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SAP's push for HR technology to support 'whole self'

In this Q&A, SuccessFactors' Meg Bear discusses the evolution of the workforce and how SAP's human experience management platform and vision for a whole-self model fit in.

SAP SuccessFactors introduced several new capabilities for its HR technology platform to keep up with the changing workforce.

In 2019, SuccessFactors reconfigured its Human Capital Management (HCM) platform as Human Experience Management Suite (HXM), which is focused on moving from HCM's traditional HR capabilities to managing the entire employee lifecycle, from recruitment and onboarding to skills development and performance management.

Part of this is to provide HR managers with a "whole-self model" for employee management where HR pushes beyond customary ways to track and measure employee productivity and career advancement. This model builds on previously existing functionality such as Opportunity Marketplace, which supports skills development and matches this to organizational needs. It also includes new capabilities, announced at SuccessConnect 2022, such as dynamic teams, which lets companies manage the evolution of hierarchical HR structures to flatter, cross-functional structures.

In this Q&A, Meg Bear, president and chief product officer at SAP SuccessFactors, discusses the company's approach to new workforce dynamics and how HR technology is evolving.

What's the direction of HR technology in the new world of work?

Meg Bear, president and chief product officer, SAP SuccessFactorsMeg Bear

Meg Bear: The entire HR industry is at an inflection point. Every single thing about business has become more intense, and how people are able to support both business continuity and business opportunity has become really important. The role of HR has been elevated in recent years as a result of the pandemic and all the transformation that is going on. That creates a real opportunity for a company like SuccessFactors. It creates a responsibility and an opportunity to not just change what we have traditionally done well but to elevate the opportunity of HR. That's what we call human experience management. We've been talking about how that opportunity is inclusive of everything that we always did in human capital management -- compliance, payroll and benefits -- but allows us to also elevate to the broader things that are impacting employees, like employee experience; well-being; and the need for diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.

Was this new focus already in the works before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, or was the pandemic the main catalyst?

Bear: We actually launched our entire vision for HXM in 2019, so the pattern and the need was already there -- although in 2019, we were seeing it from different entry points. We were seeing a war-for-talent marketplace where people were thinking about how to get the right people in the right roles and also how to get better at supporting the demands of the workforce that's starting to change and grow. People asked us then that caring about employees more deeply and giving feedback and empowerment to employees is great in a boom cycle, but what's going to happen in a bust cycle when nobody wants to invest in technology? Then the pandemic happened, and it became even more clear that you cannot maneuver into a volatile economy well without better support for your employees. The pandemic accelerated everybody's business transformation responsibilities and their digital transformation because they had no choice. At the end of the day, you can't hire your way out of a skills gap problem. HR organizations need to figure out how to empower people and help them grow to meet the needs of the future.

How does the concept of the whole-self model help an organization, and what are some of the capabilities that support it?

Bear: [The whole-self model] is about how to bring opportunities forward to individuals and make those opportunities align to the broader value that an employee brings to an organization. An individual might have skills but also have some particularly unique strengths that are valuable to understand and relate to things they can do for the business. [Let's say] you're a galvanizer -- a person who brings people together and gets them ready, focused and aligned to do big things. That kind of understanding is much bigger, broader and deeper than just skills. The Opportunity Marketplace has the ability to recommend things that might be of interest, which could be mentors or learning or temporary assignments. For example, if there's a team that's working on belonging and diversity or equity and inclusion, and you're passionate about that topic, it could recommend that they're looking for someone who's good at connecting people. The more you participate, the more the system can recommend more things and can understand more about you. Underneath it all is an interesting data story where the organization can start understanding at the macro level where it's strong, where it's struggling and what to do about it.

How do the new capabilities measure more subjective issues like sentiment so the data can be analyzed and provide value?

Bear: Our Qualtrics insights is where you can measure sentiment -- you can do surveys and find out how people are feeling in that moment or in that context. That's deeply embedded in a lot of our processes. For example, you might want to understand what the candidate experience is like and ask candidates at different stages of the lifecycle how that is. You might need to understand the employee experience in a moment in time -- for example, when we all had to go remote -- to find out what people needed to be well equipped. Or you might want to do it on a regular culture survey, where you regularly check to find out how your leadership trust is going or how your programs are serving your employees. The strongest tool is asking people how they're feeling as opposed to assuming how it's working for them.

How do the dynamic teams help organizations manage working environments that are becoming less hierarchical?

Bear: Dynamic teams are powerful because individuals can create or join teams and organizations can recommend or require that you join teams for specific kinds of functions or tasks. Being able to measure that and get feedback in the context of work becomes powerful. All organizations are managing cultural change, and cultural change doesn't sit still in one moment. Cultural changes are ongoing, and you need to be able to respond to the information in real time to what's happening today, not what was happening two years ago or even six months ago, because things are just moving too quickly. This allows organizations to be more data informed, and it allows individuals to have a stronger voice so that when they give feedback, it can be more actionable but it also can be done at scale.

Jim O'Donnell is a TechTarget senior news writer who covers ERP and other enterprise applications for TechTarget Editorial.

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