From joining oOh! Media as a payroll officer in April 2013, Anthea Wager has progressed to her current role of Reward and Payroll Manager..
Ooh! Media is an industry leading out of home advertising company, started in 1989. The business still delivers strong growth and recently reported revenue of over $300 million for the first half of 2019. I was interested in this conversation with Anthea on how this entrepreneurial, growing company saw payroll and how her role differed because of it. Enjoy this episode of talking payroll with Anthea Wager.
Follow along with the transcription below
Tracy Angwin 0:04
Welcome to talking payroll. My name is Tracy Anglin. In this conversation I speak with Anthea wager, reward and payroll manager at oOh! Media. From joining oOh! as a payroll officer in April 2013, Anthea has progressed to her current role, which includes system implementations, reward consulting and recording. oOh! Media is an industry leading, out of home advertising company started in 1989. The business still delivers strong growth and recently reported revenue of over $300 million for the first half of 2019. I was really interested in this conversation with Anthea, on how this entrepreneurial growing company saw Payroll and how her role differed because of it. I’m also really interested in Anthea’s thoughts on employee engagement and employee experience from a payroll point of view. I really hope you enjoy this episode of ‘Talking payroll’ with me Anthea Wager.
So Anthea, great to have you on the podcast.
Anthea Wager 1:09
Thank you for having me, Tracy. I’m very excited to join you.
Tracy Angwin 1:13
I know that we’ve tried a few times to confirm dates and times, and we’ve had some issues with scheduling. And I know that you’re just really busy with with a few projects at the moment, and I’m super keen to talk to you about those. But first, I’m really interested to understand how you actually got into payroll.
Anthea Wager 1:28
Well, I think it’s a bit of a standing joke in the payroll industry that everyone wakes up as kids in the morning and decides that they’re going to be a payroll person. Isn’t that how it happens?
Tracy Angwin 1:41
I’m keen to meet that person actually.
Anthea Wager 1:44
Like I think 90% of the payroll people that I’ve met and I’m sure you’ve spoken to, I fell into payroll. I started out not knowing what I wanted to do coming out of school and so did an accounting diploma at TAFE, started working for public practice accountant, and as part of that, took on some really, really small payrolls for his clients, and then just kind of kept doing payrolls. And they grew in size and complexity. And then one day I woke up and realized that I was actually really enjoying what I was doing. And the variety that that comes in to your day being a payroll professional.
Tracy Angwin 2:27
Yeah, fantastic. I mean, you’re going from little payrolls to really quite a substantial payroll. Now, how many on your payroll at oOh! Media.
Anthea Wager 2:35
At the moment we’ve got a mix of permanent employees and casuals, but the total number of active employees is around about 1100.
Tracy Angwin 2:44
In fact, you know, oOh! Media continues to grow both, you know, by acquisition and organically and in fact, I’m going to an event in October where you’ll see Brendon Cook speaking about his journey from founding the company in 1989. How does this growth especially around acquisition affect your role?
Anthea Wager 3:00
It’s one of those things that has an inevitable effect on payroll, because even from the point of when an acquisition is being considered, payroll needs to be involved in some of those conversations, obviously, there’s a lot of confidentiality around that. But being able to be involved in what that transition would look like when an acquisition has been considered, and what sort of preparation the payroll system might need to undergo to be able to bring people on to our payrolls, or whether that’s something that we’re going to delay and run across separate systems for a period of time until we can consolidate those. I find that really valuable being able to be included in those conversations, and they don’t always necessarily happen at the same time as the rest of the conversations.
Tracy Angwin 3:52
Yeah, they really don’t. And in fact, I think that it’s quite unusual from what I’ve seen, it’s quite unusual for an organization to even have that conversation with payroll when they are considering acquisition. So I think that’s actually, it’s actually fantastic that, that you’re having those conversations and that your organization is bringing you in on those. Because I’ve seen so many acquisitions, post acquisition where they’ve got real issues with payroll and things happen. And, you know, they might, they might have inherited with that acquisition that they just can’t then deliver on their current payroll environment.
Anthea Wager 4:28
And I have to be perfectly honest and say that it’s not something that has always happened. And it’s something that we’ve potentially had the the experience of learning from doing it without considering payroll up front, and learning the hard way, to be honest, where payroll is involved in the last minute, and then there’s a mad scramble to get bank account setup on your new ABN payroll tax. The sort of registrations happening in the same week that the first payroll is running. So, ironically, it’s a little bit of a luxury that we’ve had the ability to make mistakes in the past that have helped refine our process. So that we know what to avoid next time.
