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Videocast: Do SAP Mentors Impact Culture Change at SAP? With Sanjay Poonen

The latest installment in my SCN podcast series is a videocast. Taped via Adobe Connect, I had a lively conversation with SAP’s Sanjay Poonen and Mark Finnern on culture change at SAP and Sanjay’s views on the SAP Mentor Initiative. Culture change at SAP is a topic all three of us are invested in, though we come at it from different angles. This video was an opportunity to get Sanjay’s candid views on his experience with SAP Mentors and whether the Mentors “move the needle” at SAP.

During this 19 minute video, there were a few topics that stood out for me:

– Mark Finnern’s views on “culture jamming at SAP”. Mark makes the case that the sense of fun and creativity Mentors often bring to what they do (think “Find the Snabe” or “Culture Jamming SAP“) is not a frivolous thing, but a way of jamming culture and blurring boundaries, for example between “suits and geeks.”

– Specific examples from Sanjay on what he has taken from his Mentor meetings, including a discussion at the 15:00 mark about how SAP has changed its approach to mobility and is in the process of making developing mobile apps more accessible – as a direct result of conversations with Mentors. 

– An important talk about the dangers of “elitism” and how if the Mentors are not accessible to the community, then the “Mentor mission” is a fail. Along those lines, you don’t need to be a Mentor to “culture jam” – all you need is a laptop, as I joked, or maybe not even that. Take the raigns for yourself and don’t be shy about giving feedback to Sanjay or anyone else on his team.

Here’s the video:

(note you can also download the optimized audio file by clicking on the “download media” button on the top right, or pick it up on

Video Highlights

42: Jon to Sanjay: Why do we need culture change at SAP? Sanjay: Culture change at SAP is one of my favorite topics. In the past, we weren’t necessarily aligned, from the board level on down. That’s changing now.

3:07 Mark to Sanjay: You have worked together with the SAP Mentors for a while now – tell us about your first interactions and what happened? Sanjay: I came into the first meeting with an open mind. I was amazed with the types of questions people were asking me  I felt there were things that Mentors could teach us about what we could continue to improve.

5:30 Mark to Sanjay: To me, where the Mentors can have impact is not only the technical and content level, but also on a fun level. I call it culture jamming SAP, and bringing a element of fun into the work can make a huge difference. 

7:15 Sanjay: I agree. One of the things I like about SAP is that we’re a global company, and probably more of a global company that many. I’m an Indian working in a German company, and there is a tremendous willingness, sometimes a bit to a fault, to lean on the side of the culture of consensus. There is not much tolerance for an autocratic style here. 

9:20 Sanjay: The Mentors want SAP to succeed, because that is their success too, and that trust comes across. You have great access to our internal people, and that’s a special relationship. It’s an elite group of people from within the community.

10:30 Jon to Sanjay: The SAP Mentors discuss this issue a lot because if we aren’t raising other people up in the community, we are essentially failing. What would you say to those who aren’t Mentors in the community who want to be a part of this?

15:00 Mark: from a Mentor point if view, if you’re not a Mentor, you can still run with the Mentors. Join the Inside Tracks that others are organizing, invite the mentors and things will happen.

15:50 Sanjay: Just as an example, one piece of feedback I got from the Mentors on mobility has had an impact. The last time I got together with Jon, Dennis, Vijay, and John Appleby, a key part of the feedback from them was, “Listen, you need to take the developer a lot more seriously in the context of mobility.” On the inside, we have a plan of how we are going to address that we are putting into motion. For us to win in the mobile game, it’s not going to be 8 or 9 developers, it’s going to be millions of developers. That’s a very tangible example of when you take feedback well and can act on it, and you’re going to see action on this issue.

In closing, I thought SAP Mentor Jarret Pazahanick’s comments on this video were relevant: “I have said it before, but SAP is really listening to individuals and groups outside of the SAP walls and that is impressive. Culture changes take time and is a work in progress, but it starts with senior leadership and you can tell Sanjay is passionate about this.”

Culture change isn’t easy and it’s definitely a messy process along the way. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on where SAP stands on this issue and I’m sure Sanjay and Mark would too.

