Experience Unveiled: Talking with SAP SuccessFactors Chief Scientist, Dr. Autumn Krauss

Experience Unveiled: Talking with SAP SuccessFactors Chief Scientist, Dr. Autumn Krauss

On this episode of the Experience Unveiled I am joined by SAP SuccessFactors Chief Scientist, Dr. Autumn Krauss for a conversation on employee experience, including how the view of EX has evolved and thoughts on its evolution.

Our discussion covers:

  • How the SAP SuccessFactors Growth & Insights team supports growth opportunities for SAP SuccessFactors
  • How SAP SuccessFactors is reimagining the learning experience for employees
  • How employee experience has evolved over time and what prompted the evolution
  • Employee experience in 2023 and what’s next

For more information, visit the SAP Growth and Insights HR Research Library, referenced in this episode.

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Sherril Hanson: Hello, everybody. I am Sherril Hanson, Senior Analyst with The Futurum Group, and I’d like to welcome you to Experience Unveiled. This is our inaugural podcast, first one, and it focuses on customer experience and employee experience. Each episode is going to consist of an informal discussion with an industry expert in either customer experience or employee experience. To give some color, at The Futurum Group, we view customer experience pretty broadly, consisting of technology such as customer data platforms, customer analytics, customer feedback and voice of the customer, CRM, personalization and optimization, and contact center technologies. We also consider employee experience as the foundation to a great customer experience, and we definitely spend a lot of time digging into EX as well as CX. This week, we’re going to explore the question, what is next in employee experience? I’m really lucky to have Dr. Autumn Krauss, Chief Scientist, Growth and Insights at SAP SuccessFactors. I met Dr. Krauss at the recent SAP SuccessConnect conference and she did this really interesting presentation on the psychological research behind SAP SuccessFactors’ solution strategy. It was a really interesting kind of behind-the-scenes look at a research type that you often don’t get to get insights into. That’s where we connected, so Dr. Krauss, it’s great to have you here.

Dr. Autumn Krauss: Thank you so much for having me, Sherril, and I have to say congratulations on the new podcast and I’m really looking forward to our chat.

Sherril Hanson: Yeah, so let’s get right into our topic of the week, which is employee experience. To give, again, some more background into how we look at employee experience, we take a broad view of it and consider that it encompasses an employee’s feelings and perceptions of their experience with their company along their total employee journey. From a technology perspective, this can include using solutions to support employee experience such as voice of the employee recognition and rewards, well-being, community and culture, communications, digital employee experience, and those supporting technologies, but definitely employee performance and development. Autumn, again, good to have you here. Before we get into our main topic area, I was hoping that you could give us a bit of background on yourself and how your path brought you to SAP.

Dr. Autumn Krauss: For sure. Thanks, Sherril. I am an Organizational Psychologist by discipline. I have a concentration in Occupational Health Psychology, which is about the health and safety and well-being of workers, and so very happy to see in your framework for EX well-being mentioned. We definitely think about well-being being a key part of EX as well. I joined SuccessFactors about six years ago and actually it was in support of the Well-Being at Work Initiative that we had at the time. We were actually focused as a line of business on really connecting the dots between well-being, which was such a prevalent topic and investment area at that time, with how our suite could really support individual well-being as well as really fostering an organizational well-being culture. I came over to really lend my expertise and a hand in connecting those dots and spent some time in that well-being space out of the gate. Really after that, we’ll talk a bit more about my team here in a bit, have broadened our topic area as well beyond well-being to all different aspects of future of work. As a career, I’ve always been in more of an HR tech or a management consulting company. I’m really focused on more of that research and development or scientist-oriented activities in my discipline. We always talk about the scientist practitioner gap and how we’re always trying to close it. In my case, I think I’ve always worn both hats, really trying to bridge that gap between the research and the science and what we actually can implement in practice to make impact, so-

Sherril Hanson: Yeah.

Dr. Autumn Krauss: … that’s a little bit about me.

Sherril Hanson: Yeah, so what does a typical week, if there is such a thing, look like for a Chief Ccientist at SAP?

