Creating a Culture That Fosters Product and Technology Innovation

Pete Schlampp, executive vice president of product development, and Sayan Chakraborty, executive vice president of technology, discuss how Workday’s culture encourages out-of-the-box thinking and creativity, which enables us to create products and technology that are changing the way people work.

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At Workday, innovation isn’t just a buzzword, it’s a core value. Fast Company’s Best Workplaces for Innovators just came out and we are honored to once again be on this list, which recognizes businesses and organizations that demonstrate a deep commitment to encouraging innovation at all levels. 

We sat down with Pete Schlampp, executive vice president of product development, and Sayan Chakraborty, executive vice president of technology, to discuss how our culture at Workday encourages out-of-the-box thinking and creativity, which enables us to create products and technology that are changing the way people work.  

With innovation being a core value for Workday, what is our perspective and vision around it?

Schlampp: As you mention, innovation has been a major part of our culture from day one. We were the first to offer a true human capital management cloud application for large enterprises and we’ve had that trailblazer mindset ever since. 

We see innovation at Workday as a true partnership between our employees and our customers. More than ever, it’s an iterative and collaborative process, where we’re having important, open dialogue with our customers about their needs and how we can continue to innovate to support them in this fast-changing world. 

So, to make sure Workday is their partner for the long term, we’re committed to our promise of relentless innovation to meet customers’ needs and address the challenges they face; of ensuring the Workday experience is more personal and meaningful at every interaction; and to ultimately deliver a transformative product that our customers love.  

Chakraborty: To build on what Pete said, our number one focus is always on ensuring our customers can run their businesses effectively, especially under the current conditions. Workday was built in the cloud, which enables us and our customers to respond quickly and continue to innovate as the world around us changes. 

We talk a lot about innovation in terms of features, functions, machine learning (ML), and other powerful and very shiny objects; however, we are also constantly innovating under the covers as well. For example, we have the capability to predictively monitor our customer demand and automatically scale up the right type of resources to meet the volume and type of demand. This is critical to meet the changing needs of the largest companies in the world—especially as they are using our service in more unpredictable ways. This type of innovation is what I like to call “invisible innovation,” and is the innovation that is driven into our overall resilience, scale, and availability of our service delivery.

“We see innovation at Workday as a true partnership between our employees and our customers.”

 

Pete Schlampp Executive Vice President, Product Development Workday

Part of driving innovation is creating a workplace culture that empowers employees to think in new and different ways. Can you share some examples of how innovation happens within our Product and Technology organizations? How has this changed in the current remote working environment? 

Chakraborty: We’re focused on creating a work environment in the Technology organization that enables employees to creatively solve problems and bring different and diverse perspectives together. These include activities like co-working events for employees around the world to meet in different office locations to brainstorm ideas and collaborate (previously in person but currently virtual), innovation weeks to foster creative problem solving, and hackathons to experiment with new technologies and approaches. 

Another way we encourage innovation is by leveraging the public cloud. Some of the major cloud players have created technologies and solutions that our teams can use and embed into our products and services seamlessly, which benefit our customers from a scale, cost, or automation perspective.

While most of us are now working remotely, that hasn’t stopped us from coming up with virtual programs to fuel innovation as we continue to host hackathons and knowledge sharing sessions for employees to collaborate and gain inspiration from each other. 

At the same time, it’s also important that we find creative ways to stay connected and have some fun in our remote world, which we believe ultimately helps us serve our customers better. For example, our employees have participated in remote talent shows, Zoom background contests, and virtual cooking classes, to name a few.  

Schlampp: We also focus on fostering an environment that encourages innovative thinking and collaboration across the board for all of our developers, product managers, designers, quality assurance team, and technical writers so that each has the opportunity to come up with creative ideas and build new products—no matter what their level is. 

Before the pandemic, some of these programs included cross-team knowledge sharing sessions, our own product-specific hackathons, and “Shark Tank” events where attendees pitched ideas to solve hard real-world problems. And we also foster gig work in many parts of the organization. The whole notion behind gig work is enabling employees to work on shorter-term projects in a variety of areas. This project-based approach helps us move and adapt quickly, allows employees to gain new skills, and at the end of the day, encourages creativity that fuels our product innovation. 

When COVID-19 hit, our number one company priority was to take care of our employees, many of whom were dealing with new realities and complexities from working remotely. We felt it was important to help them feel supported so that in turn, they could have the space to be there for our customers. 

