Leadership in a Crisis: The Importance of Empathy and Innovation

When Thomas Saueressig joined the Executive Board of SAP SE in November 2019, he never expected that he would have to lead 29,000 employees through a global pandemic and economic crisis.

While he has found new ways to engage with employees, Saueressig’s empathetic style of leadership has not changed. Now more than ever, listening to one’s team while adapting to a new way of working is crucial to keeping people motivated.

Empathy Matters More Than Ever

He recognizes the wide variety of challenges his employees face: juggling the demands of home school, tending to sick or elderly loved ones, and the unique trials faced by single people.

“We are in a unique situation that you can’t find in any playbook or Google search,” Saueressig said. “But we needed to change engagement in the remote and virtual setting that we’re in.”

To stay close to colleagues, Saueressig holds virtual meetup sessions from home — more intimate conversations with employees to hear what’s on their mind and to keep the teams informed.

And as the father of two young children, he is certainly sympathetic to people’s efforts to stay productive, while balancing family demands: “For me, it’s important to stay focused and get into a morning routine. Every day I get dressed like I’m going to the office, which gets me into the work mood.”

Innovating in a Pandemic and Beyond

While people come first, Saueressig has other things on his mind as well. Since he oversees all of SAP business applications, educational programs, global cloud infrastructure, globalization services, and global labs network, he weighs how the pandemic will impact innovation and customers’ digital journeys.

“I’ve talked to a lot of customer CIOs and digital transformation is on top of mind,” he said.  “In the last couple of years, some companies treated it like a buzzword from the IT industry, but now it’s actually center stage and people understand why it is so important.”

He explains that digital transformation, which is enabled by the application portfolio his team develops, offers customers deeper supply chain insight, more agile manufacturing operations, and increasingly flexible business models, for example.

Saueressig has put innovation to work creating solutions that will help businesses and other organizations through these unusual times. For example, his team provides computing power and data center capacity to Folding@home, a distributed computing project that unites citizen scientists researching protein development in a variety of diseases, including COVID-19.

Additionally, his organization released a free version of procurement solution SAP Ariba Discovery, which helps organizations find new suppliers quickly. Saueressig states that, according to a recent study, 71 percent of companies are currently experiencing supply chain disruption, which in some instances can be life-threatening. “One hospital was looking for 500 beds and they didn’t find them. Within 30 minutes of using [SAP] Ariba, they found the supply they needed,” he shared.

As the world moves from crisis to recovery and beyond, innovation will continue its important role. “In the beginning of this pandemic, everybody was focused on business continuity,” said Saueressig. “But now we see people preparing for the time after the pandemic and thinking about what the world will look like in the new norm. That’s something people are already thinking about — innovation and what they need to stay on top and remain competitive.”

He is convinced the SAP portfolio can help in two ways. It provides customers solutions that evolve as the situation demands, and gives them the agility required to anticipate and react to changing market requirements quickly.

With SAP — and other — applications connected and working together on top of SAP Cloud Platform, companies can become intelligent enterprises. “That’s the cornerstone to give customers insight into the supply chain, optimized and automated business processes, and the ability to create new business models on the fly,” said Saueressig.

But the real opportunity lies in creating a network of intelligent enterprises, which will be the next step in connecting businesses. “We talk about the network of intelligent enterprises especially because this pandemic shows how global and interconnected all companies are,” said Saueressig. “We want to connect these companies and give them the deep insights.”

Moving forward, Saueressig has inspired his product teams to tackle climate change, one of the world’s biggest challenges and one that’s close to his heart. The goal is to enrich SAP products with capabilities that will help companies reduce their carbon footprint. “We want to embed and infuse this into our products so companies can change their processes — and the entire value chain — accordingly,” he said.

The company  revealed its intentions to create solutions that mitigate climate change in January at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Now Saueressig and his teams are executing on this plan – and will continue supporting businesses as they navigate turbulent times.

To hear more from Thomas Saueressig, listen to the full interview:

SAP Board Member Discusses Leadership in Times of Crisis

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SAP Board Member Discusses Leadership in Times of Crisis

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