Dr. Autumn Krauss: For sure, so our team is the Growth and Insights team that I lead. We sit in SAP’s Marketing and Solutions Board area, and we’re one of the teams that comprises SAP SuccessFactors Strategy Office. We have three pillars within the team that I lead, all really focused on identifying growth opportunities for SuccessFactors. The first part of the work that we do is more what I would say like gathering and triangulating intelligence from multiple points of view, either future of work trends or the HCM market dynamics, reading publications from Futurum Group as an example. Really trying to gather those outside-in data points to inform our strategy from all different places. Then, the other thing we would do is compare a bit of that external perspective to where our investment areas are currently inside the business, what be it the product capabilities or our partner strategy and to identify really, where are those potential opportunities? Where if we invest in either net new topics that we’re not addressing or we change our approach to areas we are already working on, we can have high impact to the business and our customers. The fun thing about my team is that we are comprised by a lot of different experts and disciplines. I have other behavioral scientists and psychologists like myself, but also competitive intelligence experts, market researchers, strategy and finance experts. I like to say that we are known within SAP as being a real team of nerds and we own that badge proudly inside the business as part of our brand.

Sherril Hanson: Yeah, it’s really great to have such a broad team. I love your branding, and your team must be kept very busy with keeping up with all the incoming signals about what’s going on in the market. Lots of stuff, lots of stuff, lots of data being turned out right now.

Dr. Autumn Krauss: For sure, for sure, and I do think that in any given week we are having an opportunity to really be out there either collecting data ourselves and doing some of that analysis and thinking type of work, but then we also get to work really closely with our other stakeholders. I think we’d all agree that insights can be interesting, but we want them to be useful. How can we actually make use of them either inside the business for decision-making or as thought leadership with our customers into the market at events? Which is how you and I came to meet at SuccessConnect.

Sherril Hanson: Yeah, and the subject of learning and training and skills development has been a really hot topic lately. At SuccessConnect, you had mentioned that SAP was reimagining what the learning experience was for employees, and I was hoping you could talk a little bit about what that really means.

Dr. Autumn Krauss: Yes, absolutely. This is an area we’re super passionate about, not only within our team, but within the SAP SuccessFactors business. I’m really excited, and it shouldn’t be a secret that we really have a renewed investment in our learning product. That reimagined learning experience as we call it within the product was very much informed by a yearlong research program that my team led called Fostering Lifelong Learning. When I say it was a year, I mean it was a very busy year. We conduct our research with a mixed methods approach. We do qualitative research with customer interviews, and then we also do global employee and people manager surveys, and so more on the qualitative side with 92 different learning leaders across 58 customers around the world. We conducted all the numbers, 33 focus group sessions. If you think about that, that’s a lot of focus groups-

Sherril Hanson: It is, yeah.

Dr. Autumn Krauss: … over the course of a year and also across time zones to make sure that we were friendly to our Asia-Pacific Japan customers. Yeah, lots of focus groups. That’s why we have doctoral interns helping out to make all of that happen. We were studying so many different parts of the learning experience, so things like unique learner personas. If you think about extended enterprise learners, so contractor-type learners or desk list learners. They need unique capabilities or an experience that’s special to them. Then, also more of the psychological pieces of the puzzle like learning culture, learning in the flow of work, and without a doubt some data-driven types of topics like learning analytics. Really, that was all part of the research on the qualitative customer side, and then we also connected that survey I mentioned, over 1400 global employees participating, talking about their learning experience, what matters to them when it comes to learning, et cetera. All of that came together.

Sherril Hanson: Very broad-based, very broad-based.

Dr. Autumn Krauss: Yeah, exactly, and it is so important because-

Sherril Hanson: Yeah.

Dr. Autumn Krauss: … if we’re trying to really use these data to drive product vision and strategy, we really need to cast a wide net and make sure we have good samples to inform our thinking. Yes, lots of data. It was a good year of data-

Sherril Hanson: Yeah.

Dr. Autumn Krauss: … and with that we build a couple deliverables. There’s plenty of them, and we can make sure that your audience can get access to all of those outputs from that learning project. One of the key deliverables that I think you’re referencing that we talked about at SuccessConnect is this framework that we built out which really described and really recognized that learners have so many different motives to learn at work. If we’re going to build a comprehensive learning strategy and enable it through our products, then we really need to meet learners on all those different motives. What I’m referencing here is that we have built out this idea that learners either they have to learn, they want to learn, or they need to learn. I know that sounds super simple, but there’s layers beneath that as there always are. Just recognizing that we want to create an experience that caters to all those different learning motives and know that the experience needs to be a bit different. If it’s like a have-to-learn for compliance purposes, I need to get in, I need to get out, those types of things versus if it’s a want-to-learn for growth and development or maybe my next thing when it comes to internal mobility, then it’s more of curiosity and wanting to create an environment and learning that allows us to explore and see what might be out there. You can see all of these motives clearly outlined and supported in the new learning experience.

