WENDY HANSON: Welcome. I am especially excited today to have you join us for my interview with Meg Bear from SAP. Better Manager has coached over 1,400 managers in the last few years. We started the company because we realized that the human factor may be the most important and sometimes, most neglected part of engagement and productivity.
Wendy: Now, at Better Manager, we have a concept that our managers that we coach usually quote all the time to their colleagues which is we have to get off the dance floor and get on the balcony and so I'm excited to have Meg Bear with us today because she is actually going to bring us to the balcony and be able to look at so many of the human factors, but let me tell you about Meg before I bring her on.
Wendy: Meg Bear is head of product for SAP SuccessFactors. She has more than 25 years of experience leading product and engineering teams and technology companies such as Juvo, Imperva and Oracle.
Wendy: She's a patent holder, change agent, startup advisor, keynote speaker and Ted X host. Wow. Meg is passionate about applying technology to solve business problems, building and growing teams and defining market-winning product strategies that are customer centric and innovative. So Meg, welcome. Thank you for taking the time with us today.
MEG BEAR: Thank you for having me Wendy, I'm excited to be here.
Wendy: Yes, you have so many great things to share today. So you recently joined SAP SuccessFactors. Can you tell me a little bit more about your background and your role in the company now?
Meg: Sure. I am very fortunate to have joined SAP SuccessFactors. This is a really exciting time to be in HR technology space. I've spent a large amount of time in my career in multiple business domains, HR being one.
Meg: I spent some time in customer experience, which I think has a large overlap with where trends are going and then some innovative startups as well and data science and machine learning and so today, my role is in charge of the product portfolio at SAP success factors, really helping to create this new category that we're creating which is called human experience management.
Wendy: I always think that everything we have ever done in our life has brought us to this moment and when I think about your background, it's so, seems so incredibly true for you.
Meg: Absolutely. I think that there's the combination of very good fortune, but also, just using the different experiences and opportunities to help build a point of view that I think is really the right place at the right time here. So it's super exciting for me.
Wendy: Yeah. So tell us more, what is HXM, human experience management? Can you explain it?
Meg: Sure. So maybe first I'll rewind a little bit and tell you about the category that we have built up over the last 20 years and that's human capital management. So human capital management is a technology focused on helping the HR discipline and the people disciplines within an organization.
Meg: So it would include similar things like talent management, career development, succession planning, payroll benefits, core HR, all of this sort of suite of products that help HR function within a large organization, a global organization, both in connecting with the people in the organization, but also in delivering the programs and the operational backbone for the business.
Meg: And so this is something we've been doing for decades. We've been very successful as an industry in bringing technology to the function and domain of people inside of large organizations, but human experience management is something new that we're introducing and what we believe here at SAP is that this is the next generation of how work happens and how businesses can help individuals become part of the business plan and so when we think about what we need to provide for employees and workers in our businesses today, it's not just the HR pieces, it's not just about payroll, it's not just about benefits, it's not just about performance reviews or recruiting or learning, right?
Meg: Those are all things that are today, table stakes, but the workforce of the future really is about adaptability. It's about growth, it's about being able to change with this kind of changing world that we live in and so, technology needs to help with that.
Meg: So human experience management is a perspective that the business of the future requires a deep understanding of how employees work and a real appreciation for bringing their experiences into how the business gets done and so I think it's really exciting, it gives us an opportunity to talk about things we already were working on, but to do it in a much more holistic way and helps us to clarify that it's about the people and as she would say, it's about the human factors because that is the key that is going to make the difference in business in the future.
Wendy: Yes. Because we know the statistics that 50% of people leave their manager because they're not happy with their managers, that people piece and managers are responsible for engagement like 70% of engagement is because of the manager. So it's about time, right? That we focus on them.
Meg: That's right.
Meg: That's right. How do you equip those managers to do the right thing by people? How do you make those relationships tighter and really more interactive, right? So how do you get better feedback loops and kind of as you were saying, how do you get up on the balcony and understand the macro and then turn that into something that's actionable and workable for the way people want to work today?
Wendy: Yeah. Now, I loved and in some of our notes together, we were talking about the role of managers play in building experiences for employees. Tell me about what experiences, good experience for employees at SAP.
Meg: Right, so I'd like to start with a bit of a story. A long time ago, I wrote a blog and this is back when I was really focusing on talent management and the talent domain and I said, "HR programs are great, but the line manager is the make a break point."