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  • The true test of listening is action.

    SAP has been listening for years, sometimes intently. I am reminded that developer Mentors were asking about licensing issues when I first came to the Mentor program around 4 years ago. SAP knew there was an important issue. As far as I am aware, that issue has never been fully resolved. And here we are again in 2012 with the EXACT same issue only this time in the HANA sandbox…and on…and on…and on.

    It sounds harsh but there is this kind of passive-aggressive way of attriting issues so that they get slowly ground down to…nothing. It’s tragic because after a while, people give up.

    I will be much more impressed when I hear that SAP is acting upon things they say they are listening to. I’ll be even more impressed when they pull people in who have made suggestions that SAP wishes to act upon and JOINTLY solves problems.

    Let’s be careful we don’t congratulate ourselves or SAP too much, or we might be sadly disappointed.

    But then I’d love to be proven wrong.

    Hope this works for one of us, Den. 🙂!/dahowlett/status/165163555514097665

    • And if it wasn’t abundantly clear, those are Dennis’s words, not mine.

      I do, however, agree, that this needs to be more than lip service for it to matter. Sometimes they will listen, and sometimes they won’t, but the trying on both sides is definitely worth the hassle.

  • Mmmmm…  Do we impact the culture change at SAP?  I think our greatest skill is listening.  Reading and gathering others ideas and comments in the SCN community.

    I would argue that the community at large is impacting a culture change at SAP thru the Mentors.  Everyone can’t approach SAP all at one time with many different ideas.   I believe only the strong ones survive.

    And yes, I strongly believe in Idea place as well.  As for what Mentors can do for you – let us know.  As for what you can do?  Be an SCN member.  Comment, blog, SIT, WIKI…

    Enjoy – I know a little off topic,


    • Michelle, sorry I neglected to respond to your comment earlier. I kind of missed this blog in the SCN migration.

      I agree with your point, I think your last thought about getting involved and speaking your piece is an important one. I feel like too many people are still silent on topics. Maybe their employer frrowns on involvement, or maybe they are just too busy. Mentors in my view are not just supposed to speak out on community issues, but to encourage others to step forward, find their platform or voice or what have you. If we don’t do that we have failed. So as much as we ask of SAP, we have to ask it of ourselves.

      Finally, on Idea Place, I think it’s pretty neat, at this point for it to gain momentum I would think we’d need to see success stories from the process posted in the community and shared openly. It doesn’t occur to me to use it or go there but maybe that’s a me problem. 🙂

  • It’s good to see SAP’s culture changing to allow the SAP Mentors, customers and partners to help shape their culture into one of innovation and progression. Given some of the excellent members the Wolfpack has, I can see why they are having this influence on SAP. 🙂

    • Luke, thanks for commenting. Mentors of course aren’t the only group that influences SAP, or attempts to.

      To me culture change is a big part of what SAP is up against if it wants to find a way to be agile enough for cloud and mobile business models, etc. Partially because SAP can’t just rely on its own “quality engineering” anymore. For cloud and mobile to work as business models (and I would say HANA as well), the ecosystem must be engaged. In another related video I did with Sanjay recently on mobile development, he basically said that he won’r test until the core hardcore Mentor type SAP developers are happy and building apps. I hope that is how it works out, that would be a big accomplishment for all concerned and the whole community would benefit.

      We’ll see. But I give Sanjay credit for being passionate about culture change and being willing to talk honestly about it on camera. That’s not as easy as it may seem.

      best regards,


      • Hi Jon,

        I certainly agree. When you look at the young ‘dynamic’ start-ups like Workday and SuccessFactors, these organizations are delivering rapid updates, service packs and implementations because of their agility. They are offering software that is attactive to use aesthetically and support that is world-class. SAP have to react in order to keep their position within the marketplace.

        For a company the size of SAP it is important to have the right culture, but I also imagine the kind of changs that Sanjay, the SAP Mentors and other parties are pushing for will take some time to filter down. Changing SAP is like turning the Titanic, so I applaud Sanjay for the efforts he’s making to evolve SAP.

        Keep up the good work!