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SAP CHRO Stefan Ries: “Digitalization Is a Massive Opportunity”

Feature Article | July 28, 2017 by Andrea Diederichs

How can digitalization benefit people at SAP? SAP Chief Human Resources Officer Stefan Ries talks about the HR agenda and shares his personal experiences since returning to SAP in 2014.

Q: How can digitalization benefit people at SAP?

A: These days, digitalization is often seen as a job killer or a sword of Damocles, particularly in Europe. But I prefer to see digitalization not as a risk, but an opportunity.

For SAP as an employer, digitalization is a massive opportunity. We take the technology of the past and prepare it for a new future, and provide employees with a great user experience, a sort of “app experience.”  Along with other criteria, such as work responsibilities, salary, and development opportunities, this is a decisive factor for our young applicants. We can inspire talented candidates to join us by offering them the chance to work in a world that is closely connected to the tools they use in their everyday lives.

I see this as a very strong argument as to why we should open ourselves to the benefits of digitalization. It isn’t just a vision for the future, but something hugely relevant for us today.

And what does this mean for jobs?

As a technology company, digitalization has long been key issue for us. We are the front runners, and have been paving the way in the cloud for the past four or five years. So, what has happened during that time? We have not cut back on jobs, but instead created thousands of new ones every year. Just think about the work in the Innovation Labs, the SAP Digital Boardroom, or the success of SAP S/4HANA and SAP HANA.

These developments also mean we have to prepare employees for what’s to come. The best example of this is Digital Business Services, where currently an additional €15 million is being invested in professional development. When I returned to SAP in 2014, we had a training budget of €70-80 million, which is a considerable amount in itself. This year it was €190 million. Despite the increase in the number of employees, this is still a remarkable leap, and puts us way ahead of our competitors and other industries

What’s your personal approach?

I personally learn best when I’m visiting customers. In the first half of the year, I attended almost 50 customer meetings. This is also one of SAP’s unique selling points – under the “Accelerate Winning in HR” initiative, we’ve trained approximately 180 HR employees who meet customers together with SAP SuccessFactors colleagues. For me, this is an extremely important and valuable learning experience.

In the HR context, we’ve been hearing the word “experience” a lot. What is meant by this?

Ultimately, the employees are our customers, our consumers. So, we asked ourselves how we could make HR more hands-on and straightforward. And that all starts with language, followed by HR applications, along with training managers and the growth of expert careers. But it’s also about how we communicate the information in an easily understandable way. Therefore, we are currently investing in simplifying HR offers and making them more user-friendly.

You returned to SAP in 2014. What has been your “experience”?

You can still feel the joy here. Being able to experience the diversity of approximately 87,000 employees spread across the world isn’t something you see every day. I also don’t know many companies who have had to adapt their business like we have, and have nevertheless managed to stay both innovative and successful.

Which concrete goals have you achieved for the employees? And what’s next to come?

 

At the start, I knew I needed to focus on a few select areas to be able to make tangible, long-lasting changes. Let me give you an example. Four years ago, it was clear from the employee surveys that training and development was not well perceived, but this has undergone a complete turnaround. A second example is management culture. In the past, we didn’t offer consistent trainings, meaning that we received very critical feedback from some areas of the Company. We have therefore invested in a consistent and clean approach to professional development across all management levels. The result has been that employee engagement and leadership trust have both increased.

As a next step, we have the two big topics: expert careers and performance management with SAP Talk. These topics must follow the same course as management culture, and training and development.

There are five generations working together for SAP. What does HR do in this area?

I always say to people that we don’t just have early talents, we also have mature talents – and I’m one of them! Here we have a wealth of experience at our fingertips. The expert careers topic is no coincidence. It applies precisely to the large number of employees who form part of this generation.

If you’ve been in your job for 10 to 15 years, of course you start wondering what your next career goals might be. If we manage to identify targeted development measures, we can make an effective contribution to motivating this group of employees. We intend to bring this career path up to the same level as the management career path, but we’re not quite there yet.

I’m sure that this can be a key to the success of the mature talents.

At SuccessConnect hosted in London in June, you came onto the stage in a punk outfit. Why don’t you tell us a little about that?

I’m a person who often likes to shake things up. I came onto the stage in a punk outfit to the music “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by The Clash. This is the question our talents ask themselves every day, and therefore it seemed like a fitting choice. I wanted to send a message. HR is a key part of any company, and we shouldn’t hide from the spotlight. At SAP, there is nothing more important than the people. This is our HR employees’ area of expertise, and we have a right to be proud of that just like any other department in the Company.

What is the cooperation like between HR and SAP SuccessFactors when it comes to HCM software?

We work very closely. We’re currently planning to go live in the fall with the final module, SAP SuccessFactors Employee Central, and then internally we’ll be 99% completely on the SAP SuccessFactors standard, which we also offer to customers. Together with the HR organization, we are essentially the Formula 1 test drivers of our own software.

This also receives a lot of external attention. For instance, we worked together with Deloitte to produce a study on our HR transformation. This went down a storm with the customers, as SAP is regarded as the absolute benchmark in the industry.

SAP reached its target of having 25% women in leadership positions. What are your thoughts on this?

Four or five years ago, no one believed this was possible. But now we’ve managed it, and even a couple of months ahead of time! This was a great result, but what does 25% mean? This was simply the target that we set internally. We’re nevertheless far from where we want to be, and therefore we’ve set a new, even more ambitious target.

Many underestimate the impact this has outside the Company, and not just with our gender target, but also with programs such as Autism at Work. Alongside the work responsibilities, this is not just a key criterion for young people, but also for experienced professionals. People often tell us in interviews they think it’s great that the Company sets ambitious targets, as this shows them how determined SAP is, and how we don’t just rest on our laurels. This helps SAP enormously.


Stefan Ries is Chief Human Resources Officer and a member of the Executive Board of SAP SE. He previously worked for SAP from 2002 to 2010. He returned to the company in 2014, assuming global responsibility for human resources, and was appointed to the SAP Executive Board in April 2016.

More links:

  • Web series “The Future Factor” – In this episode, SAP’s Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer Anka Wittenberg talks to professor Iris Bohnet from Harvard Kennedy School of Government about The business case for diversity.
  • SAP case study Bersin by Deloitte: HR Digital Transformation

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