Pride @ SAP

Digital Transformation: A Culture of Openness and Acceptance is the Key to Success

It has always been people who drive and consume innovation. Focusing on pure technology first in a world where we innovate at an ever-increasing speed would risk missing out on important insights and opportunities. We might end up with a world we did not want at all. And a culture of inclusion helps create a world that is open, free of biases, and fair to all – which, in my opinion, fuels an innovative spirit and outcomes most.

Every June is Pride Month, which thousands of people in the LGBT community and their allies celebrate as a way to promote their dignity, equal rights, self-affirmation, and increasing society’s awareness of the issues they face. But what does this have to do with digital transformation and the journey SAP and almost every company in the world is currently on?

As the Diversity and Inclusion lead for the Software Development organization at SAP, I recently had the chance to talk to Erik Lüngen about digital transformation and what he thinks are the key elements of success beyond the technology that we need to consider.

Erik Lüngen
Erik Lüngen, internal SAP award winner for “walking the talk” on diversity and inclusion.

Currently chief operating officer for SAP Industry Cloud and Customer Development and Cloud Operations lead for SAP Industry Solutions, Erik has worked in the IT industry for 20 years, 15 of which he has spent with SAP. He started out in Consulting and Support in the SME market and then joined the SAP Business ByDesign organization as product owner to help build CRM capabilities.

Later, he dedicated his work to content development and cloud trials. Erik also had the opportunity to get the outside-in view, when he left SAP to implement SAP Business ByDesign for customers at a partner organization. He has been back at SAP for four years. In January, he received an internal award from SAP for Diversity and Inclusion in the managers’ category for “walking the talk” on diversity and inclusion and his proactive support in this area.

The biggest learning he has taken away from the different phases in his career is that people and culture are the single most important factor for success. His motto is to live and advocate for a culture of openness, fairness, and predictability. As an openly out executive within SAP, he also wants to support the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, especially in countries where there is a longer way to go for the rights and acceptance of LGBT people.

Curious about Erik’s view on digital transformation and the human side of things, I asked him the following questions.

As a technology company, we often look at digital transformation from a purely technological point of view. For you the key elements to consider beyond the technology are…

Definitely culture. Do you know that quote from Peter Drucker, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”? The changes that are coming to us, our customers, and partners, and to society as a whole, with the digital transformation are huge. We can cope with these changes only if we find the right strategy. When we have the right strategy, we need to jointly live it. And this is exactly where we need every single person at SAP.

Our employees around the world are our number one priority because they all bring the unique combination of knowledge, expertise, and empathy that are key to our sustainable success. We need the mix of diverse backgrounds of our colleagues and we need a culture of respect so that we can learn from each other. I strongly believe that the diversity of backgrounds and experiences of people is the seed of innovation. If the basis of what you do, of what you build, is only your own knowledge and your own experience, your outcomes will be neither innovative nor surprising.

If we don’t look beyond the technology we could face…

Failure. SAP has the right strategy in place to become the service provider and trusted advisor for the integrated digital economy. The key to long-term success is for all of us to continuously listen to our customers, partners, and colleagues, and to be open to learning something new every day.

Employees who can be their authentic true selves — and feel comfortable to share their ideas, thoughts, and backgrounds — can contribute best to a company’s success.

You recently visited SAP India to join their launch of a new chapter of SAP’s LGBT employee resource group, Pride@SAP, and awareness campaign.  For you, the connection between an event like that and SAP’s transformation journey is…

The potential to innovate. For me, Pride@SAP and other diversity and inclusion initiatives are very key for SAP to be an innovator. Only people that can be their authentic true selves and that feel comfortable to share their ideas, thoughts, and backgrounds, can contribute best to our success. In the end, it is all about acceptance of differences, openness, and the willingness to learn from each other. That is why we all need to make sure our colleagues feel safe, welcomed, and valued.

As a gay man I can truly say how important it is for me to feel safe and accepted. I am sure that Indian LGBT colleagues or LGBT colleagues anywhere in the world have the same need. And in some cultures, it is still so much more difficult for LGBT colleagues to come out and to be their authentic true selves. I am happy to see so many allies that are supporting diversity and inclusion, as at the recent LGBT celebration in India.

The most impactful thing each individual can do in the context of digital transformation is…

To stay curious, be agile and open for new thoughts, ideas, and experiences, and learn from each other. As a company, we need to make sure we see and understand opportunities quickly, and provide high-quality solutions in time and in tune with the new challenges of a disruptive and ever faster changing world.

To this end, at SAP, we introduced a new learning program for employees, called Focus on Insight, to get to know their own biases, so that we can all be more aware and open to learning from others every day. The learning program provides great insights into how our unconscious biases can influence how we work and interact with colleagues in the different areas of diversity, such as gender, generations, cultures, LGBT and differently abled intelligence.