How to Manage Workplace Perceptions in the MENA region?

How to Manage Workplace Perceptions in the MENA region

  • Perception management at workplace holds increasing importance as organizations worldwide are adopting 360 degree feedback and peer review mechanisms, to establish collaborative workplaces.
  • Lack of effective perception management can backfire for employees as even positive actions of an employee can be perceived in a completely different (sometimes negative) manner, by peers and management.
  • Some suggestions towards building a good perception at workplace include communicating transparently with your seniors,​being punctual, driving conversations towards productivity and effectiveness (vs. hours pent), taking initiatives at work, seeking feedback from revered seniors and peers, among others.

Perception management at workplace holds increasing importance as organizations worldwide are adopting 360 degree feedback and peer review mechanisms, to establish collaborative workplaces: With collaboration culture increasing at modern workplaces, organizations value employees who can not only achieve their professional goals but also create and maintain healthy and collaborative work places, and most have instituted 360 degree feedback and peer review mechanisms to assess the cultural fitment of employees. Therefore, being perceived in the right light by peers and management is becoming important than ever for employees worldwide, including the MENA region.

Lack of effective perception management can backfire for employees: An employee might face a lot of challenges if he/she fails to manage perceptions at workplace, so much so that even positive actions of an employee can be perceived in a completely different (sometimes negative) manner, by peers and management. A look at some examples below underlines this point.

How to Manage Workplace Perceptions in the MENA region1

Source: Arab Business Review, Askmen.com

As made amply clear by the above examples, the same action can be perceived in different ways by you (the employee) and your peers and seniors.  Therefore, it is important to manage perceptions at workplace, and here are some way on how to do it:

Communicate, communicate, communicate! Whether it is your long-term goals, preference for a good work-life balance or an idiosyncratic working style, make sure that you communicate that to your seniors and peers.  Let your manager that you mean business and that you are interested in fast growth. Also, let your colleagues know that they can bank on you in crunch situations and during fun times!

❝ Arab Business Review spoke to Amanda Brailsford-Urbina, an HR leader who has worked in the U.S. and Qatar, and she reiterated the importance of communication in managing workplace perceptions. “Frequent and ongoing communication is essential so that understanding can be reached about work-life balance. Due to the diversity of the employee groups, there can be totally different perceptions of what is acceptable. For example, someone coming from a country where professionals only take a few weeks off for childbirth will look at a leave of absence differently than someone from a country where a lengthy maternity and paternity leave is common. Organizational cultures vary as to whether not using holiday/vacation time is something to boast about or something of concern. Some organizations honor holiday/vacation time off and don’t call unless there is an emergency. Other companies believe you are on call 24/7. Also individuals of different generations perceive work-life balance and dedication differently. Colleague and supervisor/subordinate relationships will be enhanced by communication about expectations and wishes for work-life balance”, says Amanda. ❞

Be punctual and drive conversations towards productivity and effectiveness, as opposed to hours spent in office: Being punctual and diligent with your work schedule can go a long way in improving your perception. If you don’t do your hours, or often take breaks for personal work people will notice your absence and that will affect your perception negatively. Also, it is important to drive conversations with you manager towards productivity and effectiveness, and not on hours spent in office.

Seek feedback from respected co-workers and seniors, and bond with the best: Interact and seek feedback from seniors and co-workers who have ‘been there, done that’. This should help you identify areas of improvement and also instances where you might have acted as a cultural misfit. Once you identify your actions invoking negative response, start acting to improve on those.

That said, make sure you are seen interacting and seeking advice from seniors and peers perceived in good light by others. Bonding with the wrong set of people is a sure shot way of driving down your perception at the workplace.

Take initiatives with your seniors in loop: Taking initiatives can help you be perceived as a leader and an out-of-the-box thinker, and is usually important for people looking to assume leadership positions since leading a group requires a combination of knowledge and team work.

A couple of points of caution here: firstly, make sure that your initiative is relevant to your team and organization, else you will be perceived as someone who is interested in attention and not results. Secondly, make sure you have the consent of your manager (or the relevant authority) before publicising your initiative; not doing so can be perceived as a sign of insubordination in traditional set-ups.

