SAP is the third largest software company in the world, and the market leader in enterprise application software – software aiming to support or solve the problems of an entire organization. It reports that its software touches 77% of global transaction revenue, and claims the software helps “turn customers’ businesses into intelligent enterprises” through data transformation, innovation, growth and continuous adaptation. In seeking to innovate within its own talent management system, SAP is applying the idea of intelligent enterprise to itself. Here’s how.
An Established Approach. SAP’s present approach to talent management begins with “SAP Academy,” which seeks to recruit “passionate and driven self-starters with up to three years’ experience.” Their offer is to “provide you with a world-class training experience and the skills, confidence, and experience to begin a successful career at SAP.” This reads much like other companies’ promotion of their talent management systems, and invites the question “What’s different?”
A Fresh Point of Departure. What’s different is there’s a new approach being piloted by SAP North America. In it, SAP is making a particular effort to understand millennials – not merely as a cohort, but as a collection of individuals each with their own particular career agenda. President DJ Paoni sees millennials as “wanting to work for a purpose, rather than chase the money,” and “if that sense of purpose fades they will move on to another employer.” He adds, that individual purposes vary, and that “we want these people to be CEOs of their own careers.”
How does it work? The approach takes a group of 14 from a larger annual talent pool of 100, with members chosen to represent all major business activities. These members are simultaneously appointed to a one-year term on an Emerging Talent Advisory Board, where they are partnered with senior managers led by Paoni. The idea is to have a two-way exchange about the future of the company, and to include “reverse mentoring” where the managers can learn from the young recruits.
Meaningful projects. The recruits, working alongside their senior managers, are expected to get first-hand insight into the company’s challenges, and to make meaningful recommendations. In its first year, the board will pursue two projects delving into both company financing and company strategy. After these projects, the recruits will be expected to move to wider challenges – ones that explicitly serve their career interests, while retaining the spirit of inquiry from their advisory board participation. In this way, the recruits will act as catalysts in promoting SAP’s own “intelligent enterprise.”
Continuity and expansion. The plan is for learning from one year’s board members to be plowed back into the work of future boards, as well as to allow for expansion of the approach to other workers. That expansion is already being tested in two SAP America regions that report to Paoni. Regarding global expansion, the company’s recruiting arm, SAP Academy, is already involved. At the same time, SAP’s global Executive Board is closely following the pilot program, which has already been adopted in northern Europe.
Success on your own terms. Time will tell how successful the approach is for both talent development and bottom-line SAP results. However, when I asked Paoni if SAP was ready to respond to young professionals as their lives and priorities changed, he said “We’re trying to lay out for millennials that SAP is a place where you can fulfill an entire career, if you choose. It’s a safe and diverse workplace. We’re ready for the flexible workforce, and we look forward to one of our advisory board recruits become a future SAP CEO.”
I found the SAP North America initiative a refreshing contrast to popular, employer-centric ideas about talent management and employee engagement. It’s an initiative that doesn’t claim to know all the answers, but it respects people’s careers and wants to live and learn from those careers as they evolve. How does your employer compare?