Tracy Angwin 5:14
Yeah, right. But that’s just the whole continual improvement, you know, learning and continuing to improve. And I think that’s, that’s a great story, because it’s, you know, I’ve certainly heard, you know, the other side of it as well. In terms of, you know, the procedures and policies that you’d have to have in place with an organization like ooh! Media how different is it to or is it different to what might exist in a more traditional payroll that sort of stable not growing you know, just sort of getting the pays out every every pay period? Does the fact that you are a really growth oriented company, make a difference there in terms of stages and policy.
Anthea Wager 5:54
Because knocked off with the ordinary, day to day business as usual payroll running, we’re also looking at what impact changes to our reward and remuneration offerings we’re considering. And so it might be that something that we’ve held traditionally as being part of our remuneration elements is replaced by something completely different. Or there’s a new lease type that we deciding to set out for the first time in the in the system. I’ve actually just come from a process meeting, where four months ago, we established some of the processes around our HR admin, that flow on to the payroll outputs. And we’ve realized just how many of those in the last four months have changed because of the way that the business has changed. And so we’re now in the process of reviewing those. We have a cadence setup where every six months we look at our payroll processes, to review whether they’re current and what needs to sort of be updated.
Tracy Angwin 6:59
That’s awesome. I mean, I hear a lot of payroll professionals complain that, you know, their colleagues don’t understand or appreciate the payroll function. It’s one of those sort of hygiene factor processes whereby if it goes, well, you know, no one notices it. But if it’s run poorly, everyone complains about payroll. And, you know, it sounds like payrolls really been given the seat of the table in your business. And when you really use this in authority in that space, not just people that run the pace.
Anthea Wager 7:26
Definitely as a sort of a trusted voice. That has a significant impact. And I think our payroll function sits within our people and culture function. And so there’s that focus around the employee experience and the impact that payroll has to the employee experience is definitely valued. And even though it can be a hygiene factor or something that can be viewed as a back office function, the impact that payroll has is worthy of consideration in all of the conversations.
Tracy Angwin 8:05
Yeah, absolutely. It’s just really lovely to hear, because most people, yeah, mainly when I’m talking to organizations, and one of the reasons I do the podcast is actually to tell the good stories, because we hear a lot of the bad stories, we can read them in the paper, we hear about all these things that go wrong. And, and but you know, there’s also a lot of amazing people and amazing things happening in business around payroll. So I love talking to you about your experience, because that it’s one of those really positive ones that I think a lot of payroll professionals strive to get there, but don’t necessarily always make it. So I’m just really interested in sort of, you know, how you’ve got to that place, because you’ve been at ooh! Media some years now, I think, what six and a half years. Was it always like that?
Anthea Wager 8:47
No, it wasn’t always like that. When I started, we actually didn’t have a payroll function, it would have been something that had been handled by the AP function and and it had identified as a brand new role that needed to be created due to the acquisitions that had happened up to that point. It just wasn’t sustainable for the for the AP person to continue handling payroll. So it’s actually it’s been a really exciting business to be part of because we’ve had the permission really to build the payroll function from the ground up and we’ve, you know, I’m not going to hide from that we’ve made wrong choices along the way. We’ve learned from our mistakes, you know, we’ve been able to go through that refinement process. And it’s continual, it really is. But I’ve also had the real luxury of being surrounded by people who have also experienced great payrolls and have been able to, to leverage their support for building a great payroll.
Tracy Angwin 9:58
Well, I think it sounds like you’re doing a great job. I know you’ve also had, you’ve got a sort of a almost I don’t know if it’s a transformation project, really, but it’s certainly a payroll strategy project that you’ve been going through and how much you can sort of talk about it. But I wonder if you’ve got some, you know, again, you’ve had this growing payroll function I wonder what your experience has been in terms of pros and cons and how you see it around payroll outsourcing to inhouse payroll for a company like yours.
Anthea Wager 10:31
It really is, and I think payroll people tend to be very family, one foot in either of those two camps. I have a preference just because of the way that I enjoy running payrolls. I like having the ability to have the flexibility to make decisions internally and act on those. But at the same time, I have also been able to say really great outsourced functions. It comes back to that connection between and understanding of employee experience versus processing. And simply that transactional approach.
Tracy Angwin 11:13
I honestly could not have said that better that I totally agreed. So I think most of the organizations that talk to me that have had a poor experience with payroll outsourcing is, is purely because of the human, the vendor or the employer haven’t been able to sort of humanize the process. They haven’t really thought about it from a point of view of what the employee experience is like, and it’s really interesting that’s your experience as well.
