SAP's cultural confusion

May 16 2007 by Derek Torres Print This Article

I read a hilarious article in the WSJ on May 11th about German software giant SAP's troubles in unifying cultures. Now, listen carefully, because this doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense, and the result has been a whole lot of headaches.

For reasons best known to itself, SAP decided it needed to be less German and more of a global player (in other words, make sure its workers are nervous about their jobs).

To that end, SAP hired a significant number of American and Indian programmers (in the thousands) and made English the de facto language of the company. Even back in Dusselforf, where projects were being run, English was the required language for corporate meetings and communications.

In order to become a more efficient, global player, SAP literally went global Ė instead of focusing on a single engineering strategy, SAP went with no less than eight development centers worldwide.

As you can imagine, much of this didn't sit well with the old guard back in Germany, who bemoaned the Americanization of their company. Keep in mind that many large companies in Europe have long been protected against globalization and workforce reduction measures by their national governments.

While it seems admirable that SAP is thinking globally by trying to increase its presence and participation on the world stage; it quite ridiculously forgot the other key ingredient: acting locally.

Having worked for a large European company at its headquarters, I've seen all too well the result when companies lose their identity by trying to insist that they're American and force workers into accepting their perceived stereotypes of the American workforce.

Might doesn't always make right; European companies, such as SAP, would do well to consider a balance to the cultural sensitivities of their employees and not just push through reforms at any cost. Failure to do so will just spread more ink across the pages of the WSJ and continue to cause the rest of us to snicker.