Are Project Managers Really Admins?

Paul Dandurand

The world of project management was obsessed with metrics: in 2013, 62% of businesses felt they couldn’t properly track time and costs for their projects. This blew the door wide open for the development of project management software that would facilitate this kind of tracking. With KPIs now so easily accessible, PMs could easily communicate real-time reports to their stakeholders, and stakeholders could demand more frequent reporting, knowing that the information was at the tips of our fingers.

The thought process was: with better data and better tracking, surely there will also be better project success! Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Since 2013, there are in fact fewer successful projects every year. The 2015 success rate for IT projects was only 29%, according to Standish Group survey. This is hard on other projects areas like new product development projects and professional services client engagements.

Time and cost tracking added more stress on project managers to spend most of their time gathering the data to populate the project management tools or to manually create spreadsheet and PowerPoint reports. This is what I call project “administration” work.

So what’s going on here?

I believe the problem is too much project administrating and not enough managing and leading. Part of the blame could be from executives and sponsors demanding more detailed cost and schedule data without balancing it with project facilitation, execution, people engagement, and process improvement, which could lead to better business value success.

The three project management hats

Let’s take a minute to imagine this scenario in a different light: a restaurant. There are three main areas of management in a restaurant: the business, the food, and the service. These are usually divided among the general manager, executive chef, and maitre d’, respectively. Responsibilities are divided between all three roles and are specific to each without any overlap. If an executive chef starts managing servers and training them, the chef won’t have time to manage the sous chefs, as well. While the service may greatly increase in quality (or not), the food preparation will suffer. Bottom line: it takes a balanced effort across all three areas to successfully run a restaurant.

The same parallel can be drawn to project management: The success of a project requires three different types of tasks: administering, managing, and leading.

Some organizations have the resources, especially for very large projects, to have a separate person responsible for admin, managing, and leading. However, I certainly know that is not the case for most of us who need to survive with one person wearing all hats. The problem is that one of the hats (administration) gets worn much more than the other two—to our detriment.

Let’s look at the three hats.

1) Project administration hat (maitre d’ thinking):

The administrative portion of project management consists of tracking costs, time and resources, creating status reports, documenting, and setting things up.

2) Project management hat (executive chef thinking):

The managerial portion of a project is mostly about proper communication and facilitation. The goal here is to ensure proper communication within the team members, stakeholders, sponsors, and the end project customers. Management also takes the form of facilitation, where processes become streamlined and barriers or obstacles are removed. Managing is also about executing the process and solving problems. This includes motivating people to ask for help and to help others when needed. The manager should foster lessons-learned discussions and innovation to improve the process.

3) Project-leading hat (general manager thinking):

Leading entails identifying or understanding the project’s goals and communicating the vision and strategy to the team and stakeholders. Leaders see the bigger picture, challenge the status quo, and look to innovate. They also engage the team, but do so with executive management’s support.

In our past blog about why projects fail (Source: Standish Group), Lawrence Dillon, former ARAMARK Healthcare CIO and current COO at ENKI, LLC, found that none of the top five reasons for project failure had anything to do with the project administrator side of our project world. Here are the top five reasons for failure:

  1. Lack of executive support.
  2. Missing emotional maturity.
  3. Poor user involvement.
  4. No optimization.
  5. Not enough skilled staff.

The meat of these points relates to the duties of the project manager and project leader hats.

Project manager’s secret sauce: three hats on one head

Let’s assume we have no choice but to have one project manager for our project. How do we do so much with one head? Think of a small cafe or specialty restaurant where the owner is playing the role of general manager, executive chef, and maitre d’. This owner knows the business will not last long if strategy, innovation, and administrating is not done in balance.

