SCN Video: Do SAP Mentors Impact Culture Change at SAP? With Sanjay Poonen

Podcast: Listen Now!
Vendor Videocast - Jon Reed talks to SAP's Sanjay Poonen and Mark Finnern about culture change at SAP, culture jamming, and how SAP Mentors move the needle at SAP
An SAP SCN Community Podcast
Hosted by Jon Reed of
Podcast Interview Date: January 19, 2011

For the next installment in my SCN podcast series, I taped a videocast with SAP's Sanjay Poonen and Mark Finnern to talk culture change at SAP and how SAP Mentors impact SAP culture. Poonen gives his take on why culture change at SAP matters and what his first meetings with the SAP Mentors were like. We also get into "culture jamming at SAP," and why bringing a sense of fun and creativity to the mix can make a surprising difference. At the 15:00 mark, Poonen cites a specific example in SAP mobility where SAP Mentor interactions have directly impacted SAP's forward strategy.

Editor's note: you can either watch the video or listen to the audio file of this recording. This video was taped from three locations via Adobe Connect. Also see: the SAP Mentor Initiative on SCN.

Video highlights

42: Jon to Sanjay: Why do we need culture change at SAP? Sanjay: Culture change at SAP is one of my favorite topics. I will always believe that employees who are engaged in turn serve their customers well, and in turn bring shareholder profit. The key thing we are trying to do is drive employee engagement, so that we have two sides of the process: building great stuff, and selling great stuff. In the past, we weren't necessarily aligned, from the board level on down. That's changing now.

3:07 Mark to Sanjay: You have worked together with the SAP Mentors for a while now - tell us about your first interactions and what happened? Sanjay: I came into the first meeting with an open mind. I was amazed with the types of questions people were asking me - not just superficial questions, but direct and deep, and it ca me from people who cared. That was a year and a half ago. After that meeting, I said to myself, "I have to keep a regular dialogue with this group." The strength of the Mentors is that you have these black belts who know their area of expertise well and want to teach and learn. Beyond the regular dialogue, I felt there were things that Mentors could teach us about what we could continue to improve. It's important to get that feedback - that's probably the part I have enjoyed the most; there are moments of great candid feedback.

5:30 Mark to Sanjay: To me, where the Mentors can have impact is not only the technical and content level, but also on a fun level. For example, at Sapphire/TechEd Madrid, Mentors picked up on the comment about "if you see a suit, be kind to him," and turned it into a meme of "hug a suite," where Mentors got pictures with executives and put them up on flickr. I call it culture jamming SAP, and bringing a element of fun into the work can make a huge difference. That combination of deep down technical knowledge and asking the right questions, together with the lightness - that's one of the elements Mentors can carry into the conversation.

7:15 Sanjay: I agree. One of the things I like about SAP is that we're a global company, and probably more of a global company that many. I'm an Indian working in a German company, and there is a tremendous willingness, sometimes a bit to a fault, to lean on the side of the culture of consensus. There is not much tolerance for an autocratic style here. 

9:20 Sanjay: the Mentors want SAP to succeed, because that is their success too, and that trust comes across. You have great access to our internal people, and that's a special relationship. It's an elite group of people from within the community.

10:30 Jon to Sanjay: The SAP Mentors discuss this issue a lot because if we aren't raising other people up in the community, we are essentially failing. What would you say to those who aren't Mentors in the community who want to be a part of this? Sanjay: We have 2 million people on SCN, and it's important that we make sure that people's views are heard. I hear from people all the time, on LinkedIn and Twitter, and do my best to be responsive. We get some very interesting feedback. Recently someone said to us on Twitter: "enough about HANA, what about supporting a modern browser?" The point is that when you put yourself out there, whether you are a Mentor or not, we want to have a way to hear that feedback and respond.

Great companies find a way to listen. When we match the community feedback with the priorities we are setting, we become a better company. That kind of thinking reflects how I've organized the reporting lines of the team that works for me. It's important that as leaders, we don't become the bottle neck, so there can be a responsiveness.

15:00 Mark: from a Mentor point if view, if you're not a mentor, you can still run with the Mentors. Join the inside tracks that others are organizing, invite the mentors and things will happen. We can't invite everyone in to our executive meetings, but otherwise, you can get involved in the things we do. "You don't need to be a Mentor to culture jam, you just need a laptop."

15:50 Sanjay: Just as an example, one piece of feedback I got from the Mentors on mobility has had an impact. The last time I got together with Jon, Dennis, Vijay, and John Appleby, a key part of the feedback from them was, "Listen, you need to take the developer a lot more seriously in the context of mobility." The mobile game is a volume game rather than a value game. On the inside, we have a plan of how we are going to address that we are putting into motion. For us to win in the mobile game, it's not going to be 8 or 9 developers, it's going to be millions of developers. We're working on stuff internally, so that's a very tangible example of when you take feedback well and can act on it, and you're going to see action on this issue.