Ask your manager to share your successes with others: Your manager can help you improve your perception and build your brand name at workplace. When you complete your tasks successfully, your manager is a happy man. It is at this time you can ask him to share your success with other team members and/or senior management, so that your hard work does not go unnoticed.

Work on important projects (and give them your best!) to enhance visibility: Getting involved in important project gives you more visibility and improves your perception with senior management. Always keep your eyes open get the information regarding important projects, and discuss with your manager on how you can be a part of such projects. Such projects are double-edged swords, so make sure that you give it your best and come out with flying colours, and do not let your manager and peers down.

Avoid using phone/workstation for personal use: Employees who attend unnecessary phone calls at workplace and use their office workstation for personal tasks are likely to attract negative perceptions from peers as well as managers. If you are majorly seen on phone interacting with your near and dear ones then you are perceived as an employee who is wasting his bandwidth on unfruitful task. If some urgent personal task needs your attention for which you need to use official resources you should keep your manager informed.

We hope some of these points will help improve your perceptions at workplace, and would like to hear your thoughts on what else can be done to maintain a perception at work.

The article was originally published at: Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

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6 Steps to Maintaining a Good Work-Life Balance in the MENA Region

6 Steps to Maintaining a Good Work-Life Balance in the MENA Region

  • Work-life balance has evolved from being a luxury in the past century to being a necessity these days.
  • While maintaining a healthy work-life balance is a priority for MENA professionals, they seem to be struggling to achieve this aim.
  • While a large part of the responsibility lies with employers, employees should also take proactive steps to maintain a good work-life balance.
  • These include planning one’s week, embracing technology, learning to say NO, being aware of company policies and maintaining good relationships at work, and staying healthy and fit.

Worldwide, work-life balance has evolved from being a luxury in the past century to being a necessity these days, and the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region is no exception to this trend. As per the 2013 Employee Motivation survey conducted by Bayt.com and YouGov, work-life balance emerged as one of the key factors affecting employee motivation in the region, as 98% of the respondents claimed that achieving a good work-life balance was important for them to remain motivated at work.

While maintaining a healthy work-life balance is a priority, professionals in the region seem to be struggling to achieve this aim. This is reflected in the Work: life Balance Index conducted by Regus, where the Middle East scored 117, falling three points behind the global average of 120. The Bayt survey, on the other hand, showed that as nearly one-fourth of the employees in the region always work overtime or take work home, while another two-thirds do so occasionally.

A large part of the responsibility towards ensuring work-life balance rests with employers. Majority of the employees (especially the tech savvy younger workforce) felt that employers should offer more flexibility and allow them to work in ways that suit them, as opposed to age-old ways which respect ‘presenteeism’ at work. This includes flexible working hours, job-sharing arrangements, occasional distance working arrangements, sabbatical leave allowances, child-care units, etc. That said, the Bayt survey pointed that 58% employees felt that they receive some level of support from their employers to achieve a good work-life balance. Therefore, it seems that organizations in the region are aware of employee needs, and are developing and implementing HR policies to act on the above suggestions.

However, employees have an equally vital role to ensure that they are able to maintain the right equilibrium between their personal and professional lives. Work-life balance is for employees, and therefore we recommend that they address this issue proactively by taking the below steps to reduce stress levels, maintain productivity, & avoid burn-outs at work; all while leading an enriching personal life.

  1. Plan your working AND NON-WORKING week, and make sure you budget-in some “me time”: Yes, like with most things in life, the starting point is planning your week/day in advance and focusing on the important things, both at work and at home. Make sure that you are focused and productive during work hours, so that you do not have to work overtime or take work home with you. This is especially applicable for women, who have more domestic responsibilities to take care of once they get back home, as opposed to their male colleagues.

Individuals should look beyond their responsibilities as a professional, parent, child, etc. and budget-in some “me time”, i.e., time for activities which you enjoy doing and which help you unwind.  This could include listening to music, painting, hanging out with friends, a walk on the beach, etc. You can choose your activity and its periodicity (daily/weekend/other), but make sure to make it a part of your routine so that you get to recharge your batteries and do not feel drained.

