Wild & wooly

SAP, it seems, is in a constant state of re-organization.

I wrote a whole chapter on the topic in my dissertation, which I completed in 2004.  For reasons that I’ll get to in a minute, I re-read the chapter today and I feel that much of it still holds true, in spite of the fact that I wrote my dissertation during very dark moments in both the country and the company’s history – the dot-com crash and after 9/11.  Changes were also underway in part because of the departure of the Americas’ CEO, and because the U.S. was making the transition to a regionally-focused selling model.

At the time I had the prospect of losing not only my job but access to my doctoral research site, and I wrote the chapter not only because the topic is central to corporate life, but also to intellectualize what was happening and diffuse my stress.  In the chapter on organizational change I said:

… re-organization activities are undertaken in conjunction with budgeting, and in such a way as to minimize the impact on sales productivity in the all-important fourth quarter.  During the budget process in the fourth quarter, the process of re-organization is set in motion.  The process begins as leaves begin to fall, and is actualized in the aftermath of fourth quarter results, in the bleakest months of winter.  (page 220)

This passage is not inconsistent with the rest of my dissertation.  It was academically thorough and at the same time, the material and the narrative style was very personal because my experiences at work were an integral part of my research data.  As an anthropologist who has a deeply vested interest both in my career and in the success of SAP, it’s inevitable that the intellectual and personal elements will continue to be woven together.  As a result, I feel that my blog is a great channel for covering the topic as this next wave of change emerges.

We’re in another period of economic crisis again, but it is not confined to a single industry and the entire globe is being affected.  At SAP, those external changes are accompanied by organizational upheaval due to the retirement of several Board members, and the resulting need to re-align the organization.  My experience of the changes is quite different this time around, but I would like to capture the moment as I did with my dissertation research in 2000-2001.  In particular, I would like to explore how the economic context continues to shape the experience of working inside of SAP.  I would also like to document some new trends in management discourse (Lean in particular), and what those trends mean for both the emergence of operations expertise and the Operations functions I manage.  In addition, during my dissertation research I didn’t actively address the way that employees are emotionally invested in work, why, and the implications of that.  I hope that the second time around I’ll be able to talk a little bit more about that aspect of organizational change, as well as the connections between change, organizational productivity, and work/life balance.

In my dissertation I described “two kinds of quiet”.  The first kind is the SEC quiet period, which prohibits SAP employees from speaking to press and analysts about financial results until the books are officially closed for the quarter (and in this case for the year).  The second kind of quiet is related to organizational change, the ‘veil of secrecy’ or ‘cone of silence’ that prohibits employees ‘in the know’ from providing information about pending changes.  Of course I have to continue to respect those legal boundaries.  At the same time, I think this period of change will be a challenging and fascinating one for SAP, so I hope to bring my anthropological perspective to bear on what’s taking place here.

Not unlike the last time I picked up this topic, I am struggling personally with the amount of change, the impact it brings, and what it means for me and the people I manage.  It has been a prolonged period already, with the first inklings coming as early as last May and June.  So there is some pent-up emotion, here!  Hopefully after I work through that, we’ll get into the substance of the topic!  So stay tuned …

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