UNLEASH Conversations: Exploring HR Meta Trends for 2024
Guests: Maryann Abbajay, Chief Revenue Officer, SAP SuccessFactors
Today on the HR Happy Hour Show, Trish and Mervyn were joined by Maryann Abbajay on the main stage at UNLEASH to examine the HR trends for 2024 in workforce management and retention.
– Career development, skills, and trends in the tech industry
– Work flexibility and virtual meetings
– Workplace wellness and mental health
– AI in HR, including ethics and responsible use
Thank you for joining the show today! Remember to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts!
Welcome to the HR Happy Hour. We are back live from UNLEASH here in Paris, France. I’m here with my co host, Mervyn Dinnen. Mervyn. Good to see you.
Mervyn Dinnen 0:37
Good to see you, too. Trish.
I feel like we’re doing this every week. Now we live 1000s of miles apart across, you know, an ocean, but yet we’re together all the time.
Mervyn Dinnen 0:46
This time of year, it happens. It’s international travel for both of us.
It really is it is well, anyway, good to see you here in Paris. I know you actually just came in this morning. So we’ll have to let you experience a little bit of UNLEASH. But I can tell you it has been very exciting. Lots of activity, lots of good sessions. So far, I sat in on one in fact, this morning with our friend male in the ronto. Talking about, you know, workforce management, being able to hire better how to incorporate Gen Z into your hiring plans and have them feel comfortable, and really about retention overall. So I feel like a lot of topics are already at play here.
Mervyn Dinnen 1:28
Yeah, I know. It sounds sounds interesting. I’ve been here for an hour, and the buzz is immense. You can feel it as you walk around the room and stuff. So a great event.
Well, good. Well, we are very excited to have a special guest with us today. Actually someone I was onstage with last year. And I knew immediately when I had the opportunity, I wanted to pull her back on stage with us. So we have Maryann Abbajay, officially the Chief Revenue Officer for SAP SuccessFactors. But Maryann, first welcome. Thank you. And secondly, why don’t you tell us what you do? Because I know that you do more than what that sounds like. It’s so true.
Maryann Abbajay 2:02
So Trish, my primary focus is basically working with customers every single day. And it’s the pre sales part of that the post sales part of that and everything in between. And then I also spend about an equal amount of time with our partners, we have a huge partner ecosystem that we really embrace and encourage.
I’m so glad that you share that. Because I think that that’s one of the things I’ve been talking about a lot lately, maybe because I have kids that are in college, and they’re thinking a lot about what degrees to pursue and what types of jobs. I would love to just hear a brief little bit on your background, because I think that when people hear Chief Revenue Officer, they might think it’s only financial. Correct, right? And not all of the extremely deep relationships you have, as you’ve said, sort of from start to finish right with your customers. True. So true. How did you get into this role?
Maryann Abbajay 2:55
Oh, my Trish, how far back? Do we want to go?
Okay, maybe even at that. But what if you were looking for someone to advise maybe a younger person right now in school? How would you get them involved in in the skills for this role?
Maryann Abbajay 3:09
That’s a great question. I actually majored in French to begin with French, and here you are, and here I am, what I finished in information systems, I started in French. And then I decided, hey, you know, programming languages are just other languages. And so instead of French and Spanish and German, I flipped to COBOL, and Fortran and C. Interesting. And that’s what I graduated in. And I actually started as a programmer. And the only reason I mentioned that is because I do think, because technology is such an integral part of all of our lives every single day. It’s really nice to be able to understand it. And especially in my role, where I’m advising customers, helping customers understanding what it is that we provide to those customers how it works, I think is pretty critical, because you can steer them the right way or the wrong way. And of course, we want to steer them in the right way. Absolutely.
