Future proofing is a core strategic mission for SAP. As the market for robust ERP evolves toward cloud and hybrid technologies, and challenger software providers bring new ideas into the field, it is critical for the figureheads to deliver meaningful transformation both in their product offerings and from within.
Nicole Berg is Vice President & Head of Spend and Workforce IT Solutions at SAP (including SAP Concur, SAP Ariba, SAP SuccessFactors & SAP Fieldglass). Her involvement in the company goes back 14 years, during which time she has held various specialist and management positions. She is known as a valued leadership personality, involving the ability to build, develop and grow teams into autonomous, self-developing and award-winning organizational units across all board areas.
“I think sometimes we tend to forget about the real values,” she says. “We can look at the stock and how the markets react, but it’s not just about earnings. We have the possibility to really make an impact as a company along the X+O Strategy, because at the end we want to make the world run better. That’s our vision, so we need to do everything we can with regards to our software products, our values and our people.”
That last piece is critical to Berg’s role, and the Covid-19 pandemic has tested SAP’s approach to human capital, a test she thinks the company has passed with flying colours.
“We’ve walked the path before, and that’s why we were ready when the crisis hit us.”
“I talked to a lot of friends during that time who couldn’t even have a proper Webex call because the network was going down all the time. So we were very grateful that we were enabled to work through that environment.”
During the pandemic Berg has done several leadership activities to keep the team spirit and drive the organization to new heights with eg specific Covid related surveys, quick polls in all-hands meetings, new formats such as watercooler sessions, meeting-free Fridays, daily leadership crisis calls and several individual meetings. Questions she asked during that time have been professional and personal to ensure everybody’s wellbeing, as much as a company can (eg about the mood: “How do you feel?”; the environment “How can you cope with the home office environment?”; or the needs “What are the things you need from us as leaders?) I’ve been proud and inspired by how my people have adapted.
“There’s a nice saying from Kennedy. He says that crisis is about opportunity and danger, but if you leverage the opportunity, you can go on to be even stronger. And I really believe in that. So we are on a joint journey and we need to leverage the opportunity together where we can.”
This demonstration of futureproofing for a pandemic that was widely unanticipated has not stilled Berg’s appetite for looking still further ahead. “Our role for SAP as a department is threefold; We act as technology enabler, product co-innovator and showcasing customer for our own products. With that my vision is to empower each of our 100,000 employees with best-in-class travel, procurement and HR solutions to fuel SAP’s growth.” Why? Because she believes that a great employee experience also enables a remarkable customer experience. “Therefore it’s important to listen to my employees, our end-users and our customers,” she says. “To grow teams in organisations means to listen and to help them to come out of their comfort zones, independently of the role.” Stakeholder exchanges and customer meetings have also been continued on a regular basis, in the virtual set up. “So strong collaboration, experience management and a groundbreaking set up for growth are the top priorities for 2021.”
The prerequisite to be able to focus on these three priorities is the transformation Berg triggered a year and a half ago. Berg said that to be able to transform a company you need to be able to transform your people and yourself. And also to look into what you currently have in your organisation and beyond. Collaboration is a crucial pillar not only within the teams but also across all involved parties. Berg set up and executed a new operating model for engagement with product development and IT, engaged even closer with her business across all board areas and made sure her people’s feedback was relevant. Another pillar in Berg’s management philosophy is the importance of “diversity of skills”. “When I was asked to transform the team it was clear to me that we need to have leaders with completely heterogeneous skill sets.” I needed something different in all four areas of the organization.” She set about finding the right leaders for each department, all with different focus: analytical, structured, business demand-focused, customer oriented.
People and results are, undoubtedly, at the core of Berg’s thinking. “I’m really proud and inspired by how all my people have grown into self-organized teams,” she concludes.