S/4HANA and SAP COE staff retention ideas

By Julian Rawlinson

Let’s be realistic – you are going to lose some of your SAP specialists at some point whether its to the contract market or to SAP consultancies. After all, even you probably left somewhere yourself to be where you are today.

You can’t stifle people’s ambition to earn more or to move to a role they really want – if you can you have the wrong people. Your SAP staff - and in particular your S/4 staff - are valuable and scarce commodities. While you can’t keep them all what you can do is aim to retain the majority of your staff for as long as possible. Here’s how to do it.

1. Show them the benefit of being part of an S/4HANA team

Contracting is lucrative but it can be lonely.

When you’re contracting you don’t have the backup of a team and customers expect a lot of bang for their buck. They’re paying you a lot of money so they expect you to know all the answers. You are also easily dispensable – if your face doesn’t fit you won’t be around for long and if times are tough you will be the first out of the door.

If you’ve got valuable S/4HANA or SAP skilled people that you want to keep hold of you need to show them how much better it is to work as part of a team.

2. Stress the downsides of working for big S/4HANA consulting companies

Work for a big consulting firm and you’re expected to get the job done on time whatever the cost. That’s what the clients pay for.

For individual consultants that means putting in crazy hours working for clients, and even more hours on their own personal development cases in order to progress.  

Work-life balance can definitely suffer as you are expected to work when and where resourcing tell you to. Personal training can also suffer as - if you are fully utilised - you will be encouraged to work for the customer rather than spending time developing new skills. It is also likely you’ll be placed on a big project with no autonomy and no decision-making responsibility – a small cog in a very large machine.

3.Stress the prescriptive nature of working for large SAP consulting companies

Work for a big consulting company and you’ve got to do things by the book.

Creativity is not rewarded and you’re forced to work within strict methodologies. You have to follow a rollout template which must not be changed whatever the business requirement. You may even be unable to configure as this is often sent offshore.

This works for some people, but if you’re a free thinker who likes to work reactively adjusting your work as you go to provide the optimal outcome then the consulting company life might not be right for you.   

4. Highlight that S/4HANA contracting isn’t always a bed of roses

What contracting offers in better pay it takes away in other areas.

There’s no stability as you’ve got no guarantee of long term employment. You get no sick pay or holiday pay. You’ve got to do your own company admin and file your own taxes. You’ve got to focus on your current job while simultaneously keep an eye open for the next job.

All of these things are extra considerations and work that you’ve got to take into account when you think about going solo as a contractor. Yes, you could earn more money, but is the extra cash enough to cover all of the extra work and stress you’ll have to take on?

And, it’s worth bearing in mind that the implications of IR35 mean that you could soon be earning less as a contractor than you might expect.

Things you can do to make your S/4HANA skilled staff stick around

1. Provide your S/4HANA team with soft benefits

While you might not be able to provide the same financial incentives that your S/4HANA skilled staff might get from contracting, as an employer there are a number of soft benefits you can provide that will convince your staff to stick around.

Some examples of these are:

  • Flexible working

  • Family friendly hours

  • Generous maternity/paternity leave

  • Bonuses

  • TOIL where appropriate

  • Payment in kind

  • Childcare vouchers

  • Share schemes

These are seemingly small things, but they add up to a quality of life boost that people will appreciate and that will make them think twice before they take the step of venturing out on their own as a contractor.

2. Provide a variety of work around SAP and S/4HANA

When you work as a contractor or with a large consultancy, you’re typically being paid because you provide a very specific skill that the client needs. This means that day to day there will be very little variation in the work that you do. For some people this is fine - they are an SAP FICO specialist so when they go to work they want to be doing SAP FICO related stuff.

For some people however, this can get boring pretty quickly. As an employer you can give your staff the opportunity to work in other areas than just their specialism which will not only provide some variety into their working life, but will also give them the opportunity to develop new skills.

Make this aspect of your company as appealing as possible by being as leading edge as you can.  

