Kerry Sain, SAP SuccessFactors

Successful business operations in the digital economy require HR transformation, keep pace with emerging trends

Interview with Kerry Sain - Executive Vice President, Global Sales & Marketing and Chief Revenue Officer in SAP SuccessFactors

What trends in the field of recruitment and employee care that proved already in the USA do you see as the next direction for European companies?

I think, globally, we are now entering into the next iteration of HR. It started off with HR providing the basics. For a long time, HR has been in charge of the transactional piece. Now, as we speak with our global clients, everybody is going the way the US started a little sooner with the next trend of transformation – digitalisation and mobile workforce. It is about taking consumerism into the companies – now it becomes HR for the people and not just HR for HR’s sake. It is about how to transform HR and re-invent in order to stay relevant as a company. 

What should the companies do?

A lot of companies are used to these old ERP solutions and processes, and there is still a lot of benefit in some of them. But cloud technologies can provide the blueprint to be able to rethink their business model, rethink how they engage with their employees, and rethink where and how they are going to hire top-performing employees to stay ahead of competition.

We are even entering an era without unemployment in some areas. An era where you have to think outside borders, bringing in contingent workers from other areas. We have to think about how to make them feel part of the organizational culture and infrastructure. The opportunity is all about thinking differently about your total workforce and how you engage with all of them.

SAP SuccessFactors is a cloud platform for integrated talent management, recruiting, performance, learning and compensation. What are the recent motives for your customers to use your solution?

We now have over 6,200 customers – and 47 million users – worldwide utilizing our SAP SuccessFactors HCM Suite. Not only do we have an industry-leading talent management suite – recruiting, onboarding, learning, performance & goals, compensation, and succession & development – we have core HR and payroll solutions. Talent management is where we started many years ago and where we continue to lead in the market, but we now also have nearly 1,700 customers using our core HR Employee Central solution as well. In fact, it’s one of the fastest growing solutions we have today.

I think companies finally understand that they can transform themselves, but they can do it in a nimble, agile environment and keep up with constantly changing technology. With HR digital transformation – social media, communication, products, data – everybody is putting a toe in the water, but more importantly, they are trying to find a trusted partner that will help them along that journey, because it is a journey. And this transformation journey is as important as the destination. If you do not have the ability to bring your employees along and to help your employees to understand it, you probably will not get to that destination.

I would also say that SAP SuccessFactors is more than just a technology play. It is able to provide an intuitive, consumer friendly self-service platform that drives standardization, but it can also change a company business model and, moreover, get firms to the point of a mobile workforce, where all of the diverse generations, backgrounds and points of view, come together on a global basis. So, you get this intuitive technology focused on your most important asset – your people. This is what resonates with our clients.

Can you elaborate on the profile of the customer?

Kerry Sain, SAP SuccessFactors, Barbora Nykodýmová, HR News

We have a multitenant, modular approach to our product. The solutions are easy to run and intuitive to use so you do not need a whole IT development team on staff.

We serve clients from one end of the spectrum to the other – from the most global and complex to some of the smallest with simpler needs – across all industries and geographies. If the organization is looking to leverage a cloud approach to transforming HR and delivering a modern user experience to their employees, we can help. Organizations all have different wants and needs, and how I look at it is we are here to partner with them by their side as they move and grow their business.

We also understand that it all is not going to work if you do not localize it. So, if you think about SAP SuccessFactors being a global company, where we have spent a lot of time and investment is taking it from global into a regional, local market. Our technology is applicable, usable and talks the language of the local market or region. Not many providers can do that.

Is it possible to name any of your customers on the Czech market?

We can name Avast which is a great example of a company expanding its workforce via acquisitions and new hires while also standardizing global HR processes with our technology. They are taking this journey and doing it in a very pragmatic and organized way. The company has understood the need to transform and is going down the path of implementing modules and simplifying processes while also acquiring companies at the same time. It’s a great example of a company utilizing our solutions to enable broader business goals.

What are the specifics of the needs of Czech customers?

All the Czech companies are asking the same questions: “We have very little unemployment, how do you understand the profile? How do you recruit people? etc.” Thus we help our clients to understand what their needs are, and then have them look at how they relate to similar industries or companies going through similar transformations with us. So the needs are not very different to other areas, but the conversation differs from “we know we need this” and focuses more on questions and issues I outlined.

The other thing, I am very impressed with the companies here, is that they all have a very global outlook. They are not just asking “What are other Czech companies doing?”  but “What is happening globally? What are the trends that are happening globally that we are not aware of?” There is a huge appetite to learn and absorb and gain knowledge of what is happening outside – a healthy curiosity.

