C-Suite talks HR: Christian Schmeichel, chief operating officer of global HR at SAP

Providing employees the best consumer experience for HR's services will help HR remain relevant in disruptive times

C-Suite talks HR: Christian Schmeichel, chief operating officer of global HR at SAP

Dr Christian Schmeichel started out at SAP in 2005 as a coordinator of global HR projects. He rose through the ranks at the technology company and by 2010, he was the head of HR strategy, programs and processes at SAP’s headquarters in Germany.

He then spent almost two years as a head of HR at SAP Japan between 2013 and 2014, sharing with HRD that he enjoyed the chance to live in Asia and found the experience very exciting.

He returned to Germany in 2015 and has since been holding the role of chief operating officer of global HR at SAP.

An advocate of digital transformation, Schmeichel told HRD why disruption brims with opportunities for HR professionals and how running the HR department like a business will help professionals cruise through uncertain times.

“What’s interesting about digital transformation is not just about the technology; it’s also about the whole change in society,” he said. “One study predicted that by 2025, 80% of the workforce will be made up of digital natives.”

The COO went on to explain digital natives’ tech consumption habits — for instance using mobile devices “anywhere, anytime”, communicating with friends and colleagues via social media platforms and watching movies on apps like YouTube.

“Imagine having them as part of the workforce. They will expect a similar environment at their workplace. This is a huge shift as when they bring such requirements to work, for companies to be attractive to them, employers will have to follow exactly [these expectations],” he said.

“People will have the same expectations of what they have in their work lives as they do in their private lives.”

This reason alone should be enough motivation for HR to transform and ambition to provide the best consumer experience for employees with user-friendly workplace processes and systems, he added. In other words, to run HR like a business.

And how can HR be run like a business?

“To do this you need to embrace the advantages that technology brings, cos tech helps you to simplify and analyse things much better than before, giving you the opportunity to fit the requirements of the worker and come up with a consumer experience,” Schmeichel said.

He said that a lot of HR services are already quite “transactional”, for example with leave requests and claim forms, so providing user-friendly tools and systems will ultimately make the workplace more attractive to employees.

Tech will put the ‘H’ in HR
Putting a screen in between HR and the employee to improve day-to-day services may seem like a removal of the human aspect in HR, but Schmeichel believes that digitalisation will enhance the ‘H’ in HR.

“While this may sound like a contradiction at first, but when you run HR like a business and provide easier services for the employee with technology, you free up time [and capacity] to have personal conversations or consultations,” he said.

Leveraging tech will be especially impactful to improve communication for employees who are always on the road, such as those in client-facing roles. For example employees can have video calls with HR through apps like Skype and FaceTime while they’re out of office.

“Technology will allow HR to provide the human touch with scale — and I think that is the key differentiator for me,” he said.

This will come in handy as organisations increasingly internationalise their operations and have offices across the globe.

“Some people may have fears or concerns about transformation but I don’t at all. Not because I don’t think there are no risks, but it’s because I think it’s up to us to shape this.

“There have always been transformations through the ages, so this is nothing new.

“The difference for us now is we have plenty of good insights into the future or at least have an idea of what to expect…so I’m seeing this as an obligation for HR to stand up to the challenge and co-shape this to create a positive future of work."


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C-Suite talks HR: Adidas CHRO: Putting HR back in the boardroom


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