How SAP applies its HR solutions to its own search for millennial talent

LAS VEGAS – Janet Wood knows the value of workplace feedback and professional development firsthand.

Before she became SAP SE’s global head of talent and leadership, the majority of Wood’s 30-year career was spent in a variety of sales and commercial management positions, and the best returns always resulted from employee feedback and other efforts designed to nurture, rather than evaluate, talent – a sharp contrast to traditional HR practices, she says.

So when SAP CEO Bill McDermott tasked her with establishing a millennial-friendly “leadership culture,” she jumped at the chance.

“Millennials actually expect up to 50 per cent more feedback,” she says. “They expect career development. And so if we wanted to attract and retain the very best millennial talent, we needed to make sure that our managers were really delivering what those employees expected.”

SAP global head of talent and leadership Janet Wood credits the company's own SuccessFactors HR management software with helping her transform the company's workplace culture.
SAP’s global head of talent and leadership, Janet Wood, credits her company’s own SuccessFactors HR management software with helping her transform the company’s office culture.

Central to SAP’s new cultural approach, of course, was its signature human capital management (HCM) software, SuccessFactors, which Wood and her staff used to develop and follow what she calls “road maps” that would lead to a talent-based leadership culture.

In particular, they took advantage of the platform’s Learning Management System (LMS), which SAP’s HR leaders used to create a dashboard keeping track of the company’s goals, linking each one to a specific set of instructions.

These instructions would frequently cascade – that is, a top manager could choose the goals she wanted pursued by a mid-level manager, who could then choose the goals his employees should pursue – augmenting the collaborative environment SAP’s HR leaders were going for, Wood says. Goals could also be reworded from one role to the next, for maximum clarity and relevance.

SAP’s HR leaders even developed push notifications reminding supervisors – and each other – what they needed to do for colleagues in order to build the type of office culture they were aiming for, both at the planning stage and afterward; and compliance checks, to ensure their efforts were successful, Wood says.

Another feature that saw frequent use was calibration – performance management evaluations by both supervisors and coworkers.

“Performance evaluations can have a lot to do with what a manager thinks of the employee,” Wood explains. “With calibration, peers are involved as well. It gives you a more balanced perspective of the employee’s overall impact on company performance.”

SAP also began tracking factors such as languages spoken or whether an employee was willing to move – so that, for example, if a position opened in China and a Mandarin-speaking employee who had indicated they would be willing to move was available, they could easily be transferred.

Of course, this type of data- and feedback-heavy collaboration was old hat to Wood: Part of the reason CEO McDermott offered his former global maintenance and strategic services executive her current position, six years after she arrived at SAP through the company’s $6.78 billion USD acquisition of enterprise software developer Business Objects in 2007, was her lack of conventional HR experience.

“He felt it would be a good idea to bring a business perspective to this particular role – to have someone who knows what’s happening out there in the world, what pressures leaders are under, and who’s always thinking about the impact each new process or procedure is going to have,” Wood says. “And then I could communicate everything in a way that’s really consumable by the business.”

When it comes to millennials in particular, she says, the most important element to communicate is that they matter to the business.

“Given the market we’re in – we’re not B2C, we’re not Facebook or Apple, new grads haven’t been using our technology for years and years – we have to make sure they know when they come to SAP that we’re going to really be investing in them: investing in their development, investing in their career, and that they’re going to make a difference,” she says.

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Eric Emin Wood
Eric Emin Wood
Former editor of turned consultant with public relations firm Porter Novelli. When not writing for the tech industry enjoys photography, movies, travelling, the Oxford comma, and will talk your ear off about animation if you give him an opening.

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