Meg: And so a line manager can screw up any great process or any great program you put out there if they're not well-equipped to do their job and so when you think about what it means to be a worker today, right where in the past, everybody would come to probably a single location, they might work with other people in a single location.
Meg: Today, it's a global interaction. It's you and I talking on the phone, it's us collaborating across boundaries, et cetera. So the job of the manager has grown exponentially and we haven't really thought about that both from a technology platform as well as from an enablement perspective.
Meg: So exactly the work that you are doing Wendy with helping, coaching and providing guidance for managers and how to think about what it is that they're trying to do and then how they think about the human side, the motivation, are people burnt out? How are they engaging at work?
Meg: How are they getting their work done? Do they have the tools that they need? So there's a technology background behind that for sure. Do they have the proper tools? But there's also the human backbone. Do they have the right skills? Do they even know what the skills they need to help grow their careers? What is the company value? What is the company looking to add?
Meg: Where is the company transforming? So giving better tools to the managers so that they can bring those down to the individuals make it concrete to people about how they can grow their own career, how they can get their work done better, how they can meet their goals and their, okay hours.
Meg: All of these parts are the real experience of the day-to-day life of an employee and that's what we're talking about when we're talking about human experience management.
Wendy: Yes, and I love that you point out in the past, we used to ... Everybody was in the same office so it was ... You could feel the vibe if somebody came in and was having a bad day, you'd walk by the office and you could tell.
Wendy: Our mirror neurons, the neuroscience piece of it, but now when you have a whole team that is remote, it's a bigger job for a manager to how do you stay connected with your team and really make sure that they're getting what they need because that engagement and happiness factor is really important for productivity and retention.
Meg: That's right. And they may even be coming from an entirely different cultural norms baseline than you as well, right? So they could be at a different time zone. So maybe you guys are doing a call and it's in the middle of the night for them so they're cranky.
Meg: It could be that you're expecting them to be very forthright with their feedback or their perspective and they're culturally taught to not do that, to only do what they're told. There's a lot, again, the complexity for managers has grown exponentially and I think it's time for us to recognize as a discipline that what an HR business partner provides to a manager needs to be a much bigger set of tools and getting the feedback from individuals about what's working and what's not working both at the macro level, the engagement survey level, but also at the micro level like, "How are you feeling today?" Right?
Meg: "Are you taking care of yourself? Hey, I've noticed you haven't gone on vacation for a very long time. How can I help support you in that? I know you have a lot of deliverables, but are you taking care of your family? Are you taking care of your health? Are you taking care of your energy so that you can bring your best work to the table?"
Wendy: Yeah, and we know that empathy and a manager is a really important skill that they need to be able to develop empathy and as leaders, we need to be able to say when we need help too.
Meg: That's right.
Wendy: It's part of that exchange.
Meg: That's right And I think there's a lot about modeling as a leader showing some vulnerability to that, but there's also again about providing tools for managers to get more cues and I think this is where, again, a technology backbone can really help.
Meg: So with our Qualtrics acquisition, what we have now is a market-leading tool that is a feedback engine that helps us give surveys at the very large scale and also on the very micro level so that managers can have better pointers and can ask better questions and again, I think it's that humility of believing that you're going to be a Learn-It-All culture, not a Know-It-All culture and expecting the job of the employee and the manager to be co-creating careers, co-creating business and work outputs, et cetera, as opposed to it being sort of a very top-down and these are just changes that are happening and how work is happening and we recognize at SAP that that is an opportunity for technology to be helpful so that managers can have more skills and more tools available to them to help with that.
Wendy: Yeah. Tell me a little story about it's 2020 and HRBPs have a really big role working with managers and the whole human experience management factor. Tell me what will be happening in a successful organization in 2020 from your perspective?
Meg: Yeah. So what we're seeing today is that there has been a real shift in the role of an HR business partner where an HR business partner used to be responsible for a lot of back office operational stuff.
Meg: Today, they're much more responsible for being a partner to the leaders in an organization and what that partnership looks like is providing insights and guidance to managers to both what are the opportunities available within the company?
Meg: What kind of career development opportunities might there be, are there opportunities for people to do coaching? Are there opportunities for people to take on special assignments, things like that.
