Want To Drive Engagement? Think “Purpose,” Not “Paycheck”

Richard McLean

Part of the Purpose-Driven CFO” series

Employee engagement is a hot topic in the business community – with good reason. After all, running a sustainable business depends on employing and retaining the right people. Beyond budgeting for proper compensation, a strategic CFO can have a significant impact on the ability to attract and retain the strongest talent by supporting programs that create an appealing culture.

One way I’m doing that at SAP is in my role as an executive sponsor in the SAP One Billion Lives (1B Lives) program. This program not only enables SAP to uphold its purpose to help the world run better and improve people’s lives; it motivates me and my team in very compelling ways.

Making a positive impact on 1 billion people by 2020

What started in the Asia-Pacific region in 2016 as a program to use our skills, technology, and the passion of our people to address social issues has grown to become a global initiative within the company. The intent of the program is to make a positive impact on 1 billion people by 2020. Our employees present their ideas in a “Dragon’s Den” type forum. Five ideas are picked per region each year that SAP will then help build into sustainable, commercially viable solutions to major social challenges. To give you a sense of the internal impact of this program, in the first year alone, we had 40 ideas that were presented in the Asia-Pacific (APJ) region; this year, there were over 100.

To date in APJ, SAP has proceeded with 15 projects. We encourage our employees to devote up to 20% of their time to these projects. In my experience, managers seem to be quite happy to support the program because they believe in it and know employees will still get their work done anyway, beyond the normal workday if needed. That’s what people do if they’ve found a cause that excites them and they’re passionate about.

Improving cancer treatment in India

I’m the executive sponsor of a program that focuses on cancer research in India. A collaboration with the Ramesh Nimmagadda Cancer Foundation (RNCF), the project is intended to speed up data collection and analysis for better cancer treatment for patients in India. Cancer mortality rates are higher in India than those in western countries, most likely because treatment has largely been dependent on data derived from Caucasian patients from western countries – which is not always effective for those of other ethnicities.

Since the program started, we’ve supported the collection of data from more than 1 million patient records. We’ve built the platform and recruited a partner to host it at very little cost. We’ve supplied a core team of volunteers, mostly from our development and services organizations in India, who are driving the project. Our data scientists are working with the medical community to properly structure and analyze the data. It’s taken two years to get to this point, but we are soon going to be in a position to support the publication of research papers – a pretty exciting milestone for all involved.

Enabling greater autonomy for seniors

I’m also the executive sponsor of an initiative in partnership with Australian aged-care providers and government agencies to demonstrate the impact of digitally enabled care. The program addresses a growing population of elderly people who want to live at home for longer. SAP is again working with partners to build a solution and run a trial that leverages the Internet of Things to connect wearable devices and smart household devices to facilitate better autonomy and at-home care. This is another early-stage program that has captured the enthusiasm of many of our Australian employees, supported by development resources from around the region.

How the office of finance fits in

What does the office of finance have to do with these initiatives? Well, besides supporting employee engagement, finance has to create the budgets and allocate resources for programs like these. We have to help our operations evolve toward intelligent finance. But beyond that, I encourage people on my team to apply their business acumen to help the ventures succeed. The program is all about building something sustainable that has the potential to be commercialized and thus better ensure long-term success and impact.

My role as executive sponsor helps provide momentum and foster connections to get funding or resources to take a venture to the next level. We can help by providing support for legal agreements and commercial models. With an eye on the longer term, we guide the ventures in the early stages to help them avoid pitfalls on the way to commercialization.

Rallying the troops for the greater good

The value to SAP, beyond fulfilling our broader mission, is that we’re building long-term engagement opportunities for our employees. It helps us attract and retain great people who want to make a difference in the world – people who are technologists at heart but also want to do good for the world. That’s the kind of culture we want to build at SAP.

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Richard McLean

About Richard McLean

Richard McLean, regional CFO for SAP Asia Pacific Japan, oversees all key finance and administrative functions for field and regional headquarters, supporting more than 18,000 employees. He has more than 20 years of experience in senior finance roles with leading global companies across a range of industries, including financial services, investment banking, automotive, and IT. He joined SAP in 2008.