In Conversation with Shraddhanjali Rao on HR Technology


In an exclusive conversation with SightsIn Plus, Shraddhanjali Rao, Head of Human Resources – SAP, India.

As the Head of Human Resources for SAP in India, Shraddhanjali Rao provides HR leadership across the region for all entities including R&D; Sales and Services organizations and is a member of the SAP India Leadership Team. Shraddha is responsible for designing and executing the people strategy focusing on Leadership, Talent and Culture to meet the needs of the region’s more than 13000 employees. She passionate about Future of work, Leadership, Inclusion and nurturing Startups.

Shraddha joined SAP over a decade ago and has held multiple roles at the Local and Global levels. Additionally, she has also led the Leadership and Diversity &Inclusion charter for SAP’s Products& Innovation Board area.

Shraddha has a Master’s degree in Human Resource & Marketing from T A Pai Management Institute & Executive Management Program from ISB and Harvard.

Q-You are a young HR leader that always carries amazing positive energy and has inspired many HR professionals’. How do you look at your career journey today and what are your career goals?

If I must select one word for a successful career journey it would be for anyone who has made it “experimental”- My journey in HR has been a jungle gym rather than a career ladder. For me a career transition is based on 2 key criteria -the learning experience that varied opportunities provides and the ability to create differentiated value for employees and customers. Personally, I have observed taking calculated risk gives an individual a greater opportunity to explore & collaborate. Also, I have had the support of tremendous mentors whose advice and coaching helped me steer my way through newer challenges.

My focus has been to collaborate with people and create inventions that have not existed in the past. Early on in my career I made the conscious decision of moving across regions and geographies. I always believed in working out of my comfort zone, thus the learning curve has been steep. I have been with SAP for over eleven years over multiple roles. This has helped me establish multiple partnerships to design HR products, learn the sales quotient and grow overall knowledge of people in the technology landscape.

My career goal is to have a significant positive impact with everything I do in life. With that in mind, it’s not limited to HR but to impact people, be it employees, customer or vendors and to encourage them to strategize, grow and break barriers that will eventually lead to their own success stories.

Q- HR has changed drastically in recent years, what is new CHRO to you? And what are the essentials of HR in new world of work?

A new CHRO is not only the enabler of the business but also the driver. In the new world of work, CHRO’s need to own the digital transformation journey along with the CEOs/CFOs to solve core business problems that will determine the organization’s success or failure. At the same time, they need to challenge the norms and demonstrate agility in the mindset and in the way, HR is structured for optimal impact. I would imagine the title to stand for “Architects of the culture” for the organization. Because without the agile mindset and cultural transformation, we all know – culture eats strategy for lunch.

In the new world of work, HR will be-

In the Beta mode- The world’s best HR and talent solutions are no longer available off the shelf- we need to invent them. Apps change every 2 weeks with new features to make our lives relevant. In HR we are continually evolving HR Processes to stay relevant? Are the current processes giving us results we want? If our customers are happy or not happy? Way we need to manage and deploy talent. 

Data Driven-Today we measure retention, turnover and compensation. Soon we will measure people’s social network, their behaviors and may be their heart beats. For e.g. vendors now sell badges that tell you when an employee is stressed. Data can help us find the right pool of talent by analyzing what kind of people are likely to leave the organization to find which universities are likely to churn out the best talent. Especially when combined with social Media like Linked In, Facebook. Analytics is becoming a new center of expertise in HR.

Policing to consulting- We are over reliant on policies and processes to make decisions. We need to move to a consulting approach, need to ask right questions to the business and have the business acumen to fly into their business situations, use our HR expertise, diagnose the problem and deliver some innovation solutions.

Q- There’s a lot of buzz around AI, ML and HR digital transformation.  How do you see its impact on Human Resources in the perspective of an employee life cycle?

There has been an ongoing discussion that the ‘H’ in HR is vanishing and I completely disagree. Placing a screen in between HR and the employees to improve day-to-day services may seem like the removal of the human aspect, but this digitalization will only enhance the ‘H’ in HR. While this may sound like a contradiction at first, when you run HR as a business and provide easier services for the employees with technology, there is more time and capacity to have personal conversations.

