Sindhu Gangadharan, Senior Vice President and Managing Director, SAP Labs India, is responsible for SAP’s development facilities in Bangalore, Pune, Mumbai and Gurgaon. Sindhu joined SAP two decades ago, when SAP Labs India had just set up its operations in Bangalore. She later moved to SAP’s headquarters in Walldorf, Germany, working on various products, technology and innovation platforms, and has held several strategic and leadership positions managing global teams.
Her deep technical expertise and business knowledge led her to head the critical integration function in SAP's Technology and Innovation organization in the Office of the CTO. Sindhu is a strong advocate of using technology to benefit customers and the society. She is also a strong believer in diversity being key for any successful organization and has been actively contributing towards SAP’s drive for Women in Technology. As a proud mother of two, she believes the best way to seek work-life balance is to treat them as a continuum and have fun in the process.
In a candid conversation with People Matters, Sindhu discusses the need for creating a digital open door, juggling divergent multi-generational workforce demands and redesigning employee experience in a virtual setup.
Here are excerpts of the interview
With over two decades of experience with SAP, what has been the best experience for you as an employee? Which is that one experience that stands out for you?
There have been several moments or highlights in my two decades with SAP that I cherish and picking anyone would be difficult. However, I would like to highlight that when I was tasked to head SAP’s strategic and global Intelligent Enterprise Program reporting into SAP’s Executive Board, it was an exhilarating moment. This role put me in the lead position of bringing to life SAP’s vision and strategy of the Intelligent Enterprise by orchestrating the end-to-end process delivery roadmaps to rapidly transform data into valuable insights for customers.
What according to you is more rewarding to build a great employee experience - consistency or scale? In other words, do little things everyday make a bigger difference or large-scale initiatives every once in a while?
Putting employees in the centre of everything we do is a practice at SAP and many companies understand the importance of doing this. Several studies have proved that employee experience contributes to organizational success.
Right from the time an employee joins the organization until the time they exit, employee experience counts, and therefore it is important that the initiative that companies put in place should be consistent and continuous.
At SAP, employees grow together through mutual respect and collaboration in tune with one of our core values of building bridges and not silos. We don’t create policies or start any initiative because it is a trend, but do it only if we get the buy-in from our employees. Over the years, we have put in a lot of effort to ensure that all our initiatives and policies have a business sponsor.
Can you share an example of an employee experience issue that you encountered? How did you approach it, what were the measures you undertook and what was the outcome?
There are quite a few examples, but the recent one I can relate to is that during this COVID-19 time where every employee is working from home, we have to make sure that they have adequate support to do their work effectively and their concerns are addressed. Much before the lockdown by the government we took proactive measures to safeguard the health and safety of our employees and moved all our events and initiatives to virtual platforms, including engaging virtually with them and their families on health and wellbeing sessions. We opened opportunities for learning through innovative & interactive educational content to support our employees, students, professionals and anyone wishing to continue to learn during this time of crisis. To meet the desire of our employees to participate in giving back to the society, we opened up opportunities for them to contribute and participate virtually.
The workforce today is a multi-generational workforce with significantly contrasting expectations from their employees. What is your approach to employee experience with such divergent demands?
The workforce of today is multi-generational, and each generation has varying traits, needs and aspirations. In SAP for example we have a workforce that spans across five generations, with each generation bringing with them different skill sets, passions, commitments, expectations, life experiences and challenges.
In the workplace of today the ‘command and control’ does not apply because every individual irrespective of their age and experience brings value to the organization. To retain and motivate different sets of employees, it is important to get a better understanding of what makes each generation tick so that their needs can be met.
The ‘one shoe fits all’ rule in creating policies and initiatives will not work and therefore it is vital to tailor make policies specific to each generation.
To cite an example, at SAP we introduced FlexBen, a flexible benefit plan which aims to grant employees the freedom to choose benefits based on their individual needs. FlexBen has 4 pillars that employees, as per their priority, can choose from - Health & Wellness, Lifestyle, Diversity & Inclusion and Personal Development. Likewise, we have unique leave policies including Entrepreneurship Sabbatical Leave, Surrogacy Leave, Compassionate Leave, etc. to help different sets of employees. We also have openSAP, which is SAP’s massive open online course which delivers free courses on technology and soft skills catering to different age groups. Additionally, in-house initiatives like fitness classes, crèche and volunteering programs caters to needs of different people.
With the entire world and the way it works being shaken up by the outbreak of COVID-19, what can organizations do to translate the organizational culture into a digital culture, as they are forced to undertake the biggest remote working experiment of all time?
The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the world and our way of life. Never in the recent past has there been a situation as serious and as disturbing as this. While the health and safety of our employees is our top priority, we also have our professional commitments to fulfil. With social distancing and remote work being the need of the hour, below are some of the things that organizations can do to translate the organizational culture into a digital culture:
- Equip employees with the best of the communication and collaboration tools to work remotely
- Ensure that the level of business continuity and engagement with customers is not lowered
- Keep the lines of communication open to provide transparent communication and encourage feedback
- Help employees get a sense of control and help them get productive
- Ensure that technology operates with as less glitch as possible and complains are addressed quickly and effectively
- Facilitate online learning, self-development and social interactions
- Keep an updated knowledge repository on COVID-19 that employees can access at any time
- Motivate employees to spend time on their emotional, mental and physical wellness during this time
With agility and design thinking being the need of the hour, how are you working towards redesigning employee experience in a virtual setup?
