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SuccessConnect 2023

SuccessConnect 2023, the SAP SuccessFactors annual event, took place on October 4 – 5.

IgniteSAP has provided our community here with a summary of the keynote speeches. Plenty of other on-demand breakout sessions are available so its not too late to sign up for the event to access this valuable content. We will be recommending our favorite breakout sessions at the end of this summary.

Day 1: Ignite Your Potential – Build a Future-Ready Workforce

The Day One Keynote was introduced by SAP’s Chief Marketing and Solutions Officer for SuccessFactors, Aaron Green.

He began by saying that the event was bringing together 10,000 customers from 100 countries, and launched straight into the discussion.

Aaron said that AI was accelerating and pushing our capabilities to new heights so it is a really exciting moment, leading us to assess the importance of human potential.

SAP behavioral scientists took a look at what happens when companies really prioritize unlocking human potential.

“Guess what? No big surprise. Areas like employee performance, retention and satisfaction: they all saw incredible improvements. And that’s what we’re here to talk about this week, because the richest source of potential in your organization is your workforce. All that they are today and all that they can be in the future.”

He then outlined what SAP has been doing in SuccessFactors to maximize human potential in HXM.

“Since we announced HXM [Human Experience Management], everything that we have built has been designed with the human experience at the heart. From new products, to completely new user experiences. We’ve delivered new ways to gain, to drive internal mobility and to gain insight into the dynamic teams that you know are inside of your organization. We’ve created new ways for employees to collaborate and for them to share information. And with time tracking, we’ve reimagined the experience to put the employee first. And today we’re really excited to share what’s next, because together we are all experiencing the dawn of a new era.”


Aaron Green said SAP research has shown that interest in AI has spiked at more than 400% among SAP customers over the last year, and according to Reuters news agency AI was mentioned 827 times across 76 tech company earnings announcements in Q2 of this year alone.

He pointed out that AI was helping employees become more productive, and that SAP Business AI was introduced in part to address feedback from SAP customers that 68% of people say that they simply don’t have enough uninterrupted time in their day to focus on getting their jobs done.

He announced that: SAP was introducing new generative AI capabilities to elevate talent, learning and recruitment, that SAP’s new digital copilot Joule is now embedded across the SAP portfolio to help employees get work done more quickly and efficiently, and that the Talent Intelligence Hub has been created to power the entire talent and learning strategy portfolio.

“We recognize that for each of you to become skill driven organizations, you needed a single skills model across your entire talent lifecycle. Our vision was to ensure that you could understand the common state and be able to make top down decisions about skill gaps, but also at the same time to drive a bottom up culture of continuous and dynamic talent development. Well, today I am happy to say that this vision has become a reality by integrating Talent Intelligence within HXM. And this extends beyond just HXM to our entire SAP ecosystem, from Fieldglass to S4, to our partner applications. And in addition, we are leveraging this rich data to dramatically improve the individual experience from inferencing skills based on talent data, to creating recommendations in the opportunity marketplace, to our brand new learning experience.”

This section was followed by a demonstration from the employee’s perspective of how an SAP customer, the company Cookie Delight, was using innovations like SAP ’s Joule and the Talent Intelligence Hub to help run their operations more effectively and make the most of their employees’ potential.

Delta Airlines Transforms HR With AI

The next segment was a discussion with another SAP customer Delta Airlines. Tim Gregory, Managing Director of HR innovation at Delta, spoke with SAP’s Head of People Success Traci Hughes.

Traci Hughes began by sharing some research from the World Economic Forum which found that more than 40% of skills and 1 billion jobs will change based on the introduction of new technologies by the end of the decade. This means that organizations will have to think again about how they deploy their workforce. She then asked Tim Gregory to share some insights into how Delta Airlines is changing their employee strategy.

“Our employee strategy connects directly into our business strategy. Our business strategy can be described… starting with the employee experience, moving into the customer experience. The customer experience is focused on an elevated experience, a caring experience. It’s really important for us to develop that for our customers and engage them in a way that is meaningful to them. We also look to engage them in the communities in which they live because that’s also vitally important. And when we’re able to engage our customers in those ways, both within, when they fly with us, or in any of the channels that they engage, whether it’s on the application, or when they’re talking to us on the telephone, or they’re in the air or at the airport, we want to bring that elevated experience, personalized and seamless to them in every step. If we can engage them in the customer experience and also in their communities, people will choose Delta.”

