Athina Tzakas, People Management Superhero

Meet Athina Tzakas, Payroll Manager at Pfaff Auto. Through her experience in Payroll, Athina has become an effective leader, a champion of change management, process improvement and lean practices. Over the past four years, Athina has leveraged those leadership skills to help Pfaff successfully scale from 300 to 700 employees.

Athina Tzakas, Payroll Manager at Pfaff Automotive PartnersAbout Athina

I have been working in Payroll for over 20 years, originally in the client services sector and then moved into the private sector. I focus on putting employees' needs first within the scope of business and legislative requirements.

I was hired to help the team at Pfaff expand and one of my key strategies was to set out parameters for growth. I recognized that what worked as processes for 300 employees would not necessarily work as they grew to 700 and that what we do now may need to evolve as our growth continues. It's important to revisit and challenge how we do things to keep improving and moving our people management forward.

Q: What makes you a People Management Superhero?

Understanding the navigation around Avanti, I’ve been able to provide support to all stakeholders, including:

  • Managers;
  • Executives;
  • Support Staff; and of course,
  • All of Pfaff's employees.

My team and I are advocates of the Avanti system and we are keen on expressing how it has aided our internal processes – how our new approach aligns our 700+ employees and prepares us for future growth.

Q: How does Avanti help you take care of your employees?

The availability of information and documentation is a huge improvement. The online web access for personnel, polices and pay statements is an asset due to our multi-location and the immediate availability it provides to employees. An immediate response time and confirmation of transactions are clear through the attendance calendar.

Q: Is there something you can now provide to your managers or employees that you couldn't before implementing Avanti?

Due to the nature of our business, the biggest time saver has been the attendance calendar and the ability to request and approve vacation in real-time. Our managers/executives are very mobile – this process alleviates much of the paper flow and ensures that confirmation of requests is immediate. Accessibility to data via reports is now immediate and has greatly improved response time for these requests.

The recruiting function is a big improvement for us as well. We encourage all job applicants to apply through the career portal. As we have multiple locations and divisions, having all of our talent coming into one pool is great. For example, if one person applies for a job as a car lot assistant at one location but they are a better fit for another location, our HR team can share that applicant from the centralized pool benefiting both the business and applicants.

Q: As you look ahead to the next year, do you have any new initiatives that involve Avanti?

We are a growing group and we needed to stage ourselves as an organization to be ready for growth. Our mindset has to move towards process improvement, so the introduction of an HRIS system was crucial for Pfaff.

We work closely with Avanti's Customer Success team to suggest enhancements to the system. For example, looking at ways to expand the onboarding offering even more that so we can ensure a more seamless flow from recruitment into new hire.

We want to take full advantage of the compensation module for position management – this is a huge endeavour but, much like the other items that tie in with the growth of the group, a proper use of position management would ensure that we are both mindful of the roles and ranges we find our employees in and allows us to ensure that we are equitable in our approach by aligning like roles/responsibilities with like salary compensation.

Q: What is the single most important thing that you do to make a difference to your employees?

Availability and communication. I want to ensure that both myself and the full HR/Payroll team are available to assist with the Avanti transition-- always looking for feedback and where opportunities for improvement can be found.

I'm a strong advocate that the users of a system are those that have the most insight to what would benefit them – this tool (Avanti) is here to provide assistance and ensure that our people management is simplified – recommendations that can be implemented and benefit the group are definitely pursued.

Communicating with the primary user of any solution and asking for feedback are important to success. When we introduced the attendance calendar to our people it was a two-way conversation. We taught them how it worked and asked for their feedback. They provided us with some great ideas and we used them to improve their experience even further.

Just the other day, a VP told me how much time the attendance calendar is saving him – we have put solutions in place that make it easy for our team to manage things like vacation so their time can be devoted to other important tasks.

Q: What tip would you give to other professionals who struggle with employee management?

Payroll and HR need to understand that they are customer service departments for their employees.

It is very important to communicate and to be receptive to concerns and struggles. Our role is to ensure that we provide the necessary support to our managers and to ensure that they have the necessary tools. We need to be available and accessible, with a strong focus on follow through.

Providing feedback and listening to employees is the most important rule in employee management.

Change is something to be embraced! I didn't come from the car industry – when I arrived, I quickly realized that although Dealer Management software is critical to our operations, it does not provide great people management tools. This is what drove us to look outside of the usual auto industry options for an HRIS solution for Pfaff.

I knew this would come with big challenges as it meant whomever we chose as a partner, that they would have to be able to work well with our Dealer Management system. As an innovator and leader in the industry, Pfaff took a risk and went with a solution not traditionally used in the auto industry and we now have the ability to:

  • Run reports anytime
  • Provide measurable data, the Payroll team is no longer just processors, they are strategic business partners
  • We found a tool that helps us manage all the moving pieces and streamlines their business

We're proud to have proven that there is a people management tool out there that other auto industry companies could use and benefit from!

Q: How does Pfaff set itself apart from other employers?

We encourage employees to bring themselves to the table – we align ourselves with core values, that is the foundation of our organization.

These shared values ensure that all Pfaff employees are aligned with the objectives of the organization and that they are in keeping with the heart of this group – respectful, passionate, team players and overcoming obstacles together through communication and learning each day gives us this drive to excel in what we do.

Q: What is at the heart of making Pfaff a great place to work?

The heart of Pfaff are its people and the shared belief system we have. We are passionate about what we do, and we work and learn together to achieve these goals.

Pfaff encourages team building events and has an active social committee that organizes BBQ's and other fun team events. We encourage visits between locations and hold an annual town hall for all employees.

We also have a program called 'Paid Time Off' where employees can buy a day off and the money gets donated to a variety of charities. We're always looking for innovative ways to help employees have fun and give back at the same time.

Q: How do you make your people feel engaged, appreciated and help them thrive at Pfaff?

Communication and having fun. We want to ensure that employees are recognized for their achievements and we have programs in place where peers can nominate colleagues that have gone over and above. We engage our new hires in an onboard lunch after their 90 days and request feedback, positive examples and reinforcement.

Always an open door policy, always looking for ways to do things better but never losing sight. Accessibility, we encourage all our employees to reach out to our Senior Management Team and President – every voice matters and every voice is heard.

Look at Athina's super transformation in The Little Book of People Management Superheroes: Volume 2.


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