  1. Be aware of your company policies: More often than not, companies are more flexible than employees think, and are willing to be flexible, especially to strong performers. This could include options like work-from-home, rotational shifts, extended maternity leaves (for women) or even a sabbatical from work. So, make sure that you understand your company policies well and are availing the flexibility that you are entitled to.
  1. Learn to say NO at work and at home: A key element to achieving work-life balance is to prioritize your tasks and learn when to say NO. This could be at work (filling-in too often for a colleague or being part of a new initiative just for the sake of it) or at home (neighbour-related tasks). Saying no is not easy, but it allows you to stay focused on things that are most important to you and which you like doing more. Remember you are not a superman or superwoman so you can’t do everything!
  1. Embrace telecommuting for work use of technology at homeTechnology is perhaps the single most potent tool for improving efficiency and work-life balance. So, check with your employer about the option to telecommute/work-from-home. Also, embrace technology more often for domestic tasks like paying bills, etc. Trivial as these may seem, such small steps ultimately save you precious time and energy.
  1. Maintain transparent communication with your boss and organization: It is important to have a good working relationship with your boss so that you can share your work-life related concerns. Make sure that the relationship is cordial yet professional, and that you are meeting or exceeding your organization’s expectations, in order to expect flexibility from them.
  1. Focus on staying healthy and fitNothing beats a healthy body and mind, so make sure that you are taking the right diet and are getting adequate sleep to rejuvenate yourself. Try to include some exercise in your routine as well.

Ultimately, each one of us needs to decide what works best for us, while keeping our families and organizations in mind (no one lives in a vacuum!). Therefore, it is important to create your own methodology, and keep changing it with time as the situations in your personal and professional lives evolve.

The article was originally published at: Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

Thinking Small

 

 

Thinking Small

 

  • Marketing executives often look for that one big brand building activity that will catapult the company’s reputation into the stratosphere, such as names on sports arenas, pricey event sponsorships, and broad reaching brand campaigns.
  • But before you even begin thinking about investing in big ticket items, I recommend you begin by thinking small and invest your limited resources looking at your company’s reputation from the perspective of your current or prospective clients.
  • Go online. Do your homework. Encourage your team to do the same. Then document the results put a plan in place to clean up your online reputation before you start thinking big.

I am always surprised at the amount of money companies invest in brand campaigns while completely ignoring fundamental brand enhancing strategies that cost virtually nothing to execute.  I’m equally awestruck at the minimal attention paid to a number of easily accessed postings on web and social sites that if left unchecked can completely destroy a company’s reputation.

All too often executives look for that one big brand building activity that will catapult the company’s reputation (as well as their careers) into the stratosphere.  Names on sports arenas, pricey event sponsorships, and broad reaching brand campaigns are just a few examples of the big ticket plays that more often than not leave brand managers scratching their heads or worse yet, unemployed.  It happens time and time again.  Why?  We want to believe in the brand illusion. Like a mirage in the desert, many big ticket brand plays look like a much needed oasis in the desert from a distance. Unfortunately, and usually too late, when we reach that oasis it’s nothing like we expected.

I’m not saying that all big ticket brand building activities should be ignored.  Sometimes that oasis is just that – an oasis!  With the right research and insights, a brand manager can realise excellent returns on these investments.  But that assumes time and effort is invested in researching the opportunity and understanding the target audience prior to making the investment, a step too often ignored or underplayed.  It also assumes your marketing team knows how to leverage the event to extract maximum exposure and goodwill from the investment.

But before you even begin thinking about investing in big ticket items, I recommend you begin by thinking small.  Rather than send your marketing team or agencies scouring for some major event to sponsor, first invest your limited resources looking at your company’s reputation from the perspective of your current or prospective clients.  Start by simply going to Google and typing your company name. Look closely at what comes up.  Is it your company or some other brand? Also look at the paid search sections to see if any of your competitors are targeting you and how.  Now click on the news section at the top. What are reporters saying about your company?  Click on the articles and read the comments. Now click on the images.  What images are associated with your brand? Finally, go to the video section.  And once you’re done with Google, go to Yahoo, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and as many of the highly visited and viewed social sites as possible. Do your homework and document the results.