How can one person manage a project with the three hats? Here are some ideas on how to not get over-consumed by project admin tasks:

  • Define project success: Establish a new definition of your project’s success with executives and leadership. In other words, what business value are you striving to achieve for them?
  • Prioritize metrics: Obtain agreement with leadership on what critical and minimal metrics are needed to best manage the success of meeting business value. Prioritize metrics between must-have and nice-to-have, and obtain and ensure that you have the power to choose to drop the nice-to-haves in favor of other leadership duties when there are time constraints.
  • Implement best project process: Choose the right project process recipes and ingredients needed for best project success. The process should have enough of the secret sauce to ensure that junior team members have the how-too information at their fingertips.
  • Streamline process: Mold your chosen process for any custom needs and ensure that the added information also has the steps on how things get them done for best end results.
  • Facilitate and execute: Fire up the oven and execute the process while solving problems.
  • Engage people: Engage team members to be accountable, ask for help, help others, and chime in on how to improve the process from lessons learned and new ideas.
  • Improve and repeat: Scale the process for future repeatability with flexibility in mind to forever increase business value.

If some of us are finding that we’re project admins due to time limitations, let’s see what we can do to lower the admin time and increase management and leadership time.

What about project software tools? As mentioned above, most tools focus their features for the project administrator hat: scheduling, resource allocation, progress percent, and financial data. I believe that future project tools will become more balanced with a focus on project manager and project leader hats. This will be about driving process with flexibility, engaging people to solve issues together, and improving the future process from lessons learned and new ideas.

For information about project management software for driving processes, please visit SAP App Center.

This article originally appeared on the Pie blog and is republished by permission.


Paul Dandurand

About Paul Dandurand

Paul Dandurand is the founder and CEO of PieMatrix, a visual project management application company. Paul has a background in starting and growing companies. Prior to PieMatrix, he was co-founder of FocusFrame, where he wore multiple hats, including those of co-president and director. He helped position FocusFrame as the market leader with process methodology differentiation. FocusFrame was sold to Hexaware in 2006. Previously, he was a management consulting manager at Ernst & Young (now Capgemini) in San Francisco and Siebel Systems in Amsterdam. Paul enjoys photography, skiing, and watching independent films. He earned a B.A. degree in Economics from the University of California at Berkeley.

How Not To Lose Your Job To Robots, Part 2

Paul Dandurand

Part 2 in a 2-part series. Read Part 1

In our last post, we talked about three steps you can take to keep your project management job as your firm starts to use AI for projects. In this post, we’ll wrap it up with a couple more steps.

Think outside the ROBOT box

Have you ever been in a situation where you felt you needed a creative solution and spent hours thinking without any result? That’s because creativity largely stems from our unconscious mind. You’re more likely to get to these Aha! moments when you’re not actively thinking about the situation. It’s a beautiful concept that even animals can benefit from, but alas, our friends the robots are not so lucky.

AI software can indeed create something new. Some can compose new songs and create art. But this takes a lot of computing power and still requires human input to be truly cohesive and pleasurable for humans.

What is more common today is the use of conversation bots with unstructured natural language. However, someone still needs to set up the bots to consider the many variations of user questions that are typed in the system.

You know how your phone can suggest words or responses to automatically complete the sentence you’re writing? It does this by scrutinizing all the text messages and emails you write on a daily basis to analyze and identify patterns. If you type “What” on your phone right now, you’ll see a suggestion of the word you use most often. You’re basically training the AI every time you type.

Researchers used this same concept, but instead of having the computer analyze texts and emails, they fed it several dozen movie scripts and then asked it to write a whole script of its own. They then hired a crew to shoot the movie. The final result was basically gibberish. The words are in English, and the grammar and the syntax are correct, but much of it is meaningless and incoherent.

You can see that computers have a long way to go before they become innovators, and that’s where humans can continue to provide value. Project managers are forced to show creative problem solving consistently. The key here is to build a project culture that fosters idea thinking for both small and big innovation designed to make future projects much better. If you learn how to do this, you’re sure to keep your job.

Always be three steps ahead

Before I make my point, I need to clear something up: prediction and planning are two completely different things. Predictions are made based on past or present data (or trends) and present the likeliest outcome based on these events if nothing changes. Planning, however, is an account of what should be done in the future. You can plan an event based on past events, or choose to go in a completely different direction due to a multitude of external factors.