Last year SAP announced also the new program Business Beyond Bias designed to detect and help eliminate bias in everyday decision points within HR processes. What kind of bias are you trying to eliminate?

I would add another word to that: “unconscious bias”. There are different kinds of bias: gender-bias, race-bias etc., there are multiple ways of how we look at this. They mostly emphasize deliberate discrimination. However, bias is often unintentional.

I will give you one example of our Business Beyond Bias initiative. It is like a spell-check when you are writing, for example, a job description for a nurse. Traditionally, nurses have always been females and, based on our research, we inherently tend to sway the job profile so that only females are going to apply. For example, using words such as teamwork, patience and encouraging rather than aggressive and strong. You do it unintentionally. In SAP SuccessFactors we have a program that is able to underline and flag any word indicating that there is potential bias when you are writing the job description. Moreover, when we are getting the resumes, you can block out any pictures or names, so you just have the criteria, abilities and experience of that applicant without knowing whether they are female or male.

It seems to be pretty basic.

It seems basic, but you would be amazed by how big the pool of candidates out there is that companies have not accessed. Candidates are reading job descriptions and deciding not to apply there - just because of the underlying bias and lack of fit that they perceive. So, there is a very systematic and programmatic way around how to write a job description that is free of unconscious bias.

As a Chief Revenue Officer, you are responsible for everything around sales, marketing and the economical results of SAP SuccessFactors. Where do you see the main market potential of your solution?

The biggest opportunity always is: you have to be transparent, you have to be honest and work with clients who view it as a partnership. It has to be a win-win from both perspectives. We spend a lot of time in establishing a community around our clients. We are trying to be proactive and helping them to understand what the next step will be, but we also need to be informed by our clients.

We see the potential in these next steps: a lot more integration, a lot more seamlessness, and how we take our applications to the next era. We can never forget the needs and the wants of our clients. The voice of our client is very special and very needed.

You have more than 25 years of leadership experience in leading companies focused mainly on employee care and technological solutions for HR. What is your key to success as a woman in leadership and, moreover, in the technology sector?

I feel very passionate about the topic and people who have supported me from the mentoring perspective have hugely influenced the way I think about this. I read consistently and visit lectures, I am on TED Talks and on YouTube, because I believe that as a leader there are certain expectations that especially as a woman I need to be an example of.

I claim that leadership is a privilege, it is not an entitlement and everybody deserves a voice at the table. Where I think we have sometimes fallen down as leaders is that we sometimes do not allow that to happen. Women have not traditionally stepped forward and were not given enough confidence and permission to have that voice at the table like men have. I always tell my oldest daughter who is thirty (I have two daughters and son): “If you do not have a voice and you do not have an opinion then you cannot blame men that you have not been included. You have to approach them the right way and you have to understand the dynamics. If you have an opinion you should absolutely vocalize it. Sometimes you are not going to be right and you are not going to be heard. Do not give up!”

On International Women’s Day (IWD) I was talking in Singapore. I love the IWD tag line: Be Bold. I think this is an area where women need to embrace. Being bold, not being afraid and being a part of the solution. And by the way, we need men. It is not just a women issue.

Do you think that the technology shift occurring in talent management can also strengthen diversity and empower women in leading positions?

I do. Technology gives companies analysis and information. Data is power. As opposed to making emotional decisions, you can now have facts in front of you – reality. Instead of saying “I am thinking we only have XX % of women in our organization” you can say: “no, we have only5 %.” It is a real problem when HR or somebody comes to you as a leader to let you know that you don’t have a diverse team. So, you as an HR specialist or CEO or somebody in charge of diversity and inclusion, you now have real facts that you can make informed decisions about.

What challenges and plans do you personally and your company expect in the nearest months and years?

From the company perspective, we are going to be a lot more vocal in the industry globally – what SAP SuccessFactors is and what we can do for our customers. But more importantly, we are passionate in investing in consumer driven HR transformation – meeting the workforce where it is and helping it get to where it wants to be.

From a personal perspective, I wish to get the message out to our clients. My aim is also to help other people through mentoring, to have the empathy, the compassion, the willingness to give my time, because you can absolutely impact people positively along the way.

When I judge myself as a leader, people and relationships are just as important to me as making my numbers. SAP SuccessFactors is a successful company. Taking it to the next level is a wonderful privilege and opportunity. I am very excited for that potential. Without people, we will not get there. I look at it as a joint responsibility. 

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