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Forget the Roadmap: How Janice MacLellan used lateral moves to make it to the top of the payroll profession

Juggling a busy life as a single mother of two and an avid volunteer, Janice MacLellan made strategic career choices — like turning down promotions and pursuing lateral moves — to facilitate better balance. The result? Her broad experience, notably 17 years in various roles with ADP, led her to the senior leadership team of The Canadian Payroll Association, an education and advocacy group impacting 1.5 million employers across the country.


By Hailey Eisen



“Don’t spend too much time mapping out your career, because careers are never straight lines.” That’s the advice Janice MacLellan has always given the women she mentors — and her own children for that matter. “If you’re too busy focusing on the roadmap,” she explains, “you might miss great opportunities that could lead to great experiences.”

For Janice, who is currently vice president, operations, with The Canadian Payroll Association (CPA), every job, project, course, and volunteer assignment she’s taken on over the course of her 36-year career has contributed to what she calls her “personal tool chest.”

“Everything you learn, in every job you do — you take that with you,” Janice says. While she says she had no idea she’d end up in the payroll industry — it wasn’t even on her radar when she started her career in banking — her passion for it is palpable. “I enjoyed banking, and everything I learned — especially working as a small business lender — contributed to my ability to succeed in the payroll industry.”

Raised in Ottawa, Janice went to St. Mary’s University to complete a dual-degree program in Commerce and Economics. From there she was recruited by RBC in Halifax into their management training program. After more than a decade with the bank, and a move to Toronto, she was working for the payroll service provider owned by RBC when it was acquired by ADP.


“Everything you learn, in every job you do — you take that with you”


Janice spent 17 years with ADP, where she was given the opportunity to lead special project teams, gain global business experience, and collaborate closely with the Canadian and provincial governments on business to government electronic initiatives, among other things. In her last role with ADP she was VP, comprehensive outsourcing services, and responsible for managing the payroll end-to-end administration of 3,500 Canadian and global employers.

As a single mother raising two kids (one who was a high-performance athlete), and as an avid volunteer, Janice had to learn how to prioritize and juggle her various work and life commitments. When her children were younger and in their teens, she thought carefully about her career moves in order to facilitate better balance. “I turned down some promotional opportunities because of the time demands and responsibilities, and instead chose some lateral moves that broadened my enterprise knowledge or gave me new skillsets,” she says.

Her decisions were hardly a compromise; while the roles were still at a director level, they were helping her gain experience she would need down the road, while giving her the flexibility to be there for her kids. “A career isn’t always in a vertical line up,” she says. “Making lateral moves often makes you a more well-rounded professional.”

Even her board and volunteer involvement was somewhat strategic. Her work in sports and the arts were combined with her children’s activities, and helped expand her social and business network. As an active volunteer within the payroll profession — spending many years on the board and as chairman and director of The Canadian Payroll Association, a not-for-profit dedicated to payroll education and advocacy — she gained knowledge directly applicable to her career. “ADP was highly supportive of my involvement in the organization and realized how valuable this volunteer work was in skill-development.”

With a long-term career goal of moving into the not-for-profit world, Janice was pleased when the opportunity arose in October 2015 to join The CPA professionally. She’s now a part of influencing the operational, compliance and technology policies and processes of payroll service and software providers, hundreds of thousands of small, medium, and large employers, as well as federal and provincial tax authorities. “I had been so involved in this association and this move felt like a nice segue toward the end of my career.”

In fact, she sees it as a culmination of the experience she’s gained throughout. “Both ADP and RBC were instrumental in developing my executive skills over the years, every job I ever had, not to mention my payroll industry knowledge from a technology and legislative perspective, and employer perspective — all of this I bring to The CPA table and it enables me to continue to represent the various stakeholders of the association and allows me to provide input to the association agenda,” she says.

Today she’s a strong advocate for the payroll profession and excited about the opportunities for education and employment opening up within the field. “When I look back over the years of my career, I have no regrets,” Janice says. “I started my career when women had to assert themselves to be equal to men — but I’ve never felt the impact of being a woman when it came to the opportunities I was afforded. The key for me was to always find organizations that were aligned with my own personal values, and to operate with integrity no matter what.”



In partnership with ADP, we’re highlighting the importance of strong leadership in finding, attracting and inspiring the talent to move organizations forward. Our evolving workplaces succeed when diverse voices and passionate leaders come team up. By celebrating Canada’s inspiring leaders, we can understand and nurture what it takes to build a better workforce. ADP provides the technology and expertise that helps Canadian organizations of all sizes to build and inspire the workforce they need to succeed.