This is another area where project managers can benefit from AI to make better decisions and therefore provide more value. Computers fall short in the absence of information or when they must imitate human interaction. Planning ahead usually involves uncertainty, interpersonal skills, creativity as well as predictive analysis in order to ensure the best decision is made. Once again, the most value is provided by humans combining their ideas, empathy, judgement, and creativity with the AI robots.

As you can see, the arrival of AI in your workplace could be a negative, unless you are able to understand where AI complements your intelligence instead of replacing it.

If you show leadership skills in your project management role, and your bosses see this, you’ll most likely keep your job!

This article originally appeared on the Pie blog and is republished by permission.


Paul Dandurand

About Paul Dandurand

Paul Dandurand is the founder and CEO of PieMatrix, a visual project management application company. Paul has a background in starting and growing companies. Prior to PieMatrix, he was co-founder of FocusFrame, where he wore multiple hats, including those of co-president and director. He helped position FocusFrame as the market leader with process methodology differentiation. FocusFrame was sold to Hexaware in 2006. Previously, he was a management consulting manager at Ernst & Young (now Capgemini) in San Francisco and Siebel Systems in Amsterdam. Paul enjoys photography, skiing, and watching independent films. He earned a B.A. degree in Economics from the University of California at Berkeley.

Moving Beyond Digital: How To Become An Intelligent Enterprise

Thierry Audas

Your company wants to be the smartest, the fastest, the best. Because, really, whose doesn’t? But how to get there is usually a matter of debate. Some people will tell you it’s going to take a lot of hard work, but the truth is, technology is equally crucial.

Technological advancements are ushering in a new generation of digital transformations and driving the need for more analytics. These transformations present an opportunity to give all employees, partners, and customers immediate insights into what’s currently going on and forward-looking insights into what’s going to happen next. These advancements mark the beginning of the rise of the intelligent enterprise.

The rise of the intelligent enterprise

Many executives started to understand the value of technology back when they embarked on their digital transformation because the technology they chose either helped them distinguish themselves as leaders or left them struggling in the dust. Fast-forward to today, where the pace of technological advancements is accelerating, and our expectations of what we can do with technology have changed drastically. Now doing a digital transformation isn’t revolutionary; it’s expected.

As companies start to catch up with leaders by adopting newer innovations, the bar of excellence is pushed ever higher. If you want to be the best, you need to go farther with technology and analytics with the goal of becoming not just a digital enterprise, but an intelligent enterprise.

The strategic intelligent enterprise

In short, your organization needs technology that can make your business processes more intelligent. This means technology that offers machine learning and predictive analytics tailored to your unique processes. With a foundation of operational insights, real-time analytics, and the ability to quickly generate reports to support tactical operations, an intelligent enterprise demands even more from its technology and thrives on 360° insights and analytics.

An intelligent enterprise must be able to drive strategic initiatives with comprehensive analytics on all data, at any time, because making strategic decisions is no longer a yearly or even a quarterly task. Leading companies are currently making these decisions on a daily basis, and they’re working to shorten that time frame even further.

In a recent video, Tom Pollock, head of Smart Information Management at Northern Gas Networks, commented about his company’s experience: “Right now, we’re making strategic decisions that will move the business forward on a day-to-day basis. What we’re moving toward with the digital boardroom is an environment where people are making decisions based on what’s happening right now. Going forward, we’ll be making decisions based on what’s going to happen in the next minute, in the next hour, in the next week, in the next year.”

Leaders across industries know that the speed of business is increasing, and their technology must keep pace. The need for analytics for everyday operations that can dive into strategic insights is accelerating in every industry and compelling every organization to nimbly adapt to new market realities. Will your company adopt the right technology for making the transition to an intelligent enterprise or will it be left in the dust?

Join us on June 28 to hear from our panel of experts and users how SAP Analytics solutions and SAP S/4HANA helps companies seize this opportunity to drive strategic initiatives across the entire organization. Register now!

 For a sneak preview, Tom Pollock shares how Northern Gas is transforming business operations with SAP Digital Boardroom and automating business processes with SAP HANA.

Learn more about SAP Analytics for SAP S/HANA.


