In this exclusive interview with All Things Talent, Shraddhanjali Rao, VP of Human Resources at SAP, India talks about creating inclusive, employee-focused culture at organisations. She also shares with us the multi-faceted approach SAP undertakes to make its employees feel included and make their workplace truly diverse. Shraddhanjali also reveals some interesting details about SAP’s Autism at Work and #MomentsthatMatter initiatives that have earned them the Great Place to Work in India recognition.
Q. Tell us about your career journey, and what led you to your job at SAP. What successes are you most proud of in your current role?
A. My career journey started while I was still pursuing my bachelors – for three years I was what one would call the ‘GIG worker’ of today. From making cold calls for business development, capturing customer feedback to doing analytics for firms, I realized that I enjoyed challenges, had a constant drive to learn and above all, solve problems that created an impact. I landed my first ‘big job’ right after my MBA at Tata Consultancy Services where I worked for three and a half years in Talent Development, HR Consulting and Corporate Governance.
When it comes to career, my guiding star has always been the will to drive change that makes a difference in people’s lives. SAP’s greater vision to help the world run better made it a very easy decision for me to want to come on board. My journey with SAP has been a rollercoaster ride with exciting adventures and surprises at every turn. I am truly grateful for having mentors and sponsors who believed in me and inspired me to push myself beyond personal boundaries. Over the years, I have not just worked in several roles and across geographies but also learnt new cultures, faced newer challenges and most of all, built lasting relationships.
It’s funny how things go around a full circle – I started my career in SAP in the very same team I manage today. I was a local HR Business Partner for the Services & Support team and before I knew it opened up opportunities for newer possibilities, from exploring groundbreaking work in Diversity & inclusion, working in the office of an Executive Board Member, to then being the Global HR Business Partner for the largest product group in the company. I even got a chance to step out of HR and get business experiences in the sales organisation.
Now that I look back, I am truly grateful for the experiences I had along the way and what we have accomplished together. For example, we were recognized as the #1 Great Places to Work by the GPTW India and voted as the top Employer for two years in a row. Personally, I am proud that we were also recognized as the Best workplace for women in the country.
Over the years, one of my key learnings has been that a sign of true leadership is the ability to nurture the next crop of leaders. It gives me immense pleasure to see many of my team members taking up larger roles within or outside the organisation. It’s also my passion to share my learnings and failures with not just leading organisations globally but also with the student community and young HR professionals.
The journey has been professionally fulfilling, personally gratifying and an enjoyable one. I am excited for what’s in store!
One of my key learnings has been that a sign of true leadership is the ability to nurture the next crop of leaders. It gives me immense pleasure to see many of my team members taking up larger roles within or outside the organisation.
DIVERSITY & INCLUSION
Q. According to research, companies employing and supporting people with disabilities in their workforce have outperformed their peers. How is your ‘Autism at Work’ inclusion program encouraging workplace neurodiversity and impacting the company’s success?
A. According to the United Nations, 80% of the people from the autism spectrum are unemployed. SAP’s Autism at Work program integrates people with autism into the company’s workforce. The rationale for the program is based on the belief that neurodiversity contributes to the company’s overall innovation capabilities. We strongly believe that innovation comes while pushing the boundaries. Our colleagues with autism provide us with a very important analytical mindset that allows us to think outside of the common boundaries that we set for ourselves. The program is not viewed as something which is just ‘good to have’ in our overall portfolio, but instead, it is more strategic in nature. Also, it opens up multiple opportunities to address skills shortages by tapping into non-traditional pools of talent.
For example, many of our colleagues in the spectrum have been significant contributors to some of our most important patents. To strengthen this initiative, in the recent past, we launched our SAP Autism Inclusion Pledge which aims to re-shape thinking about employment possibilities for individuals on the autism spectrum. This enables greater awareness, sensitization and commitment to building an inclusive workforce. SAP’s Autism at Work program is unique in the sense that there are no designated ‘jobs for people with autism’ – instead, talented individuals with autism are hired according to their skills, abilities, education and capabilities – just like all other employees.
The program which started small in 2011 is now running successfully in SAP across 14 countries and 31 locations, employing 175+ employees across 27 roles. We have seen more than 90% retention in the program. In the light of some of these achievements, Harvard Business School published a case study on SAP’s Autism at Work in 2016.We strongly believe that innovation comes while pushing the boundaries. Our colleagues with autism provide us with a very important analytical mindset that allows us to think outside of the common boundaries that we set for… Click To Tweet
Q. India has one of the lowest female labour force participation rates in the world, only 6% of companies on the Fortune India 500 list are being managed by women. As a woman in C-suite leadership, what do you do to increase the representation of women in the leadership roles at SAP?