Additionally, we’ve always focused on encouraging an agile product development environment so when we pivoted to more remote work, we already had some good habits in place that made the transition a little easier. Since then we’ve found new ways to support the team, such as leaning more on virtual white-boarding and collaborative cloud-based design tools. At the end of the day, the team has continued to feel productive and innovative, and we’ve been fortunate enough to keep our product plans on track, all in a new working environment. 

“We are actively infusing machine learning into the foundation of all of our applications and service delivery to drive value to the end customer.”

 

Sayan Chakraborty Executive Vice President, Technology Workday

What does all of this innovation mean for our customers?

Schlampp: At the highest level, it’s all about delivering the best possible experience for our customers, which really stems from when Dave [Duffield] and Aneel [Bhusri] founded Workday more than 15 years ago. Their vision was to reimagine enterprise software with people at the center. Technology has obviously evolved since then and so have our users, so our big focus right now is on finding new ways to improve the way that users interact with Workday.  

I’ve also been incredibly proud of the team’s ability to deliver new innovations that are helping our customers navigate these challenging times. For example, by listening to our customers and staying laser-focused on their needs, we knew that certain capabilities within Workday People Analytics were needed now to help customers address various workforce issues associated with COVID-19 and diversity. Since our Analytics team leverages a continuous delivery methodology, we were able to accelerate the release of that product and get these key capabilities into our customers’ hands faster than originally planned. 

Additionally, we pulled forward the availability of Workday Help and Workday Journeys, two solutions that extend the power of Workday People Experience and enhance our ability to deliver hyper-personalized experiences to employees. To give you an example, a number of our customers, after going live on Workday Journeys, created COVID-19 Journeys, centered around supporting remote employees during a crisis and returning to work. In one example, 95 percent of the users who interacted with the journey updated their emergency contact info, which proved extremely critical to the customer in terms of knowing how to support their people during a crisis.

But it doesn’t stop there. During the last several months, we’ve had customers lean on Workday to close their books 100 percent virtually, run payroll for more than one million workers, and conduct up to 30 times more forecasts and scenarios than we see in a typical week. And by partnering closely with our Technology and Customer Experience teams, we’ve been able to quickly develop more than 100 custom solutions, too. In short, Workday was made for times like these. 

Chakraborty: Machine learning is a big focus for us. We are past the hype curve and are actively infusing machine learning into the foundation of all of our applications and service delivery to drive value to the end customer. Our machine learning-enabled products and features rely on blending technology with human oversight—to augment and guide the decisions that the software may be suggesting. 

While the benefits of machine learning are boundless and often highly visible to the user, there are other areas of innovation geared at delivering an optimal customer experience that aren’t as visible, but are just as critical. I’ll use that term again here—it’s the invisible innovations that enable things like resiliency, scalability, availability, performance, and security, such as our ML-based account protection technology designed to intelligently detect anomalous activity within our customers’ Workday tenant. Finding new and better ways to ensure that our customers can seamlessly run their business has always been a priority for us, but given everything happening in the world today, it’s become more important than ever. 

One way we do this is through our relentless focus on what I call personalization-at-scale. While we often talk about personalization in terms of the user experience, we also apply the concept to our service delivery. Each Workday customer is unique and we work to understand their business as it is and how it changes over time. We can adjust and deliver resources based on individual customer’s workloads and how they operate, informed by the specific timing of their business. We have automated processes in place to monitor and adjust hardware capacity, with human oversight to ensure we are responding to customers’ needs as quickly as possible–ideally and often before they even notice. 

We believe Workday should be the one constant that our customers can rely on and from a technology perspective, we are focused on providing a platform that does just that. 

As you both look into the future, what are some of the key areas of innovation that your teams will be focused on in this ever-changing world?

Chakraborty: From a technology perspective, we’re going to continue to push the envelope in many of the same areas that we’ve already discussed. We’ll continue to emphasize our focus on the invisible innovations for our service delivery to become even more predictive in supporting our customers’ highly elastic workloads, and embed machine learning into all of our products. 

We will also further enable our customers to leverage the capabilities of Workday to enhance their world outside of Workday with products like Workday Extend and Workday Integration Cloud, and we’ll continue to innovate at the architecture level to seamlessly support massive scale with rock-solid security so that our customers can focus on innovating for their business rather than operations. 

Schlampp: There is one more very important thing I’d like to add to that. In addition to supporting our customers during COVID-19, we also know that creating a more diverse workforce is a top priority for all of our customers—as it should be. So, a big area of emphasis for us will be to help our customers leverage Workday to support their belonging and diversity efforts. We’ll have more to share in this area in the coming weeks. 

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