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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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