He went on to explain that the organization had realized that they needed to look at how the skills of their workforce helps them to reach their goals.

“One of the very first things that we did is we took a very close look at our job descriptions. And in cases where those job descriptions required a college degree, after really looking at that, we asked ourselves, do we care more about where their skills came from or if they have the skills? Are they proficient in the skills? Are they excelling in those skills? And we’re able to remove 90% of college degree for courses for jobs that did not require that, which allowed us to go after that goal of bringing to the frontline people who have frontline experience working with our customers, and moving them up into the managerial ranks.”

Tim Gregory went on to describe how Delta Airlines uses the three major components of the Talent Intelligence Hub to organize their workforce.

“The Skills Ontology is a vast library of skills that SAP and their partners have collected from around the world. On top of that, you have the Attributes Library. The Attributes Library allows you to go into the Skills Ontology and pull out the skills that you need to run your business. And then the personalization piece, going back to what we talked to at the top here with that elevated experience in terms of employees, that growth portfolio allows employees to bring their whole self to the work environment, look at the skills that are necessary, begin to collect them and develop them.”

Large Scale Trends In HR

Aaron Green then led the next section which was a conversation about large scale trends in workforce management between himself, Siva Sundaresan (SAP’s SVP of Applications Engineering), and Josh Bersin, an analyst, author, and thought leader focusing on the global talent market and the challenges and trends impacting business workforces.

Josh Bersin said that a Microsoft survey had found that while 13% of workers believed AI might reduce or eliminate their job, 70% believed it was going to make them more productive.

“This is a spectacular technology that is going to make your job as an HR person way, way easier and much, much more interesting and every business professional as well. So I think it’s really a sort of a super power productivity tool that’s going to make us all sort of super powered workers.”

Siva Sundaresan then shared some insight into how SAP Joule would bring some of these benefits into reality for HR managers.

“With Joule, employees can simply ask a question in simple plain language and get answers in real time, perform tasks without involving HR, and find answers to questions, which makes their life more productive. This could include everyday transactions like viewing a recent pay slip, which is the most frequent request to HR. What makes Joule very powerful is the answers are based on the wealth of information SAP has across their portfolio. So you can start the transaction with viewing pay slips. Next, you can ask about sales performance and you can finish a transaction doing travel authorization.”

Siva also gave some examples of other improvements to employee experience within SuccessFactors:

“We are making SuccessFactors more accessible by integrating it with where people are doing the work. For example, by including SuccessFactors into the flow of work within Microsoft teams, employees can easily do transactions like creating time off, which makes it simple and efficient. We are going to continue to add more capability into the general use cases. We started with recruiting. We will add performance goals, and we will go to Employee Central and more.”

Aaron Green then asked Josh Bersin in his capacity as an analyst who talks to hundreds of HR leaders every year, what they were most excited about when it comes to AI, and what are the tough questions that HR leaders need to be asking.

“Some HR professionals have been confused about what it is, and can we trust it? Is it safe? Because they’ve been using ChatGPT and they haven’t had an embedded system like SuccessFactors to use. But now I think where we are, and the reason I think these announcements are so significant is this is a practical, useful, productive application that is safe and built on the data in your company. It’s not out on the public Internet. So now the question is how quickly can we use it? What are the use cases that are going to be most relevant to our company given where we are today? And can we teach people to use it appropriately? You know, there’s prompt engineering. There’s things you have to learn about how to use these things. It’s not always giving you a perfect answer. So I think we’re past that fear and uncertainty.”

Josh Bersin also pointed out that the number of available workers is going to go down with time as the birth rate is becoming lower in almost every developed economy, and that AI has arrived at the right time to compensate with a productivity boost. Hiring more workers is not the most effective strategy anymore. Companies need to “automate improve, redesign and reorganize”.

Siva Sundaresan then said that SAP was going to accelerate its investment in AI, and that with every new release, we will see enhancements in Joule and Talent Intelligence, and further expanded use cases across the SAP portfolio.

Big HXM Projects By SAP Customers

Aaron Green then congratulated this year’s SuccessFactors Innovation Awards winners: Mod Pizza, Standard Chartered, BT Group, Savannah Energy and Zymeworks, and introduced SAP’s Chief Revenue Officer Maryann Abbajay, who led a discussion with three HR executives from SAP customers: Mihael Sotalo from Pandora, Greg Williams from Brightspeed, and Elaine Bergin from BT Group, about how they were bringing together HR and Finance functions to enable business transformations.