Meg: As well as supporting managers and understanding what the sentiment of the organization is and where some of their hotspots are. So really giving managers much better insights into what's going on, how their team is benchmarking against the organization, where their challenges are, whether those challenges might be compensation or skills or just general engagement scores and then how they can think about systematically working on those things with support from a more experienced set of leadership.
Meg: So I think the role of HR business partner has grown and the way that managers are seeing this is that they ... That it's not just up to them to figure it all out, right? That they have an opportunity to get the kind of support and help they need not just from their manager, but also from HR who can help give them a different way of looking at it or provide for them recommendations that they might not have thought of on their own.
Wendy: Yeah. That's such a great point. We've actually worked with some managers who say, "My Better Manager coach is my external coach, but I'm lucky I also have an internal coach, their HR business partner so that when there are things that you really need to understand something that's happening within the organization and to be know that you have that support is so vital and important to success."
Meg: Yeah, and I think that the function of HR has just really stepped it up a notch so I'm just seeing much, much broader skills coming to the table and then I think also the discipline itself is building up its toolkit of best practices in a way that I think is much more focused on the manager and not just focused exclusively on compliance or hiring and firing and reorgs and those sorts of kind of top line things that we've thought of in the past with an HR function.
Wendy: Yes. We've coached a lot of HRBPs and it's interesting because they're like, "I'm so tired of doing that kind of work. I want a seat at the table. How do I get a seat at the table so that I can be ... Somebody in this department will want to have me come sit down at a team meeting because I have a different perspective?" And we need to give everybody those tools.
Meg: I think in too, one of the things that I think HR business partners really could benefit from is making sure that they not only build the relationship with the business leader, but think in terms of what can they offer, how can they be helpful?
Meg: Because sometimes, business leaders don't know themselves what would be the best use of their relationship together and sort of how they can work together and I think one of the places that is a really right for support is organizational design.
Meg: A lot of times it's really hard for a leader to think in terms of white space in their teams and how they can think of. They know they have people they want to develop, they know they have problems they need to solve, but sometimes, just having the time to take that blank sheet of paper and say, "What are the roles that I need for my ... For the future goals of my team, not the team that I have today and how do I think about the strengths of the team and aligning them to some of those business problems?"
Meg: So I really recommend that leaders look to their HR partners and really strategize around these areas especially when you're laying out okay hours for the year instead of just saying, "Okay, here's my list and here's the things I'm going to do and HR is going to help me track them and roll them up."
Meg: Instead, really sit down and engage and say, "I just don't think that I have all the skills I need to meet the goals of this year, how strategically can we look at solving that problem? Do I have some top talent I could move? Do I have some ... Do I need to hire? Do I need to bring some training in house?"
Meg: Really brainstorming those problems for stuff that the HR business partner, those are the problems they like to spend their time on as you said and I think sometimes managers don't think about that being a place that they can ask and so if those two functions can get together and share in that problem solving, I think it's a much richer relationship and there's a lot better buy in once you have those okay hours and you know how you're trying to execute them.
Meg: When the rubber meets the road and things get rough or maybe you couldn't hire like you plan to, you have the backstop and the support because you know that you did the diligence together, you worked on it together.
Wendy: Yes, and I love the fact that if you have a thought partner that you're working with, when you have to explain something, I know this is for me and I know a lot of the people that we work with, you explain it and you say, "Oh now I get it."
Wendy: And if you had just sat in a room by yourself, put your head down with a blank piece of paper, it would not have been as fruitful or as much fun.
Meg: That is exactly right. It's the interactivity of it that can sometimes just help get you unstuck and again, I think the thing is that managers don't quite have the time to sit back and reflect and think, "Oh wait, I'm kind of stuck here."
Meg: So this is back to your point about getting on the balcony, having a thought partner to talk it through who's not in your business and can help you work on your business really helps create a space to think about it differently. They'll ask you different questions and those questions will be materially helpful in solving those problems.
Wendy: Yes, and when you enable that whole process with technology and people are able to use pulse surveys to get feedback from their team, then you're really adding additional value.
Meg: That's right, and it's also really grounded in something that's quantitative that people can look at and say, "Hey, there's something here." It may not give you the whole picture, but it definitely directs you towards where the questions are and again, I think that's really helpful because if you just try to solve the problem with your own sphere of understanding and you don't solicit that interactivity with your team in that 360 perspective, you're going to miss stuff.
