Soccer team in a huddle

When in Rome

November 30, 2015 by Rob Enslin 16

Recently, I joined about 800 of our HR customers at SuccessConnect in Rome. I thought it was apropos that from the birth city of modern day essentials like newspapers, roads, highways and the 365 day per year calendar, we gathered to talk about the most essential part of business today — people.

And more importantly, how technology can help people and businesses thrive in today’s digital economy.

At SAP, we recently announced the One4 project, a project very close to our hearts. It began with one employee’s idea in late September – to drive action for refugee relief in Europe by increasing the conversation around the topic while raising money. The idea required buy in from the SAP Board, a band called Imagine Dragons, their record label, their producers and from iTunes, via Apple. All approvals were secured within three weeks.

On launch day, the Imagine Dragons’ song “I Was Me” was released on iTunes with proceeds from the song going to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. In addition to leading the project charge, SAP also committed 10 cents for every download from iTunes up to the first 5 million downloads. In only three weeks, the One4 Project was ready to launch on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram with a social campaign that encouraged people to download the song and show what they are #One4.

The campaign has spread like wildfire, showing that the power of people has no boundaries. Tens of thousands of people downloaded the song & posted their own One4 photos. The traditional and social media efforts reached more than 287 million people…all in the first two weeks. Millions of everyday people, including global celebrities, sports icons and business leaders all jumped on board. They were moved by the opportunity to be a part of something bigger – something truly life changing.

So why do I share this story? First, because I believe in its cause and add in a shameless plug here that if you haven’t downloaded the song, do it now! Second, this entire scenario serves as the perfect illustration of the environment we live in today. An environment in which one person from Chicago can have an idea, and with the help of colleagues and a few strategic partnerships, can make it blossom into a global campaign. A campaign that reached more than 287 million people in just two weeks. I don’t think we could have launched anything like it 15 years ago. It would not have been possible. Then was a world of compact discs. Between production and shipping of CDs, the mere cost and complexity alone would have made it impossible. Yet in today’s digital economy, one person, one act and one download can change the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in desperate need.

It’s easy to see how disruptive – and enabling – today’s digital world really is, personally and professionally. It’s changing the entire landscape of business. It’s not just about adding social media to your recruiting or marketing efforts, or enabling employees to work from anywhere on a mobile device. Digital disruption is truly pervasive. It’s changing business models, shifting the demands on your workforce and serving as a lens by which your company is viewed. Consider a business model like Airbnb. One person, one room and a business model that is disrupting the entire hotel industry. The benchmark of the competitive hotel industry is the breadth of inventory offered. Who wins? The business model that doesn’t own a single room.

Think about it. When Pope Francis visited Philadelphia this past fall, the city was expecting more than one million people to attend mass with the Pope. One million people, in a city with only 11,200 hotel rooms. Where will they stay? Brick and mortar chains couldn’t scale, yet Airbnb saw a 270% increase in room listings in Philadelphia for that month alone. Amazon is another great example. They started as an online bookstore and turned that industry on its head. Now they are doing the same to the broader retail market. How do you compete when your largest competitor doesn’t own a single retail store? You don’t. Competing in a digital economy requires different ways of thinking, new capabilities and faster execution.

The fact of the matter is that businesses need to go where the consumer is. And consumers today are very digital. They demand a great experience. In my role, I am frequently on the road. Relying on people isn’t always possible, or practical. But when you’re going from city to city, you want things to be simple, fast and personal. A perfect trip may be hard to imagine for many of us, but in a digital world, it’s possible now. But when the business model changes, and technology plays a larger role, it changes the role of your employees. In every industry, Human Resources is in the driver’s seat to help lead employees through that transition as well. What do you do with those staff members who are no longer needed in traditional roles?

Human Resources is responsible for ensuring your employees can meet the expectations of your customers, all the while you need to meet the expectations of your employees. Do them both well, and you contribute to the top line as well as the bottom line via employee engagement and retention. Those who can’t keep up with these expectations simply won’t survive. Think about it – 52% of the Fortune 500 companies went bankrupt or fell off the map since 2000. The average age of companies has gone from 67 years in the 1920’s, to 15 years today and will be 12 years by 2018.

What is today’s CEO focusing on when transforming for a digital world? It comes down to three simple concepts. First, truly embracing a digital strategy is about re-imagining the business. Everything from business models to business processes to how people work. Second, leaders are focusing on having the right technology, designed for faster innovation, shorter business process cycle times, and innately collaborates and thinks on your behalf. It also must have an IT landscape that is simple to run, manage and expand. Finally, leaders will want to infuse digital DNA into their organizations. It’s critical that the right skills are in place across your business to truly harness the value of the data and the ideas. Mindset, technology and talent. Which one of these does an HR leader need to focus on? All of them.

Regardless of how technology advances, people remain at the heart of every business, and being in lock step with the company strategy is critical to success. It’s not just about having the right parts – it’s about how those parts connect.

When I hire a sales leader, I don’t only look at his/her track record in selling. I look at management style and ask myself, will he fit into the team? Will she thrive in our company culture? What is his growth potential? How will we build a rewarding career at SAP beyond this position? But there is one other question you should consider. How will your decision, relative to Human Resources, integrate and impact all the other areas of the business, including your top and bottom line?

When you reimagine your business model, you’re looking at new markets, new processes and new skillsets. You need to be prepared to recruit, hire and develop the skills needed to support these ambitions. Showing you that increasing the speed of impact for your business is not only possible, but within your power to make happen. Amazing opportunities are available to you, your customers, and your employees in the digital economy. Your employees expect you to be ready. Your company needs you to be ready.

Top image via Shutterstock

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