SAP’s Nick Tzitzon Gets Philosophical About Corporate Culture

While some say you can’t teach an old tech company new tricks, Nick Tzitzon begs to differ. As SAP’s vice president of marketing and communications, he understands that creating the right environment for change is about more than a couple of promotional emails.

Become a Subscriber

Please purchase a subscription to continue reading this article.

Subscribe Now

With 40 years in business, SAP employs 96,000 people and generates $25 billion in revenue. Like many other long-running enterprise software organizations out there, SAP is going through a generational change from on-premise system operations to cloud-based technologies.

But this means so much more than some minor tweaks made to their platform and technology products – it’s a shift in paradigm. It means rethinking revenue sources, business models and customer relationships. In other words, mindset and culture will make all the difference in achieving success in today’s market.

Tzitzon knows that marketing is more than the messaging directed to their outside audiences. It’s about shaping the shared feeling within the company but that can be easier said than done. “Do you know what the hardest part is?” Tztizon asks. “I think people learn as they grow in their career, that they have to be rigidly prepared for everything. People are always on script.”

His job, he believes, is to help people break down the walls they have built up over time. “Because of expectations – expectations,” Tzitzon said. “Everybody is expected to do this or to do that, and they’re concerned about who is watching. It’s always that kind of attitude, so it’s hard for people to let loose.”

Cultivating the right kind of culture within an organization as diverse and complex as SAP is very different than in a six-person start-up with the requisite cargo shorts dress code and bean bag chairs. There will be no one-message-fits-all solve that will create meaning for people so the key, Tzitzon says, is to get personal.

“It’s hard for people to really make an emotional connection with people as opposed to doing what they’re advised to do by all the influences around them,” the VP said. The more a leader is able to open up to their team and connect their personal motivation to what the business is trying to do, the more progress is made. “That’s when guards get dropped and people are more willing to engage with you on an emotional level.”

But it’s not about one conversation had by one person at the senior management level, it’s about fostering a certain kind of culture where people can step outside their comfort zone.  “It’s not a top-down exercise. It’s not exclusively a bottom-up exercise. It is both because everything about the culture you want has to radiate from the messaging you have.”

Today, the message is how to move from owning the full-stack mentality to the more cooperative nature of cloud-native platforms. Tomorrow, the message may be something else. The important take-away is that a company’s culture contributes to how their people work towards their success. Clear leadership goals and active conversations about best to achieve them is where the magic happens.

“What opportunity are we trying to seize? What problems are we trying to solve? What are we trying to do for the business? That’s the question and the conversation that we need to be part of and that our peers want to be part of as well.”