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Creating a culture of trust

Liam Ryan, this year’s Most Trusted Leader, talks about listening, learning and supporting employees

Liam Ryan, managing director of SAP Labs: “We have a culture of learning and mentoring here and I’m very proud of that.”

Liam Ryan, managing director of SAP Labs: “We have a culture of learning and mentoring here and I’m very proud of that.”


“Trust is something a leader has to create,” says Liam Ryan, SAP Labs Ireland managing director and winner of this year’s Great Places to Work’s Most Trusted Leader of 2016, awarded in partnership with DIT. “To me, a trusted leader is someone who carries through on their commitments – that’s core and fundamental to trust. It is also someone who listens and helps create and drive a culture of trust in an organisation.”

Fundamental to that culture is open communications throughout the organisation. “We have different lines of business in the organisation,” Ryan explains. “We have customer support, product development, and sales. We spend a lot of time working on communications across the different areas to ensure that people are aware of the contribution everyone makes and that people aren’t just working in their own siloes.”

That takes considerable effort in a business that employs 1,800 people in Ireland across two sites in Dublin and Galway, but it brings benefits for both employees and the business.

“SAP is very much an engineering company and we have a lot of developers and engineers here, not only in product development but in areas like support and pre-sales. But even those without an engineering qualification are striving towards engineering excellence.”

That unity of purpose among the staff is underpinned by the support offered to employees in realising their career ambitions. “We try to offer everyone a career path and part of my job as a leader is asking myself how I can help employees achieve their goals. One thing we have here is called fellowship. This allows employees to look at different areas of the organisation and go to work there for a period if they think that will help in their career. It could be nine months or a year but we encourage people to do that. It is also vitally important that leaders within the organisation are open to their staff moving out of their teams and then coming back.”

Another aspect of the culture which Ryan points to is learning and development. “We have a culture of learning and mentoring here and I’m very proud of that. Most of the learning is done on the job. People know if they ask a question the person they ask will take time to answer it or if they can’t they’ll point them to where they can find an answer. No one is every left on their own in SAP.”


Communication between employees and the leadership team is another area of focus. At a global level, there are quarterly ‘All Hands Calls’ with the chief executive where results and achievements are announced and discussed. “These are televised throughout the organisation and everyone can watch them on their phones, their laptops or anywhere they want,” says Ryan. “We also have mechanisms for face-to-face engagement with staff to explain global strategy and so on. I am not a huge user of social media but I know it is something I’ll have to do more of as many people like to receive news and information that way.”

There is also a leadership kick-off meeting once a year where all leaders in the Irish organisation get together to discuss priority initiatives for the year ahead. “We use these meeting to hear from them what they think we should be doing. We then set up teams to work on the initiatives that come out of the meeting. All action items from the leaders, they don’t come from us. We also have regular ‘Breakfasts with the Boss’ where I invite different people from across the organisation to sit down and discuss overall strategy for the business and how they and their area of the organisation fits into that.”

Trust in the organisation is also founded on the responsiveness of leadership to staff concerns and suggestions. “Great Places to Work helps with this,” says Ryan. “Their surveys are quite in-depth and the data we get back helps us decide on what we should be doing to improve. We also carry out our own staff surveys. Every year we try to do two or three things which will make the organisation better. We don’t try to boil the ocean or anything, we just try to do things that will make a difference.”

And the result? “SAP is celebrating 20 years in Ireland this year. I joined 18 years ago when we had 33 employees, we have grown to 1,800 and are still growing, with 75 open positions across all areas of the business. It’s always a good sign if you’re still growing.”