Aaron Green is the Senior Vice President and Head of SAP SuccessFactors across Asia Pacific and Japan. In this role, Aaron leads a business that enables organizations of all sizes, across all industries, to deliver extraordinary results for their People & Culture strategies.
Prior to joining SAP SuccessFactors, Aaron was the VP of HCM for Oracle Asia Pacific and held various Strategy and Sales leadership roles at several technology companies.
Aaron is passionate about researching and identifying emerging trends in the practice of Human Resources and Workforce Management to deliver industry-leading innovation for organizations around the world.
Here are excerpts of the interview.
COVID-19 presents significant challenges to people and organizations around the globe. How do you see the overall impact of the pandemic on businesses and people globally?
To say that the world in 2020 is very different would be an understatement. Our focus now is not to return to “normal” but rather how we move forward in our current reality.
It has become more challenging to balance our professional and personal lives, given the challenges of alternate and/or remote working arrangements. As such, an important area of focus for SAP is our employees’ overall well-being, including mental and physical health.
In the SAP Qualtrics’ The Other COVID-19 Crisis: Mental Health survey, we found that since the COVID-19 outbreak, 66 percent of employees in APAC are feeling more anxious and 64 percent are feeling more stressed. Even more worrying, 36 percent shared their mental health has declined. There’s a direct correlation between mental health and productivity which in turn affects the bottom line of businesses. According to the WHO, it’s been estimated that depression and anxiety cost the global economy US$1 trillion per year lost in productivity.
Mental-related stressors tend to spiral and if left unaddressed, can present a major challenge to retaining talent.
How does the HR function landscape across organizations globally look like today? Are organizations leveraging this moment as an opportunity to reimagine the role of talent leaders and digitize HR?
As the pandemic has dramatically impacted countries, organizations, and communities across the world, leadership has been stress-tested. There’s no question that organizations will need a disciplined focus on the viability and financial health. However, a human crisis demands a more human approach.
Three major characteristics we’re seeing as key to leading your people through turmoil are - empathy, decisiveness, and flexibility.
- Empathy - this could mean creating different flexible work arrangements for individuals to take into consideration remote-schooling, for example. In circumstances where retrenchment has occurred, actively providing support programs and reassuring those employees that they’ll enjoy rehiring priority once the business is in a place to rebuild.
- Decisiveness - leaders must layer empathy with confidence and decisiveness. Leaders who wait for definitive amounts of data risk ''analyze paralysis'' COVID-19 has provided harrowing proof— if leaders had waited for comprehensive data to respond to a still-unfolding crisis, they’d likely be waiting right now and potentially putting employees and customers in danger. Communicating clearly and with frequency helps the entire workforce understand what the short-term steps are towards a longer-term recovery.
- Flexibility – this approach demands a cultural and organizational focus on learning agility. Great leaders are looking to super-charge any efforts they’ve already undertaken to build agility in action as well as thought and must ensure they’re focusing on managing objectives rather than tasks to allow for flexibility in approach.
Organizations can build this sort of resilience by investing in people and capabilities, but great leaders are also rethinking entire business models for short-term survival. Through a blend of resilience, decisiveness, and empathy, great leaders are navigating a gamut of challenges that are still taking shape. And, though this leadership is crucial for immediate survival, it will also make teams and organizations stronger in the long run.
With the pandemic disrupting businesses in a never before way, do you think organizations are spending on new-gen HR technologies?
Many elements of what was considered the future of work have been accelerated and have become today’s reality for many companies, as COVID-19 made it necessary to undergo rapid workplace restructuring. But changes in the working world were already well underway long before the pandemic was upon us. In the past 10 years, the number of employees working remotely increased by 91 percent according to a 2019 FlexJobs report. The adoption of AI in the workplace has been another growing trend, with a 2020 Deloitte survey reporting that 71 percent of executives plan to spend more on AI in the coming year.
Overall, organizations are looking at HR technology to drive their overall digital transformation – by harmonizing data, streamlining processes, and creating experiences that help employees be productive. The urgency of these transformations has been accelerated because having the right technology in place enables businesses to be agile and flexible, and quickly respond to changes. HR technology helps HR leaders gain visibility into operations and the flexibility to adapt plans and contingencies. It helps them listen to employees’ concerns and take the necessary actions to help their workforce feel safe, supported, and equipped to do their jobs well. In October 2020, SAP surpassed 4,000 customers using SAP SuccessFactors Employee Central, demonstrating the continued need for global organizations to adopt a cloud-based core HR solution that is scalable and flexible.