Sherril Hanson: Yeah, and really important that you’re addressing all those key attributes of what people want in their learning experience. As you said, it can be so different as a desk worker, deskless worker, and even the tools that they have available to them on how to do their training. Great information there. During your presentation at SuccessConnect, when you talked about what was on the agenda for the future, one of the items that really stood out to me was understanding what the next EX or employee experience is. During that chat, it was described as how the definition of and the measurement of and the interventions and actions to improve employee experience, how are those going to evolve in the future? I wanted to dig into that a bit and see what your thoughts are on what the next EX is.

Dr. Autumn Krauss: For sure. Yes, that’s one of our active research programs. We had the opportunity to spend some time on things that we’ve done before like the learning project and then what’s on the agenda now. That is the next EX, as we like to say, and looking at all the different elements you just described. I will say that so far in our research, which we’ve done an academic literature review as well as a business press review and spent some time with our subject matter experts that we assemble across SAP to really weigh in on the topic. Not surprisingly, there’s been a considerable evolution in how we’ve defined EX over the past years. At first, you would’ve been a lot more about engagement, and then a heavy focus on well-being and work-life integration over the course of the pandemic. That really brought that as a key theme and priority. Now, we’re really framing it more in the current state as employee-centric EX. What we’re really referencing here is that the proposition is that employees are unique and their EX really needs to be shaped by their particular needs and their profile of interests and preferences that they bring to work every day. If we recognize that maybe a wholesale strategy when it comes to EX initiatives or EX programming isn’t really going to get us there, that we probably need to cater more to and tailor those programs to unique employee needs. It’s an interesting time for EX. Definitely adds a layer of complexity I imagine. Organizations are like, “We’re-

Sherril Hanson: Yeah, right.

Dr. Autumn Krauss: … “and just have these programs off the ground,” but I know we’ll touch on AI later, and that might be an opportunity for that use case.

Sherril Hanson: Yeah, and there is a lot on everybody’s plates, but what’s interesting to me about this a little bit is that it really mirrors what has been well-known in customer experience for quite some time in terms of trying to build a solid relationship and foundation with customers. That is personalizing the experience, just like you said, and trying to build a connection based on what’s important to them, and I can see this definitely being the case for employee experience and something for companies to strive for.

Dr. Autumn Krauss: Mm-hmm. Yeah, and I definitely over the years, especially as CX and EX started to come closer together and lots of arguments were made about how they’re similar and we should really treat employees like customers. Sometimes I think those corollaries or parallels were a bit forced, but in this case, I think it’s spot-on what you’re saying as far as the application. As consumers in our personal lives, we can understand what that might look like in an employee in a work setting as well and the potential value of that.

Sherril Hanson: Yeah, yeah.

Dr. Autumn Krauss: I’m excited about the possibility and as a vision and aspiration, and I know it won’t be an easy road as far as execution, but I do see that as being someplace that this is heading. If you think about what sparked it, what really created that focus, I do think that we have seen and there’s been lots of commentary in the market and business prospect. Workers are in a different place as far as their expectations and their desire to really being seen and heard and appreciated as whole people. To the extent to which we continue with maybe some of those more transactional approaches to how work gets done and the psychological contract, we might not yet see the outcomes that we’re hoping for when it comes to EX. I know organizations at this stage with the economic volatility and some skill shortages persisting, they’re looking to get as much as they can when it comes to productivity and retention with their workers. EX is obviously a key lever to make that happen.

Sherril Hanson: Yeah, yeah. It’s definitely a journey and a progression for many companies to find out what works best for them, but as you outlined, the struggles are still kind of real for workers. Then, there’s still a lot of skill shortages in that ability to really retain an employee and keep them happy is so important because the engagement stats are still showing some challenges.

Dr. Autumn Krauss: For sure, for sure. What I’ve gotten up to so far is really the current state, and-

Sherril Hanson: Yeah.

Dr. Autumn Krauss: … I think I might have mentioned to you when we met that we do conduct an annual HR meta trends analysis We aren’t the type of team that puts out our own predictions each year, but we do collate and content-analyze from all the global reputable sources their trends and predictions. I don’t know if Futurum Group puts out an annual trends report, but we’ll be consuming that if you do and really trying to make sense of, what are those meta trends that companies should be paying attention to? For 2023, which it’ll be in the rearview mirror before-

Sherril Hanson: Yeah, coming up fast. Yes.