Mihael Sotalo spoke about how Pandora, a Jewelry retailer, carried out their digital transformation.

“Three years ago, we were really analog. We were managing 150 plus systems across all of our HR portfolio, and we used SAP SuccessFactors as a driver of transformation. In less than two and a half years, we deployed the entire suite, and this is really transforming the experience. It’s basically bringing the compliance to the HR organization and really changing the way of working. So now on top of that, we can really build the experience layer so we can basically focus on our talent story, we can focus on our store experience. And basically as a retailer that is really dependent on a on a brick and mortar store”.

Elaine Bergin spoke about BT’s iConnect program, a digital transformation project designed to improve the employee experience as a means to improving the organization as a whole.

“In 2021, we started what we called our iConnect program… in 2022, we went live with our first Big Bang release of everything actually at the core. So: Employee Central Recruitment, Onboarding, Qualtrics, DocuSign, OpenText, reporting and analytics… We started in 21, then in 2022 went live to all 100,000 employees in 44 countries around the world. We then followed that up this year with the full talent suite. A big focus for us is on what we call Performance Edge: being supported through SuccessFactors, as well as a big focus on skills.”

Greg Williams from Brightspeed, an internet infrastructure provider, then spoke about his own experiences implementing SuccessFactors, SAP Fieldglass, and S/4HANA, while also acquiring 3000 new employees from Lumen just prior to go-live.

Maryann Abbajay asked what role the finance side of the business had on the overall SAP footprint. Greg said:

“The finance got up getting up and running on S4, and from the Fieldglass portion, we imported all that data into our LMS system so that for our contractors, they can train, and our compliance training, our technical training. The S4 data is integrated into WFS, which is our time system. We capture millions of dollars of project costs and those are sent back to S4 on a per pay period basis.”

Addressing the same question to Elaine Bergin, she replied:

“We have a big contingent organization. It adds around 60,000 to our 100,000 employees… Fieldglass is a key part of the total landscape for us and we have a very similar sort of experience in the connection of our contingent workforce through into learning applications, even into SuccessFactors itself, where we’ve got some of our contingent workforce that perhaps need access to broader systems and so on. And then inevitably the different payment processing that’s required for a contingent workforce compared to your employed colleagues.”

She said that when thinking about how to keep people at the heart of the organization when bringing in emerging technologies it is important to have a clean, well-governed source of data for AI, and also to make sure that AI does good for the workforce.

Greg Williams said that Brightspeed were now bringing in AI to their customer service and chat platforms and Mihael Sotalo said that using AI enabled them to rethink the type of employee they would want working in their stores.

“We built an external application with an external provider that is basically compatible with SAP, that helps us to basically bring different profiles in. And typically, if you are a store manager, you would look for experience, you know, did you work in store? What’s your experience? What happened with us? Basically, we brought completely different talent from hospitality, from airline industries.”

The Day One Keynote ended with Aaron Green, who highlighted some of the activities and events taking place at SuccessConnect over the following days.

Day 2: Ignite Your Potential – Fresh Thinking, Forward Progress

The keynote on Day Two of SuccessConnect2023 focussed on how to break down preconceptions of what an ideal worker is, and how workforces should be organized with people at the centre as they are ultimately the most valuable asset of an organization.

The TED Talks

The main section of the presentation consisted of two TED talks, which were introduced by Rachel Morris, head of HR for TED. TED is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to ideas worth spreading. They run a podcast and hold events in which people from all backgrounds give short presentations about their own area of expertise in an accessible format.

Before bringing on the first guest, Rachel Morris spoke about the need for organizations to adapt not only their processes but also their culture.

“True agility demands not only a commitment to innovation, but also a bit of a cultural shift that fosters flexibility, collaboration and resilience… Agility is an imperative for survival and sustained success. And it relies on our ability to embrace new ideas, particularly when the old ideas just aren’t working anymore. SAP SuccessFactors facilitates the bridge between people and technology as all of us look to support our employees enabling them to be more productive and efficient. This results in better work, and better business outcomes and in thriving employees. According to a new report from Forbes, employees are three times more likely to consider other job opportunities when they don’t feel supported. 38% of employees leave jobs within the first year, citing a lack of career development as one of the main factors. That same report suggests that companies are 21% more profitable when they have highly engaged employees.”