Meg: It's just impossible because you're going to take your own biases and your own perspectives and you're going to apply it to what people are saying and you're not going to have that richness of understanding and that empathy.
Wendy: Yes. One of the things that we talk about when we have ... We have a master class on career development and we say that career development is like a climbing wall. It's not like a ladder. It used to be a ladder. Now it's a climbing wall, but sometimes you'd go down, sometimes you go over and across.
Wendy: So what do you think about the future employee training experience? What's going to be different about that?
Meg: Oh yeah. Yeah. So I think the first thing to think about is the lifespan of a particular set of skills moving forward is much shorter. So just like everything else in this sort of digital world that we live in has gotten faster.
Meg: The skills and the proficiencies that you need to be effective is also growing pretty significantly. So what that means is to chart out a long-term career plan is not only impractical, it's probably a waste of your time, right?
Meg: So when you think about how you prepare yourself for that agility, you need to think in terms of a couple things. You need to think in terms of lifetime learning, right? Like how can you recognize that this is not a one and done, you don't get a skill and that's it, but you also need to think in terms of overlaying experiences.
Meg: It's all about practice and it's about trying it out, especially in these these fields and territories that are are new, right? You're going to a certain amount of training that you can acquire, but some of it you're going to have to do the old-fashioned way and roll up your sleeves and give it a try and so I think that the development plan is going to include a lot more experiences in addition to formal learning and it's going to be a lot more just in time types of getting a skill, practicing a skill, getting a skill, practicing a skill, and really moving forward versus going for a very long degree program and then working for 30 years and getting a gold watch.
Meg: It's just not how careers work and it's not what the business needs anymore and so trying to pretend like you're going to see the entire future is it's investing a lot in a fallacy.
Meg: And so again, I think this is where technology can really help because when you know that something is dynamic and you know that it's changing all the time, you need to really invest in change. You can't really ... You can't invest in setting all the things in stone.
Meg: You have to invest in making it easy to adapt and change and so that's really, I think where we're going as an industry, but also just sort of as an economy. I think that the knowledge economy is becoming more dynamic and changing much more rapidly and we just all have to realize that the way that we learn is going to be an ongoing thing, that it becomes important to how we do business.
Meg: I mean, think about like podcasts weren't around 20 years ago to help people, right? So what's going to be here 20 years from now? It's unknowable.
Wendy: Yeah, and experiential learning is really where we're going to get the most bang for the buck. It's that people take it in because if you're going to learn, you want to shift your behaviors a bit, you want to be able to grow and move forward and I think that's why micro learning is so important.
Meg: That's right.
Wendy: If you sit, all the research says, "Sit three days in a classroom and you'll come back, I don't know, if it's 5%, 10% you'll take action on." How do we change those things and with using technology and having people be able to access things when they need it, I think is incredibly important. So glad that you're in the middle of this work.
Meg: Yeah. It's exciting because you just know that there's a lot to do and that it's going to keep changing and I think for me personally, I think that's what motivates me because experiences are not standing still.
Meg: So human experience management is a great category because it suggests that we recognize that and that we are fully committed. We're all in on adapting as the needs change.
Wendy: Yeah. Are there some critical skills that you see for leaders and employees as we move towards this experience-focused enterprise in the future? What would those be? So that we can focus on them?
Meg: Yeah. So you definitely named one. I've been on record for awhile saying that I believe empathy is the key 21st century leadership skill back to their discussion of global teams working with diverse workforces in age, in background, in ethnicity and gender.
Meg: I think that the dynamic nature of business and the human condition and the human factors of being productive, empathy is your number one go-to because the more that you can understand each other and you can think about the needs of others, the better job you're going to do in all sides of it in serving your customers, in being a good teammate, in being a good leader and being somebody people want to work with, right?
Meg: I mean I think so that's I think one ... I think the second one is adaptability. I think again, we have to all, all of us, we have to get good at change because people that are good at change are going to do better in this kind of environment than people that aren't and whether your hangups would change our emotional and personal or whether they're about the topic that you've got a lot of expertise, whatever it is that's getting in your way of being good at change, I would invest in fixing that.
Meg: If I were wanting to really succeed in in the future workforce and in a big way because I think if you're good at empathy and you're good at change and you're a lifelong learner, you've got a lot of the tools you need in your toolkit to work towards any objective and I think that's how I look at it.
