AiThority Interview With Jill Popelka, President at SAP SuccessFactors
Hi Jill. Please tell us about your journey and how you arrived at SAP SuccessFactors.
My journey to SuccessFactors has been a great adventure! Everything I’ve done in my career was leading me here. From the beginning, I was passionate about helping people, understanding other cultures, and learning. That evolved into helping customers achieve value from their technology, and leading teams around the globe. It is still a good day at work when I have helped a customer understand how technology can better support their business objectives. Through the first 10 years of my career in consulting, I learned that every transformation succeeds or fails based on one thing: people.
Fast forward to 2020. As the President of SAP SuccessFactors, I’m responsible for our business and product strategy, customer success, and growth for SAP’s largest cloud line of business. I have been with SAP for over a decade, most recently as Chief Operating Officer and prior to that, Head of Asia Pacific & Japan for SAP SuccessFactors. It was a wonderful experience working in Japan, Singapore, Korea, Australia, and the other incredible countries and cultures in the region. We can learn so much when we truly understand global perspectives, and we leverage the best of those into our solutions.
Today at SAP SuccessFactors, we have a vision that puts people at the center of every design and every experience we create. We hold ourselves to a very high standard in terms of how we provide experiences for our own employees, and we strive to deliver incredible service and experiences to our customers. When I hear stories from our customers about how our technology is helping their employees excel, when I hear that we are making a difference in people’s lives with learning, when I hear that we are helping both the employee and the business become more successful, I’m inspired. If we can inspire employees around the world to keep growing, and at the same time help our customers build teams that work passionately toward business goals, we are on the right track!
What is the main mission of SAP SuccessFactors? Can you tell us more about human experience management (HXM) and why it’s important to lead with a human-centered approach?
The mission of SAP SuccessFactors has always been to enable organizations to cultivate a motivated and engaged workforce that in turn drives innovation, growth, and resilience. When we introduced human experience management (HXM) a year ago, it signaled a shift from looking at people as “capital,” or company assets, to rightfully placing them at the center of business.
This human-centered mindset has been put to the test this year, at a time when organizations and individuals alike have been forced to work and live in an ever-changing, unpredictable environment. The organizations that have survived, and even thrived, during these challenging months are those that have quickly pivoted to new business models, products, and services. But their resilience didn’t happen with the flip of a switch. It was made possible by the passion, commitment, and agility of their workforce.
HXM is resonating in the market and we have significant momentum. We recently surpassed 4,000 customers using the SAP SuccessFactors Employee Central solution, which is one of the fastest-growing core HR solutions in the market. This milestone is a testament to how customers are choosing us to deliver exceptional employee experiences that put their people at the center – while maintaining the flexibility and insights to adapt in times of disruption.
How are you helping customers on their digital transformation journeys?
While customers may be in crisis mode, we are here to support them, to empower HR leaders, and to help businesses through challenging times while readying them for the future.
Reimagining HR is an essential part of the digital transformation journey for every organization, and it’s been drastically accelerated due to COVID-19. SAP SuccessFactors HXM Suite helps companies take charge of change by adapting how they deliver HR – shifting from traditional transactions to simple, engaging, end-to-end employee experiences. By linking employee feedback to operational data, organizations can understand what is happening within their workforce and why, so they can create a more flexible environment and a more resilient business.
Tell us more about your remote workplace collaboration tools and technologies.
By making work more individualized for each employee, HXM helps powers business. And with remote work here to stay, it’s increasingly important that employees feel connected and informed, and have access to the tools they need to be productive from any device or location.
SAP Work Zone for HR is our newest HXM solution. It provides a digital workplace that brings together multiple work applications into one environment. In other words, it acts as an entry point to the intelligent enterprise by seamlessly connecting applications from SAP, SAP SuccessFactors, and third-party and partner apps. Employees can tap into everything they need from a single touch point that is personalized based on what matters to them and what they need to do their best work.
With more than 290 partner apps in SAP App Center that address workplace issues such as employee well-being, diversity, equity and inclusion, recruiting, talent management and more, we are constantly extending our pipeline of innovations that apply the latest technologies to tomorrow’s most pressing challenges.
HR teams had to take a massive leap forward to address challenges and new regulations during the global pandemic. How have you helped both your customers and your employees during these challenging times?
COVID-19 has accelerated the urgency of digital transformation, advancing business processes by years in a matter of months. We are supporting our customers by helping them combine and optimize their current technology in thoughtful ways. We just launched a new service offering that helps them determine new ways to utilize technologies they already have, combining solutions from SAP SuccessFactors, SAP Fieldglass, SAP Analytics Cloud, and Qualtrics.