A. Ensuring a gender-balanced workforce and leadership is one of our top priorities as an organisation. Testimony to this commitment is the fact that our SAP Labs India MD is a woman (Sindhu Gangadharan) and our global Co-CEO is also a woman (Jennifer Morgan). Following are some of the ways in which we ensure adequate representation of women at the leadership level.
2X Lead Program: The program is designed to focus on gender-balanced hiring to increase the representation of women in the management roles by:
- Ensuring gender-balanced shortlisting of candidates
- Ensuring gender-balanced hiring panel
An empowered team of senior leaders review the process regularly and provide recommendations to address issues, if any.
I-Lead Program: With the aim to accelerate the development for mid-management women colleagues who wish to take up people leadership career path, this program imparts learning on 5 themes – Impactful Communication, Technical Upskilling, Personal Branding, Strategy Awareness and Authentic Leadership. Senior women leaders are mapped as mentors to all the participants for a duration of 6-8 months. Also, an immersive learning experience is provided to the participants with the help of classroom sessions, interactive activities, virtual sessions, peer-learning assignments and networking opportunities.
ACE (Aspire, Connect, Excel) Program: This program is focused on high potential mid-management women employees who wish to take-up Expert career path. This is fundamentally a sponsorship program in which senior leaders are identified as sponsors who are expected to mentor, coach and advocate for the participants to become effective experts in the future.
Headway Program: The program is designed to accelerate the development for high potential entry-level women colleagues by imparting learning on 4 themes – defining priorities & managing self, building assertiveness & confidence, career development at SAP and influencing others with power & impact, keeping in mind their career stage.
In addition to the above hiring and leadership development initiatives, we have also institutionalized multiple other programs, such as Business Women Network (BWN) Group, Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), Learn from the Leader Program, Speed Mentoring Sessions, etc., to nurture women leaders at all the levels across the organisation. From a technology standpoint, we launched a machine learning tool that, among other capabilities, detects gender biases in job postings. We also launched a tool that sets off bias alerts during the performance calibration process. As a result of some of these initiatives, SAP India is consistently ranked as one of the Best Workplaces for Women by GPTW Institute.
Q. Many organisations sometimes overdo the inclusion of certain employee segments to the effect that other segments feel excluded! How do you think organisations can maintain this fine balance?
A. There was a time when organisations used to look at Diversity primarily with the objective of providing equal opportunities, fair treatment and compliance with the state laws. The narrative was largely around increasing the percentage of underrepresented sections of society within the organisation through various affirmative actions. In this context, the ratios, such as Gender Ratio, Persons with Disability (PwD) Ratio, Lesbians, Gays, Bi-Sexual & Transgender (LGBT) Ratio, etc., gained much prominence in the last decade. Unfortunately, many organisations, in the pursuit of realizing these targets, overdid their D&I mandate.
However, it is interesting to note that in the current times, the reasons for promoting Diversity is leaning more towards business impact. It is argued that a more diverse workforce increases organisation effectiveness, brings greater access to the new market segments and improves decision making & fosters innovation. Therefore, the mandate for D&I is going way beyond including certain employee segments to including all the employee segments so that their collective diversity can be leveraged to foster innovation and growth. In my view, clearly defining the fundamental reason for doing D&I in the organisation will help restore the balance. Many organisations chase diversity, while what they should be focusing on is the inclusion of all employee segments.
In my view, clearly defining the fundamental reason for doing D&I in the organisation will help restore the balance. Many organisations chase diversity, while what they should be focusing on is the inclusion of all employee segments.
From the policy standpoint, most of our internal policies and guidelines are applicable to all the employees, with no discrimination. We focus on equal opportunities and curating practices which are all-inclusive. For example, we focus on equal parenting and thus have created policies/benefits which are gender agnostic. Similarly, our flexible benefits allow every employee to take decisions based on what is important to him/her and does not subscribe to any fixed templates.
Q. Employee experience is the new currency which is fueling the next wave of business growth. In your opinion, how can employee journey mapping help organisations create positive experiences for their employees?
A. Absolutely! Experience is the new currency which is fueling the next wave of business growth. The economic value has rapidly evolved from selling a product to selling a service, and now selling an experience. Products are tangible, services are intangible, and experiences are memorable.