Continuous improvement of your HR, management, and work sharing style will ensure variety, that staff are learning new things,  and will benefit the company as a whole.

Don’t pigeon hole people – listen to their aspirations. Just because someone has always done FICO don’t deny them the opportunity to move into other related modules.

Make sure your staff know that they won’t get these opportunities to cross-train if they’re working in a large consultancy or as a contractor.

3. Allow staff to design and configure on S/4HANA projects where possible

There are a few benefits to this point.

First, it allows your staff a greater sense of achievement as they get to see the projects they’re working on through to fruition. It also means you have more control over projects by keeping them in-house, and that you don’t have the additional spend of paying someone else to do the work.  

Why send requests to a support partner when you can do the work yourself?

There is nothing more frustrating than knowing the answer but having to send a detailed instruction for a configuration change to be made so that your support partner can cut and paste this into SAP.

Instead, do the work yourself and give your staff the satisfaction of seeing things get finished.

4. Be extremely careful when employing contractors in your S/4HANA or SAP COE.

With a Centre of Excellence the clue is in the name - it’s all about excellence. You develop excellence by having the best people working in your team and having them working together long enough to gel together into a team of maximum efficiency.

When you just stick any old contractor in the middle of your finely honed team it can throw the whole thing into disarray.

If the contractor you employ is poor quality you can end up with your own staff working alongside someone who is earning more than them and who knows less than they do – this is a toxic scenario which can breed resentment.

If the contractor is no good, get rid of them as soon as possible.

And if the contractor is really good and everyone gets on with them? Make clear some of the soft benefits we covered earlier and see if you can convince them to stick around.

5. Empower your S/4HANA staff to make decisions

Being empowered as an employee comes with a whole range of benefits. It allows you to get on with your work faster as you aren’t waiting around for approval and sign off from management. It makes you feel valued as you know you have the trust of your seniors. And, it helps you develop new skills as you’re given leeway to try new things and see if you can make them work on your project.

Empowering staff also benefits you as a manager and employer. It means that staff can get on with things and be more productive. It allows people to work in more of an Agile fashion which increases productivity, and it removes blockers from your workflow where nothing gets done while you wait for sign off.

Another important factor to note is that your staff will have knowledge that you don’t. If you empower them to make decisions you will probably get better outcomes than if you leave all the decision making in the hands of your senior team. If you employ someone because they are an expert in their highly niche field, chances are they’re the best person in your company to make decision about that highly niche subject matter.

Empower them to do it and your projects and their workplace well-being will both receive a significant boost.

6.Manage your S/4HANA staff well

As we’ve already covered one of the downsides of being a contractor or working for a big consultancy firm is that it can feel a bit lonely.

If you want staff to stick around you need to show them that you can offer the complete opposite of that experience through an effective and considerate management style.

Provide your team with regular review sessions that have real actions and a well defined career path so they know where they’re going and what they can achieve.

Promote or reward them when it is deserved - show them that they aren’t out there in the big wild world of SAP on their own. Show them that you’re supporting them and that you’re aware and appreciative of the hard work they are doing on your behalf.

One thing to note however is that just because you’re promoting people doesn’t mean you should always be looking to promote them to senior or management positions. Not only will doing this mean you lose their hands on SAP skills from your team, but just because someone is good at a job doesn’t mean they’ll be good at managing people doing that same job.

Managing people and projects is a unique skill all of its own and you should treat it as such. If you promote someone to team leader and they are not suited to the role it will affect the whole team and could risk you losing some of your highly skilled S/4HANA staff.

7. Get your S/4HANA staff to train others in the team

There are a number of benefits of having your staff train other team members.

As we covered when talking about the CoE, having a well bonded team is vital to success. Having your existing team train new members of staff is a good way to ingratiate new starters into the team. It is also a good idea to have regular training sessions between long standing team members as this will help distribute knowledge and increase mutual respect for each other’s skills and specialisms.

By distributing subject knowledge in this way your team will be more effective andd you can more easily distribute work with everyone pitching in. The alternative is you create a bottleneck where work slows down and one team member feels incredibly pressured as they struggle to finish everything on their own.

