During the pandemic, we had to teach our employees that it's okay to take a break - 2nd part

Interview with Sabrina Dick, SAP HR Director for Central and Eastern Europe

We are delighted to bring to HR News an extensive interview with Sabrina Dick, SAP's HR Director for Central and Eastern Europe. The interview was conducted as part of the SAP Human Experience Summit 2021, where Sabrina Dick gave a presentation on Leadership Development and the Role of People Managers in the New Normal and Employee Wellbeing and Work-Life Fit in Remote-Office Times. The interview was conducted by our colleagues Michal Kankrlík, IVITERA Sales and Marketing Director, and Tomáš Pospíchal, IVITERA Project Director.

Sabrina Dick, SAP

Sabrina, one of your topics at the Human Experience Summit was wellbeing. During a difficult year, people had somehow to figure out whether it was good to work eight hours or ten, or if they could go for a run or spend time with their kids during the workday. What have you learned at SAP over the last 12 months and what can this bring for the future of HR?

The most important thing in a long-term relationship is trust, right? And I think it's the number one value at work as well and it's the only thing that makes this model work, it's the only thing that lets employees know they can take a break and not feel guilty. It's all about trust, especially between them and their managers. We have learned to maintain a work-life balance. And I like the term "work-life fit" even more because we have to keep reminding ourselves that the day is not just about sitting at the computer.

Even so, work takes up a lot of everyone's time, and so this balance is always hard to grasp. It can be frustrating if we feel like we're not living in balance; sometimes work simply takes over because we just need to finish a project and our personal lives take a back seat. But if the week after that is a little quieter, we can focus more on our leisure time, even though we know we're not on vacation, because of course we still have to work. It's good for everyone to create their work-life fit so that they feel good and can do both.

What does this approach require from an individual and how have you supported employees specifically at SAP?

Obviously self-discipline, self-esteem and the courage to say to myself that I'm going to take a break now because I need it or because my kids are in an online class, I'm going to switch off and go out for a run. I think that's what we as an HR team have had to teach our employees, that it's okay to do that or even that they should be doing that. That the hours are not nine to five, but maybe ten to three and then six to nine again because they have to take care of the kids or even parents in between. As an employer, we have a great responsibility for that. We have to establish some framework and we also have to help our employees to feel safe and know that we care about them.

Have you taken any concrete steps in this regard?

We've run huge campaigns from our global health team to support employees in these uncertain times or also when they don't know how they should sit at the computer, take breaks, how to relax. I think it's also important to communicate to your employees not only that they should rest but also how they can do that.

I'd also say it's very important to give employees some guidance because junior employees in particular are afraid as they're not used to company policy, they haven't spent as much time with their managers, and they worry about whether they're even working properly, if it's okay to take an hour or two off. Could you tell us how SAP or you as HR director deal with this? How do you eliminate such concerns - maybe also taking into account different cultures, as you are in charge of 16 countries and obviously it will vary.

That's a great question. Honestly, when I started as an HR Director in Central & Eastern Europe and I lived in Prague for three years, I knew there were cultural differences between the Czech Republic and Germany. It's different in each country, and so we also have diverse and really very different approaches to these topics, which I love. Of course, we have to respect these cultural differences and bear them in mind.

We have a global approach to these issues as a company and we roll them out in each country and in accordance with the legislation there. We have great teams of HR directors in different locations, they know the environment perfectly and they know how best to adapt to the given issue. In some places, for example, it works by having the employees organise their own lunch break, take a break together or even do yoga. As management, we are there to give them the opportunity to take time off between work and they can always turn to us.

Finally, what is important to me is that even though we have a global approach as SAP, we are able to put in place conditions in different countries that make sense for the location and culture, also taking into account the wishes of the employees.

We are also interested in the labour market situation and recruitment issues. Could the pandemic even have brought some positive changes in recruitment for large companies like SAP? At a time when the option to work from home is quite normal, many more candidates might appear on the job market. Is this the case?

It is true that the company has not been affected by the pandemic in a negative way, so we have not had to make any layoffs; on the contrary, we are extremely thankful to have been hiring.

We have also seen cases where we had vacancies in one country but couldn't find the right candidates, then suddenly someone from another country applied. They said they were interested but couldn't move because of the pandemic and, moreover, they didn't want to move. Two years ago, we may have told them we needed someone in the given location, but now we knew the world was opening up again and it was not necessary to work directly from the office or even in the given country all the time. And, if really necessary, we can arrange business travel. This opens up more opportunities not only for companies to have more talent, but also for the candidates themselves.