Within the first six months of 2020, we also saw a dramatic increase in the use of SAP learning solutions as organizations had to quickly train employees on new safety protocols, redeploy them to new roles, or look at reskilling opportunities. Usage of SAP SuccessFactors Learning was up by 30 percent and nearly one million SAP Litmos courses were assigned in that same period – an increase of 95 percent year over year.
How is SAP gearing up to seize this moment given that the priorities of organizations are shifting? What are the key areas of HR function have you seen maximum tech implementations in the last few months, and the categories seeing the greatest levels of innovation from the service providers' side?
SAP is leading the HR market with Human Experience Management (HXM), which replaces top-down HR processes with experiences that put people at the center of the organization. At a time when we are working and living with constant change and uncertainty, HXM helps make technology work better for people.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of our customers leveraged the SAP Qualtrics Remote Work + Onsite Pulse tool to check in on their employees and make informed changes. Throughout the SAP SuccessFactors HXM Suite, we have continued to add embedded experience management capabilities across our solutions so customers to collect feedback at key moments so they can understand what is happening in their workforce and take action.
We also announced SAP Work Zone for HR, which connects multiple applications from across the business into a personalized digital workplace for employees. The solution enables organizations to push top-down communications, without IT involvement, and more easily reach employees.
There has been a lot of discussions happening around technologies such as blockchain for HR. Which ones among AI, people analytics, and blockchain are being leveraged most, and why?
Innovation is being born from these challenging times. In a recent podcast on my channel, People People. Unfiltered, I spoke with our customer, Tata Communications, on their response to COVID-19. As COVID-19 intensified longstanding challenges like protecting gig workers and helping employees keep pace with technological changes, Tata offered a blueprint for innovation that’s as grounded in business strategy as it is humanist empathy.
According to Tata, the first step was creating true self-service experiences for employees, particularly in learning and development. Only a few years ago, 80 percent of Tata’s training happened in person. Now, 90 percent is delivered digitally and the annual training consumption per employee has more than doubled.
Building on that digital approach is their internal platform, Project Marketplace, which empowers employees to register their skills or crowdsource project assistance. It’s a market approach that matches supply and demand, neatly building project teams, and creating opportunities for people to expand their skillsets and networks. It’s good for their people, but it’s also good for their future.
It’s this sort of thinking that helps the HR function ensure they aren’t just offering the same core services and can change the game in a long-term way. But it also requires an organization with both foresight and healthy risk appetite.
What's your advice on how can talent leaders help instill an agile mindset in their organization to be in a better position to compete for talent and market share in a digitally-enabled future.
There has been an incredible amount of resilience and agility demonstrated over the last several months, with entire workforces transitioning to remote work or being redeployed into new roles overnight. Technology was not responsible for this resilience; it was the passion, commitment, and agility of the people at these organizations. HR leaders have been propelled into an increasingly strategic role with the responsibility of balancing business continuity with the need to maintain human connections.
As business and HR leaders determine what their digital transformation journey looks like in this new normal, they must continue to support their employees with the resources to be agile. For example, they can prioritize fostering a culture of continuous learning and provide employees with the resources to develop new skills, from leadership training to technical skills.
What role can leaders play to ensure a better alignment of HR technology investment and business goals?
The extreme importance of resilience and agility has recently been brought into sharp focus for many companies. This has meant that workplace procedures are increasingly prioritized for efficiency, personalization, and flexibility. People must remain the priority in any business, especially now when maintaining order and continuity are critical to both survival and success. HR and business leaders should work together to look at their workforce to best understand the available resources, then match them to immediate needs. They need to understand the technology needed to keep employees engaged and support right while looking at what skills they will need in the future.
How do you see the adoption of HR tech two years down the line? What are your priorities and new focus areas as we come out of this pandemic?
At SAP, we are continuing to deliver on our HXM vision with new capabilities and solutions that help people be more productive, develop new skills, and do their best work. To excel in our new normal, organizations need to create dynamic, engaging, and employee-centered experiences that support individuals by empowering them to be in the driver’s seat of their own career journey. This means delivering solutions that are intuitive and personalized. Furthermore, they need to develop a culture of continuous learning and support that culture with tools and technology that empower employees to develop new skills.