A New Normal: Rethinking Engagement With Customers and Employees

For Brian Duffy, the new normal is a world where a virus is creating a downturn in the global economy while at the same time lowering CO2 emissions in some cities and countries.

Duffy, president of SAP EMEA North and a member of the company’s Sustainability Council, believes that contradictory times like these are rife with opportunity. Not only do they provide opportunities for self-reflection about the benefits of home office and virtual meetings on the economy and the environment, for example, but more importantly, they open doors for fresh ideas and new business models.

“If we are truly digital, there are a lot of new ways we can engage with our customers and employees,” Duffy says. “Times like these test the resilience of the economy and the resilience of organizations.”

They also test our creativity.

Voice of the Customer

SAP’s Sustainability Council is an internal governance framework that enables every area of the company to contribute to its sustainability priorities and objectives. The council acts as an ethical advisory board for the company and communicates with internal and external audiences on the business relevance of this topic. Duffy’s role is to deliver the customer’s perspective into the decision-making process and to make sure sustainability becomes a key topic in customer conversations and engagements.

Over the years, he has experienced a positive shift toward business practices that foster a more sustainable society, one fueled by technology.

“Today, we find ourselves advising customers on solutions that will help them achieve desired outcomes, whereas in the past, we were helping them make tech decisions,” he explains. “It’s a lot easier for us to broach this topic now that consumers and employees are putting more pressure on enterprises to be more transparent, ethical, and sustainable.”

He notes that it is not just climate activity Greta Thunberg who is affecting change. Recently, 4,000 Amazon employees wrote a letter to the ecommerce giant demanding action on climate change, and many even risked their jobs by speaking out publicly. There has been a 76 percent growth in environment, social, and governance investing, and sustainably marketed products in the consumer products goods sector grew 90 percent faster. These are just a few examples of the new focus on doing the right thing.

Purpose-Driven Business

Duffy remembers that just a few years ago, the concept of a chief purpose officer was quite revolutionary. In the meantime, most organizations today realize that purpose can be the driving force of an organization in order to help improve financial performance by mobilizing employees, establishing long-term goals, and promoting transformational change.

But there is a second use of purpose that is more action-driven — namely, how a business or brand can have a positive social and environmental impact. This use of purpose helps better the world. Together, these two forces can affect formidable change.

“The reasons young people decide to join an organization today are a lot different from when I was entering the workforce,” Duffy recalls. Today, according to a Business Green report, sustainability is the No. 1 concern for the millennial and generation Z employees.

This is clearly reflected in a recent employee survey, where 94 percent of SAP employees cited sustainability as a top concern and an integral part of SAP’s purpose to help the world run better and improve people’s lives.

Duffy finds Ocean Vision 2030 particularly inspiring. Announced in January at the World Economic Forum, SAP aims to achieve a cleaner ocean by providing customers, NGOs, governments, and partners with the tools, insights, and solutions to eliminate waste and maximize resource productivity. For example, SAP Digital Supply Chain solutions can have a huge impact by helping customers track their waste throughout their enterprise value chain.

To help customers move toward a more circular value chain that reduces plastic waste, SAP has identified four pillars for plastics and packaging: create a secondary materials marketplace to collect and reuse plastic, help manufacturers take greater responsibility for the use of their materials, provide companies with greater insights into waste management, and drive citizen engagement.

With these programs under way, Duffy feels confident about the future: “SAP has a very strong legacy. We’ve helped our customers on their transformational journeys until now, and we’re ready to bring them to new heights.”


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