Audacious Goals

What leadership values are driving your organizational culture?


Bill McDermott, co-CEO of SAP, believes that you can change the culture of your organization just by daring to set simple, authentic, brave goals. “Walking with a purpose,” as he calls it, and encouraging teammates to share their point of view are keys to creating this change.

“Complexity is killing companies,” Bill explains. “The idea behind Run Simple is to take complexity out of the equation.”

Watch this video and discover how you can encourage innovation and productivity in your team by taking big risks and setting bold goals.

Bill: What we try to do with our culture and to be brave is to bring the point of view. Walk with a purpose. We have no interest in two people being in the same identical conversation with the same opinion. You know why? Because one would be redundant. So we look for that authenticity in people, people with a point of view, people that want to change the world and that's the kind of culture we're trying to build.

Interviewer: Yeah. Ever since you've been there, you've demonstrated the ability to lead with a bold posture. I know there is a program you run called Run Simple. Could you tell us a little bit about that?

Bill: Complexity is killing companies. Bureaucracy is killing companies. The idea behind Run Simple is to take complexity out of the equation. To unleash the power of people, their imagination, their creativity so they can do great things. One of the big changes in the economy is you have a data driven economy.

It's no longer a business to consumer world. It's a consumer to business world. And that consumer has the digital device and they shop in lots of different channels. So you've got to know that consumer inside and out because you have the data at your fingertips.

The other thing we're trying to do is make sure that the seamless communications with workers and customers is completely digitized in enterprises so it's simple to do business with SAP and it's simple to do business with SAPs customers because they have such empathy for their customers. And without digitizing everything there is no empathy.

Interviewer: Yeah. I want to throw you a curveball but I had a chance to speak right before and I talked a little bit about fear. How do you deal with fear? Both yourself in a leadership role and for your troops?

Bill: Well, most people are risk averse when they're confronting gains and they're risk seeking when they're confronting losses. So we try to create a culture where you are risk seeking. There is something about courage and bravery and going for it as opposed to sitting back on your heels. Leaders will be forgiven for a lot of mistakes, we all make them. But you will not be forgiven for a lack of vision or a bad strategy.

Without a good strategy, the good people just dig a deeper ditch to nowhere. So leaders have to come up with that thinking, that courage to put together a strategy and then stick to it. Don't rethink every decision. You make a decision, you lock and load on a strategy and you got to go and execute.

Interviewer: Can you think of any one singular bold decision you made at SAP. So I took a definite risk doing this.

Bill: Absolutely. Well for example, when we took on Run Simple, people said, "SAP, how can you do this? You do the really hard sophisticated complex things. It's got to be a complex company." To which I replied, "If not us, who? Why not us?" And the idea is really to take everything in your life that is complex, that weighs people down with over burdening processes and steps and rethink it and say how can I make it simple? Just so concise, so crisp.

Interviewer: Yeah. That's the good stuff. Bringing that complex to simple is the advance level of leadership. We're short on time. It's always quick up here. I don't want to take the time. Is there anything left unsaid? What else do you want to share about bravery, bold leadership? Any of those things that we can offer?

Bill: The people always have the answers. So if you are leading an organization or you want to lead an organization, you got to listen to the people. And most people that are in leadership roles, they always think they have to come in with the vision and all the answers.

I'll never forget going into a business that was dead last, 64 out of 64, and they were all expecting me to have the answer. I spent two weeks listening to the people and their point of view by asking them a simple question, "Why are you all so messed up?" And I actually cared about the answer.

And it was fascinating because in the end, I took my copious notes. They wanted a vision for where we needed to go, they wanted to be happy and inspired when they came to work and they wanted to have a great holiday party. And I realized the holiday party was more important than the vision or being happy.

So we gave them the holiday party and lo and behold, this is an organization that in one year had the chance to be something. But here is what happened. When I gave them the holiday party, everybody got excited and I said, "Just before you get so excited, I kindly ask you to consider one thing. There is nothing noble about partying at the holiday party being dead last. We're going to go from 64 to number one."

All the energy came out in the room, like what's up with this guy? And I asked them a simple question, "Can you trust me? Because I trust you and trust is the ultimate human currency. Can we give it a shot?" And lo and behold, that year this particular organization was like Seabiscuit going around the curve in the third quarter and by December ranked number one and went from 64 to first.

So if enough people care and you come together as a team around an audacious bold goal and you really want it, you got to want it more, you can do great things.

Interviewer: Oh, absolutely.

Bill McDermott

Bill McDermott was appointed co-CEO of SAP alongside Jim Hagemann Snabe on February 7, 2010. He was then promoted to sole CEO (the first American in the company's history) in 2014. In this capacity, and also as a member of the executi...

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