Let me share a couple of incredible customer stories, too. At the start of the pandemic, National Australia Bank was able to condense a three-week training course into two days so they could quickly retrain and redeploy employees to areas with increased demand. We also saw results from Mariposa Corporation, a company with a 90 percent use rate of our technology. Employees who never had an opportunity for higher education are now spending time in SAP SuccessFactors’ learning system to take training courses at night — some on their phones together with their families — to learn how to become better leaders.
What are your predictions for HR in 2021? What role do you see technology such as AI, automation, data science, etc. having?
HR leaders have addressed complicated scenarios to quickly pivot and adapt their workforce to changing business conditions. There are a few major trends I think we will see in 2021:
– Next year won’t just involve working from home or on the front line. Rather, it will involve a constant change in work environments as we continue to battle the virus in fits and starts. This lack of predictability and comfort will require tech we can count on, that connects us, and that makes us more efficient wherever and whenever we are working.
– We’ll continue to see two themes that have emerged during the pandemic. First, the ease with which HR brought forward tech that had previously been on the backburner and is now imperative to doing business, such as mobile learning, frequent pulse surveys and remote collaboration tools. The second theme is an understanding that this technology can enhance – but not replace – human experience and connection. Technology is just one part of the puzzle.
– Upskilling and reskilling are a critical piece to business continuity that I believe are fundamental for future growth. To effectively address this, we must look at continuous and relevant learning. Learning should continue to be a huge priority for companies, not only within HR, but across the entire business. Driving a culture of continuous learning will not only provide employees with the tools to thrive, it will prepare organizations for long-term success and enable them to keep up with the pace of change.
– AI – particularly conversational AI used in chatbots, and personalized nudges and recommendations – will also move from a backburner investment to a priority. Leaders will look at these use cases to increase efficiency and enhance the human experience.
When it comes down to truly envisioning the future of work, change is the only constant – which is why human connection remains vital to success. Prioritizing individuals, whether it’s in the way technology is designed or the way employees are cared for, is what will build a workforce that is equipped to excel today and tackle tomorrow’s challenges. That’s why HXM exists and why we make solutions like SAP Work Zone for HR – because if people win, business wins.
How can HCM tools help companies to build more resilience in 2021?
Our world today looks vastly different from a year ago when we launched HXM, but the message is still the same. People should be at the center of all business priorities. HXM solutions can help HR and business leaders look to their workforce to best understand their available resources, then match them to immediate needs. They provide visibility into operations and the flexibility to adapt plans and contingencies. Having the right digital resources in place helps ensure continuity plans are effective, employees are supported, and companies remain flexible in the face of unforeseen demands.
What common mistakes should business leaders avoid to ensure workplace productivity returns to normalcy?
If there is one thing the pandemic has taught business leaders, it’s the value of their employees and how their employees are doing both personally and professionally during these difficult times. It’s a regular occurrence for meetings to take place in the kitchen or be interrupted by our pets or kids! We are all human and the pandemic has blurred the lines between work and our personal lives. These are my tips as we continue to adjust to this new normal:
– Leaders are looked at for inspiration and optimism, especially in times of instability and change. While it’s critical to keep our eye on the future, avoid committing to dates or time stamps for when employees can expect things to go back to normal or the way things were pre-COVID. Leaders can create a supportive environment by communicating with facts, being honest and not overcommitting so that employees are prepared – even if it is preparation for the unknown. This can be hard, but as we continue to face levels of ambiguity, leading with facts makes us trusted. And trust is key to strong teams and high performing organizations.
– To that point, we must continue to keep a strong focus on empathy, compassion, and listening. These are key elements to keeping employees healthy and well so they can perform at their best. We are all human and after so many months, empathy can (unknowingly even) begin to erode. While we are all working to maintain business continuity, we cannot forget to make space for the unique scenarios our employees are working within. Especially as many of us go into planning for 2021, continued empathy will pay back in dividends of engaged and loyal employees.
– Having the right tools remains an important and essential need when it comes to employee productivity and safety. As a leader, it’s our job to ensure employees can count on us to support their success. Don’t forget that the basics matter. Take the time to check in with your teams to make sure they have what they need to be effective in their unique virtual environment. Set up a specific time to discuss their needs and make a plan to remediate any gaps with a dedicated level of speed and urgency so they know how important they are.
