Sustainability — The effects of climate change are causing all of us to ask how we can behave differently. Environmental impact is driving business-decision criteria. For instance, how can we reduce our carbon footprint? Should we travel for business or conduct it virtually? What kind of sustainable practices are our vendors and partners bringing into the supply chain? SAP recently partnered with the Grammy-winning band Coldplay to build an app for their upcoming tour. The app is focused on sustainable practices including a carbon calculator that recommends ways to reduce carbon emissions

When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.

As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Rae Kyriazis and Mary Lange.

Rae Kyriazis, Global Vice President, Field Transformation and Readiness, SAP.

Rae Kyriazis leads the global, award-winning, first-of-its-kind multigenerational culture transformation program at software giant SAP. She is equal parts “corporate rainmaker” and “human whisperer,” with more than 20 years’ experience as both a top selling sales professional and a trained life coach who studied with Stephen Covey. She has the unique advantage as a cultural catalyst who has the credibility and authenticity to relate to teams in distress and the skills to help them realize their potential.

Mary Lange, Global Vice President, SAP Academy.

Mary Lange has spent her professional life crafting and deliver memorable customer interactions. During her sixteen years at SAP, she has built and led numerous global teams. She is a founder of the award-winning SAP Academy, an early talent sales and presales development program that has graduated 2,500 young professionals who are driving impressive results for SAP.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today.

RK As early as I can remember, I was at my Dad’s side. When I was maybe 5, we were outside working in the garden, and he handed me a post-hole digger. It was easily twice my size. “With this, you will dig holes to plant tulip bulbs,” he told me. “I can’t do this, Daddy,” I said, “it is too big for me.” “Rae, you can do anything you put your mind to.” Somehow my small hands gripped the handle, and I used all my strength to dig those holes. My Dad’s deep belief in me has fueled me throughout my life and career.

ML: It was an early failure, plain and simple. I still feel my cheeks burn when I think about it. I was new in my career, helping customers implement and realize value from software. Wanting to dip my toe into sales, I applied for and got a new job internally as a solution engineer delivering product demonstrations during the sales cycle. Before my first demo, I prepped, studied, and practiced for two weeks to ensure I was ready for anything. Demo day arrives. The audience of 30+ listened attentively to my highly practiced presentation. Everything was going quite well until the Q & A began. Their questions were beyond my limited product knowledge. I spent the next 30 minutes fumbling awkwardly and responding with, “great question. I’m happy to get back to you on that.” As I left the meeting room, I remembered thinking that I had two options: launch into a self-beratement session on everything I did wrong or figure out how to be good at software demos. I chose the latter and accomplished the goal through hard work and practice. For sure, there is no shortcut to success. However, failure can be among our greatest gifts if you allow yourself to see it. The saying, “I win, or I learn,” aptly applies here.

Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce, and the workplace 10–15 years? What do you predict will be different?

(ML) -same; Change will continue to be a constant. Technology will introduce us to new and faster ways of doing, causing all of us to stretch our skills, thinking, and ways of working. The workforce will continue to grow in diversity, and we’ll have at least five generations of employees co-working. Productivity will rule decision-making.

(RK)-Different- The integration of meaning at work won’t be a new idea; it will be the norm. Of course, workers will continue to be accountable to deliver on their job expectations. However, they will thrive in supportive, co-creative environments where they can integrate more of their purpose and passion. This shift is a win-win-win for the employee, employer, and the employer’s customers/partners.

What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?

(ML) — Make “flexibility” the top benefit you provide — it will be the difference-maker when it comes to finding and keeping top talent.

(RK)- Amplify the true power of a multi-generational workforce.

What do you predict the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?

(RK) — Disruption has come to the traditional profit-focused, hierarchy-dominated, and command and control-styled workforce. Employees want investments in their learning and growth and an engaging work environment. Employers want to get the work done with a high degree of accountability. One of the most significant gaps will be agreeing on what work needs accomplishing, and how. Both sides need to become better listeners, solve problems creatively, and realize that a culture of experimentation benefits the organization.

We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?

(ML) Work from home reminds us that necessity is the mother of invention. I’m not sure there is one of us that would say something must be done precisely one way or another to be legitimate. WFH also opened our eyes to the lives colleagues have beyond what we see daily in the office. It’s like seeing one’s grade-school teacher at the grocery store and suddenly realizing they don’t live in the classroom! Covid made us more empathetic, sympathetic, and aware of outside-of-work challenges. Hopefully, this understanding will lead to a loosening of the “work face” that we have worn to appear fully in control. Companies that recognize and accommodate employees’ external challenges are more likely to build a mutually respectful and dedicated workforce.

We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?