Thierry Audas

About Thierry Audas

Thierry Audas is a senior director of Product Marketing with SAP and focuses on business intelligence and analytics. He works with SAP customers to help them better understand how SAP solutions help organizations to transform all their data, the foundation of a digital enterprise, into insight to drive innovation and create business value. Thierry has more than 20 years of experience in the BI and analytics field and has held various senior roles in presales, consulting, and product management.

The Human Angle

By Jenny Dearborn, David Judge, Tom Raftery, and Neal Ungerleider

In a future teeming with robots and artificial intelligence, humans seem to be on the verge of being crowded out. But in reality the opposite is true.

To be successful, organizations need to become more human than ever.

Organizations that focus only on automation will automate away their competitive edge. The most successful will focus instead on skills that set them apart and that can’t be duplicated by AI or machine learning. Those skills can be summed up in one word: humanness.

You can see it in the numbers. According to David J. Deming of the Harvard Kennedy School, demand for jobs that require social skills has risen nearly 12 percentage points since 1980, while less-social jobs, such as computer coding, have declined by a little over 3 percentage points.

AI is in its infancy, which means that it cannot yet come close to duplicating our most human skills. Stefan van Duin and Naser Bakhshi, consultants at professional services company Deloitte, break down artificial intelligence into two types: narrow and general. Narrow AI is good at specific tasks, such as playing chess or identifying facial expressions. General AI, which can learn and solve complex, multifaceted problems the way a human being does, exists today only in the minds of futurists.

The only thing narrow artificial intelligence can do is automate. It can’t empathize. It can’t collaborate. It can’t innovate. Those abilities, if they ever come, are still a long way off. In the meantime, AI’s biggest value is in augmentation. When human beings work with AI tools, the process results in a sort of augmented intelligence. This augmented intelligence outperforms the work of either human beings or AI software tools on their own.

AI-powered tools will be the partners that free employees and management to tackle higher-level challenges.

Those challenges will, by default, be more human and social in nature because many rote, repetitive tasks will be automated away. Companies will find that developing fundamental human skills, such as critical thinking and problem solving, within the organization will take on a new importance. These skills can’t be automated and they won’t become process steps for algorithms anytime soon.

In a world where technology change is constant and unpredictable, those organizations that make the fullest use of uniquely human skills will win. These skills will be used in collaboration with both other humans and AI-fueled software and hardware tools. The degree of humanness an organization possesses will become a competitive advantage.

This means that today’s companies must think about hiring, training, and leading differently. Most of today’s corporate training programs focus on imparting specific knowledge that will likely become obsolete over time.

Instead of hiring for portfolios of specific subject knowledge, organizations should instead hire—and train—for more foundational skills, whose value can’t erode away as easily.

Recently, educational consulting firm Hanover Research looked at high-growth occupations identified by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and determined the core skills required in each of them based on a database that it had developed. The most valuable skills were active listening, speaking, and critical thinking—giving lie to the dismissive term soft skills. They’re not soft; they’re human.


This doesn’t mean that STEM skills won’t be important in the future. But organizations will find that their most valuable employees are those with both math and social skills.

That’s because technical skills will become more perishable as AI shifts the pace of technology change from linear to exponential. Employees will require constant retraining over time. For example, roughly half of the subject knowledge acquired during the first year of a four-year technical degree, such as computer science, is already outdated by the time students graduate, according to The Future of Jobs, a report from the World Economic Forum (WEF).

The WEF’s report further notes that “65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in jobs that don’t yet exist.” By contrast, human skills such as interpersonal communication and project management will remain consistent over the years.

For example, organizations already report that they are having difficulty finding people equipped for the Big Data era’s hot job: data scientist. That’s because data scientists need a combination of hard and soft skills. Data scientists can’t just be good programmers and statisticians; they also need to be intuitive and inquisitive and have good communication skills. We don’t expect all these qualities from our engineering graduates, nor from most of our employees.

But we need to start.

From Self-Help to Self-Skills

Even if most schools and employers have yet to see it, employees are starting to understand that their future viability depends on improving their innately human qualities. One of the most popular courses on Coursera, an online learning platform, is called Learning How to Learn. Created by the University of California, San Diego, the course is essentially a master class in human skills: students learn everything from memory techniques to dealing with procrastination and communicating complicated ideas, according to an article in The New York Times.

