The Transformational Leadership Talks series is hosted by David Alexander, Managing Director at The Human Capital Group, and features advice and insights from leaders who are transforming their industries.
Welcome to the Transformational Leadership Talks, a series featuring leaders who are transforming their industries on a global basis. Today, I’m sitting down with Brigette McInnis-Day, Chief Operating Officer at SAP SuccessFactors, who recently made the career switch from HR to Operations.
Q1: Thank you for joining us, Brigette! So you’ve spent most of your career as an HR leader and now you’re the Chief Operating Officer for Success Factors. What suggestions do you have for HR leaders who aspire to make a similar move?
Thanks, David! Glad to be a part of the Transformational Leadership Talks. When I moved into the COO role, my biggest surprise was the skeptics who were not confident that my HR background would be applicable to Operations. I got questions like, “Are you sure you know what the cloud is? Have you been in front of a customer?” Many underestimated the business savviness of HR. At the same time, many people across SAP offered to support me. The generosity was so overwhelming, and it was nice to see how people supported me and got me going quickly on all of the things related to cloud engineering, operations and our post-sales approach.
My advice? Don’t just focus on learning new things. Bring all your assets – your experience, your point of view, your network and your confidence – even when you don’t know the topic deep enough yet.
For example: Our COO team led building out the strategy for SuccessFactors and, even with my HR background, I focused so much on the business, customer and change aspects that I totally forgot about the people strategy! I woke up panicked in the middle of the night thinking “How could I forget that?!?” Please don’t forget where you come from and how you can add value.
Q2: As you think about the next 5 years, what do you think is the greatest challenge global leaders will face?
The world of work that emerges over the next 5 years will be shaped by many different forces, including advances in technology (digitization, automation, and AI/ML), an evolving labor market (5 generations in the workplace, diversity, compression of wealth), and a shift towards an “experience economy.”
For these changes, we need global leaders who will:
- Prioritize Employee Experience. Organizations that deliver exceptional employee experiences achieve 17% higher productivity, 3x revenue per employee, and 40% lower turnover (Gallup 2016 Study, 2018 Study). SHRM reports that companies who value and cultivate employee experience have 4x the average profits of their nonexperiential peers and see 40% less turnover.
- Promote an Innovative Culture. The key to this is promoting empowerment, constant learning and creating an environment of psychological safety. This allows for experimentation, innovation, risk-taking, and high trust without risk of negative ramifications. An organization’s people—and consequently the business as a whole—can not evolve with the rapid changes in the economy unless they feel secure, supported to take risks, and free to challenge the status quo.
- Scale Globally and Maintain an Inclusive Organizational Identity while also Respecting and Incorporating Diverse Cultures. Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity outperform their competitors by 21% and those in the top quartile for ethnic diversity outperform their competitors by 33% (McKinsey report, “Delivering Through Diversity”, 2018).
Q3: How do you drive a culture of innovation with such a large population of employees, especially in locations around the globe?
A few years ago, SAP launched our innovation roundtable with leaders from every single line of business. We tackle the key innovation topics for SAP but also looks at things that are systemic across the organization such as how to drive an innovation culture focusing on risk-taking, experimentation and change.
What we found was that regardless of the “initiative we experimented”, it’s about the environment the leaders created, and employees need to feel safe to take risks and have support from peers, team and leaders. And, the ideal environment was a balance between empowering leadership, psychological safety and constant learning. That was our secret recipe for driving a culture of innovation. But how do you spread that around?
One size doesn’t fit all for culture.
We are now using this information for goal setting, determining how we reward risk-taking and leveraging it across the organization to foster more innovation. We are also using it to help leaders understand what kills psychological safety and leadership empowerment – and help them understand what drives it. This is critical when we hire someone externally and ask them to disrupt, yet the environment is not set up for them to succeed!
Q4: The Human Capital Management space is very competitive, what are you doing at Success Factors to differentiate yourself from the competition?
At SAP SuccessFactors, we are delivering the global people platform to lead the Human Revolution. We have two key product-focused growth initiatives that differentiate us in the market:
Ultimate Talent Experience: Our HCM suite solution is the most comprehensive, and the most global, with over 200+ resources dedicated to understanding country-specific and regional regulations impacting HR, privacy, and security. We also deliver the ideal employee experience via new intelligent technologies to ensure our consumers are getting the experience they expect. We offer a powerful combination of operational and experience data that can only be delivered by SAP SuccessFactors, together with Qualtrics.
This combination allows organizations to listen by collecting experience data from employees at every meaningful touchpoint and now ability to pinpoint to act.
Best-in-class Cloud Technology: We drive customer value and enable future innovation by leveraging SAP and partner technologies. We have standardized a common people data model across the SAP portfolio. Our transition to Microsoft Azure Infrastructure is the foundation and future of our globally scalable, secure, and high-performance people platform (migrations starting in 2020). And our customers can easily extend our solution to meet their unique business requirements via our open app community which features 150+ partner apps and is growing daily.
Q5: As you think about your potential customers out there, what types of questions they should be asking when investing in technology like SAP? Do you have any advice for them?
The one question I would recommend they ask is, “How open is the platform and the technology?”
