Monday, 27 June 2011

HR Transformation at SAP


  My favourite presentation at last week’s SAP HR Transformation summit focused on SAP itself.  Roger Bellis, their European SVP for Talent, Leadership and Organisation Development (and a former client from Barclays) explained that SAP is now a mega company, and its people management challenges are a bit like a teenager moving into adulthood.

For example, the average age of employees in its head office is 41 and turnover is just 1% (so the average age will be about 50 in ten years time if nothing changes).  But of course in China it’s completely different.  Averages tell you nothing – you need to look at the detail.

And with over 50,000 people it’s difficult just to keep some control, particularly as SAP wants to maintain the same freedom and entrepreneurial spirit it had when it was a young company. 

Innovation is key and the networked nature of SAP is an asset.  They want to maintain and develop this connectedness, through technology, and through their culture, and reduce the way this is inhibited through some of their control systems.

To balance these requirements, SAP needs to motivate people, but within a frame.  The paradigm is still to specify what they need to do, but give people responsibility for how they do it.

But some things need to change and Roger is working with SAP’s co-CEOs to help leaders lead differently.  Managers often have 20+ reports, often working at home, so supervising them tightly is impossible.    Instead they need to focus on continuing to win employees hearts and minds.

To do this, SAP have five main change drivers:


In organisation design, the challenge is to support people as they move from project to project. SAP has had 300 reorganisations in the last five years! and many people have had 5 managers in the last two years. Again there’s a balance – SAP needs to be mobile / flexible and adaptive in terms of its organisation whilst still being stable.

There’s also a process, Ignite (a small p process) to develop people in a different way, through leadership and engagement.

Not surprisingly, SAP use SAP to support these practices. They’re able to provide feedback to their developers through this too. For example. they're using an updated performance management tool that better reflects the very different way managers need to lead today.

All of this is measured through a series of metrics including bench strength and turnover etc.  Where it makes sense, these metrics are combined into indices.  For example, they use the wisdom of the crowd to provide an ongoing pulse check, and a people management index comprising pride (up) and engagement (down due to the organisational change).  But Roger is most interested in the chats over coffee – chewing the fat and getting feedback.  It’s really the the conversations you have that tell you how you’re doing.



  • Consulting - Research - Speaking  - Training -  Writing
  • Strategy  -  Talent  -  Engagement  -  Change and OD
  • Contact  me to  create more  value for  your business
  • jon  [dot] ingham [at] strategic [dash] hcm [dot] com