Technology in HR is not here only to automate what can be, but to go further with intelligent services, personalized learning recommendations, predicting attrition etc. throughout the entire employee lifecycle.

Recruit: SAP Resume Matcher which is a ML algorithm tool that looks at the resume’s that come in with the job description and does an automated matching. It saves recruiters enough time and most importantly, it reduces bias. Scheduling programs facilitate interview logistics by accessing your calendar and the candidate’s public calendar, providing suggested interview times leading to significant efficiency in the system.

Onboard: Adaptive Programs significantly reduces administrative effort from HR answering questions and directing activities. They remind new hires of important dates, suggest new trainings and identify individuals for networking providing them with flexible, personalized onboarding experience at the fraction of the cost.

Develop: Objective algorithms plan, develop and evaluate talent in an intentional and connected manner. They evaluate changes in performance and correlate changes to completed career development plan. Automatic reminders and real-time recommendations assist the worker with completing the plan.

Reward: Algorithms monitor, predict and act on retention risks to prevent critical losses to the organization. They correlate observed behaviors with past exits and predict who may leave the organization, and when and based on that retention programs review previous retention initiatives and past effectiveness, and suggest a tailored retention plan

Q- How are HR leaders using technology to improve workplace culture, employee experiences and culture of learning in organization?

At SAP we’ve moved to a Cloud-enabled HR operating model with clear employee segmentation, driving simple and scalable processes. We are using technology to provide an employee experience that’s scalable with a human touch. Our Employee Experience offering is an example, where employees can raise a ticket regarding career advice, career coaching and personal matters at work and there’s a video session where employees can receive 45 to 60 minutes of personalized coaching by a career expert.

As HR we are promoting a learning culture and providing our people the tools they need to get ahead and be prepared for jobs that don’t even exist yet today (Data scientists, Social Media analyst, Machine learning etc.). While we have smarter learning tools with great user experience and to access information anytime anywhere, we are also focusing on making it a personalized learning experiences for our employee as per the different learning styles and different employee segment.

There are 3 key pillars that are crucial in delivering the best in class learning experience:

  • Platform: On mobile availability on platforms like Cloud with simplified infrastructure, great user-interface, Innovative Learning Rooms, interactive and online social media sites
  • Content: We have an exhaustive list of learning resources based on the employees need.
  • Culture: We’re leveraging technology to drive a culture of innovation. We have TeachHub where employees can gain access to knowledgeable SAP experts, collaborate and network with fellow learners. Our Success Factors learning tool ensures mentoring is available to everyone and matching is unbiased. Coach finder helps employees connect with a coach or mentor.

Q- What are top 5 emerging digital transformation trends in HR for 2019?

I would list the digital transformation trends in HR as below:

  • Technology will redefine ‘H’ in HR for the better. It’s not about optimization, simplification or creating efficiency, it’s about changing the game for HR.
  • Focus on creating consumer grade experiences like instant gratification, immediate feedback
  • Personalization as one size doesn’t fit all with 5 generations of workforce and to create meaningful experiences to the employees we need to focus on what matters to them.
  • Drive data insights to drive transparency across levels, leading to more meaningful decision making
  • HR will solve businesses toughest challenges and enable growth of the business

Q- Social Media has great impact on business, how do you see role of social media in HR? What is your strategy for social media and how companies should write social media policy for employees?

Social media has a significant role to play in HR for our internal as well as external customers. The reputation of a brand is extremely important today. It is a powerful platform that encourages employees to engage and share their experiences while building a bond. Not only we leverage social media platforms like glassdoor to create a brand but also use it extensively to attract the talent. We are Partnering with “Belong” – It’s a web crawler to extract specific keywords from the social media (twitter /Linked in etc.). It extracts all the information about the candidate like resume, social activity, posts etc.  If the resumes are relevant to the job description, mail goes from SAP for a potential job opportunity in their work space.

Q- Tell us about SAP India work culture, what are the values and behavior of your company culture? And why is it a great place to work?