A Role For Multipotentialites

The first TED Talk was from Emilie Wapnick, the founder of Puttylike, a home for Multipotentialites. Their talk was about what Multipotentialites are, and how businesses can benefit from embracing that type of worker.

They began with a brief discussion around the culturally ingrained idea of specializing in a skill or career, which starts with the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?”.

“I’m someone who’s never been able to answer the question… the problem wasn’t that I didn’t have any interests. Instead, I had too many… At a certain point, I began to notice this pattern in myself where I would become interested in an area. And I would dive in and become all consumed. And I get to be pretty good at whatever it was. And then it hit this point where I started to get bored. And usually I would persist anyway, because I had already devoted so much time and energy, and sometimes money into this field. But at a certain point, this sense of boredom, this feeling of like, yeah, I’ve got this, this isn’t challenging anymore, it will get to be too much. And I would have to let it go. But then I would become interested in something else, something totally unrelated.”

They said that their tendency to not specialize in one thing caused anxiety as a variety of interests appeared to be incompatible with a career, and also that maybe there was something wrong with a person who could not stick to one thing.

“The notion of the narrowly focused life is highly romanticized in our culture. It’s this idea of destiny, or the one true calling. The idea that we each have one great thing you’re meant to do.”

Emilie Wapnick coined the phrase “Multipotentialite” to describe people like herself who have many interests and creative pursuits. She drew comparisons with the “polymath” and the “renaissance person” who are culturally accepted but remarkable for their rareness.

Emilie also said that is important for organizations to recognize and accept these traits if they are to make the most of their workforce because many people are multipotentialites.

“It’s easy to see your multipotentiality as a limitation, or an affliction that you need to overcome. But what I’ve learned through working with multipotentialites and writing about these ideas for over a decade, is that there are some real strengths to being this way.”

Multipotentialites are able to do some things more easily than others and can be a real asset to a workforce. They are naturally predisposed to idea synthesis, which is taking ideas from two or more fields and combining them to create something new. We could say that SAP was started by a group of multipotentialites who used their IT skills to make businesses run more smoothly: which required knowledge of and interest in IT and business processes like financial closing.

Multipotentialites are also able to learn rapidly because they have a history of assimilating new content and concepts, and are adaptable.

These three particular character traits are extremely useful to businesses, particularly in a time of economic disruption and technological upheaval through new innovations like AI, so businesses need to learn how to combine these types of people with others who can complement their natural inclinations, rather than expecting them to simply be more like their peers.

“Some of the best teams are comprised of a specialist and multipotentialite paired together. The specialists can dive in deep and implement ideas while the multipotentialite brings a breadth of knowledge to the projects. It’s a beautiful partnership.”

“Move Fast And Fix Things”

The next speaker to provide a new framework to think about the central role of people in organizations was Anne Moriss, a CEO and leadership visionary who has aided transformational change at the highest levels of organizations. She spoke about the need to apply the motto “move fast and fix things” in HR processes and management.

“Move fast and fix things” is her adaptation of the phrase associated with Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg “move fast and break things”.

Moriss said that the idea that there would be a certain amount of wreckage produced in the process of making the necessary changes to an organization was inherently false, and not useful.

“The most effective leaders we know solve problems at an accelerated pace, while also taking responsibility for the success and the well being of their customers, employees and shareholders. They move fast and fix things.”

She illustrate her point with a description of a hypothetical working week in which a manager has decided to implement changes to working practices at a company, breaking the process of fixing problems down into each day of the week.

On the Monday the manager must figure out what the real problem is by trying to articulate the problem in a statement then reframing that problem by rephrasing the statement as a question. This can lead to new realizations about the nature of the problem.

So: “My Gen Z employees are too entitled” becomes “What’s going on with my Gen Z employees?”.

“Instead of your Gen Z employees being entitled, for example, you might discover that it’s you who feels entitled to burn them out and pay them less than what they’re worth, simply because that was the broken work contract that you put up with at their age… whatever it is you learned today, you’re going to be closer to understanding what’s really getting in the way of the relationship or the team or the life you want.”

Tuesday should be dedicated to running an experiment in how to solve your problem. So if the problem is trust then a prompt for the experiment could be “What could you do tomorrow to start building more trust than you did today”. The purpose of Tuesday is not to get it right. The purpose of Tuesday is to learn.

