In world that’s facing rapid change, good leaders must be “obsessed with learning,” SAP Co-CEO Jennifer Morgan told the audience at the Great Place to Work For All Summit 2020, held this week in San Francisco.
During the keynote session, Morgan spoke with Ellen McGirt, senior editor at Fortune Magazine, about the need for leaders to stay humble and open, creating a strong workplace culture, and her thoughts on women in leadership.
Morgan described the moment she became co-CEO as humbling and explained why seeking out constant learning is so important. “Early in our careers, we think that everyone in a leadership role has everything figured out,” she said. “But as you progress, you realize how much more of a student you need to be.”
That said, Morgan believes that she and Co-CEO Christian Klein both bring a deep and complementary knowledge of the business that informs a shared vision for SAP’s future. “We have a very common vision for the company and where we need to go,” Morgan said. “And having been an operator in the business, it gives you real insight into the challenges and opportunities you have.”
Besides shared aspirations for the company, trust and unity are critical. “Leadership takes time,” she said. “In companies today, people have to come together not just at the leadership level, but across all parts of an organization.”
Integration is top of mind for SAP, which has made several large acquisitions in the past decade. For Morgan, successful integration requires a different approach to communications. Too often, she said, leaders focus on the “what” versus explaining the “why,” which can make it challenging for employees to align with transformation.
She also explained that executives often focus on making organizational changes that will help achieve business goals, but that it starts with communication. “Just telling employees the ‘what’ without the ‘why’ in today’s world undermines what you’re trying to do,” she said.
With International Women’s Day coming up, McGirt referenced a study just released by the UN Development Programme, which found that more than 40 percent of people in 75 countries think men make better executives than women. Since SAP operates in many of those countries, she and Morgan discussed how a female CEO can help shift those beliefs.
Morgan addressed the delicate balance needed for women leaders to be role models. “It’s really important to me to be recognized for my leadership, not my gender,” she said. “At the same time, I underestimated how many younger women and underrepresented minorities look to people like me who are in these positions.”
Morgan said she recognizes that “it’s important for people to see people like them and to give them hope — and have that become an example that’s real and actionable.” She also emphasized the important role men play in advancing women in leadership, particularly in countries with more entrenched gender norms. “I make sure that men are part of these conversations. Men do want to be part of the solution, so we need to pull them in and say it’s okay to help advocate,” she said.
The event was organized by Great Place to Work, a company that researches, assesses, and ranks companies based on factors like diversity and inclusion, culture, trust, and region. SAP America has been certified as a Great Place to Work for four consecutive years and is ranked on several of the organization’s lists. SAP SuccessFactors was a sponsor for the event.
Both Morgan and DJ Paoni, president of SAP North America, received leadership awards from Great Place to Work honoring their efforts to create a first-rate company culture.
Dr. Judith Williams, chief diversity and inclusion officer and head of People Sustainability at SAP, also spoke at the event. She explained the business and moral imperatives for diversity, as well as how to identify and root out unconscious bias.