According to SAP employee Gerda Slagter, “Sometimes you have to step outside your comfort zone to discover new strengths.”
With 16 years of work experience, Gerda was thrilled to have the chance to participate in the SAP Social Sabbatical program for global engagement in Colombia. What could she expect in Bogotá? Gerda’s “customer” was the Fundacion Proyectar Sin Fronteras (PSF), a non-profit organization that offers financial and social support to disadvantaged people, and helps them become self-sufficient. The ideal client for an HR expert, thought Gerda. But what she didn’t know was that the CSR program would turn her professional life upside down.
SAP Social Sabbatical
The SAP Social Sabbatical Program offers short-term volunteering assignments at non-profit organizations. In mixed expert teams, colleagues spend several weeks solving concrete strategic challenges at charitable organizations and social enterprises which focus on closing the digital divide. There are global, regional and local programs of the SAP Social Sabbatical as well as an Executive Social Sabbatical. Since 2012, SAP volunteers supported more than 180 organizations in 22 countries. Learn more here.
When she arrived in Bogotá, Gerda was quickly confronted with the acute problems facing PSF; a basic business model was essential to make the business profitable. This presented a conflict: How could she best contribute to a project predominantly focused on financial and logistical planning?
Following intense conversations with the employees, Gerda realized that the organization was also lacking an HR strategy, so she worked on appropriate onboarding measures, a sound performance management system, and retention of employees. Working closely on site with the individuals responsible, Gerda could identify the missing pieces of the puzzle, and also further expand the initial scope of the project.
“Within SAP’s HR department, I predominantly supported internal customers. When working with PSF, I realized that I could easily transfer my knowledge to assist external customers, too,” Gerda explained.
New Territory Abroad and Back Home
“I learned that I’m capable of achieving a lot more than I thought,” said Gerda, proud of her efforts. And she realized that her strengths don’t just stop at PSF; she also found out that she even has what it takes to explore new territory at SAP.
After returning home to the Netherlands, Gerda told her colleagues about her experiences on the SAP Social Sabbatical. During one of these conversations, she was asked whether she could imagine taking on a job outside HR, with a strong customer focus.
“The question whether I should leave my job in HR caused a few sleepless nights,” Gerda admits. In the end, she decided to take a position as Customer Engagement Executive at SAP SuccessFactors.
Gerda: “Working at PSF boosted my self-confidence so much that I really felt ready to take on this new role.”
Management Support of the SAP Social Sabbatical Program
Ricardo Cruz, head of Partner Services Delivery for Latin America is a record holder. He has actively supported around one-third of his team to participate in the SAP Social Sabbatical Program. “If a colleague wishes to take part in a sabbatical, this means we have to manage without her or him for four weeks. But the benefits are overwhelming,” says Ricardo. He knows that involvement in the program can have a major impact on professional development. To date, five employees from his team have participated in the program. One of them has progressed to management level, and another advanced her position from a regional to global level. When asked if he has seen changes in his team members, Ricardo hardly gave it a second thought: “When colleagues return from their projects, they are beaming with self-confidence” They have also been more focused and worked more effectively. “As a manager, I also recognize how the program brings out the participants’ leadership qualities. For me and my team, this is an incredibly valuable asset.”
Changing Plans? No Problem!
Gerda is not the only employee to feel empowered after a social sabbatical. Software developer Shruthi Prakash Shetty also discovered new sides of herself during her social sabbatical in Shanghai. Participating in the program gave her a motivation boost enabling her to pursue new directions upon her return, she says.
Back at SAP, Shruthi discovered new fields of responsibility. “Since returning to SAP, the organization and management have been very supportive.” Following her social sabbatical, Shruthi assumed global responsibility for driving development operations, strategic programs and processes in her product area SAP Business ByDesign. Shortly after, she and her family had to relocate from India to the U.S. – a huge step, and a major opportunity for Shruthi. In Shanghai, she was able to expand both her skills set and her network. “When the time came for me to transition from one country to another, I could really fall back on this network and leverage their influence,” Shruthi explains. In addition to a change of location, she also had the opportunity for a career change.
“During the social sabbatical, you can take on a whole host of different tasks, and gain insights in virtually every area of the business,” Shruthi explains.
“Something that had a profound influence on me was the value of listening to the customer. In doing so, I discovered the importance of looking at the bigger picture and finding new ways in which I could personally support NuoMi, a social enterprise which focuses on sustainable fashion. This is what first prompted me to consider moving into my new customer-oriented role,” says Shruthi, who is now working as a Customer Engagement Expert for SAP Cloud products.
In response to the question if her participation in the program prompted her to take up her new position in the U.S., Shruthi replied that this wasn’t quite the case. “However, my participation in the SAP Social Sabbatical Program better prepared me for change.”