Next, take the time to visit your own web site or sites and sign up for all of your own marketing and social media programs.  Add your name to all of your company’s contact lists.  Then monitor the quality and quantity of the communications you receive.  Watch your company through the eyes of your customer. What you’ll likely find out about your company may surprise you.

We went through this exercise and discovered numerous misrepresentations and misleading information about our company.  In cases where we signed up for our own programs, we discovered that nothing was being communicated.  Apparently our Marketing and Customer Relations Management teams were not communicating with each other so the events we were sponsoring, the ones in which we created cool web applications inviting guests to sign up and learn more, were actually doing more harm than good by creating an expectation that was not being fulfilled.

As we looked closely at all our findings, we also uncovered a number of difficult but true facts about our customer service that had been in our corporate blind spot for years.  We had always thought our company’s brand was second to none and that our customers’ perceptions of our company were nothing less than spectacular.  By investing a little time and almost no money, we discovered the true was far from our reality.

Immediately we jumped into action cleaning up misinformation and contacting companies that had incorrectly posted false images, videos or statements about our company.  Sometimes the effort paid off and sometimes it didn’t. Not every company or person we contacted was willing to work with us, but most were and we found the improvements we achieved in the quality of information about our brand to be well worth the time invested.

We also began formulating new practices and policies to improve our customer service to stay on top of future issues. We also connected our Customer Relations Management and Marketing teams and we improved our coordination with our customer relations and PR teams to resolve issues before they became viral problems.

This process wasn’t nearly as exciting or newsworthy as sponsoring a football league, which incidentally we also did, but it was probably the most important and least costly investment to ensure our brand building activities were structured upon a solid foundation.  Yes, big ticket items can provide big returns. But it’s the little things that too often go unnoticed that can have a negative impact to a company’s image and completely negate all of the positive equity that has been built through years and years of good brand building activities.

So my recommendation is to always start by thinking small.  Look at your company through the eyes of your clients and prospective clients.  Go online. Do your homework. Encourage your team to do the same. Then document the results put a plan in place to clean up your online reputation before you start thinking big.  I’m confident you’ll eventually find the returns of your big investments to be much better and less risky if you do.

The article is written by Don Romano for Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

E-commerce HR in the Middle East

E-commerce HR in the Middle East

 

  • The speed of UAE’s development have compelled its citizens and expat community alike, to be active catalysts
  • Joining a yet still in its infancy Industry within the ME region, The ‘.com’ genre has many challenges
  • Ensure that you in HR have your creative doors open at all times, take benefit from all the material that is already out there
  • A new age HR, be it service rewards, policies and the biggest player and differentiator ‘CULTURE’
  • We in this region have a lot of potential, an array of cultures and can utilize everyone’s talent in making this an incredible ‘Silicon Valley of the ME’

I have had the privilege of living in Dubai for over 30 years and in those years I have seen some massive and impressive developments – Developments that helped the UAE secure ‘EXPO 2020’! These business & operational changes and the speed of the country’s development have compelled its citizens and expat community alike, to be active catalysts in this infectious need to excel.

I chose to be a part of this exciting journey and took a plunge into a then globally renowned yet still in its infancy Industry within the ME region and joined the ‘.com’ genre. I became a member of the ‘COBONE’ family when it was only 6 months old and have embarked on a rather steep and intense learning curve. We have flourished spectacularly from, Cobone, a daily deal website, to Triperna, a comprehensive Travel Partner. Coming from over 5 years of thorough conservative Banking HR, my idea that I could comfortably apply the same principles were quickly shattered. I determined, rather quickly, that HR in this industry was a different beast. A new age HR was what was required and although not already known to me it was an exciting prospect, one that I was keen to discover and implement. Policies for common classifications within HR, such as hiring, communication, talent development, rewards, performance management, required considerable adaptation and a certain amount of creativity before appropriate application.

