had to change the company’s business number.

Whether or not payroll could move within the required time frame was a “deal breaker” for whether or not the move actually happened. And Winsor’s team achieved the task.

One of the biggest accomplishments of her career to date is the receipt of the employee achievement award in 2006 for her work on this major change at Bell Aliant. The award was for her contribution to the strategic objectives of the company, and was awarded to the members of the finance team who were integral to the move from corporation to a trust.

“When they called to tell me I won, I was so shocked,” she said. “I had never heard the words payroll, award and strategy together in the same sentence.”

The award really brought a lot of recognition to the fact a payroll department doesn’t just do payroll, she said.

“We’re sort of like the underpinnings of the organization. We reach out into so many areas and so many areas are dependent on what we can do and when we can do it.”

One of the things she likes most about payroll is that it is never dull, she said. Although many people assume payroll is mundane and routine, Winsor said she never has the same day twice.

“I’ve had to hone prioritization skills to a science,” she said. “I can have my whole day prioritized by 8:35 a.m. and by 8:40 a.m. that planning is gone out the window and I need to start over because there’s a couple fires somewhere.”

Winsor is a self-proclaimed people-person and she said this has a big impact on her success in the industry. Knowing how to deal with people in a wide variety of situations will serve a payroll professional well, she said.

Payroll is often the last point of contact an individual has with the company so trying to make him feel good about himself and the company requires good people skills and is an important part of a payroll professional’s job.

“By the time they come to us, they have likely gone through the five stages of grief and now they’re angry. Angry with the organization, angry because they were terminated, angry with us, and knowing how to handle that in a diplomatic way is very important,” she said.

Effective communication goes hand-in-hand with people skills which Winsor says is one of the most crucial skills for success in payroll.

“You have to be able to talk to happy, upset, inquiring and know-it-all people and you have to do it in a tactful way while maintaining the high standards of the company,” she said.

She may have fallen into payroll, but now Winsor chooses it every day. She’s very active in the payroll community and with the CPA. Her boss even calls her a “payroll lifer.”

Winsor says this is a very exciting time to be in the payroll industry as it is beginning to be recognized by vice-presidents, chief operating officers and chief financial officers because of its integral role in the operation of the business, she said.

“I’m really excited to be at a point where everything is coming together and payroll is being recognized for being the profession that it is, which I think is the result of a lot of people like me with a passion for payroll.”


Dianne Winsor, payroll manager at Bell Aliant in St. John’s, N.L.


Winsor’s tips for payroll managers

•Fine tune your communication skills. Communication is a key skill for payroll as we are constantly communicating with many internal and external stakeholders. You must be able to communicate efficiently and effectively.

•Payroll has multiple and inflexible deadlines that can be a little stressful for many — especially new recruits. Learn how to channel this stress into positive energy.

•Learn to manage time well, prioritize and stay nimble. Don’t spend time putting out fires — find and eliminate their source.

•Don’t be afraid of a challenge. Embrace change and be open to a new system or a new set of responsibilities that can highlight payroll’s strategic value to the organization.

•Enjoy being in a position where you can interact with such a variety of people and personalities in a single day. We all have the disgruntled customer (employee) days. There’s great satisfaction in knowing you help them to walk away happy.

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