Attempting to teach employees how to make behavioral changes has always seemed off-limits to organizations—the province of private therapists, not corporate trainers. But that outlook is changing.

Although there is a longstanding assumption that social skills are innate, nothing is further from the truth. As the popularity of Learning How to Learn attests, human skills—everything from learning skills to communication skills to empathy—can, and indeed must, be taught.

These human skills are integral for training workers for a workplace where artificial intelligence and automation are part of the daily routine. According to the WEF’s New Vision for Education report, the skills that employees will need in the future fall into three primary categories:

  • Foundational literacies: These core skills needed for the coming age of robotics and AI include understanding the basics of math, science, computing, finance, civics, and culture. While mastery of every topic isn’t required, workers who have a basic comprehension of many different areas will be richly rewarded in the coming economy.
  • Competencies: Developing competencies requires mastering very human skills, such as active listening, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, communication, and collaboration.
  • Character qualities: Over the next decade, employees will need to master the skills that will help them grasp changing job duties and responsibilities. This means learning the skills that help employees acquire curiosity, initiative, persistence, grit, adaptability, leadership, and social and cultural awareness.


The good news is that learning human skills is not completely divorced from how work is structured today. Yonatan Zunger, a Google engineer with a background working with AI, argues that there is a considerable need for human skills in the workplace already—especially in the tech world. Many employees are simply unaware that when they are working on complicated software or hardware projects, they are using empathy, strategic problem solving, intuition, and interpersonal communication.

The unconscious deployment of human skills takes place even more frequently when employees climb the corporate ladder into management. “This is closely tied to the deeper difference between junior and senior roles: a junior person’s job is to find answers to questions; a senior person’s job is to find the right questions to ask,” says Zunger.

Human skills will be crucial to navigating the AI-infused workplace. There will be no shortage of need for the right questions to ask.

One of the biggest changes narrow AI tools will bring to the workplace is an evolution in how work is performed. AI-based tools will automate repetitive tasks across a wide swath of industries, which means that the day-to-day work for many white-collar workers will become far more focused on tasks requiring problem solving and critical thinking. These tasks will present challenges centered on interpersonal collaboration, clear communication, and autonomous decision-making—all human skills.

Being More Human Is Hard

However, the human skills that are essential for tomorrow’s AI-ified workplace, such as interpersonal communication, project planning, and conflict management, require a different approach from traditional learning. Often, these skills don’t just require people to learn new facts and techniques; they also call for basic changes in the ways individuals behave on—and off—the job.

Attempting to teach employees how to make behavioral changes has always seemed off-limits to organizations—the province of private therapists, not corporate trainers. But that outlook is changing. As science gains a better understanding of how the human brain works, many behaviors that affect employees on the job are understood to be universal and natural rather than individual (see “Human Skills 101”).

Human Skills 101

As neuroscience has improved our understanding of the brain, human skills have become increasingly quantifiable—and teachable.

Though the term soft skills has managed to hang on in the popular lexicon, our understanding of these human skills has increased to the point where they aren’t soft at all: they are a clearly definable set of skills that are crucial for organizations in the AI era.

Active listening: Paying close attention when receiving information and drawing out more information than received in normal discourse

Critical thinking: Gathering, analyzing, and evaluating issues and information to come to an unbiased conclusion

Problem solving: Finding solutions to problems and understanding the steps used to solve the problem

Decision-making: Weighing the evidence and options at hand to determine a specific course of action

Monitoring: Paying close attention to an issue, topic, or interaction in order to retain information for the future

Coordination: Working with individuals and other groups to achieve common goals

Social perceptiveness: Inferring what others are thinking by observing them

Time management: Budgeting and allocating time for projects and goals and structuring schedules to minimize conflicts and maximize productivity

Creativity: Generating ideas, concepts, or inferences that can be used to create new things

Curiosity: Desiring to learn and understand new or unfamiliar concepts

Imagination: Conceiving and thinking about new ideas, concepts, or images

Storytelling: Building narratives and concepts out of both new and existing ideas