I find it interesting that I know Mervyn and I have talked about how our careers of similar thing, right, you start in sort of one area, maybe a study but your your job, 20 years in 30 years, then it changes and morphs. And it’s sometimes difficult. I think for people who might be in high school or college to think about, they think I have to have a degree and that’s the only thing I can do. So I’d love to maybe hear your perspective on you know, skills or all the talk right now. Right? But that’s that really shows that we’ve been in sort of doing that and morphing into right using our skills versus maybe necessarily what a degree is. But now even more so it’s like on steroids.
Maryann Abbajay 4:49
That is so true. And I think you’re probably well aware that many companies now are not focused on degrees including SAP, including Accenture, my Microsoft, IBM huge companies, they’re really focused on the person. They’re focused on, basically bringing them into the company, providing them the training they want them to have. And then really getting those skills that they’re interested in, embedded in those people. And so the degree is not quite as big a deal as maybe it was when I graduated, right?
Mervyn Dinnen 5:26
How do we, how do organizations then if it’s not a degree, how do they not decide, but the choose the people who are going to be able to adapt, were going to be able to learn and be constantly morons? Because historically, it’s obviously Oh, you’ve done a degree, therefore, you’re good at studying, you’re good at remembering things. So what are the ways now that people try and ascertain that thirst for learning?
Maryann Abbajay 5:49
I think that’s a great question. I know that there’s, of course, a lot of interviews that go into it. But there’s also some testing that has come a long way. I know, when I graduated from college and went for my first job with the phone company, I had to take this super basic test, I it was almost like, Are you an idiot? If not, you get the job. If so you don’t get the job. Now, I think the testing is much more around, how would you solve this problem? And really getting the young person to talk about what they would do in a particular situation? What if this happens? How would you handle it? And they make their decisions based on those skills, life skills? versus how much does this person actually know? Because they can instill that knowledge in students very easily. We all have very complete academies that we put our young people through.
Yeah. Well, as a trend, I think, you know, it’s certainly evolving very quickly. Obviously, technology is enabling that to happen. But I know you do more than just talk about skills. There are many trends, mega trends that you cover, and I would love if you can share what some of those are, you have such a great team of researchers that SAP success,
Maryann Abbajay 7:11
you are so right Trish, and so this year, every year, it changes our meta trends for this year. And these are pulled from our group of PhDs that do interviews with all of our customers, with our analysts with our confidants basically pulling what is the most important thing, so there are seven of them, I’m gonna go through all of them. Number one, winning the race for skills. Shocker.
We just take that out nicely done. We did you really.
Maryann Abbajay 7:40
and you didn’t even know. So that’s impressive. Number two, mobilizing the workforce for the future. Number three, adopting emerging technologies, but here’s the key with purpose. So not just bringing aim, because it’s the latest cool thing, but bringing it in with a specific purpose. And I guess one thing I would add on this particular trend is, you know, a lot of people are a bit nervous about AI, because they’re concerned about job displacement. But what we feel is that the purpose here is to take away all of those rote tasks that we all hate to do anyway, and free up our minds to be able to do the more strategic jobs that we really like.
Yeah, HR leaders have been begging for that for years, right? We’ve always wanted more time, and just no way possible to achieve that. Exactly. I feel excited that it’s here.
Maryann Abbajay 8:39
Me too. Number four, I love this one making flexible work, work. And I don’t care where you go in the world right now, this whole hybrid work situation is still an issue. And you’ve got one school of thought that says everybody’s going to come back to the office Period, end of story. We at SAP have a pledge to flex. So we’re basically allowing people flexibility, but providing some structure around it. If your manager says, hey, we’d like you to come in two days a week in these specific two days, so we can work as a team. Well, then the expectation is that you do that. But having traveled a lot this year, I see a lot of empty offices. So I don’t think we figured this one out.
