Future-proofing Factors: Top Traits and Practices of a Sustainable Corporate Ecosystem

11/09/2017 11:58 am ET

Low productivity, burnout, low engagement, heightened competition, faster product/service iterations, retention concerns – these pressures and more are burdening businesses and senior executives. What deliberate steps is your company taking to create a sustainable work environment and ecosystem? Essential traits and practices for future-proofing your organization’s success encompass inclusive mindsets and integrating and nurturing a diverse set of employees.

The business environment is no different than the natural ecosystem. It is about survival of the fittest. Those who adapt best to conditions as they change will have the greatest likelihood of succeeding over the long term. In periods of accelerated evolution, faster recognition of progress is necessary for which a mindset that is open and adaptable is paramount.

A receptive approach best allows new information about changing conditions to be absorbed, accepted, and utilized to determine appropriate modifications to strategies, plans, products and services. Furthermore, a diversity of participants brings a naturally strong spectrum of perspectives and solutions to debate, test and apply. In such a dynamic environment, employees are tasked to keep learning and updating their knowledge frequently to stay on top of relevant developments and adjust as needed.

I spoke to Anka Wittenberg, SAP’s Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, regarding the steps SAP is taking to adapt for the Future of Work and the role of diversity and inclusion in that transformation to create a lasting and productive work environment.

Wade: What is the current role and scope of your Diversity and Inclusion initiatives? How are they progressing?

Wittenberg: At SAP, our Diversity and Inclusion initiatives are integral to our transformation to a world class employer of choice with a thriving work environment for the future. They are of strategic importance for the company with significant impact and benefit particularly relating to customers, innovation, and employee engagement. For example, we found that a one percent increase in employee engagement results in an increase of €48 million per year of profit which confirms Gallup’s research that a diverse environment increases profitability. We believe that what is measured gets done, so we set ambitious goals and are making good advances. Our commitment was to have women comprise 25% of senior leadership by the end of 2017, and we achieved the goal in July 2017, six months early.

Wade: What are the general and more specific ways that you are helping accelerate adoption of an inclusive culture that is sustainable?

Wittenberg: For a start, we gather important business data to act on accurate information and clear facts. We work on diversity and inclusion relating to gender, culture, ethnicity and identity, generational intelligence, and the integration of differently-abled people. We are promoting a more inclusive mindset and environment by training our employees around these topics and taking many specific steps, such as discouraging sarcasm which can undermine relationships if misunderstood. We work to identify people and approaches that are ‘multipliers’ to accelerate the transition. For example, we enroll the support of male senior executives with daughters who have recently entered the workforce as we have found that their feedback and perspectives are particularly insightful for generating productive, lasting adjustments.

Wade: What do you see as the role of Learning and Development to create and maintain a thriving sustainable organization?

Wittenberg: It is critical for engaging and retaining our talent and we have a broad range of activities. Our learning team offers relevant, engaging, and impactful content for employees access the stages of their career at SAP. There is a great trainee program in which small groups are created and members are encouraged to help each other, building relationships and cross-company connections. We encourage mentoring pairs – some are formally-arranged, others are informal – who help bridge gaps and support inclusive conversations and understanding across the organization. Knowledge-transfer is experienced in both directions and collaboration benefits everyone. We have also created special co-working environments in several countries’ offices where we see valuable exchanges of knowledge, expertise, and experience between SAP employees. Finally, we offer career coaching by external and/or internal practitioners for employees who want to work on specific challenges and improvements. In addition, we formed the Leadership Excellence Acceleration Program (LEAP) program, aimed at providing women with a different experience with career development – one that would help them progress in their career at SAP.

Wade: The Future of Work has many dimensions. What areas do you find are the most challenging in the transformation and what key aspects are you still working on?

Wittenberg: We are transforming to be equipped effectively and create a productive work environment that will last. This involves revising our performance review process, which is a work in progress. Our biggest challenge and opportunity right now is transforming ourselves from having a “presence culture” to an “impact culture”. What I mean by this is that we are moving to emphasize and reward employee outcomes and contributions rather than their need to be present in person. This is important for many reasons including supporting effective implementation of workplace flexibility which we call ‘non-territorial work’. All that said, we have made great progress on many fronts and with our Diversity and Inclusion initiatives where we are increasing employee engagement and promoting the right perspective to better adjust to change, so we feel confident that we will get there.

Openness to Change

We are becoming all too aware of change as the new constant in our working lives. Your company can adopt initiatives and approaches that encourage employees’ inclusive and adaptable mindsets and behavior as SAP are doing. Your workers will then be better equipped to anticipate and handle new developments as they keep emerging—maintaining and identifying competitive advantages. Moreover, engaging employees by developing their skills to meet evolving requirements and encouraging their creation of internal networks will aid retention and further strengthen the fabric, community and sustainability of your organization.

Sophie is Workforce Innovator and founder of Flexcel Network. She consults to companies helping them create sustainable work environments - effectively attracting, engaging, and retaining a multigenerational, distributed and productive workforce. She speaks frequently to corporate audiences about Future-of-Work issues. Follow Sophie @ASophieWade. Read her new book Embracing Progress. Next Steps for the Future of Work.

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