Due to the newness to the region, we lacked solid E-Commerce knowledge and skillset. Thus it was inadvertently necessary to reach out globally for knowledge, people and strategies. What I recognized was that it was essential that you are quick to adopt and implement what is required within HR, be it service rewards, policies and the biggest player and differentiator ‘CULTURE’. This is the one aspect that is so evidently thick within the group, the underlying VALUES that bring a group of people together in an online company and it is quintessential to be one of the first standards that you must formalize and announce.

My tips to you, although I too continue to learn, for HR within this exciting Online World are:

  1. Formalize the underlying energy, ‘Culture’, that brings you all together
  2. Be ready to be very creative, remain fluid without losing structure
  3. Get socially active online (FB, Twitter,  etc), to live within is to understand
  4. Thorough Change Management techniques and knowledge application.
  5.  Hiring will require different innovative methods, use attributes in place of experience, realize an individual’s ability to adapt
  6. Reward systems need to be clearly linked to Performance & Growth
  7. Keep processes simple and transparent
  8. Constant Communication

Initially it may seem like a lot of work and believe me it is! But if done systematically, it paves the way to stable growth. All you have to do is ensure that you have your creative doors open at all times, take benefit from all the material that is already out there, communicate appropriately and implement ensuring you have everyone’s ‘Buy In’. HR plays an instrumental role in shaping the company especially within this industry. Being in this part of the world I believe we have a lot of potential in doing it even better as we have an array of cultures, we can utilize everyone’s talent in making this an incredible ‘Silicon Valley of the ME’. I look forward to sharing my in-depth analysis of various aspects that I have listed above delving into actual activities and hopefully assist newcomers and possibly add to the knowledge base any way that I possibly can. Until then – Onwards and Upwards!

The article is written by Tahira Khan for Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

 

Trapped in an old leadership? Think outside the box!

Trapped in an old leadership

 

  • Successful business owners should be able to win over and work with people who they do not have any leverage over. This skill can positively surprise you by opening new business avenues.
  • Showing an interest in others will be huge step towards bridging the gap of trust and building a relationship
  • Leaders that are skilled at demonstrating their appreciation for others will gather more cooperation and results than the commander style dictator in most situations.
  • This is why responsible business owners are encouraged to adopt and practice appreciation and humanity with the very people that they have gathered to fight for their everyday interests and those of their business survival.

One of the best ways for leaders today to embrace the concept of inspirational leadership could be to imagine the character played by Tom Hanks in the film, “Castaway.” He plays the central character, a logistic company employee who survives a plane crash, and finds himself marooned on a deserted island. The story unfolds predictably as to how the victim or hero rises to meet the challenges of surviving alone without anyone in sight coming to the rescue.

Moving slightly away from the script, imagine, how a business owner would welcome one or two people they might accidentally meet on the island, who could offer assistance to reach home. How could a business owner achieve this without having power over them or being able to use money as an incentive? After considering modern day leadership demands, it seems to be a wonderful canvass of opportunity to explore this scenario.

Logic can lead us to the possibility that these new people would be instantly appreciated by the business owner with enthusiasm. What tools would or could they use to win over the cooperation of these strangers that have no allegiance or interest to assist their departure from the island? They have no leverage, no ability to give rewards, so what then could happen?

It seems that in order to gain cooperation willingly, the stranded business owner will soon discover that showing an interest in others will be huge step towards bridging the gap of trust and building a relationship.  If they decide they are too important to take time to do that, they may find the other potential helpers either turn their backs and walk away, or eat them.

However, if they play their cards right, and show a genuine interest in the people whom they are recruiting to collaborate with, chances are much higher that they will in-fact begin to see successes. So how does the modern day business person survive in everyday circumstances that involve the challenge of leading people while engaging their willing cooperation and involvement?

It begins with the same behaviors that were deployed by the stranded business owner alone on a deserted island. Leaders that are skilled at demonstrating their appreciation for others will gather more cooperation and results than the commander style dictator in most situations. Empathy, coaching, inspiring and motivating with more than financial gain as the carrot, will drive business faster and further to growth. Employees today need not wait on the weekly newspaper ads to find their own boat off of the island; they can go online and do an immediate search the instant they feel unappreciated or unable to grow.