But I have to say that despite all the pandemic constraints, we have been able to fill the most crucial positions and also that the pandemic has allowed us to be more creative than ever in recruiting.

One of SAP's key products for HR is SAP SuccessFactors. It was mentioned at the conference that its implementation is bringing about a cultural change. Do you think that with the use of SAP SuccessFactors comes both a cultural change and a change in HR processes and mindset in general?

If companies decide to go down the path of digital HR transformation and adopt the tools to do so, yes. I think the technical implementation of these solutions is the smallest and fastest part. We need to think about where we want to go as a company, how we want to develop the company culture, what and who we want to stand for. Based on this, we should think about what processes we need and how we will structure them.

In my experience, if companies are thinking about changes in HR processes or talent management, for example, my recommendation is that they should first of all find out if this is what they need now, where the company culture is developing to and before that analyze and optimize the existing HR model, namely define how they want to take it to the next level. Once that question is defined, then the actual implementation can proceed.

If we just come up with the idea that we want to become a digital HR organisation but we don't bring any tools or solutions, then I can almost say with certainty that it will not happen. Digitising a company requires change management and rethinking processes, which leads to the effective use of other digitisation tools. Then you have more time to focus on employees and break free from the old model of thinking of the entire organisation.

If we focus on the area of soft skills, which ones in your view are essential, especially for management? And if we also consider the current pandemic or the new generation of employees who have a different approach to life, which of the management skills should companies support?

I believe it is absolutely crucial for managers to have a personal approach to each employee on the team so that they can get to know and anticipate what that person needs to do their job to the best of their ability. Again, I'll come back to the fact that what you need is empathy. And if you have a diverse team, you need to lead each person in a slightly different way; that's the only way you're going to get the results you need as a leader.

Certainly knowledge or expertise of whatever the team is working on is important. But of course it's also good for leaders to be able to discuss and help with decision making. I think what we ultimately need is to have a diverse team which brings together quite different people with different mindsets and approaches. If we give them the opportunity to grow as leaders and create the space for them to do that, they also get a sense of doing work they can actually thrive in. Of course, this requires a lot of trust as well, but employees will then grow until they outgrow themselves and the results will ultimately be even better than if we took over all the decisions and the path towards the goal from a leadership position. I think we should be available whenever we are needed. We need to help take the first step and all the steps that follow.

In the end, however, it won't be us, the leaders, who are the smartest on the team, but rather the team with different skills that we have to orchestrate to be as successful as possible.

And how specifically do leaders and executives help at SAP?

We have a lot of internal programmes for leaders at different levels and I think that's a very good decision from a global perspective. If we identify colleagues who are not yet leaders today, but becoming a leader could be the next step for them, we would like to prepare them. We also have what we call mandatory programmes for first-level leaders. We have long-term programmes, but we also have time-limited or, let's say, ad hoc development opportunities due to changes in strategy because management also has to be able to react to the evolution of the situation and anticipate new things that leaders should explore and know.

I think from a global perspective we have a lot of flagship programmes for leaders at every level. It's great that there are both mandatory and voluntary programmes they can choose from. Of course, we support mentoring and coaching. We have a huge community of coaches, and we offer free coaching for all leaders and employees. In short, I think we have a very well-developed educational package.

As HR Director, what will be the highest priority for you in global and regional HR in each country once the pandemic situation has stabilised?

I'll put it simply and honestly: the immediate steps after the pandemic will be to set things in order. As I said, at the beginning of the pandemic we started working from home immediately because even governments presented things in a way that, where possible, people should work from home. But we didn't have a clear framework in all countries for that. It's not anchored in employment law but we managed to implement it anyway and that helped us at SAP to be number one.

The concept of the future of work is not really a burning issue for me anymore because the changes mentioned earlier are happening now. But what we definitely will need in HR is a structure of organisations and, let's say, the framing a new model of work for how our employees will function in the future. I think there will be a strong emphasis on this, not only in Eastern Europe but around the world, to anchor it all.

I believe this pandemic has raised several new topics about HR strategy overall and what employees need from employers. We need rather to reimagine the employee in their own skin and define the difference between an employee at work and a human being in their personal life.

I think we have a lot of strategic thinking to do and we really need to set in order what we previously had to start doing in a hurry. We now need to put things into the correct framework and build from there.