Dr. Autumn Krauss: … you can snap your fingers. This year was really a shift for us in how we conceptualize EX had been a standalone trend, clearly evolving in priority and them over the years, but really in 2023, we were like, “No, it’s just showing up across every possible HR trend and topic as key implication or input.” We just decided that it really needs to be reconceptualized as a foundation to HR strategies and practices across the board and not be thought of as a separate topic or a separate trend. That was a big change for how we hold a mental model of EX for 2023, but again, that doesn’t answer the question, which you asked, which is like, “What’s next for EX?”

Sherril Hanson: Yeah, what’s next?

Dr. Autumn Krauss: Okay.

Sherril Hanson: Fun.

Dr. Autumn Krauss: Yeah, exactly. Well, I wish I had data at this stage, which we’re working on. I’ll come back to that in a moment.

Sherril Hanson: It’s coming, yeah.

Dr. Autumn Krauss: Yeah, exactly. We’re studying it right now, and so I can give you some highlights, again, from the secondary source and the reviews that we’ve been doing, some of the key themes, and we’re seeing a growing interest at the moment. One, again, the personalization of EX, which I think we hashed out to some degree. The second one, AI-

Sherril Hanson: What?

Dr. Autumn Krauss: … yeah, you can’t have a podcast without saying that word, and so I’ll come back to that, too. Then, the third theme, which comes back to our learning discussion that we had earlier, is just this growing interest by both employees and organizations to really craft the knot on employee learning and development and this idea of employee potential as part of EX. Yes, I would always argue that learning experience is part of EX, so you have growth and development in your model as well, but I just think that we’re going to get more serious about it. It’s felt like a nice-to-have, and I think at this stage, it’s going to turn more into an imperative of the weight it has on EX issues.

Sherril Hanson: Right, right.

Dr. Autumn Krauss: When it comes to AI, back to AI and I’d love to get your thoughts on this, too, so where we see the use cases currently are twofold. One is more as actual direct experience to employees, so trying to really foster a more high-quality EX through the use of AI. Then, the second one is using AI to triangulate more of the passive data that we might have flowing through our systems, be it communication collaboration tools or in our HR systems like SuccessFactors, and then more of the active survey-based classic engagement and EX surveying happening. Pulling that all together for some much better insights, just-in-time directions and actions that managers and HR can take, so a real analytics opportunity, I think, when it comes to EX.

Sherril Hanson: Yeah, yeah. Those are great use cases and it kind of combines the ones that are very practical and maybe not super exciting on the surface, but they’re really making a difference in employees’ day-to-day activities, freeing them up to do other things and then, of course, the amount of information that companies can have access to for their employee feedback and listening programs. It’s a lot, and it’s great that you have all that data, but you need to make sense of it-

Dr. Autumn Krauss: Mm-hmm.

Sherril Hanson: … so…

Dr. Autumn Krauss: Yeah, and I’m sure that your listeners and you have a little bit of that threat response or concern, of course, like, “How are we going to do this well and thoughtfully and with the right type of conditions where employees don’t also have a threat response related to their privacy and all of those very valid concerns?” I will also make sure that your audience through you gets some research materials on that front. We’ve been studying this topic. We released it recently as part of SAP’s business AI announcements, really looking deeply at how employees feel about intelligent tech at work, and more importantly, intelligent tech in HR. Also, what types of use cases they’d be more inclined to engage with versus which ones they might find, I’ll use the creepy term, and that doesn’t mean we stop there, it just means-

Sherril Hanson: Right.

Dr. Autumn Krauss: … we start somewhere. All of that is kind of packaged up at this stage with some strategy and tech recs that I can share with you. I know we can’t get into that today. Maybe another time-

Sherril Hanson: Yeah, I know- another time because it’s really interesting, and I’ll be really curious to see. I know you’re heading out soon to be talking to HR leaders, and I am curious like, what are they thinking about right now? How much focus are they giving it right now? We’re just scratching the surface of everything that AI might be able to help with, but like you said, it has to be handled a bit delicately in these situations sometimes, so-

Dr. Autumn Krauss: Yes, and a lot of what I shared on the next CX front is, I have to admit, still speculation, which scientists hate to do, but the proof will be in the data, and you’re our correct Sherril, where I’m actually as of tomorrow will be heading out the door to go spend some time in Europe and speak directly with our HR leader customers, just interviewing them for the program and then also launching our global surveys by the end of the year. Data are on the way, and we’ll be happy to share with you what we find.

