Knowing the right people

Sunil Geness, corporate affairs executive at SAP, maintains that since knowledge-based companies are almost entirely reliant on their employees, their greatest priority is to retain talented staffers.

At SAP, this vision has been enforced through flexible and adaptable processes based on best practice. “Since our customers include blue chip organisations as well as small and medium companies around the world, we’ve been able to observe and learn from the very best global practices,” Geness points out.

The first pillar of SAP’S HR strategy is recruitment, as Geness insists that in order to remain competitive, a robust and transparent recruitment process is pivotal. It’s also important that all candidates who have been exposed to the process enjoy the experience as a positive one.

In its quest to hire only the very best candidates, potential SAP employees undergo a series of one-on-one and panel interviews, attend assessment centres and demonstrate their technological skills, attributes and knowledge. Having attracted this stellar talent to the organisation, the next step is to retain it.

Geness believes that organisational culture is crucial in this regard, and people want to feel that their employer’s ethos resonates with them. This means that ethics, integrity and professionalism are highly valued. Of course, rewards are important too.

SAP has an aggressive remuneration philosophy that includes both guaranteed pay and a bonus structure, which Geness describes as “very competitive”. The development opportunities presented are equally attractive. The complexity of the organisation means that individuals can elect to follow either a managerial or professional path.

Moreover, employees are able to move between business units, and so develop their own knowledge. SAP has in place a structured leadership programme which it hosts in partnership with the world’s most prestigious universities, including the likes of Insead.

The question of future leaders is addressed through SAP’s identification of high-potential talent. Only 0.5 to 1% of the company’s entire global workforce is considered to fit into this category, which is carefully nurtured through intensive development programmes. For example, these individuals may be appointed to six-month international assignments, gaining exposure to new business units.

“I believe that development is the fulcrum on which employee retention hinges,” Geness states. As a technology company, innovation is a cornerstone of the SAP culture. The company works hard to foster this attribute especially since, in Geness’ view, people are most inspired when they work in an innovative environment.

SAP therefore holds quarterly InnovationDays, where employees are encouraged to devote their time to considering new ways to improve processes. Their suggestions are duly considered and often implemented. Furthermore, SAP’s corporate portal features an Idea Management Programme, where employees can submit suggestions or proposals for innovation.

Also on the corporate portal is Spark, a programme that seeks to harness innovation at grassroots level. Besides the obvious benefits of this programme, Geness points out that employees value the opportunity to shape their organisational processes. SAP has made a point of embracing diversity and, worldwide, SAP offices celebrate Diversity Week.

As an international subsidiary, the South African operations host a number of employees on international assignments, and initiatives such as this help to build a culture of inclusiveness and respect. CSR is also a focus. Geness reports that SAP employees recognise their fortune as educated people living ‘first-world lives’, so it’s not surprising that they are passionate about giving back.

Many of them have volunteered to help in countries affected by natural disasters, including Japan and Haiti. To encourage this spirit of volunteerism, SAP provides a day every year that may be used to work on community projects. It also holds Lighthouse Days every quarter, where all African employees participate in community projects that range from school donations to environmental initiatives. Additionally, the company enforces a month of service dedicated to projects around the continent.

Geness notes that since SAP is part of an increasingly globalised environment, its employees appreciate company policies that are in line with international trends. The company therefore offers flexitime, work from home, sabbaticals and a wellbeing programme, which is managed by ICAS.

Geness is aware that communication is a vital tool in creating an engaged workforce. To this end, SAP has worked to create multiple channels, and communication takes place over various platforms. Interestingly, however, the company strives to eschew e-mail, acknowledging that most employees are overloaded. Instead, internal communications are loaded onto the corporate portal.

“Buzz sessions” are hosted regularly, with the leadership team. The managing director’s” “Cappucino Sessions” provide an even more intimate forum for discussing these issues.

“We place great emphasis on communication between managers and employees, because we have learnt that our employees prefer to hear about new developments or challenges directly from their managers, rather than finding out about them through other channels,” Geness says.

That said, efforts are also made to ensure ongoing dialogue between the management team, and manager forums are a regular occurrence. “Our efforts in the area of HR show that people are considered fundamental to our continued success,” Geness concludes.

This article originally appeared in the Mail & Guardian newspaper as a sponsored feature

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