This is why responsible business owners are encouraged to adopt and practice appreciation and humanity with the very people that they have gathered to fight for their everyday interests and those of their business survival. Inspirational Leadership employs many more tools, one of these is establishing the big picture and how each of these people play a vital role in insuring that goals of the enterprise are reached. As the landscape of leadership today is a potpourri of different styles, there is one thread that can tie all situations together to form a rope of unity.

Empathy. The very thought of deploying this human quality for some employers may frighten them, as their style may lean toward the commander genre. However, the opportunity for SME owners to adopt the concept will motor their voyage further and faster than the stick that drives employees out of the revolving door.

When people in an organisation are appreciated and then challenged to participate in the process of excellence, innovation, loyalty and the extra mile will become part of an amazing transformation of organizational strength. The owners’ ego which dared to envisioned the start up and creation of the business and their natural obsession to be controlling would require an adjustment in order to openly invite others to cooperate and participate in their voyage of greatness. However the rewards could become magical, if they will only dare to ‘cast away’ old leadership models for new and empowering inspirational leadership within their organisations.

The article is written by Michael J. Tolan for Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

Can Brands in the MENA Region keep up with the Oreo Moment?

Can Brands in the MENA Region keep up with the Oreo Moment

  • Creative agencies will need to collaborate more with content production groups to create standout real-time marketing for their clients
  • Crucial to any brands objectives is creating sustainable, engaging customer relationships and improving the overall experience of the customer  
  • In 2017 it’s predicted that 87% of spending in the entertainment and media industries will be allocated to digital media
  • New media is globally reshaping brand communication strategies which demand high quality content that is more cost effective and faster to create

Hot on the topic of conversation at the moment is creating that triumphant “Oreo Moment.” From the US to Saudi Arabia, brands are preoccupied with finding that one pivotal moment of glory in the new media space that grabs everyone’s attention. Are we ready to create standout real-time marketing in the MENA region?

With the help of content creators, the answer is yes. We’re living in an era where previously unsung content creators become the heroes, and will be pivotal in defining a new value chain industry model. Agencies will focus on collaborating more with content production strategists to ensure that the immediacy of new media can be achieved

Advertisers and marketers have realised the importance of human-to-human conversations with their audiences, regardless of whether they are businesses or consumers. Creating sustainable, engaging customer relationships and improving the overall experience of the customer is a critical objective. The consumer is captured by stories that make them feel emotionally connected to the brands they use. It’s now common knowledge that the most effective way to form that connection is through the use of visuals: an image, a video, a gif etc. By 2017, video will account for 69% of all consumer Internet traffic according to Cisco, whilst it’s common knowledge that almost half our brain is involved in visual processing.

As speculation gains traction that the old media industry will eventually implode, the future of content becomes clearer. Talking for the sake of talking, creating content that doesn’t ignite engagement or generate interest isn’t enough. Never has strategy been more important. Content management has to be driven by specific goals, a defined plan that addresses the meaning of success.

Content distribution has to be quick, relevant and impactful. Audiences across all media channels, social or otherwise, are bombarded with content which means only the salient brands will succeed. With the rise of free open source content readily available to all, the responsibility to communicate in ways that are authentic and interesting pose opportunities and challenges for all brands. It means that old ways of doing things has to be reassessed.

The amount of content generated on a daily basis on new media channels supersedes perception. Only campaigns with powerful ideas that are professionally produced carry across the right message to the right audiences, filtering through the algorithms that determine what type of content audiences are seeing. In 2017 it’s predicted that 87% of spending in the entertainment and media industries will be allocated to digital media.

The MENA region has an opportunity to focus on strengthening the quality of ideas and content created for new media channels. Campaigns should be produced with the same creativity and craft as traditional media campaigns. Content producers, such as stills and video production houses, will become more and more relevant as the region begins to adapt to real-time marketing models.