Mervyn Dinnen 9:29
That’s interesting, because I’ve recently for some work, I’m doing revisited some research I was involved in back in 2017 in Europe, and we surveyed 14,000 job seekers, and just under two thirds about 62% had said that having the opportunity to work flexibly or part time from home, which make them choose one job over another, and that was 2017. So yeah, all COVID Did really was was was to amp ante but it was always there a generation of workers who feel that they don’t have to be present all the time. And of course, now it’s, it’s gone the other way. And that it’s kind of it’s, it’s not about control, but it’s about kind of, as you say, empty office space. And there was some stuff I shared yesterday about kind of having meetings, like online meetings around moments that matter, rather than just having them for the sake of it, choose it for bigger because otherwise people will stop kind of logging in or they’ll login bored, because Oh, another meeting just for the sake of it. So it’s just something that matters. And so people can discuss it in this and there’s energy around it.
Maryann Abbajay 10:37
I love that. I mean, all of us have too many meetings, right? Absolutely. And all of us have standing meetings that really make no sense most of the time, don’t have a clear agenda, etc. But that is fascinating that it was back in 2017, that you did that research.
Isn’t that surprising? I had heard that last week when I spoke with with Mervyn and I was just I wish more people knew that because I think we sort of assume that what we’re dealing with is solely based on the pandemic. And clearly it was it was coming on before that. Yeah, yeah.
Maryann Abbajay 11:10
I’m still waiting for the four day workweek.
We’ve talked about that forever, right?
Maryann Abbajay 11:15
We have it’s not here yet. But one of these days.
Mervyn Dinnen 11:18
Well, trials are happening now in in Europe.
That’s true. There are trials.
Maryann Abbajay 11:23
So maybe, right, number five, embedding holistic wellbeing everywhere. Wonderful. Yes. And I do feel like the pandemic also, yeah, kind of spurred that on. And companies have done this for a long time. But I think they’re doing it at a different pace and a different level.
Now you know, I wanted to say on that one, I wonder if Gen Z is helping that along in that they are much more open about talking about what their needs are, how they’re feeling, without embarrassment, or without feeling that they don’t feel a stigma, still, maybe it’s being pushed on those of us that have been in the workforce for a while. But I recall, you know, joining the workforce back in the 90s. And that was just something I was specifically told you, your boss does not care, right? If you are sick, if you are whatever, right, like show up. I’ve gotten to work with pneumonia, like, honestly, with stitches, like over the years, it’s crazy. When I think back, I was on bedrest in the hospital with my twins for nine weeks, working at a large professional services firm, and people were coming to have meetings with me in my hospital room. So this is not that long ago. 2003. So I guess in 20 years, what I’m excited about this trend is that now we’re finally seeing some positive momentum to help not just the people entering the workforce, but those of us who are here on this podcast, right, we can feel more comfortable saying what our wellness needs are. Right. So true.
Mervyn Dinnen 12:51
So true. Definitely. And it brings humanity to the workplace. It sure does or not. It’s kind of I think you’re right, Trish, I think there is a more recent cohort coming into the workplace who are more open about sharing. And I think that historically, it’s been a kind of badge of honor, I showed up to work, even though I was ill, I showed up to work, even though I lost a parent or something I just took the day off and I came back you’re reliable, right? That’s me. And there are a lot of hidden issues of people suppressing things. And it’s, it’s I mean, even the research, in fact, a podcast that I had out earlier in the year was, you know, almost two thirds, particularly men, won’t you know that they won’t say that they’re not coming to work today, or they’re taking the day off? Because their mental health, they just make an excuse? Because they feel they’ll get judged. They feel okay. So there’s still there still needs to be a bit more openness around it. Right?
Well, I think it goes back to childhood, we we reward students who have perfect attendance, right? They’re the ones that are honored, and not that there’s anything wrong with that. But it does make you feel like you have to be superhuman in order to achieve any sort of status and your work or you know, appreciation and your work. So I think that putting the human and human resources, right, we’ve hear that all the time. This is one way and I like that you said it brings the humanity to it.