Career journeys of employees are so unique; their work drivers, their preferences, their strengths, their biases, their life stage expectations, their thought processes, make them so different in a variety of ways. Their uniqueness is deeply rooted in their demographics, such as gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, age, etc. and multiple other dimensions. The manifestation of this uniqueness makes the workplace truly diverse, and wholehearted acceptance of diversity makes the workplace truly inclusive.
Therefore, the real challenge before the organisations is not only to deliver #MomentsthatMatter to the employees but also to strategically embed these moments in the unique career journeys of diverse employees. Can we personalize the experience of inclusion for each employee is the question that organisations need to answer? In other words, organisations need to design ‘Inclusive Career Journeys to deliver #MomentsthatMatter’ for employees. This will perhaps take the workplace inclusion to the next level!
Q. Most of the organisations struggle to manage 5 generations at workplace concurrently; how do you manage such challenges at SAP?
A. I strongly believe that to build a great organisation we need a strong foundation that is aligned to the need of all the employees, and not just select few. Interestingly, in the recent study conducted by Great Places to Work India, it was revealed that the top 4 out of 5 drivers of employee engagement ARE SAME ACROSS GENERATIONS! These include, pride in the organisation, career growth opportunities, fair performance evaluation and family/team feeling. Gen-X wants as much career growth as Gen-Y! Focus on the basic drivers of employee engagement helps the organisations to become the ‘Great Places to Work’. One of the things which we take very seriously while managing 5 generations at the workplace is to ensure the INCLUSION of each generation. Inclusion is that invisible force which helps employees to be themselves so that they can share their unique views, perspectives and ideas fearlessly.
For example, if a Technology company uses SCRUM as its preferred way of developing software, then inclusion needs to be an integral part of sprint planning, daily SCRUM meetings, sprint review and sprint retrospectives. Diversity of generations helps to bring out different perspectives, and inclusion helps to express those perspectives in a non-threating environment. We frequently conduct programs which help create awareness and sensitization across generations about various stereotypes in an open and interactive format. For example, in one such initiative, called the Breaking Generational Myth Workshop, we conduct various interactive activities to uncover all the stereotypes associated with different generations and collectively discuss ways to make the workplace more inclusive for each generation.
More than 16 such workshops have been conducted in the last year covering more than 720 employees. Similarly, in another such initiative, called the Cross-Generational Mentorship Program, we provide opportunities to build a mutually beneficial relationship between millennials and top leaders to learn from each other.
One of the things which we take very seriously while managing 5 generations at the workplace is to ensure the INCLUSION of each generation. Inclusion is that invisible force which helps employees to be themselves so that they can share their unique views, perspectives and ideas fearlessly.
Q. HR plays a major role in reconciling the interest between Workforce and Management and has emerged as an important strategic function over the years. In your opinion, how does HR create value for the business?
A. I don’t believe that the interest of the workforce and the interest of the management are fundamentally divergent. As a matter of fact, workforce and management are two sides of the same coin, and both complement each other to create value for the business. For example, happy employees invariably create happy customers, which in turn drive business results.
One of the key roles of the HR function is to maintain synergy among various parts of the organisation such that entire machinery is agile and customer aligned. Some of the ways HR delivers on this mandate is by breaking silos and fostering collaboration, aligning customer goals with employee goals, make work meaningful for employees, driving inclusion and building organisation agility. Additionally, HR is also expected to be the architect of the organisation’s culture, conscious keeper of the organisation and coach leaders to democratize leadership; these are specifically important in the current dynamic world.
Q. Speaking of HR creating business value, how can #MomentsthatMatter approach help HR leaders understand which unique experiences are important to their employees and thus make smarter investments with greater impact?
A. “It’s been said, people will forget what you say, what you do, but people will never forget how you make them feel”. Great organisations of this century are the ones which strive to deliver #MomentsthatMatter to their employees.
Employees expect the organisations to provide the same standard of experience internally as they would provide to customers externally. Multiple studies suggest that superior employee experience internally translates into superior customer experience externally. Following are some of the ways in which HR is trying to provide the best in class experience to employees.
- Experience of Personalization: One size fits all approach of HR is fast becoming obsolete. Personalization has already touched most aspects of human life, ranging from food, to travel, to entertainment HR can’t stay isolated from the consumer phenomenon of personalization.
- Experience of Just-in-Time Delivery: Instantaneous gratification has started to emerge as the new consumer norm. Employees expect a similar level of speed in the delivery of HR services.
- Experience of Social Connectedness: With the socially connected world outside, organisations need to provide enough platforms and avenues for employees to exchange ideas, share opinions and collaborate with each other.
