Vera, E. (2014), "Elio Vera has interviewed Christian Acosta-Flamma", Cross Cultural Management: An International Journal, Vol. 21 No. 4. https://doi.org/10.1108/CCM-08-2014-0090Download as .RIS
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Elio Vera has interviewed Christian Acosta-Flamma
Article Type: Executive corner From: Cross Cultural Management, Volume 21, Issue 4
Dr Christian Acosta-Flamma is Vice President of Systems Applications Products Societas Europaea (SAP SE), the leading Cloud Enterprise Software vendor. Christian is a graduate from the European Business School (Oestrich-Winkel, Germany and London, UK) where he received his BA in International Business Administration and ESADE Business School (Barcelona, Spain), where he received his PhD in Management Sciences.
Christian has a successful track record of re-engineering and innovating traditional business processes with the help of new technologies. While working in the life sciences industry in the late 1990s, Christian founded a vertical e-commerce business and started to experiment with the internet and applied his market knowledge to broker generic pharmaceuticals across Europe that consistently exceeded the procurement goals of his hospital clients. Soon after, his expanding expertise in bridging technologies with procurement allowed him to innovate across organizational and people/HR processes.
Today, with more than 15 years of professional work experience both as entrepreneur or executive, Christian is also involved in academia, where he shares his vision about the future of work, education and talent development.
Elio Vera: What are some of the current cross-cultural management challenges within your organization?
Christian Acosta-Flamma: That's a great question Elio, I think that these cross cultural management challenges at SAP are more or less inline with any other successful multinational corporation, operating in 100+ countries. Far and foremost, it's all about identifying and addressing the right topics and making the workforce take an active part during this journey. Involving people to actively share and help in this respect is quite an interesting undertaking. However, social technologies help to connect and share believes, ideas, notions and many more attributes that reside within your day-to-day boundaries.
Elio Vera: In your opinion, in the future what are the major cross-cultural challenges your company will face?
Christian Acosta-Flamma: It is very hard to predict. Before we get to the future state of cross cultural management challenges, I think we must master the current ones first, with our existing workforce. The “Future of Work” will hold new challenges, since companies will be operating with a complete new set of variables. These include but are not mutually exclusive; millennials joining the workforce, retirees will continue to be active contributors to businesses, deployment of new technologies, a different understanding of work-life balance and so on.
Elio Vera: Please share an interesting real situation that you have experienced in managing your company across cultures.
Christian Acosta-Flamma: In recent years I have been involved in quite a few post-merger integrations as well as onboarding partners with interesting value propositions to the overall SAP product portfolio. While the notion of managing across culture is a bit different from what we have discussed thus far, I’d like to highlight this exposure with you and your readers. For me it was interesting to see to what extend both SAP and the acquired company or partner was able to accept and embed certain values. Given the commercial interest and benefit for both parties, it seemed fairly straight forward but resulted in a much more complex managerial task than anticipated. The common misunderstanding I found was more on the taxonomy than on the value itself of managing across cultures. This taught me new techniques to overcome and manage across a different corporate culture – essentially from within, than managing across nationalities, time zones, virtual handshakes and employee demographics.
Elio Vera: Considering your experience working in a multinational company, what is necessary to encourage the creation of a feeling of mutual proximity, a spirit of group, a sense of belonging? Does your company have a specific program or activity to encourage these attitudes?
Christian Acosta-Flamma: In my view, visibility and an open dialogue is of utmost importance to create a sense of belonging as well encouraging people to make mutual proximity part of their day-to-day work life. At SAP, we have established a Global Diversity & Inclusion Office which leverages an Employee Service that is available through our Corporate Portal, to communicate and exchange with employees. Creating a diverse and inclusive culture is critical to making SAP both a great place to work and a successful company. We’re committed not just to the principles that underlie this culture, but the day-to-day practices that bring it to life. We invite our entire workforce to explore how they can help make diversity and inclusion part of their work – and work lives – at SAP.
Elio Vera: What has been your experience of maintaining the global culture in your role as someone whom people look to for guidance on behaviors and norms?