At SAP, Innovation is the sole of the organization and we encourage our employees by providing multiple platforms where they can dedicate their time exclusively to work on innovative ideas. Programs like SAP Blue, change makers, Early Talent Stretch assignments bring together inspired employees to look for newer ideas and processes that make better organizations. It creates a culture of innovation which reflects in their work every day.

We truly believe that our people are our greatest asset and strength, and therefore we invest extensively in their learning and development. At SAP, we firmly believe that everyone has talent and we value every individual for what they contribute. We encourage employees to bring all their talents and passions to work and utilize them to create their ideal careers. To further their aspirations, we provide them with the career development tools, training, mentoring, coaching, sponsorship and any support they need to bring all their career goals to life.  Learning opportunities are always around the corner, in line with our approach that learning can happen anytime, anywhere and anyplace – on the job, through interactions with peers and communities of practice via formal learning programs.

SAP has introduced many programs like flexible fellowships, cross generational mentoring, coaching summits, speed mentoring, internal job transfers, hackathons, innovation challenges that allow our employees to grow and increase the breadth and richness of their experiences.

Multidirectional career transitions allow our employees to have cross divisional experiences and it provides them with opportunities to build their own brand.

We have customized development programs and career roadmaps for our employees at all levels. The Bridge Forum, which caters to managers and our Expert Experience Program further enhances the learnings of experts through collaboration. We also have programs which foster professional development of employees through higher education support and career guidance sessions through our Employee Experience program. Overall, we create the right environment to nurture our employees to grow in the right direction and develop themselves because when our employees win, we win.

Q- Tell us of a few the best HR Practices at SAP India, especially your employee retaining and engaging HR practices for HiPos?

SAP has invested in programs and initiatives that will benefit our employees and guarantee their overall growth and success. A few of which are mentioned below:

  • Early Talent Development Initiatives – We invest in developing our next generation of employees and future leaders through various unique initiatives:
    • Cross Generational Mentoring and Coaching- This program seeks to bring synergies between our multi-generational workforce, by mapping employees from different generations together in a mentoring and coaching relationship. This allows for mutual learning and unlearning
    • Flexible Fellowships are projects which are a mix of technical work, shadowing opportunities, innovation, thought-leadership and business events available on Talent Marketplace. This allows us as an organization to not be held in silos but share talent across teams and functions.
    • Early Talent Summit: The summit brings together all our Early Talents to celebrate their contributions, help them navigate their transition from campus to the corporate world and create enriching experiences through a specially designed outdoor learning program

  • Developing our Leaders and Experts – We have customized programs and initiatives for the development of experts and leaders at all levels. Our Expert Experience Program is a holistic approach to address an Expert’s career path, learning and development needs and a need for a sense of community. We do this through flagship learning roadmaps, internal communities to promote thought leadership and share best practices within and outside SAP. We have 25 internal coaches in India and we also held a Coaching Summit to reinstate the value of coaching and develop coaching as a culture at SAP. We also launched DevX – our Development Excellence devX program in 2018 to support our employees throughout the year with various knowledge transfer events and sponsorship to speak at and attend top tech conferences. Our newly launched Teach Hub application allows employees to look for experts in a specific topic of interest and connect with them to learn.

  • Developing our Entrepreneurs: We encourage our employees to pursue their entrepreneurial ambition through our industry leading entrepreneurial sabbatical program. Here an employee can take 2 years sabbatical to follow their entrepreneurial dream and create something new. At the end of 2 years the employee can choose to return to SAP with all their experiences and learning.

  • Developing Women: We invest in our women at all levels of the organization and have ensured that women get the flexibility to create their career path through programs like Confluence, ACE and Headway. We encourage our women employees to be thought leaders in external events, such as the Grace Hopper conference, as speakers and panelists. Our Career Café, Speed Mentoring and Career Changing Conversations help develop our women employees through meaningful interactions and inspirational sessions from our leaders.

Q- What would have been your alternate career option, had you not gotten into the Human Resources field?

It is exciting to think about this. I am a dog lover, so something along the lines of a pet-training school/creche, an end to end boutique school that will comprise of training, grooming and boarding.

Thank You Shraddhanjali


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