- Experience of Omni-Channel Delivery: Employees expect seamless and coherent delivery of HR services across channels & platforms such as mobile, desktop, call-centres, in-person kiosks, etc.
- Experience of ‘H’ in ‘HR’: The virtue of emotional responsiveness has its own place in HR. Practices such as counselling, coaching, caring, welcoming, thanking, etc. are a great way to replenish the depleted emotions in employees.
Q. What role does technology play to deliver those #MomentsthatMatter to your employees?
A. Technology definitely plays a crucial role in delivering #MomentsthatMatter to employees. In fact, today, the complexity in our personal lives is made simple through well-orchestrated services enabled by advanced technologies. With just a few clicks or taps on a screen, we can book a multicity vacation, stream a recommended video on a device of our choosing, or buy a product online with next-day delivery. All are complex services to deliver, yet they are easy to request and receive. Following are some of the way’s technology can help us solve the problem of scale, personalization, just-in-time delivery and social connectedness in the organisational context.
- Collaboration platforms, such as SAP JAM, Slack, Microsoft Teams, Workplace by Facebook, etc. can be effectively leveraged to work, discuss and share content across multiple teams located in different parts of the world on a real-time basis. We at SAP use the majority of these platforms for cross-functional collaboration & innovation.
- Human touch intensive HR practices, such as counselling, coaching & mentoring can be delivered at scale with the help of advanced communication technologies. For example, our Success Factors Learning Platform enables our employees to discover and set-up time with SAP-certified mentors of their choice. The platform also enables the employees to co-create the development plans and monitor them on a real-time basis.
- Advanced analytics, powered by data science, can help organisations to identify patterns in employee behaviours and suggest pre-emptive actions. For example, data can be used effectively to identify biases in the hiring, performance evaluation and promoting employees.
- Technologies, such as AI & ML, have already started to transform almost all aspects of HR, ranging from candidate screening & selection in talent acquisition, recommending personalized learning content & career development opportunities in L&D, sharing real-time feedback in PMS, using chatbots to answer employee queries in HR Operations, and many more.
Q. Furthermore, how do you apply the principles of design thinking to deliver #MomentsthatMatter to your employees?
A. Design thinking is at the centre of how we define employee experiences to deliver the #MomentsthatMatter. The starting point of the design thinking process is to empathize with the employees and to genuinely understand their problems and aspirations. The second salient feature of design thinking approach is to test the solution in the pilot setting and get feedback from employees before deploying it universally in the organisation.
I think it’s a great way to develop HR products/solutions iteratively and incrementally while aligning them with employee expectations at all times. For example, we have something called as Change Makers initiative, wherein employees volunteer and come together to design HR policies which impact them. We not only involve them to get their inputs but also co-create, test and validate the policies with them based on the principles of design thinking. Our Higher Education Policy, Flexible Benefits & Work Options, etc. are the result of this initiative.
Q. How are different roles in HR likely to evolve as a result of leveraging technology and design thinking to provide best in class employee experiences?
A. It’s time to review and redefine the traditional boundaries of HR in this context. Siloed working of various sub-functions of HR, such as talent acquisition, learning & development, onboarding, HR Business Partnering, etc. will not create the gold standard of employee experience; and consequently, customer experience. Re-imagining HR, keeping employees at the centre of all transactions, and using the principles of design thinking, is likely to yield the desired results.
Furthermore, I see a huge opportunity for HR to leverage the knowledge & skills of some of the other business functions, such as:
- Data Science: To analyze the HR data and identify patterns which can help in solving critical people & organisation problems. ML & AI-based algorithms have already found their way in HR decision making.
- Brand Marketing: To position the organisation as an employer of choice with stakeholders within and outside of the organisation. Many organisations are creating customized EVPs to select employee segments.
- Product Management: To help HR create its offerings in short loops, iteratively and incrementally. Also, to help HR experiment with its offerings using A/B testing etc. Usage of AGILE & SCRUM in HR is not very uncommon, especially in areas such as talent acquisition and HR Policy design.
- Market Analysts: To identify the talent trends in the job market and project the availability of critical skillsets. Talent insights based on market trends, along with internal workforce planning can help solve for just-in-time availability of talent in organisations.
- Management Consulting: To diagnose and analyze the business problem, identify various solution alternatives and shortlist the best-fit solution. Given the new HR operating model, HRBPs in many organisations are expected to act as strategic consultants to the business leaders on talent & org related issues.
We have something called as Change Makers initiative, wherein employees volunteer and come together to design HR policies which impact them. We not only involve them to get their inputs but also co-create, test and validate the policies with them based on the principles of design thinking.