What Makes an Innovative Developer Culture?
After having worked on system integration for the last 20 years, I had the ambition to explore new terrains and contribute to a more innovative developer culture. Fortunately, I was able to take part in a fellowship which provides the great opportunity to experience a different role in another SAP business unit for up to half a year. I turned from an Integration Architect into a DevCulture fellow in the SAP Developer and Community Relations team. The organization hosts external developer events like TechEd and Code Jams, runs the SAP Community, and also drives SAP’s internal developer culture.
The term culture often seems hard to grasp. In his book ‘The Meaning Revolution’, Fred Kofman compares culture with an information system:
“Like an information systems platform, culture provides the essential capabilities required to run the business processes — most important, strategy execution.”
While using our mobile phones and laptops we usually do not think about the operating system that frames whatever can run on the device. Similar to an operating system, the culture of an organization influences relationships, actions and decisions. In order to fully comprehend an organization, we always have to consider the people’s mindsets and behaviors, the culture and organizational structures. Ken Wilber’s integral model can be used to show how emotional intelligence skills relate to all of the four quadrants:
- Interior Individual I – The perspective focuses on the identity question. Individual beliefs and values are the deeper drivers of people’s actions and behaviors. Self-awareness helps to better discover own preferences, resources, internal states and intuitions.
- Exterior Individual IT – The perspective focuses on how others perceive our individual behavior and skills. Self-management helps to increase the space between a trigger and a response so that we can better choose our reactions.
- Interior Collective WE – The perspective focuses on the way we communicate and behave in relationships with others. Culture is the cumulative result of customs, norms, unwritten rules and shared values which guide our behavior. Empathy helps to better understand what others feel while maintaining a clear discernment about own and the other person’s feelings.
- Exterior Collective ITS – The perspective focuses on the external environment in which people are living and acting like organizational structures, systems and processes. Great leadership inspires the internal commitment of people through a collective and meaningful mission based on common values.
From Corporate Values to Actions
As SAP Board member and head of SAP Product Engineering, Thomas Saueressig puts it:
“An important part of our culture at SAP – particularly in the development community – must be open and transparent communication. While it’s great to hear about successes and share best practices, it is by experimenting and failing early and often that we truly learn.”
A thriving developer culture enables innovation and provides space to explore new technologies. It is the basis for a collaborative work environment in which everyone can contribute and make a difference for SAP’s customers. This is the most difficult part as a company culture cannot just be created. It starts with everyone of us and emerges when personal values transform into actions.
For our Collaboration Culture Day we invited the Corporate Rebels from Amsterdam to visit us at the SAP headquarters in Walldorf. They facilitated a workshop in which we brainstormed how each and everyone of us can get more engaged at the workplace. As per a Gallup study from 2017 with data from 155 countries, only 15% of all employees are engaged. They are enthusiastic about their work and drive innovation. But 67% are disengaged and they put only time but no passion into their work. The remaining 18% are even actively disengaged and sabotage the workplace.
The Corporate Rebels travel the world to learn from the most inspiring workplaces. During their visits at 150+ pioneer companies they discovered eight trends:
- From profit to purpose & values
- From hierarchical pyramids to networks of teams
- From directive leadership to supportive leadership
- From plan & predict to experiment & adapt
- From rules & control to freedom & trust
- From centralized authority to distributed decision making
- From secrecy to radical transparency
- From job descriptions to talents & mastery
I am grateful for the fellowship which has been an insightful experience and a great source for personal development. I am now more courageous to tackle new tasks outside of my expertise and learn while doing. I gained a better understanding of SAP’s strategy, increased my network, and I got a different perspective on other organizations.
In times of disruptive changes, experimentation and adaptability are more important than cascading down plans and predictions. We need more networks of self-organizing teams with end-to-end responsibility and less hierarchies. With a higher degree of autonomy and decision making comes more responsibility and accountability for everyone. Every significant change of organizational structures require a corresponding growth of the individual.