Sherril Hanson: Great, great, and to start to move towards wrap-up, what I would love to know is, what are some of the things that you are most excited about professionally as you continue your research in this area? What gets you moving? What are you looking forward to?

Dr. Autumn Krauss: Yeah, for sure, and whenever I hear someone say like, “What gets you moving?”, makes me think like, “What gets you up in the morning?” Then, I think about the very difficult night’s sleeps where my husband and I are still having with our toddler not sleeping through the night yet, so at two and a half, there is a lot-

Sherril Hanson: Something more peaceful.

Dr. Autumn Krauss: … that I need, a lot of motivation to get me going in the morning.

Sherril Hanson: Yeah.

Dr. Autumn Krauss: I often think about this concept that Adam Grant, so I’m sure everyone in this space of HR has kind of heard about Adam Grant really thinking and putting forward a lot of research on this idea of line of sight to ultimate beneficiary. In this instance, he was talking about doing these really quite cool experiments with workers where if we had better visibility into the ultimate beneficiaries of our work, then we’d be more motivated and to give more discretionary effort to show up every day and work hard. For scientists like myself and my team, that sometimes can feel hard to find that view to the ultimate beneficiary of the research and the insights that we’re producing, but I think it’s there. It might not be obvious, but just hear me out. If we think about our team’s research and the fact that it’s promoted out to the market and finds its way also to customer organizations and that influences their strategy and their technology choices and what they do as far as their practices with their employees, then we’re having impact in those employees. Then, there’s a whole nother angle where as we influence the design and the development of our products in HR tech and send that out to the world and our customers consume those and use those with their workforces, then that’s a whole multiplicative effect of how our work is being used with employees. What gets me up in the morning is that ultimate end user, the employee every day who’s experiencing either their HR technology and trying to be successful at work or their practices that their companies put in place, the culture that their company builds. That’s how I like to think of it. At the end of the day, just puts a lot of responsibility on my team to deliver high-quality research if it’s going to have that far-reaching impact.

Sherril Hanson: Yeah. Yeah, I love that, and it really is work that has purpose. I’m a bit of a survey and research geek myself. I love seeing all the CX and EX research that comes out, but what I really like to see is research that is done maybe not just for a few marketing bylines, but really useful information for leaders to make change with. To wrap this up because we’re hitting some time, I did want to point to the HR Research Library that Autumn’s team at SAP SuccessFactors makes available to the entire human resource community, and it has deliverables associated with past research projects and it also has information on some of the research that Autumn referenced today. We’re going to have a link to that library on the bottom of the screen, but we’ll also be… I’ll include it in our show notes that will be on The Futurum Group website for this podcast. Autumn, thanks so much for your time. It was great to learn more about your role and how it fits into driving not just kind of thought leadership and employee experience, but also to help shape product development to make solutions that are more useful to your customers. Also, great to have someone in the same time zone. It doesn’t happen all that often being in Colorado in the middle of the country. I also hope you get some restful mornings coming up before your travel, so-

Dr. Autumn Krauss: Thank you so much. Yes, we counted that my toddler at this point has been on 35 flights at two and a half, and so he is about to hit another long haul to Europe tomorrow.

Sherril Hanson: Yeah.

Dr. Autumn Krauss: He sleeps fine on those, just not during the night, right?

Sherril Hanson: Yeah, of course.

Dr. Autumn Krauss: It’s been a real treat, I would say, spending time with you, Sherril. I really enjoyed our fun, dare I say, nerdy conversation, and I hope your audience did as well.

Sherril Hanson: Great. Yeah, so thanks everyone for tuning in and be sure to subscribe, rate, and review the podcast on whatever your preferred platform is, and watch for the next episode of Experience Unveiled. Thanks.

Author Information

As a detail-oriented researcher, Sherril is expert at discovering, gathering and compiling industry and market data to create clear, actionable market and competitive intelligence. With deep experience in market analysis and segmentation she is a consummate collaborator with strong communication skills adept at supporting and forming relationships with cross-functional teams in all levels of organizations.

She brings more than 20 years of experience in technology research and marketing; prior to her current role, she was a Research Analyst at Omdia, authoring market and ecosystem reports on Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and User Interface technologies. Sherril was previously Manager of Market Research at Intrado Life and Safety, providing competitive analysis and intelligence, business development support, and analyst relations.

Sherril holds a Master of Business Administration in Marketing from University of Colorado, Boulder and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Rutgers University.


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