The media world’s paradigms are changing. New media is globally reshaping brand communication strategies and collaborations with content production strategists, to generate better content that is more cost effective and faster to create, will become more important than ever.

Source: http://www.pwc.com/us/en/industry/entertainment-media/publications/enter…

The article is written by Jesus Blanco for Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

Seven Tips for Doing Business in the Middle East

Seven Tips for Doing Business in the Middle East

 

If you are moving to the Middle East for a job or business, keeping these points in mind point can help increase your chances of success:

  • Do not rush while greeting people
  • Building trust is important since personal and professional relationships are not separate
  • Verbal commitment is honored and valued more than contracts and agreements
  • Patient is a great virtue – both before and during business meetings
  • Negotiations will be tough and sales cycles will be long
  • Best way to communicate is to have face-to-face meetings
  • Avoid business talk at social gatherings

Any plans of moving to the Gulf region to pursue your dream job or start a new business venture or partnership? If yes, then before you do so, there are a few things you should bear in mind — these are related to business culture, business etiquette, meeting protocol, negotiation techniques, etc. all specific to the region. Business in the Middle East runs on a very different track as compared to other regions worldwide, especially the Western world. In the points below, we will offer you some tips that will prove helpful for you while conducting business the Middle East.

1. Do not rush while greeting people: While meeting and greeting people in the Middle East, do not mind if the handshakes last for a longer duration or if your hand is held while you are being led to a different place. This is because one should wait for the other individual to withdraw their hand first as per Islamic etiquettes. And yes, always use your right hand to eat, shake hands or hand over any item to anyone. If you are a male member of the team and are being introduced to a female colleague, it is advisable to wait and see if a hand is being extended. If not, then one should not try to shake hands. In terms of addressing people, Arabs are informal with names while doing business and like to be addressed by their first names.

2. Building trust is important since personal and professional relationships are not considered separate: In the Middle East, business is carried in a very different manner as compared to the Western nations. Business relationships are formed on mutual friendship and trust, and personal matters are prioritized over everything else. Arabs prefer to do business with people they know and like.  So, if you have friends working at the right places at the right time, the road to a successful business trip is laid out for you.

3. Remember that verbal commitments are valued more than contracts and agreements: Middle East’s culture accords more value to someone’s word as compared to a written agreement. So before you make a promise to deliver something, be sure that you will be able to complete it, since failure to do so can lead to a loss of respect and reliability.  Contracts are merely a memorandum of understanding rather than fixed binding agreements.

4. Have patience before and during business meetings: Do not schedule meetings too ahead of the actual date as changes in personal circumstances of your Middle East counterpart can impact your appointment.  Also, the initial meetings will revolve around knowing each other; so, it’s only after several meetings that the actual business talks would start once the trust and compatibility factors are established. Do not mind if meetings are chaotic. People will take phone calls during meetings and might enter the meeting room unannounced and start discussing their own agenda items.

5. Negotiations will be tough and sales cycles will be long: Arabs are excellent negotiators. Bargaining can be seen everywhere, be it a shopping outlet or a board room.  Decision making is slow with bureaucratic formalities increasing the delay further. Also, sales cycles are a lot longer in the region as compared to the West. You should not expect immediate results from initial meetings and make sure that you follow up, arrange further meetings and maintain correspondence. Refrain from using high pressure business tactics as they can backfire. Be flexible and patient! In fact, patience is the most valued virtue in the Gulf and if you can demonstrate it in the most frustrating business situations, you will surely reap the rewards.

6. Best way to communicate is face-to-face: Verbal communication is preferred over written communication in the Middle East. The written word is treated as less personal and hence you can find your emails receiving no response for some time if you do not follow up through phone calls. A few countries such as Saudi Arabia do not prefer to do serious business with Western people over phone and thus a personal meeting is the only option you have!

7. Avoid business talk at social gatherings: If your Gulf business partner invites you to a house party, do not try to discuss business at any point of time. You can bring something small as a token of thank you. Do not gift alcohol as it is not consumed by Muslims. There will be a lot of socializing and small talks before the meals are served to the guests. It is considered good manners to reciprocate the hospitality that you receive. Hospitality is held in high regard throughout the Middle East and people take great pride in lavish shows of hospitality — never ever refuse it as it can be considered offensive!