Maryann Abbajay 14:20
Yeah, it’s so true. And I I definitely think that during COVID, maybe we asked more questions than we would have normally asked, you know, there’s a whole privacy thing should we ask this? Should we not ask this but with COVID we maybe went the extra mile and ask the extra two or three questions that suddenly got the employee talking and really sharing what was on their mind and normally it was something pretty significant. I guess the other thing I’d say is, you know, my generation we would never ever talk about mental health ever. Oh no. And today that is a very comfortable topic for my kids for Young people in the workplace and I love that. And I think it’s, it’s healthier, right?
Mervyn Dinnen 15:06
It’s not putting the human back into human resources. It’s putting the humanity into humans.
I love that. Very good.
Maryann Abbajay 15:14
I love that. And then number six is embracing the complexity of DEIB, and boy is it complex today. But really going after it not shying away from it. And then the last one preparing people, leaders for today, and tomorrow. And again, that’s an area where I feel we’ve evolved. We didn’t always really focus on the people leadership part of things we focused on. Did you make your number? Did you hit that KPI? We didn’t focus on how good of a manager were you? How good of a people leader? Were you?
Right? That’s so true. Well, those are those are fantastic. Hopefully, the listeners, you know, we’ll put them in the show notes so that it’s a little more concise as well. But But definitely, I hope that if you’re listening in that you’re thinking about these and how how are they being handled in the organization that you’re working in? And how is it being handled when you think about the vendors that you work with? Right? I think these are all really important topics. Agree. So yeah, there I’m glad we touched on a lot of those. One thing, you know, we talked a little bit about AI in the front part of this conversation I would love before we close to obviously generative AI is everywhere, you can just walk through the expo hall, right, Everyone claims to have it Everyone claims they’ve, you know, just found this new thing called artificial intelligence. Right? It is here, Maryann, are you aware? It’s here?
Maryann Abbajay 16:45
I think so. You’re giggling. I’m absolutely positive. It’s here.
So a couple things. I you know, I’m being a little facetious. But, you know, obviously, SAP has been really embracing artificial intelligence, machine learning all of these algorithms that help you do work and be empowered, love for you first to share sort of that background, because this has been many years in the making, and many years of experience with your customers in the making. And then also maybe just touch on where you are with your generative AI copilot tool.
Maryann Abbajay 17:16
Absolutely, thank you for giving me the opportunity. So first of all, SAP has been working on AI for years and years and years. And of course, we focused on Process automation on machine learning. But the other thing we focused on is the ethics around AI. So we have an AI ethics board that’s been in place for a number of years, matter of fact, many kind of stand up as a role model of how a company should create an AI ethics board. And the focus of our new AI platform called tool is basically being reliable, being relevant, and most importantly, being responsible about how we bring it to our customers. And one of the things we’re doing with jewel, which I think is a little unique, you mentioned a lot of people kind of raising their hand and saying I have aI I am AI. Well, with jewel, we’re able to take advantage of multiple AI technologies, without burdening the customer with the complexity of all of those different technologies. And we’ve kind of bucketed into three separate areas, I’m sorry, four separate areas, generative AI, which everybody’s familiar with conversational AI, which is more the copilot, chatbot, digital assistant capability, then you have the automation piece that’s built into the product that’s going to automate rote tasks on behalf of HR or the employee. And then the last piece is that deep machine learning large language model capability that looks more at the person and serves up personalized recommendations for learning for new jobs, for skills that you should acquire in order to reach the goal that you set for a particular role.
I love that you break it down to those four categories. Because I think, yeah, we hear just AI thrown around. And a lot of people don’t really understand what does that mean for me and my business? And then further to that, how do you prepare for this? So I will just point people to your website, because you do have a lot of resources, a lot of not just press releases, but articles about all of the different areas you’re talking about. So is there anything that you would love to just point people to maybe they don’t, maybe they’re not as familiar with you as with SAP as they should be?
