The new twist in the HR world

Opportunity is everywhere – the key is to develop the vision to see it. Maybe your big opportunity is right here!

While we were welcoming 2020 with all new aspirations and hope, little did we know that this new decade will throw the entire world into an uncertain territory. All our plans and goals, both professionally and personally suddenly took a backseat for almost a month when we were just trying to understand what the future might feel like. Maneuvering through numerous challenges since the last 6 months, I realized that this “New Normal” is not new anymore. This is it – the plot twist in our world of HR.

Amid all this chaos when the pandemic impacted everything, that one thing we as leaders kept holding on to was responding with empathy. In these unprecedented times our most spoken words went from “let’s catch up on some coffee” to “am I audible” and “can you see my screen or is it my bad network connectivity”. At SAP, to help our people deal with such challenges, we accelerated our policies and processes to give them the comfort in these difficult situations. Our struggles pushed us to relook at 3 major HR dimensions – the 3Rs – Rethinking employee engagement, Reimagining the culture of Innovation and Redefining next-gen leadership. Through these shifts and small steps, we helped our people find a way through this tunnel and envision the new future.

Rethink employee engagement:

Employee engagement is an emotional commitment, an integral part of any system, that has to take new shapes with the changing times and people. This is one of those areas where organizations struggle – after all the science of human behavior is not that easy! So, the question remains how do we drive employee engagement in this situation when we hardly have any physical proximity? There are some obvious changes when we are shifting to an entirely remote working style like more emails, more video calls, more kids appearing in those video calls, and the pressure cooker whistling in the background — but we are also moving towards a new way to see employee engagement in the longer run. The key is how we deliver Personalized Experiences, now digitally – not just as a reaction to this chaotic change, but to proactively think and understand our people’s pulse.

We, at SAP create a world of meaningful human experiences at scale. From virtual onboarding to creating a single platform, ‘SAP In It Together’ for our employees around the world to access any kind of information they might need that we had up and running just in 3 days – we fast-tracked on our actions to put things in place. We ran pulse surveys to understand our people’s exact sentiments and incorporated their feedback in our deliveries. While our employees were working extra hours from home, we sensed an increase in burnouts. To help them deal with this, we planned a lot of mental well-being sessions, and to bring in some fun element we celebrated ‘Family Day’ in a way where anyone from their family – their parents or kids could participate. We also sent out small actionable tips and tricks called “nudges” for them to handle their stress better. We brought everything together and built genuine connections by providing them with a platform to share their stories and inspire each other, making them feel that they are not alone in this. As an organization, we were always prepared to combat such changes, but it took a lot of effort and patience to run this seamlessly. Understanding people’s pain points, creating platforms for them to connect informally, reaching out to them and providing them with that personal support may sound very small but this is what leads to Personalized Employee Experiences, by accelerating their trust in us.

Reimagine the culture of Innovation:

As William Pollard quotes, “learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.” Innovation is imperative for any organization, and for SAP, it is at our heart. It may feel like a struggle, but it could also be an extraordinary time for innovation, as all that keeps us connected is technology. The point to ponder here is what are the keys to re-ignite the culture of innovation in the screen size of 14-16 inches? Innovation requires dedicated time, effort and a platform where the leaders provide support, yet the power to drive this lies with the people! In the pre-COVID era, employees had all the necessary physical environment to collaborate, think outside the box, experiment and explore. To foster innovation, we needed to plug-in all this to the virtual setup.

This is how SAP reimagined its culture of innovation – first by creating platforms for people and then let their creativity meet and bloom. We designed the biggest Innovation and entrepreneurship program ‘Innvent 2020’ with almost 750 passionate idea owners who went through a strenuous one-month startup school program. After three months of working on their idea, 21 teams made it to the finale from which 5 teams stood out as winners across 4 different challenge spaces to build their dream startup. Our culture of innovation is built on the foundation of continuous learning, customized for different audiences by accelerating the both – performance in their current role and shaping them for the future by keeping them on the driver seat. We, at SAP, collaborate, empower, and network, because we adapt to changes by innovating, by connecting ideas and building on each other.

Redefine next-gen leadership:

“Leadership is action, not a position”. And, every leader comes with a unique style, but this style has to be redefined in the current context. The two most important things emerging in the present scenario are compassion and empathy. This is where the focus must be on the manager community – enabling them to lead with empathy and demonstrate it through their actions like continuous check-ins, small and informal conversations, and personal connects. It is already not easy working from home, imagine leading from home, and this is where managers need to put in that extra effort. One needs to understand how to respond instead of reacting to different situations, problems, personal issues of the team and build trust in this virtual environment. People may go through difficult times while they are sitting back at home and struggling to give in their best efforts, and a leader needs an intent and insight to understand these circumstances.

Today’s scenario reminds me of the Servant Leadership philosophy in which the main goal of the leader is to serve – by putting the needs of the employees first, empowering the team and helping them identify their optimal potential. This is the time for greater openness and transparency, explaining the whys and communicating, resetting expectations, challenging the traditional belief systems and taking the step forward to create an environment that gives employees the feeling of belongingness. Taking responsibility, ownership, decision making in a faster turnaround time and efficiency are the essentials of a next-gen leader in the current times. These unforeseen situations threw greater challenges that has adversely affected people’s lives, like a steep increase in the domestic violence cases. One of the proactive steps that we took to address such sensitive topic was crafting a new policy against Domestic Violence where our primary focus was to enable our managers through awareness and sensitization sessions. We, as organizations can create the best of policies but that one key driver who will shift gears to accelerate faster are our managers – the next-gen leaders.

Trust the process because challenges lead us to new horizons, and this is the time for us to look beyond – “Expect change. Analyze the landscape. Take the opportunities. Stop being the chess piece; become the player. It’s your move.