Looking back at 2013 – A tale of two employers


Compared to the time between 2008 to 2012, when I was fast tracking through an IBM career in management – I had a pretty relaxing year at SAP in 2013 on many fronts . Mostly, I have been in a learning mode – and I did learn a lot about how this great company works .

IBM was rather command and control driven to some extent – someone up top decided what needed to be done . I had the freedom to figure out how to do it – assuming I met the goal ethically . Well, meeting the goal didn’t count for much there – you had to exceed the goal by a long margin to be seen as a leader . Every goal we had to hit had to tie back to corporate goals set by CEO – very little vagueness prevailed . Not that all employees liked or agreed with what the goals were – but everyone knew what hills were marked for them to capture .

SAP works very differently – here we like to build consensus for all decisions . People a few levels down from the board members can still define “what” and not just “how” . And I love that balance of top down and bottoms up decision making .

Both companies are rather heavy on process – SAP is smaller in size compared to IBM. But there isn’t much of a relief on process – everything has a process , and it takes whatever time it is supposed to take . I guess that is the price to pay when any company gets to a certain size and scale – from that point , process doesn’t get better or worse . One might learn over time to optimize the constraints or you might just get used to the process and it becomes second nature . I haven’t done either yet – still figuring that one out .

I know IBM occasionally gets flak in the press for not pleasing some customer or other . But having worked there for a long time (actually pretty short time by big blue norms) – I know those are exceptions to the rule . I grew up in IBM with “when in doubt – do right by the customer” drilled into my head . That is thankfully the general policy at SAP too – everyone jumps in to solve Customer issues irrespective of their day job or title . Again – something I absolutely love . In IBM , I had to stay back and deliver what I sold to a customer. In SAP – I don’t have to sell anything , just focus on engineering and related topics . I miss a bit of the adrenalin rush that sales comes with – but I think I am a better techie than a seller . I can live this way for a while .

My motto on team work is simple – success of a team is determined by whether the members of that team watch out for each other even after the people no longer work together . Not everyone works well with my style of leadership. I am fairly hands off – and I hold people responsible for an outcome. There are no marks given for steps – and neither does my team ever get a goal that I am not directly measured on . We succeed or fail together . That is not everyone’s cup of tea – which is why I said people still watching out for each other years after going through a hard project is how I determine true success. At SAP I think I have successfully talked many people out of joining my team full time 🙂

With most people I have worked with in past – I have the faith that I can call them at any time of the day and they will not only pick up the phone , but will also do their best to help me with my request the best they can . And they know they can expect the same of me . Just two weeks ago in India – two of my team mates (Nitish and Anupama) from 2008 came to my hotel late in the evening just to say hi to me and chat . I can’t express how happy that makes me feel . Not everything in corporate life is enjoyable – but this , building a team and seeing them grow , never ceases to be a fulfilling activity .

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Compared to my time at IBM , my direct team at SAP is minuscule in size . But I have nothing but utmost satisfaction working with them – if you see us debating you might think we are eleven year olds arguing in a playground 🙂 . We challenge every idea – especially the ones that originate from me . But then we get things done . Our little skunkworks project to offer a free BW on Hana trial on AWS ( http://saphana.com/bwonhanatrial ) is a perfect example . With no formal project – not even a cool code name – we managed to get it done , and in a couple of months this trial has had more than thousand sign ups and more than 50000 hours logged . It was not just our little team – we got full commitment from everyone we requested across the company .

This was a complete déjà vu for me – when the SAP innovation center was formed at IBM, this is exactly how we did it . A small team of volunteers from across the globe who believed in the cause came together and we got it done – without formal budget , headcount and so on . That team is now a big part of IBM – ably led by Gagan Reen, my most trusted wing man those days . I am happy beyond words that this model worked just as well in SAP with Ingo, Rohit and other colleagues . It also reaffirms my belief that good things get done at great speed when small ad hoc teams get formed on the fly .

When it comes to my reputation(?) – majority of people in IBM knew me mostly as a solid technologist in the first part of my career and then as a consulting leader with good abilities in both sales and delivery . In SAP , I am most commonly introduced to other colleagues as a blogger that Vishal hired . It still amuses me to no end – but it has happened at least a hundred times . This leads to people asking me occasionally if I can blog about their product or retweet something they have tweeted . I am honored that some colleagues think I have enough clout in social media to positively amplify their work . However , this is not something I like doing – as an employee , I have very little credibility if I pimp something about SAP . That is best left to the ecosystem – if they see value, they will promote . If they don’t – they will criticize or ignore . While I continue to blog whenever I feel like it – it is rather rare these days that I blog about SAP like I used to before . If 2014 continues in this way – I guess I should interview with Jonathan Becher for a job in social media marketing 🙂

Perhaps the biggest difference between a software job and a consulting job is the org structure . In consulting teams are formed according to project needs – otherwise skilled people form part of a resource pool (I hate the use of the term resource to refer to human beings). In software , there seems to be more of a rigid structure of a team assigned to a manager for a very long time . Neither model is completely inflexible – some part of the team is always made up of people assigned from other parts of the organization . Having been used to working with the flexible resource pool for a long time , it is a bit hard for me to get used to the seemingly more rigid structure at SAP . It is most probably a factor of time – and I am sure I will get there at some point , hopefully soon. Or die trying 🙂

People have asked me many times this year on what is the one thing I miss the least from IBM days – and My answer has not changed . I am happy that I don’t have to deal with lotus notes any more . I never liked it – and I really hope I don’t have to use it again . I don’t ever want to choose between “do you want to delete ? Or do you want to remove” when I try to delete an email .I know there are many IBMers who love notes – more power to them . For me – no thank you !

No idea what 2014 has in store for me – but not going to worry about that . I could use the vacation time to train my dogs , and spend some much needed time with my family away from airports and planes .

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Happy holidays everyone !

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5 thoughts on “Looking back at 2013 – A tale of two employers

  1. I have been debating about writing a similar post- the tale of two employees- SAP and Oracle- but I have not put pen to paper so far. Your post inspired me to do so. Most probably will not publish ;-), but will give it a try over the holidays…after all December is to remember….

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  2. You might not have to deal with Lotus Notes anymore,but now you have to deal with SAP ERP screens to do your expense reports. That was the most difficult part of the transition after being acquired by SAP a few years ago… 😉

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