Wendy: Yeah, and as a manager, you need that empathy and compassion and you need to excite your people around change, but it's like, "That's a big role." You have to embrace the change and then you have to say, "What's our opportunity here?" Instead of always looking at like, "What's the downside or what could happen? What could really happen if we embraced this?"
Meg: That's right. Your job as a leader and as a manager is to exploit those opportunities for the maximum return. Right? And those are the individual people, growth opportunities and those are the sort of business execution opportunities, et cetera, like every piece of it, the better that you are at change, motivating it in yourself and in others, the better you're going to do as outcomes come.
Wendy: I have a little bit of a bias towards gratitude and appreciation because I think that goes along with empathy and that we do not use something that is so cost-effective, makes a difference, raises people up when you appreciate people for what they do and say, I loved how you came into the office and worked on that project and you raised everybody's level of excitement. It doesn't cost us anything and somehow for managers, we don't always use that.
Meg: I agree. In fact, I just read a really good TED article that was specific about gratitude, about the fact that we all know that when we give thanks and gratitude, it should be specific, it should be something that's tied really closely to the person, but it also needs to be leave room for growth, right?
Meg: Not to tell somebody they're the best. That was the best presentation. That was the best whatever, you look the best, you are the best because that makes it a comparative and what you want to do is actually expand the pie and make it inclusive so that the person feels that it was about them and it's directed to them, but that they also feel that there's room for growth so that they're constantly striving for that next level.
Meg: So I agree with you completely. I feel like in general, as a humanity, we could be better to each other, kinder and more clear about what we appreciate in each other. I think that's a great piece of experience.
Wendy: Yeah. And I love how you moved it up a notch by its directionality almost. It's like you're doing good and that always compels you to do better and to do more.
Meg: That's right. That's right.
Wendy: So you're heading in the right direction.
Meg: It's all about growth, right? I mean, again, the point for all of us I think is like how do we grow and how do we thrive? And I think gratitude is a key component of that.
Wendy: Yes. So anything, any final thoughts that you want to leave with our listeners? Because this has been so inspiring. I think people are going to listen to this and look at 2020 and the opportunities there. What do you want to leave us with?
Meg: Yeah, thanks Wendy. I really appreciate it. First off, I love the fact that you're helping the most important piece, which is the managers, right? If we think about human experience, if we think about that as it relates to work and the future of work and how work happens, I firmly believe that we're going to succeed or fail on how we treat each other as humans. Right?
Meg: And so for my job as a technologist, I feel just again, so much gratitude to be part of SAP success factors because our entire mission is to put people at the center of work, right? So that when we understand that what makes business successful, it's the people and we believe that technology has a very important part to play, but it's not exclusively about technology.
Meg: It's about a mindset and we want our customers to thrive and we want them to thrive by helping people feel connected and part of what they do for a living. We spend a lot of time at work, it's a big part of who we, and personally, I think that there is a reason that that can bring joy and I don't think that we're really hitting that mark if you look at the engagement surveys, it's not true.
Meg: People are not feeling the kind of satisfaction, the kind of personal recognition, the kind of connection to what they do that's available to them and I think that it's a really important mission to bring the future of work towards putting people at the center of it and so anyway, so that's, that's how I look at it and I'm really grateful to be part of it. I think this is a long journey, but I'm ... I think it's a journey I want to be part of.
Wendy: Yes, I agree with you. Well, I'm getting on that bus with you because I think there is so much we can do and it's fulfilling to do it. It's a direction that we want to move in and so I would love to talk again in like six months and see what [crosstalk] because you're out there spreading the word and I think people are learning and I really appreciate you and SAP for modeling this for other companies to say, "This is a great direction that we need to go in and it's going to be a win-win."
Meg: Yeah, and I will say our customers, they've been pushing us in this direction for quite some time. So this is not just an SAP thing, this is a recognition of the industry that ... This is important and everybody recognizes the opportunity here. So it's an exciting time.
Wendy: Yeah, well, we'll follow what's going on and look forward to catching up again and next year and see what has transpired and thank you for being with us today. It was wonderful, very engaging.
Meg: Thank you Wendy, this was lovely.
Wendy: Have a great day everybody, and go off and treat your humans well. Be empathetic, grateful and try to set up some partnerships with your HRBPs, everybody can learn from each other. Have a wonderful day.