Christian Acosta-Flamma: In today's fast-changing environment, businesses in all industries and geographical regions are in constant flux. The need to frequently reinvent yourself and adjust to internal as well as external processes, which help satisfy the needs of customers, partners and the global workforce has become an important managerial task. What used to be a “national or local play” has transformed into a global operation, where resources are now being sourced differently and business itself is done in another way. As a trusted leader you have to act and adapt very quickly to these trends and give a trustworthy and positive outlook to people that might be reluctant to all these changes.
Elio Vera: Has your company carried on a conscious effort to develop the individual skills and to encourage the employees to express themselves regardless of nationality? In which way are personal intercultural abilities rewarded?
Christian Acosta-Flamma: Absolutely, SAP employs more than 67,000 people from all over the world and actively encourages every single one of us to express ourselves regardless of our nationality. SAP promotes this as a key value not only during the talent acquisition process but also during your tenure as an employee and enthusiastically supports this through multiple diversity and inclusion programs. The spectrum spans from “Gender Workshops, Women Career Webinars and Workshops, Employee Networks, International Employee Get-togethers, Diversity & Inclusion Facts and Figures to Gender Intelligence and many, many more. I would say that the reward for each and every one of us is the ability and satisfaction to give and share individual believes that make SAP such special place to work for.
Elio Vera: Have you found that some national groups feel discriminated inside your worldwide company, or put into a subordinate position to the national reference group or other more important groups?
Christian Acosta-Flamma: No, personally I have not come across any group within SAP that feels in any form discriminated. However, at SAP we see and value every individual for what they have to contribute. And we are committed not just to the principles underlying this philosophy, but the day-to-day practices that bring it to life.
Elio Vera: How do you find managers for your team able to work across cultures (by exposing themselves to true international work challenges which can transform their leadership behaviours).
Christian Acosta-Flamma: Today, most teams within SAP are cross-cultural, spanning different time zones and cultural backgrounds. While you grow as an employee you get used to this environment and once you become a Manager you know already most of the tricks. By the way, my experience is similar to when recruiting someone from outside. Professionals today are more international and multicultural than they used to be a decade or two ago.
Elio Vera: Do you feel that the contact that you have with such different cultures has brought important advantages to your work and has improved significantly your professional skills? If so, are these advantages that other people without a multicultural experience could not get?
Christian Acosta-Flamma: As said in my previous answer, my experience is that professionals are more international and multicultural than probably a decade or two ago.
From time to time you meet someone with less international exposure. In the beginning you can feel a little difference but typically people pick it up fairly quickly – due to very international working environments they have no other choice than to adapt. Overall, it is perceived very positively!
Elio Vera: Does your cross-cultural company communication have unusual aspects in the way it exchanges messages of different nature and consistency with colleagues? What are the specific purposes of the exchange of communication in a multicultural company? And how do you think the message exchange should take place?
Christian Acosta-Flamma: Communication is key, especially when you want to encourage visibility for certain topics and create an open dialogue along these lines. Whatever your corporate culture may be, as a company or leader you must know and understand your audience and act as an enabler with a clear goal in mind to give your workforce the freedom and right tools to do so. At SAP we are in a very fortunate position to have multiple communication channels available to us. We literally have infinite possibilities to combine physical and virtual opportunities to exchange work and ideas with each other. Some combinations may work better for one population while others prefer other ways to express themselves and share knowledge. When you look and observe what is going on – you feel that some of this is influenced by your age, tenure, physical location and probably your cultural background. As long as all of this is producing stimulus and activates discussions, you should be on the right track, producing facts that help you gain significant insights.
Elio Vera: To what extent has the advent and fast development of the New Technologies helped or interfered in the international organizational structure of your company? And which effect, positive or maybe negative, has this on your personal experience?
Christian Acosta-Flamma: At SAP we live and breathe technologies in whatever form and function and probably my answer might be considered biased for some of your readers. However, when talking to our customers about technologies and to what extend they can positively impact and help run their business in a much simpler way, I receive a lot of positive feedback. Especially, with a younger workforce entering the workplace, technology is a fundamental enabler to break barriers, increase transparency and foster broader collaboration amongst colleagues.