Anthea Wager 11:38
Yeah. Look, and I think the way that the world is going particularly in payroll, at the at the moment, it’s becoming more and more where that focuse is on whether it’s an outsourced payroll or an in house payroll, it’s a partnership with the rest of the business and it’s a customer service function for the employees.
Tracy Angwin 12:05
Yeah, totally agree. I’m really interested too in terms of how you view your team because obviously you know, you work with a team. When you look for people to join your team, what specific skills and experiences are most important to you?
Anthea Wager 12:18
First and foremost, it has to be that experienced lead mindset. Technical skills can be built and systems skills can be grown. But if somebody is not approaching the way that they work with an experienced lead mindset, it doesn’t matter how technical they are, or how well they can click a couple of buttons. It’s about how they approach their day to day interactions with the immediate team but also the wider business or any external contacts that they may need to deal with throughout the day. And you know, we all have great days and not so great days, how we support each other through that as well.
Tracy Angwin 13:04
What do you think in terms of payroll, you reference that, you know, payroll’s, a changing industry, and certainly is at the moment. I mean, I’ve just read this morning that, you know, Ceridian a big Canadian workforce management company, have bought a local company RITEQ here. So they really, it’s becoming a very global world as well. What do you think the biggest challenges right now for payroll professionals.
Unknown Speaker 13:27
My area of speciality has just naturally developed into being one that’s very systems focused. And as a result of a lot of the acquisitions that we’ve made, there’s an acquisitions flavor in there. So a lot of what I say is to do with what’s happening in HR systems and payroll systems. And one of the things that I’ve noticed is becoming more incumbent on payroll people is there’s less out of the box configuration and more reliant on the payroll specialist themselves to drive how that is configured in the system. And by that, that dependency on having really really robust understanding of all of the potential impacts that a system may have, as well as, you know, future proofing for, you know, scenarios that the business may not actually even be considering at the moment, but in a year or two, may become quite real.
Tracy Angwin 14:33
With where I’m seeing payroll go, particularly in forward thinking organizations, I think that’s, that’s super important.
In terms of, you know, you said right at the beginning, you know, we don’t know that many people in fact, I’m yet to meet one that sort of left school and thought that they wanted to be in the payroll industry. If someone is serious about working in payroll, what would you expect that they should do right now to sort of ensure a long and successful career. What skills and competency should they be looking at?
Unknown Speaker 15:00
I think approaching life with a sense of curiosity is a really valuable skill that will serve you well, regardless of your chosen industry or profession. So that’s probably the first recommendation that I would make, is be curious every day, think about how you can sort of critically analyze the information that you’re receiving. How you can find information and be really self driven in your learning. I’m fortunate in the business that I work for does look at how we can train and grow our employees. But not all businesses are going to be like that. So there’s also a bit of a dependency around how you’re going to invest in your own growth. And there’s plenty of free sort of webinars or sort of podcasts like this one or, you know, other networking events, that can lead to learning opportunities] or you know, mentorship opportunities, and that’s a really great way of getting to grow your own skill set.
Tracy Angwin 16:09
Yeah, that’s great advice. You know, just being proactive and curious, I think is so overlooked sometimes when you think it’s just, you’re just running the pace kind of thing. And it goes totally in opposition to that sort of set and forget mentality that I think we’ve seen, you know, a lot of payroll operations fall into and, you know, unfortunately, sometimes you know, you can get bad press when you have got that as well because there’s a reliance on I’ve just set the system up, and it’ll be fine and no one’s actually being proactive about thinking how, how is it really working and what impact is it having? So that’s great advice, I think.
Unknown Speaker 16:46
Exactly. And there’s also throughout your career, you will come across a variety of different people. I’m a firm believer that everybody can teach you something if you’re open to learning from him. Might be how not to do things or how to do things or being able to tap into a specialist knowledge that they have. But each micro interaction that you might have with somebody is helping to grow that expertise that you can later rely on yourself.
Tracy Angwin 17:14
Yeah, love it. Absolutely love it. Look, I know that you are super busy right now. So I wanted to thank you for taking the time to speak with me on Talking Payroll, I really appreciate it. And you know, I really look forward to talking to you again at the end of your payroll project and hearing how it’s gone.
Anthea Wager 17:30
Thanks so much Tracy for having me and thanks for everything that you’re doing to also raise the profile of payroll.
Tracy Angwin 17:36
It makes it easier Anthea, working with people like you, I can assure you. Have a great day.
Anthea Wager 17:41
You too. Bye