Having team members train each other is also a good incentive for staff to stay working with you as it allows them to learn new skills while getting paid for it in a relaxed and friendly working environment.

8. Don’t overload good people

We’ve all been in situations where we’ve felt overworked.

Sometimes - if it’s for a short period of time like leading up to a project deadline - this is fine. Yeah it’s hard work, but when you finally get that project over the line it’s a satisfying experience and all that hard work feels worth while. For one or two weeks of the year it can be a good bonding experience and - after all - it’s all part of the job.

The problem arises however when this high work loads stops being a once a year push to get a big project over the line, and it becomes an expected norm. People will very quickly become fatigued, overworked, and will resent the fact you’re making them miss out on time with family and friends.

What’s more, the question will creep into their mind “if they’ve already got me working like a contractor why don’t I just become a contractor and get paid like one too?”.

One of the primary benefits of staying in-house instead of being a contractor is that you get some structure and routine and that your time off is your own. If you take that away from people there’s barely any benefit of them working for you.

So don’t do it.

Another good point to add is that while it’s vital you don’t overload people with work, it’s important that you don’t underload good people either. Not giving good people responsibility or autonomy will lead to boredom, discontent, and ultimately to them looking for something else.

9. Reduce travel for your S/4HANA team

When you’re in your mid-twenties the jet-set life of a high paid SAP consultant is massively appealing. Get with the right company and you could be travelling the world, staying in great hotels, and getting paid a lot of money to do it.

Fast forward 10 years and that lifestyle might not seems so appealing. Whether it’s because you’ve got a family to consider or just because you’re burned out from years of following the best paychecks around the world, after a while you just yearn for the quiet life.

That’s why lots of people decide to take a position in house. If you’re managing people who have made this decision themselves, they’re not going to be happy if you’re suddenly asking them to travel all over the place and stay away from home for multiple nights a week.

Instead, think about all the ways you can reduce the amount of travel your team have to do and only ask them to travel when it’s absolutely necessary.

These days we’ve got so many technological solutions to remote working like Skype, Slack, Google Docs and even just a good old phone call that if you really challenge your assumptions there aren’t many occasions where it is absolutely vital you go and work with someone in person.

If you can reduce the amount of travelling you ask your team to do by as much as possible they’re far more likely to stick with you than take their chances out in the wild world of consultancy.

10. Training bonds

Throughout the course of this article we’ve been talking about the various concessions you can make to try and make your staff stay with you for the long haul.

But like everything it is a two way street - sometimes it’s ok to ask for some commitments from your staff just like you commit to provide them with certain benefits if they stay with you.

One area that this is particularly true of is training. Like we say, one of the benefits you can offer your team is an environment in which they can learn and expand their skills. But what about situations where they want to learn a skill or earn a qualification that requires them going on a course?

If they were a contractor, they’d pay for this themselves knowing that it would allow them to charge a higher day rate once they were qualified.

As an employer, one of the benefits you can offer people is that you will pay for their training courses and qualifications, but of course this would be a terrible investment if they leave your company with their shiny new qualification as soon as they finished their course.

That’s why it’s fine to contractually oblige people to stay with your company or buy themself out of a training bond if they want to leave within the first couple of years after completing an expensive qualification that you have paid for.

It gives you the best of both worlds. It allows you to benefit your staff by giving them the training opportunities they want and deserve, but it ensures that you as a company get to benefit from that investment before they move on to greener pastures.

What to take away

Despite everything we’ve covered, even if you do all these things, your staff are probably going to move on at some point. Whether its due to careers ambition or simply for a change of scenery most people work for a number of different companies throughout their career.

By following these steps however you will hopefully be able to have your team members stay with you for 5 or 10 years rather than just the 5 or 10 months you might expect from a contractor.

For more information about getting the skills you need on your SAP projects visit http://www.resulting-it.com/best-independent-SAP-consultants-not-agency-skills


by Julian Rawlinson

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