Maryann Abbajay 19:48
I would love to point them to sap.com and basically sap.com is the landing page that takes you not only to SAP success factors and to information about Artificial Intelligence but also to the full SAP portfolio that includes ERP, digital supply chain, procurement capabilities, our contingent workforce capability Fieldglass that’s tied tightly into success factors. And then of course, for travel and expense, and so much more.
I’m so glad you mentioned all that because my final question, I know Mervyn probably has another question as well. But my final question for you is around that very thing, right? We’ve we’ve heard as HR leaders of professionals for many years, we want a seat at the table, right? I feel like because the technology is finally advanced in such a way. And it is, in this case, tightly integrated, in terms of the way you run a business, not the way you run an HR department, I’d love to just hear maybe an anecdote or something maybe experience you’ve had with a customer where you’re actually seeing them elevate from only looking at things from an HR perspective to a true holistic workforce perspective. Sure.
Maryann Abbajay 21:01
And you know, Trish a couple of weeks ago, at success connect, we got really great feedback from our analysts about the fact that we need to educate our CHROs on finance on supply chain. And the reason is because they do have a seat at the table. They’re sitting there, and they may not be responsible for those areas. But guess what the people that they’re responsible for are in supply chain, and could be the gating factor as to why there’s a supply chain issue because perhaps they need to hire more, hire more quickly hire more skilled laborers, etc. So I think it’s really incumbent on us to make sure that they do understand that. I think the other thing is, bottom line. I heard this morning about a company where the CHRO basically is leading in AI for the company. And so these other areas finance supply chain, procurement, they’re looking at what HR is doing, and basically taking notes from them. So it helps the CHRO with they understand a little bit about those other businesses how they can give specific AI use cases.
Great, thank you. Any closing questions, wherever and anything burning on you’re on your mind?
Mervyn Dinnen 22:27
I think that I mean, a lot of what you’ve said in the megatrends you’ve outlined, open up a lot of areas, lots of a lot of avenues. The business world moves quite quickly these days. What is Is there anything not in the megatrends that we haven’t talked about in the last 20 minutes or so that you think, you know, if we sit down here in a year’s time today, we’re suddenly going to be talking about Well, where did that come?
Oh she’s got a crystal ball.
Maryann Abbajay 22:55
I do. Because one of the things that we asked our PhDs to work on this year, it’s not one of the current 2023 mega trends, but I know what will be there next year, is the deathless worker. Because guess what, none of us provide enough capability for the worker that doesn’t have an email address that doesn’t have a laptop, but that needs to get skills, right. They need to understand what are the learning options for me, what’s my development plan? How do I gain the skills I need to move to that next career level? And we have many companies that are super interested in investing in their employees along those lines, but right now, from a tech perspective, I feel like we’re lagging there and so we have our researchers really focused on that.
I love it. We can’t wait for the 2024 megatrends to come out. Maryann thank you for taking some time today and sitting down with Mervyn and I this has been really, really beneficial. I know our listeners will love it and they have some key takeaways. They can go back to their offices worth right and think about things where can people connect with you if they would like to?
Maryann Abbajay 24:07
LinkedIn, follow me on LinkedIn please. You’ll kind of track my travels. And that’s true.
You travel more than me and I even have a hashtag travels with Trish. So we need your hashtag for you.
Maryann Abbajay 24:21
Exactly. Hey, thanks for asking me. I love UNLEASH. It was an amazing show last year and the buzz here today is incredible. So Trish, it’s wonderful being with you again and Mervyn’s. So nice meeting you.
You too. Yeah. And Mervyn, thank you for sitting in with me. This has been really fun.
Mervyn Dinnen 24:39
Yeah. It’s a pleasure. Always a pleasure. Always a pleasure.
Thank you for listening to the HR Happy Hour podcast. You can also hear Mervyn’s podcast on the HR Happy Hour Network along with seven other shows. can find that wherever you get your favorite podcasts.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai