Thriving on Change

SAP’s Brigette McInnis-Day talks about transformation, innovation, strategy

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer October 5, 2018
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Brigette McInnis-Day, chief HR strategy and digital transformation executive, chief operating officer for SAP SuccessFactors.

​Changes in technology, the labor market and business models are challenging organizations everywhere.

Brigette McInnis-Day is one leader who has successfully turned those challenges into opportunity. She is the chief HR strategy and digital transformation executive, as well as the chief operating officer, for SAP SuccessFactors, the cloud-based human capital management business of global enterprise software giant SAP.

In her current role (and previously as executive vice president of HR at SAP), McInnis-Day leads the digital transformation of HR at the company, promoting HR strategy and redesigning processes.

McInnis-Day spoke to SHRM Online about leading an HR transformation, as well as personal passions such as championing workplace culture and pushing for more diversity among high-level leaders.

She will be speaking Oct. 15 at the Society for Human Resource Management's 2018 Strategic HR Forum in Chicago.

SHRM Online: What's the role of HR in a successful HR transformation?

McInnis-Day: In progressive companies, HR is leading the transformation alongside the business. HR must understand the business strategy first and [build the HR strategy in parallel with it].

HR needs to drive the most critical aspects of that change—the people aspects. If change just happens to employees, it won't be well-received. Your workforce needs to know why they are making a change. They need to understand what is in it for them. And if you bring them along on the journey and get their help in designing the solution, it will be much smoother sailing.

The programs the workforce helps to build to get them through the change and sustain that change are important. You can change for a matter of months, but what will make it sustainable? That requires a different focus, and that's where HR has a clear advantage—they see the entire organization and can help drive a successful transformation.

SHRM Online: Where does culture come into play?

McInnis-Day: [A successful HR transformation requires] understanding what you want to have live and thrive in your culture [and] building your strategy at the same time, versus having culture be an afterthought to the strategy and figuring out later what the downward impact is to the people. It's about having that conversation with the CEO and the C-suite and asking what elements of the culture are really strong and you want to keep and foster and what [new] things you want to introduce to the culture. Be deliberate about what aspects of culture you want to drive.

SHRM Online: What strikes you as innovative in HR right now?

McInnis-Day: When I think about innovation, it's not just technology. It's how you prepare for changes and innovate in terms of the culture, hiring practices [and] learning. [It's] bringing in the types of leaders who will drive new, disruptive business models and make sure the company isn't being disrupted but instead disrupts ahead of time.

For example, preparing for the shifts in work and the changes in the skills that are needed must happen today to be ready for the next six months, or five years. Even if we don't know exactly what the future looks like, putting that agility into the mindset of employees and broadening what the workforce looks like has to happen now.

SHRM Online: What are some innovative things you've seen companies doing with technology?

McInnis-Day: A lot of the technology investment is in the HR space at the moment, in the recruiting space: how can we find the talent we need; looking at sourcing differently; and taking out bias in how we hire, how we communicate, how we develop.

The trend of leveraging technology to drive gender pay equity to ensure that bias is removed from all of our processes is important. Another area that I'm excited about is organizational design [and] thinking about how you model out organizations—not just who goes in which box but how should the organization be designed, run and tested and what is the impact on the people. Today, we do a lot of that manually. That innovation could identify if [people are assigned incorrectly or overlooked]. Because when you reorganize, you want to make sure you don't lose talent and you're identifying the right talent from all corners of the world.

I'm also excited about chatbots, artificial intelligence and machine learning allowing leaders and employees to relinquish transactional tasks and have more time for leadership, inspiration, and building programs that touch the hearts and minds of people.

SHRM Online: What are some of the things SAP has done to achieve pay equity?

McInnis-Day: We're pretty proud to be the first tech company to be certified with an EDGE Certification (a global assessment and business certification standard for gender equality) in North America. EDGE certifies you for different processes like recruiting, hiring and other areas. We're pursuing EDGE Certifications around the world. In China, we've seen a huge shift in certified processes. Where we found issues, we rectified them in a transparent way.

SHRM Online: What can women learn from your career path about how to grow their own careers?

McInnis-Day: SAP has been a great place for me because I've been able to be myself. Many times, I was tapped for new opportunities. Early on in my career, I took roles that other people wouldn't because they were difficult or not well-defined. My advice is that it's OK to be uncomfortable. When you're uncomfortable, you have the most growth. Trust yourself and take risks. If you don't trust yourself, other people won't. They see that confidence and ability to take risks even if you don't have all the experience. That allowed me to take on projects with a lot of accountability and visibility that other people wouldn't touch. At the same time, I felt that if I could, I should.

Also, along the way, people sponsored me because they knew they could count on me and I could perform and bring a team of talent along. The sponsorship happened naturally, [as] part of my career progression.

SHRM Online: What are your thoughts on the lack of women in C-suite positions?

McInnis-Day: Things are not changing fast enough. First, I think both men and women need to support women more to get to higher levels in organizations. There are great women and men out there who identify talent and build diverse teams and have consistently shown success. A key attribute of these leaders is their ability to attract, retain and grow diverse talent, and they are brave enough to find talent in new ways. I don't believe that you're going to win going after the same homogenous profiles. If companies want to innovate and be more progressive, you will see more women and more diversity across the board and it will break down some of those barriers that have held people back.

Technology that identifies the best talent without bias is changing the game, providing visibility to talent and ensuring we have truly diverse candidate slates and no lags in succession. Technology is the key enabler as long as we have brave men and women to lead the way.

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