– Don’t hesitate to adjust goals and plans, and reconfigure expectations. People are motivated by purpose and progress. Keeping teams accountable will help them feel connected and valued. Create the stability teams need and expect them to deliver results and achieve milestones. Ensuring your team stays productive and delivering will help them to know how valuable they are to the organization.
– Finally, don’t lose sight of long-term goals on issues such as learning and reskilling, and diversity and inclusion. Crises force us to focus on short-term challenges, like transitioning to remote work or introducing new safety measures. These are critical actions, but we must also remain committed and focused on the long-term strategies that will ultimately set workforces, and businesses, up for success.
Could you advise or recommend 3 ways HCM is helping organizations?
HXM is helping our customers take care of their people, sustain momentum, and build the best future. There are three main areas we are helping our customers during the pandemic:
– Realign resources to fill critical roles, which involves quickly staffing up, staffing down, and redeploying talent to fit business’ rapidly changing needs.
– Reinforce business continuity: Adapting policies and programs to make payroll more versatile, make performance management more flexible, and create the consistency it takes to restart and sustain momentum. Workforce modeling can help plan for several “what if” scenarios so companies can react quickly to unexpected circumstances.
– Reskill your workforce: Upskilling and cross-skilling your employees, so they can confidently tackle the tasks at hand is a critical part of building a team positioned for the realities and opportunities of what comes next. Driving a culture of continuous learning will not only provide employees with the tools to thrive, but it will also prepare organizations for long-term success and enable them to keep up with the pace of change.
As a woman in technology, what message do you have for young female colleagues in the industry?
Never stop looking for advice and never stop learning. Stay open to new opportunities and be confident that you have what it takes. Always surround yourself with people you trust to talk to when you’re feeling overwhelmed and seek out mentors who encourage you to continue pursuing growth in your career.
Hear it from the Pro
Please tell us about the top podcasts / webinar series you would recommend to HR professionals.
I’m loving Brene Brown’s new podcast, Unlocking Us, and Simon Sinek’s A Bit of Optimism.
Is there a CX trend in HR and Employee management that stood out in 2020?
2020 put a spotlight on the employee experience, and at SAP SuccessFactors we saw this reflected in our customers’ adoption of HXM technology. There is a growing need for HR leaders to be involved in digital transformation and strategic business decisions. The quality of work and customer experience that employees provide is largely dependent on their experience at work. If anything, 2020 validated the direct correlation between the employee and customer experience, and you’ll see this playing out as organizations emerge from the pandemic with a stronger understanding of their workforce and stronger brand loyalty among their customer base.
What is a digital transformation campaign that left a positive impression in your outlook toward a human-centered approach to business in general?
It’s been truly inspiring to see the incredible amount of innovation from SAP SuccessFactors customers and our own employees, and many of these changes are here to stay. Here are a few that stand out:
– Discovery Health is using SAP SuccessFactors Employee Central and SAP Jam to develop a strategy to reskill their employees to focus not on their current jobs, but the jobs of the future, which will likely look different since the company expects only 50 to 75 percent of their workforce to return to the office.
– I mentioned Mariposa Corporation earlier. Mariposa has an incredible story. It has rolled out mobile learning to all of its employees, many who did not have the opportunity for higher education. They now tap into lessons on leadership and business, often taking time of their evenings and weekends to further their learning.
– Sephora recently transformed their new store manager experience by creating a modern, mobile-forward manager experience called MySephoraCareer. The results are incredible: it’s now 83 percent faster to hire new people, saving in-store managers 1.5 hours in paperwork per recruit. There is also a 98 percent increase in the number of candidates. For a brand that hires close to 15,000 new employees each year, this is a huge step in improving the experience for both new recruits and current employees.
Thank you, Jill! That was fun and we hope to see you back on AiThority.com soon.
Jill Popelka is a President at SAP SuccessFactors.
Earlier, Jill was Senior Vice President, Head of Services APJ for SAP. Jill Popelka joined SAP in 2018. Jill served as Senior Vice President, Head of SAP SuccessFactors APJ and Chief Operating Officer for SAP.
SAP SuccessFactors is the global provider of cloud-based Human Experience Management (HXM) software. Our HR application suite integrates onboarding, social business and collaboration tools, a learning management system (LMS), performance management, recruiting software, applicant tracking software, succession planning, talent management, and HR analytics to deliver business strategy alignment, team execution, and maximum people performance to organizations of all sizes across more than 60 industries, in over 200 countries and territories.