In retrospect, that astute executive knew that the global rollout of an HR-ERP, innovative comp planning and workforce planning tools, and even HR process re-engineering to leverage the new tools (i.e., the global HRIS function's mandate) would all be compromised if consumers of headcount and 'people cost' data didn't believe the numbers ... or the numbers didn't match the excel s/sheets they felt compelled to maintain. Fortunately for me, I had been down this road before. In the late 80's I received my one and only call from the Chairman of Paine Webber as I ran HRIS there as well. He said the following ... "I would like you and your team to suspend all headcount reporting until we can get all employees in the company to Yankee Stadium to raise their hands -- so we can finally get an accurate headcount." We were obviously forced to get it right.
The answer or solution was twofold: Data Standards and Effective Education -- including mandatory education and training for all consumers of HR data / reports / metrics ... so they (a) understood how ALL numbers were being arrived at; and (b) understood why Finance, HR, Payroll and Business Units might report numbers that were different -- even though all might still be accurate based on their reporting methodology! The training also included real-time 'learning tidbits or booster shots' in how to properly interpret every report or specific data when delivered.
There are appropriate reasons and purposes for counting or not counting employees on salary continuance, or on paid or unpaid leave, or long-term or short-term contractors, or summer interns, or part-timers under or over 20 hours/week ... and on the comp costs side, whether to count deferred comp, or sign-on's, or employee referral bonuses, or other imputed income (e.g., club memberships) or whether to blend different salary rates if multiple assignments for hourlies, etc, etc.
There are 2 choices for getting this right as I see it: Let your line managers, sr execs, HR, Finance and other admin staff throughout the organization spend untold hours (and perhaps millions of dollars) forever reconciling and explaining why numbers are different depending on who reports them (the "1 source of the truth" notion is not enough ... purposes will vary) --- or aggressively attack this near-universal problem with HR-related data standards and very effective training for all consumers of the information.
HR Technology Advisor