SAP has always fostered a flexible work culture as part of our policy and hence, the transition was smooth. However, this being a prolonged situation, we have taken measure to ensure business is as usual and work is not hampered. All our employees are equipped to work from home and have all the required connectivity and mobility tools. We have made a free online resource called Remote Work Pulse by Qualtrics available which will help us understand how our employees are doing, what support they need as they adapt to new work environments and enables them to stay connected. We’re also sharing the best practices of work from home with employees through videos and photos.
We’re constantly communicating with our employees via emails, video calls, conducting virtual entertainment programs and group sessions to keep their mood positive.
We’re leveraging this time to connect with our employees by providing learning and development solutions, communicating consistently to build a bond that will further strengthen at the end of this crisis.
As a leader, what have you observed as some of the biggest challenges in replicating successful employee experience practices?
Employee experiences is a cumulation of moments that matter, from the first interaction as a candidate until the time they exit or retire. Organizations that put employees in the centre of whatever they do will not find it a challenge to replicate successful employee experience practices. That said, we cannot discount the challenge in replicating successful employee experience practice as the workforce of today is highly dynamic, with ever changing needs and expectations. Constantly relooking at the benefits and initiatives has become mandatory. As said earlier, in organizations like SAP where five generations of employees work together, benefits and policies need to be regularly tweaked to meet the needs of different demographics. As an example, we recently announced a new policy under which employees could avail leave to take care of their family members in times of illness or need. Family members under this policy include spouse, partner, children, parents, parent-In-laws, siblings, grandparents and also pets. Technology also helps here.
Leaders in organizations can use a wide range of employee listening mechanisms across a variety of engagement channels to create a “digital open door.” By collecting feedback and insights from employees at key touch points during the employment lifecycle, leaders can act with precision and in real-time to drive improvement.
What are some of the key factors organizations must keep in mind to ensure a seamless experience for employees as they work remotely?
During these unprecedented times, organizations should keep in mind few factors like the safety and wellbeing of their employees, ensuring business continuity and protecting client confidentiality and data privacy. Everyone is equally responsible to do their best to protect teams, clients and their organization at large. Prior to the COVID situation many organizations that had not accepted the concept of working from home, will now realize the importance of embracing it.
2020 began with a lot of enthusiasm towards trends that were predicted to rule the world of work this year. However, the last three months have been nothing short of disruption, shocks and finding ways to sustain both business and life. What are you doing at SAP, both across the globe and at regional levels to stabilize the situation for business and employees?
Ensuring the safety of our employees while being committed to our clients is of utmost importance for us. We have asked all the employees to work remotely as much as possible. We are in contact with our large family of suppliers continuously to maintain service levels with precautions. We have developed Business Continuity Plans to respond to disruptive incidents, such as COVID-19, while minimizing the impact of services provided. Business continuity is top of mind for us as 77% of the world’s transactions touch an SAP system, and therefore we are completely committed to making sure that business systems of our customers are always operational.
Keeping in line with our purpose of helping the world run better and improving people’s lives, we are doing all we can to help our customers and the society at large by throwing open an array of our solutions for free. These include:
- Remote Work Pulse by Qualtrics which is designed to help employees stay connected. The platform enables organizations understand how their employees are doing and what support they need as they adapt to new work environments
- SAP Ariba Discovery is being offered free for 90 days, beginning March 10, 2020 so that any buyer can post their immediate sourcing needs and any supplier can respond to show they can deliver
- COVID-19 Pre-Screen & Routing by Qualtrics is available to all federal, state, and local governments as well as public health organizations. This online resource provides latest information to the public about the coronavirus while helping health organizations and government reduce strain, triage potential cases, and stay on top of community concerns
- TripIt Pro from the SAP Concur portfolio is available for six months to ease out upcoming travel schedules. TripIt processes thousands of travel itineraries for people around the globe, monitors their flights, and alerts them of any changes or delays
- SAP Litmos is offering a completely free remote readiness & productivity academy training to support businesses which have to work remotely. The video-based courses are designed to help establish best practices for remote work and develop leadership during times of change and challenge
- Ruum by SAP is a lightweight project management and collaboration tool to optimize processes. It has created custom checklist templates, adapted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help businesses plan, prepare, and respond to COVID-19; and these are accessible to anyone
We have also announced a new digital learning initiative offering innovative, interactive educational content to support students, professionals and anyone wishing to continue to learn during this challenging time. This dynamic initiative is based on three educational pillars - massive open online courses (MOOCs), learning journeys for universities and the SAP Young Thinkers program all of the offerings are accessible through the openSAP platform, our most popular online learning initiative.
What is your message for global leaders as they strive to combat the circumstances the pandemic has led to?
COVID-19 will be a global phenomenon in history. It is a large-scale humanitarian tragedy that continues to disrupt millions of lives. Governments across the world are struggling to combat the virus. In this time of crisis, I feel that global leaders should be strong, effective, innovative and agile.
Leaders need to be transparent in communication and take strong and stringent measures to bring down the scale of suffering and disaster.
Global leaders should set aside their differences and collaborate strongly, pool their resources to quickly find a remedy and mitigate the suffering.