Experimentation: Trying out new ideas, theories, and activities

Ethics: Practicing rules and standards that guide conduct and guarantee rights and fairness

Empathy: Identifying and understanding the emotional states of others

Collaboration: Working with others, coordinating efforts, and sharing resources to accomplish a common project

Resiliency: Withstanding setbacks, avoiding discouragement, and persisting toward a larger goal

Resistance to change, for example, is now known to result from an involuntary chemical reaction in the brain known as the fight-or-flight response, not from a weakness of character. Scientists and psychologists have developed objective ways of identifying these kinds of behaviors and have come up with universally applicable ways for employees to learn how to deal with them.

Organizations that emphasize such individual behavioral traits as active listening, social perceptiveness, and experimentation will have both an easier transition to a workplace that uses AI tools and more success operating in it.

Framing behavioral training in ways that emphasize its practical application at work and in advancing career goals helps employees feel more comfortable confronting behavioral roadblocks without feeling bad about themselves or stigmatized by others. It also helps organizations see the potential ROI of investing in what has traditionally been dismissed as touchy-feely stuff.

In fact, offering objective means for examining inner behaviors and tools for modifying them is more beneficial than just leaving the job to employees. For example, according to research by psychologist Tasha Eurich, introspection, which is how most of us try to understand our behaviors, can actually be counterproductive.

Human beings are complex creatures. There is generally way too much going on inside our minds to be able to pinpoint the conscious and unconscious behaviors that drive us to act the way we do. We wind up inventing explanations—usually negative—for our behaviors, which can lead to anxiety and depression, according to Eurich’s research.

Structured, objective training can help employees improve their human skills without the negative side effects. At SAP, for example, we offer employees a course on conflict resolution that uses objective research techniques for determining what happens when people get into conflicts. Employees learn about the different conflict styles that researchers have identified and take an assessment to determine their own style of dealing with conflict. Then employees work in teams to discuss their different styles and work together to resolve a specific conflict that one of the group members is currently experiencing.

How Knowing One’s Self Helps the Organization

Courses like this are helpful not just for reducing conflicts between individuals and among teams (and improving organizational productivity); they also contribute to greater self-awareness, which is the basis for enabling people to take fullest advantage of their human skills.

Self-awareness is a powerful tool for improving performance at both the individual and organizational levels. Self-aware people are more confident and creative, make better decisions, build stronger relationships, and communicate more effectively. They are also less likely to lie, cheat, and steal, according to Eurich.

It naturally follows that such people make better employees and are more likely to be promoted. They also make more effective leaders with happier employees, which makes the organization more profitable, according to research by Atuma Okpara and Agwu M. Edwin.

There are two types of self-awareness, writes Eurich. One is having a clear view inside of one’s self: one’s own thoughts, feelings, behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses. The second type is understanding how others view us in terms of these same categories.

Interestingly, while we often assume that those who possess one type of awareness also possess the other, there is no direct correlation between the two. In fact, just 10% to 15% of people have both, according to a survey by Eurich. That means that the vast majority of us must learn one or the other—or both.

Gaining self-awareness is a process that can take many years. But training that gives employees the opportunity to examine their own behaviors against objective standards and gain feedback from expert instructors and peers can help speed up the journey. Just like the conflict management course, there are many ways to do this in a practical context that benefits employees and the organization alike.

For example, SAP also offers courses on building self-confidence, increasing trust with peers, creating connections with others, solving complex problems, and increasing resiliency in the face of difficult situations—all of which increase self-awareness in constructive ways. These human-skills courses are as popular with our employees as the hard-skill courses in new technologies or new programming techniques.

Depending on an organization’s size, budget, and goals, learning programs like these can include small group training, large lectures, online courses, licensing of third-party online content, reimbursement for students to attain certification, and many other models.

Human Skills Are the Constant

Automation and artificial intelligence will change the workplace in unpredictable ways. One thing we can predict, however, is that human skills will be needed more than ever.

