As HR Director at SAP, a multinational software corporation, Tom Loeffert has an understandable obsession with discovering what kind of person achieves outstanding success in the digital world. Unlike most, however, his findings are based on some significant research.
Our senior HR people attended Henley’s Advanced HR Business Partners programme, and subsequently the company joined The Henley Partnership, and it’s been very useful to share the research findings with our fellow members.
‘The future is already here,’ says Tom. ‘We are surrounded with drones, AI, virtual reality, machine learning and so on, and every company is a technology company. And yet only 1 in 5 businesses are really thriving in the digital economy. So we wanted to know what kind of leadership is now required, and we soon realised that a very different approach is needed.’
We were able to use the SAP research – covering 2,050 employees and 2,050 executives, across 21 countries – to show that company executives believe that there is a significant gap in the capability of their leadership to:
- effectively manage talent
- inspire and empower employees
- lead a global workforce
- drive and manage change
- lead a diverse workforce (and the higher you go, the less diverse it is)
On the other hand, it identified four key characteristics that digital winners need, namely:
- The ability to embrace digital technologies
- The ability to streamline decision-making
- The ability to flatten the organisational structure
- The ability to build a digital workforce.
It also showed that those people who could demonstrate these characteristics achieved more mature talent strategies and programmes, enabling them to hire and engage better talent, create a more diverse environment and implement more cohesive succession planning. In turn, this led to greater profit growth, more satisfied employees and higher employee retention levels.
‘Inclusion and diversity are so important,’ says Tom, ‘so we must encourage HR leaders to insist on looking beyond the traditional pool of candidates and avoid unconscious bias.’
We also have to change our whole mode of operating and communicating, and be far more open to new ideas. If you’re still sending offer letters to successful candidates, for them to sign, scan and return, it’s a sure sign that you need to re-think the way you operate. HR leaders need to be thought leaders.
At SAP the organisational structure and design has itself changed to accommodate new ways of thinking and doing. Our bosses are agile, responsive and adaptable. Titles are less important than having the right people in place to engage with each customer. Hierarchies are being replaced by roles.
For companies to be sustainable in tomorrow’s world, leaders have to understand digital strategies, and the gap between needs and capability has to close, and close fast.
Find out more about The Henley Partnership