On the Wednesday you can share the problem statement and idea about the experiment, and your plan with someone who thinks in a way that is completely unlike you. The combination of ideas will firm up the plan to fix the problem.

On Thursday the manager should focus on communicating a narrative of the past, present, and future of the problem, and prepare people on the organization for the changes which will happen, and sell the change.

Friday is the day for making changes, bearing in mind the learning that has taken place over the week.

“You’ve now earned the right to go fast, because you’re far less likely to break things. So do all the things you decided to do over the last four days. But now do them with a sense of urgency. Urgency releases the energy in a system, it makes it clear to everyone that you take the problem seriously. So whatever distractions or unproductive process, or bureaucracy is in the way of you taking action, simply refuse to tolerate it, at least for today, at least for this week.”

The Changing Role Of Workforce Management

The next section of the presentation was an SAP customer story about Purolator, one of Canada’s largest courier companies, Emilie Wapnick and Anne Moriss were also involved in the conversation.

Tennyson Devoe, Purolator’s VP for Talent, Learning and Safety began by speaking about why it is so important to stay ahead of the curve.

“… The pandemic highlighted that on a level that we’ve never seen. We’re an essential services provider in Canada, when the pandemic happened. You know, Canadians and healthcare in general really relied on Purolator to help them out. And we faced a unique challenge. While many organizations were looking at downsizing or trying to figure out how they’re going to get through the pandemic, we were literally faced with overwhelming volume in our network, which meant we had to hire 1000s of employees, train them and make sure that the training landed, and that they were going to be effective in their job.”

Purolator used SuccessFactors to streamline recruitment processes, and learning systems to enable virtual training, and also Qualtrics to survey employees about their mental health during the pandemic. They took the lessons learned from these changes and applied them moving forward.

Anne Moriss was asked why it is critical for organizations to invest in their workforce. She said that even in a world of AI people are the only investment with a possibility of infinite returns.

“One question which we will often really challenge or invite people to take on is, what would be different in the organization? How would the organizational behavior change if you decided that people really were your most strategic asset?”

One frequent response is that organizations and employees need to have more effective meetings and avoid wasting each others time.

Emily Wapnick spoke about how organizations can create an environment where employees actually feel supported and empowered to lean in to their many kind of different interests and potentials. Her response was that:

“The first thing you can do is talk about your own outside passions and projects, hobbies, if you’re learning anything new: to create this atmosphere that’s it’s okay to talk about things outside of work and other things that you’re passionate about. It’s okay to have an unconventional background… I also think you shouldn’t assume that, just because someone’s done something, the same role, the same task again, and again, and again, and they’re very good at it, that that’s all they can do, or that’s all they want to do. And if there’s an opportunity, there’s like a new projects, new initiative, and you have an inkling that that someone might have some skills or just being interested, throw it out there and see if they might want to step out of their job description a little bit, try something new.”

Tennyson Devoe said:

“If people are truly passionate, especially as HR professionals, they also have to understand and ask what the impact is…We’re here around technology professionals, and people are very excited. But if you go and speak to frontline employees, it’s very similar to the conversations we heard a few years ago about automation: there’s a lot of fear. So I think being passionate while you’re doing and really thinking and looking through the eyes of the of the employees that you serve, are really core to being a great HR professional, and providing not only great solutions to your business, but helping to maintain a strong culture in your organization.”

He then spoke of the employee-centered application of new technologies like AI and gave the example of introducing cameras in warehouses, monitored by AI, which has been trained to recognize unsafe employee behaviors and using that to trigger manager interventions and training sessions to stop unsafe behaviors before accidents happen.

The keynote ended with a roundup by Aaron Green, Maryann Abbajay and Siva Sundaresan in which they revealed that SuccessConnect 2024 will take place in Lisbon, Portugal.

Other highlights from SuccessConnect 2023 Virtual

IgniteSAP would like to recommend registering with SAP to take advantage of all of the available on-demand sessions through SuccessConnect Virtual. Our top picks to watch are the “Executive Q&A Day 1” which covers all the ways that AI is now helping HR, as well as “A Chat with Josh Bersin on Why the Time is Now to Adopt AI”.

If you are an SAP consultant looking to make the most out of your extremely valuable skills our recruitment consultants can connect you with your ideal employer and help you negotiate a competitive salary or contract, join our exclusive community of SAP professionals at IgniteSAP.