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Earlier this year, Jill Popelka was appointed President of SAP SuccessFactors as previous President Greg Tomb moved into the role of President, Global Sales and GTM, SAP Cloud, Platform and S/4 Portfolio. Jill has held several leadership roles at SAP SuccessFactors and I was lucky to have the opportunity to catch up with her and hear about her vision the organization.

Hi Jill, please would you introduce yourself?

Sure! I was recently named President of SAP SuccessFactors. I have been with SAP for almost a decade and specifically in leadership roles in the SuccessFactors business for the last several years, most recently as Chief Operating Officer and before that, as Head of Asia Pacific & Japan. It was a wonderful experience working in Japan, Singapore, and the other incredible countries and cultures in the region, and I’m excited to bring that perspective into my new role.

As a bit of background, I started my career in Texas with Andersen Consulting, right out of university, which was a great learning ground. I had exposure to multiple customer environments and different business models. I worked in government for a while, implementing and developing software and then I got into Oil & Gas and Utilities. SAP is the predominant solution in those industries, so I had the great luxury of working on several projects with the SAP team. I had worked on Oracle, Peoplesoft, and some other solutions, but SAP was the one I really liked because it gave you structure. It gave you the processes After a few years of implementing solutions in the Utilities sector, SAP invited me to work for them and I haven’t looked back.

What excites me about SuccessFactors is that I have a passion for people and HR. It’s been very clear to me that if you can inspire people and have a team that works collectively towards a single goal, you can be successful. As a leader, if you can just move the obstacles out of the way you can allow people to become successful.

Where do you see HR/HXM/the “Now of Work” going in the coming years?

What we are doing with human experience management (HXM) and putting people at the center of the conversation and the center of business. There was a recent article in The Economist on CHROs getting promoted to the boardroom table. We have to take care of our employees, so HR has become even more strategic to business continuity, ensuring that we can continue to be productive and focus on the vision as we move through this new environment.

If a month ago you would’ve said you can only go to the supermarket, and everyone is working from home, I wouldn’t have believed it. But now, the future of work is coming to us. It’s accelerating. Those of us who have the benefit of remote working understand how to do business in this way, but it’s not for everyone.

There are some things we can learn from this incredible time and the challenges it produces.

For working from home, there are a number of aspects to look at. There are some individuals who are just struggling to draw boundaries and their days are joining together. Others are struggling with loneliness. Structure is a challenge to reproduce in a remote work environment. We have to tackle these struggles with well-being in mind. We are also figuring out how diversity and inclusion is addressed in this new model. Inclusion is extremely important for businesses to understand and prioritize – and when you’re at your desk in your home office, you might forget to include someone who has meaningful input for a dialog or project.

How has COVID-19 impacted your thinking in this area?

Here’s the thing: we have to find new ways to really listen to our employees and what they need. They’re not in front of us anymore. They might not go beyond the walls of their home to give feedback. If we don’t give them a path to give us feedback, then we don’t know what to do and how to provide them what they need. We have to listen to the needs of our workers, and they need to know that we’re listening.

For example, at SAP, we sent out a Qualtrics Remote Work survey to all of our employees to check in on them and collect their feedback during the pandemic. We thought we were communicating too much, but we actually found out that employees want to hear from us every day or every other day. Heightened communication was a great learning for us, so we prioritized new ways to engage with our employees around the globe. In addition to broader communications and team happy hours, we also arranged open Q&A sessions with leadership in every region. This gave employees an opportunity to engage with us directly about their concerns and challenges.

What is your vision for SAP SuccessFactors?

Human experience management is our vision and it’s driving our entire product strategy.

HXM is all about delivering exceptional employee experiences that help people do their best work – especially as we navigate this unprecedented time. We have an incredibly strong strategy with HXM and an incredible team, and now we have to deliver on it. I want to ensure that HR can have a business impact at every single one of our customers’ organizations, and it’s important that our vision and our delivery gives them a passion around the products they are using.

In addition to HXM, the most important thing is our customer base. SAP recently re-organized in order to simplify how its structured. There is a renewed focus on guiding customer success. I’m a huge believer in this change and believe it’s helping us to operate better as a company.

Within SuccessFactors, specifically, we have 7,000 customers globally and we’re really strong in every region. What we do really well is serve all markets. We have 150 million users across the globe. We have a strong presence in Asia Pacific, we’re strong in Europe and the Middle East, and we’re strong in North America and Latin America.

I’m constantly thinking about how we can continue to build the customer community. Recently, we’ve been hosting CHRO customer roundtables to enable discussion and knowledge sharing. The result is that CHROs are helping each other. Building that community of SAP SuccessFactors customers is part of my vision. It’s important that they know our product vision but also that they help each other. The community that we have is part of what makes SAP SuccessFactors a really powerful organization.

What are some of the highlights we should be looking out for in the next 12 to 18 months?

We are bringing HXM to life and putting employees at the center and employee experience. You’ll see that soon in big ways. Additionally, we are focused on the following:

  • Intelligent enterprise. This is how we continue to build our solution and have interoperability with the larger SAP product suite. We are part of that broader product enterprise solution. At times we took our own path at SAP SuccessFactors, but now we are focused on ensuring our customers are connected with the company overall.

  • UX Reimagined We have to make sure our UI is something our customers love. Our product team has put together our reimagined user interface and we are starting to deploy this year. Personally, I love it.

  • Agile service delivery. We are focused on building solutions that enable a digital workplace with a seamless employee experience. This means delivering solutions that extend beyond HR and integrate with other areas of the business such as finance, marketing, sales, and more.

  • Reskilling. How do we need to shift our skills in the future? We’re focused on helping our customers achieve this.

  • HR and payroll. This is one of our major strengths. I think you know it better than many, Luke. We are continuing to make these products stronger.

  • Partner ecosystem. The only way to be successful in this market is through our partners. We need our partners to be innovative and we want to embrace them in a more meaningful way.

Are there any facts about SAP SuccessFactors that might surprise readers?

We support 2,000 regulatory changes per year. We have a localization task force setup right now to monitor what governments are doing globally. Who else can do that except for SAP? We continue to maintain GDPR compliance, but we’re also watching governments around the world to keep up with regulatory compliance. We’re completely global and multinationals can really rely on us. We’re localized in HR for 99 countries and SAP SuccessFactors Employee Central Payroll for 46 and some partner solutions go beyond that.

And let’s talk about SAP SuccessFactors Employee Central. We are seeing massive growth and grew by almost 25% in 2019. It’s the #1 selling cloud core HR solutions by quite some distance.

Last year alone we had 1,250 go lives across all of our solutions – which is a huge number.  We have over 1 billion daily transactions across 7,000 customers. We don’t need to continuously talk about a single list of customers – we have a huge and varied list of customers who are getting great benefits from our HXM suite.

Our customers are amazing and the COVID-19 pandemic has really shed a light on how incredible this community is at coming together and helping each other. We’re walking this journey together and I’m excited to see what’s next.
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