The benefit of having an open technology is that it allows you to bring in additional resources. You don’t want to be picking a new provider every 3 to 5 years.
You want someone that’s going to grow with you as your organization grows and as you change.
SuccessFactors has an open platform but not every cloud HCM solution does.
I’d also say that understanding how this technology will support your HR people strategy and business transformation is very critical. Many times, I see people go on this journey and they don’t have a strategy, or they haven’t asked themselves the tough questions. And the result is that they get bogged down with the details of the technology when your strategy really should be driving decisions and the technology just enables it.
Q6: In the US, there’s a lot of discussion around Diversity and Inclusion but I’m really interested to know – what are you doing to drive diversity and inclusion in your global markets?
About a year and a half ago, we shifted our thinking from having a diverse workforce and moving to focus on inclusion across our workforce.
Whether it’s education, whether it’s geography, background, etc. it has totally transformed our mindset in terms of thinking about why each of us is here. Our leaders must pull out the differences in each person to ensure we’re getting the best solutions and the best input.
We have also launched this incredible Autism at Work program. We target certain jobs that are conducive to people on the spectrum and identify the areas they would thrive in the organization. It’s been a tremendous culture change for us and it’s one of our passion initiatives that help attract and retain our people.
Q7: Is SAP feeling the tension out there in the labor market? What is SuccessFactors doing, and even your larger parent company SAP, to attract people to come work for you?
I don’t really believe there’s a skill shortage. What I think is happening is that people don’t recognize the talent they already have. They’re not offering employees opportunities to take different jobs, like I’ve had the opportunity to do at SAP, but they also don’t know what their talent gaps are.
And honestly, there’s an easy solution to this. There are technologies, SAP SuccessFactors, that allow you to know your talent landscape and identify talent internally and externally.
You can build talent pools, you can search across them in minutes, you can find someone who would move to that next location to solve your talent needs instantly. This is a key differentiator to combat the war on talent – eliminating your talent gaps with technology allows you to focus more on development and new skills required for the future. You move from binders and spreadsheets and who you know on your 10 fingers to, “Wow, I never knew those people existed!” It’s another way to think strategically about your talent and manage your total workforce.
Q8: How is technology going to help us be better managers, and most importantly, be more human in the future?
We talk a lot about technology, but it’s so important to remain human. We must care and think about the right thing to do for our people, especially if you’re in HR. At the end of the day, your job is to empower people. Even though we have all of this technology, I believe it should be using it to build connections. Make sure you are leveraging things like FaceTime and video chats to stay engaged.
I have everyone use video. I like to see people. I like to see body language. I want to see their reactions.
Technology gives you more time for coaching, more time for strategic planning and allows you to actually measure against those plans versus getting bogged down in the things that frustrate you (which I’m sure you can relate to), but the conversation is everything.
Q9: You’re a successful global leader and you’re also the mother of two school-age children. What’s your secret to balancing both roles?
My big secret is my husband. He took a break from his career as mine started to explode and together we do a few things that make it work:
- Know Our Goals. This is so HR of me, but we build our goals every year – personal, family and career – and we share feedback on what is working and what isn’t to decide how we fix it together.
- Prioritize. Know what is important at home, at work and personally. It is also imperative to have an amazing executive assistant who can help you manage priorities!
- Don’t Feel Guilty & Don’t Apologize. Make the choice and make it work. You cannot be everything to everyone so don’t worry about what others say (even to your face). Use humor to lighten the negative. Believe in yourself every day and don’t stress the small stuff.
Q10: What’s your advice to young people aspiring to be leaders, especially young women?
My big hang-up when I was coming up the ladder was my age. I was younger than others I worked with and I used to wear glasses in board meetings when I was a consultant just to make myself look older. The reality is you cannot hide it nor should you! My advice to early talents is to embrace who you are and bring all your experiences to every situation. You can add as much value or more because you come with a different perspective. Don’t ever apologize for that. They know you’re young!
I was so focused on my lack of experience and age, I didn’t really think about being a woman and why that would be a topic of conversation and certainly not an issue. When I had the honor of leading NA for Human Resources, I had prepped so much for my large all hands and I was taken aback with the questions about being a woman. “What’s it like to be a female executive and isn’t it more difficult than being a male executive?”
It was something I really had not considered before and at that very moment I answered the best way I could…” I don’t know…I’ve never been a man and I just cannot compare!”
It was at that very moment, I realized it was imperative for me to embrace these questions and tell my story differently to share my journey and if I can do it, I can inspire others as well. I never thought that the world was viewing me in a different lens than a man. I thought I’m a businessperson first and I’m here to support our people and our business and now understand how important it is to share your story and embrace differences at every opportunity.
Any last comments before we finish up, Brigette?
Tackle the issues when they come. Use humor and be direct about it. Have fun!
Brigette McInnis-Day | COO at SAP SuccessFactors
David Alexander is a Managing Director at The Human Capital Group. Prior to joining The Human Capital Group, he served as a senior human resources executive for world-class firms including SAP, AT&T, Washington Mutual, Allied Signal, Gateway and Compaq. Most recently, David served as the Chief People Officer for Raising Cane’s, who under his tenure grew from 10,000 to 20,000 global employees.
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