(RK)- We have seen the negative impact of power and greed, and the workforce going forward is unlikely to tolerate these behaviors. Employees are looking for a sustainable work environment — and that applies to how we treat one another and the planet. Companies have greater accountability in the overall health and sustainability of the planet. Organizations will prioritize employee needs and well-being which will attract great talent, and this will lead to more sustainable solutions for the planet.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

(ML) There is much to be optimistic about! Companies are building diverse, inclusive, and exceptional workplaces and providing employees with more voice and agency. The realization that purpose motivates is huge. Millennials and Gen Z are teaching us that you can bring your whole selves to work, including the creativity that drives their “side hustles.” They have so many great lessons to infuse into an organization.

Our collective mental health and well-being are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and well-being?

(ML) It is a significant step forward that organizations recognize mental health in the workforce and that so much work is underway to destigmatize it. We are whole people, and the likelihood is extremely high that everyone is dealing with something. Companies are putting their resources toward ensuring a holistically healthy workforce. Last year, SAP gave all 100,000+ employees a mental health day to focus on wellness and another full day to focus on their learning and personal development.

It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation.’ What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?

(RK) — Given the disruption and uncertainty that many businesses now face, leaders must recognize that there’s a balance of power. By modeling empathy and listening and empowering individuals and teams, they open the doors to a trusting and mutually respectful relationship. Company cultures also can evolve if they embrace experimentation. When employees work in an environment that values risk-taking, they can make important discoveries. Employees who bring a growth mindset are often the first to collaborate and find creative solutions to vexing problems. As a wise person once said, “there is no limit on what we can accomplish if it doesn’t matter who gets the credit.”

Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”

  1. (ML) Flexibility in every aspect. Companies like Google, Twitter, and Microsoft are already relaxing their “in office” policies to align with employee desires, and they’ll gain advantages from it.
  2. (ML) Braiding compassion and commitment outside of work into it. Companies recognize that employees want to align passion and purpose. Additionally, employees want to support their external passions and commitments during traditional work hours. As a result, we will see organizations blend and incorporate a role for service into the work environment. For example, SAP has had a long-standing commitment to service, designating every October as a month of service, encouraging employees’ work time to contribute to selected service projects. With greater employee demand to contribute more often, SAP now enables and supports “moments of service,” which can happen throughout the entire year.
  3. (ML) Sustainability — The effects of climate change are causing all of us to ask how we can behave differently. Environmental impact is driving business-decision criteria. For instance, how can we reduce our carbon footprint? Should we travel for business or conduct it virtually? What kind of sustainable practices are our vendors and partners bringing into the supply chain? SAP recently partnered with the Grammy-winning band Coldplay to build an app for their upcoming tour. The app is focused on sustainable practices including a carbon calculator that recommends ways to reduce carbon emissions (i.e., different modes of transportation and other sustainability measures).
  4. (RK) Experimentation — As hybrid work becomes our new standard, we will see an explosion of tools and technologies that encourage experimentation, global solution finding and community building. With the increasing complexity and interdependence of challenges, teams will work in agile ways exploring and experimenting with different approaches to discover the most resilient, scalable, and sustainable solutions. We have experienced the power of these global teams working in a safe space where constant reflection and a critical focus on lessons learned are transparent and integrated into subsequent efforts. With this intelligence, we are discovering what does and doesn’t work and refining approaches to drive a more inclusive work environment where safe spaces, trust, and strengths-based work are becoming the norm.
  5. (RK) Work environments — Employers will take more accountability for employee productivity and wellness. Until now, the expectation was that employees should figure out how to manage. New research is showing the key factors contributing to employee burnout are mostly related to factors beyond employees’ control — excessive workload, workplace inefficiencies, fear-based working, and loss of shared meaning and purpose. To be the kind of attractive workplace where employees want to work, employers will increase their own EQ. Opportunities for fellowships and stretch assignments for employees to work on or with other teams for a period to learn something new, invest in their development, and explore possibilities will become more mainstream.

I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?

(ML) “Wherever you are, be there.” I heard it from a carnival juggler when I was a teenager, and it stuck with me. Whether “there” is a great place, a challenging place, or somewhere in between, the good is where one can learn to be present. So, pay attention, lean in, appreciate, savor and be in the moment wherever and however it is at the time. If not, you might miss the good stuff.

(RK) “Be the change you want to see in the world,” said Gandhi. I first heard this during my university years, and I was immediately transfixed. After that, I had a “knowing” that this was my calling in life.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.

(ML) I would find it fascinating to have high tea, or better yet, a cocktail with Queen Elizabeth. Her tremendous strength and stamina, coupled with her life in service to others, are admirable. She carries herself with dignity and confidence yet possesses a certain warmth. I would love to hear about her 70-year leadership journey, lessons learned, and style evolution.

(RK) Deepak Chopra, MD, whose thought leadership and pioneering research in integrative medicine and personal transformation include the intersection of science and spirituality. To my knowledge, this intersection will expand into the workplace. I am curious about what he envisions for companies’ evolving role in a more sustainable future.

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.