The connection between conflict resolution skills, critical thinking courses, and the rise of AI-aided technology might not be immediately obvious. But these new AI tools are leading us down the path to a much more human workplace.

Employees will interact with their computers through voice conversations and image recognition. Machine learning will find unexpected correlations in massive amounts of data but empathy and creativity will be required for data scientists to figure out the right questions to ask. Interpersonal communication will become even more important as teams coordinate between offices, remote workplaces, and AI aides.

While the future might be filled with artificial intelligence, deep learning, and untold amounts of data, uniquely human capabilities will be the ones that matter. Machines can’t write a symphony, design a building, teach a college course, or manage a department. The future belongs to humans working with machines, and for that, you need human skills. D!


About the Authors

Jenny Dearborn is Chief Learning Officer at SAP.

David Judge is Vice President, SAP Leonardo, at SAP.

Tom Raftery is Global Vice President and Internet of Things Evangelist at SAP.

Neal Ungerleider is a Los Angeles-based technology journalist and consultant.

Read more thought provoking articles in the latest issue of the Digitalist Magazine, Executive Quarterly.

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HR In The Age Of Digital Transformation

Neha Makkar Patnaik

HR has come a long way from the days of being called Personnel Management. It’s now known as People & Culture, Employee Experience, or simply People, and the changes in the last few years have been especially far-reaching, to say the least; seismic even.

While focused until recently on topics like efficiency and direct access to HR data and services for individual employees, a new and expanded HR transformation is underway, led by employee experience, cloud capabilities including mobile and continuous upgrades, a renewed focus on talent, as well as the availability of new digital technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence. These capabilities are enabling HR re-imagine new ways of delivering HR services and strategies throughout the organization. For example:

  • Use advanced prediction and optimization technologies to shift focus from time-consuming candidate-screening processes to innovative HR strategies and business models that support growth
  • Help employees with tailored career paths, push personalized learning recommendations, suggest mentors and mentees based on skills and competencies
  • Predict flight risk of employees and prescribe mitigation strategies for at-risk talent
  • Leverage intelligent management of high-volume, rules-based events with predictions and recommendations

Whereas the traditional view of HR transformation was all about doing existing things better, the next generation of HR transformation is focused on doing completely new things.

These new digital aspects of HR transformation do not replace the existing focus on automation and efficiency. They work hand in hand and, in many cases, digital technologies can further augment automation. Digital approaches are becoming increasingly important, and a digital HR strategy must be a key component of HR’s overall strategy and, therefore, the business strategy.

For years, HR had been working behind a wall, finally got a seat at the table, and now it’s imperative for CHROs to be a strategic partner in the organization’s digital journey. This is what McKinsey calls “Leading with the G-3” in An Agenda for the Talent-First CEO, in which the CEO, CFO, and CHRO (i.e., the “G-3”) ensure HR and finance work in tandem, with the CEO being the linchpin and the person who ensures the talent agenda is threaded into business decisions and not a passive response or afterthought.

However, technology and executive alignment aren’t enough to drive a company’s digital transformation. At the heart of every organization are its people – its most expensive and valuable asset. Keeping them engaged and motivated fosters an innovation culture that is essential for success. This Gallup study reveals that a whopping 85% of employees worldwide are performing below their potential due to engagement issues.

HR experiences that are based on consumer-grade digital experiences along with a focus on the employee’s personal and professional well-being will help engage every worker, inspiring them to do their best and helping them turn every organization’s purpose into performance. Because, we believe, purpose drives people and people drive business results.

Embark on your HR transformation journey

Has your HR organization created a roadmap to support the transformation agenda? Start a discussion with your team about the current and desired state of HR processes using the framework with this white paper.

Also, read SAP’s HR transformation story within the broader context of SAP’s own transformation.


Neha Makkar Patnaik

About Neha Makkar Patnaik

Neha Makkar Patnaik is a principal consultant at SAP Labs India. As part of the Digital Transformation Office, Neha is responsible for articulating the value proposition for digitizing the office of the CHRO in alignment with the overall strategic priorities of the organization. She also focuses on thought leadership and value-based selling programs for retail and consumer products industries.