While you keep these tips in mind, take care of some of these points as well:

  • During Ramadan (the holy month of fasting for Muslims), do not eat or drink in front of Muslims
  • While eating, do not use your left hand; it’s considered unclean
  • Do not cross your legs and display the sole of your foot towards anyone
  • Never interrupt Muslims during namaaz (prayers), a religious ritual they perform five times in a day

Just remember these tips and you will not face much difficulty while doing business in the Middle East!

The article was originally published at: Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

Hashtag Abuse

Hashtag Abuse

  • Hashtags are supposed to be helpful for topic search and are generally used for branding.
  • It remains a challenging task to make people abide by the rules of ‘hashtags’.
  • If hashtags were used properly, it would save considerable time when searching for specific things. 

What are hashtags? What are they used for? How useful are they really? Why are they being abused? Like me, these questions may have crossed your mind many, many times, so let’s first describe what hashtags are.

Hashtags are the words, pictures, or phrases found on social networks that are prefixed with the symbol #. Adding a hashtag helps to group those words, pictures, or phrases together so those interested in a particular topic or discussion can easily search them later. Another way to look at it is that you are “branding” or “tagging” certain words, phrases, or pictures , which then allows others to quickly search for the hashtag and find the collection of messages that includes it. This can be helpful when you are searching online for a particular topic that is of interest to you or when you are looking for other people that share similar interests to you. Many social networking services like Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Flickr, Tumblr, and Instagram—just to name a few—use this form of tagging.

Sounds simple and useful, right? Well, it can be a double-edged sword. Giving those pictures and words a hashtag is supposed to group those pictures and words, giving them a “label” that is searchable. Unfortunately, it is all unmoderated and uncontrolled. In so many cases, hashtags are used poorly to the point where they get lost and lose all the meaning with it. When, for example, social network users in Kuwait, and the surrounding region want to look for a specific event in Kuwait, they can simply search the words #KuwaitEvents on twitter and instagram. But you will be shocked to see the search results for this hashtag because you will be directed to numerous pictures of different food items in restaurants, cafes, shopping finds, quotes, business offers, and many other unrelated topics! Try #Kuwait on Instagram and you will be directed to millions of unrelated pictures! Someone who wants to check the hashtag #Kuwait probably wants to know more about the country and see pictures of Kuwait, Kuwaiti lifestyle, museums, monuments, people, or information about the country … not pictures of coffee cups, designer shoes, or unrelated love quotes, with loads of selfies (self-portraits taken with a camera phone and uploaded to social network sites). It is even worse when you try searching hashtags of big company names or specific CSR campaigns—so many unrelated search results, which defeats the whole purpose!

In short, before diving into the hashtag trend, we need to be sure we know the real purpose of—and how to use—hashtags. We need to know that tagging pictures and words is basically done to help classify and group topics of interest together so that others that share a similar interest or curiosity in those topics can easily find them later when searching a particular hashtag. If done properly, when you search for a specific topic or discussion you should be directed to relevant search results and not have to endure the misery of sifting through millions of pieces of unrelated information.

The article is written by Ansam I. AlRadwan for Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

Plugging in is nothing if you don’t turn the switch ON

Plugging in is nothing

  • Professional networking and connections are critical elements of your business success
  • Always look for the win-win in business referrals.  Even if you aren’t initially one of the “wins”, people remember those who helped them.
  • Honouring your network by switching ON-  following up diligently when introduced- will lead to more open communication and beneficial referral networks

Business referrals are your reputation

“I know someone there” may be music to your ears if you’re looking to get your foot in the door of a new company; or checking out a prospective new employer.  In today’s work world, it really is often about who you know to get that first break in a sea of similarly qualified talent.  It’s a fact of life people make time for trusted referrals before a cold call, email, or CV.

“But what about my merits? My education, work history and professionalism?” you may ask.  These are all critical to be sure, and combined with a strong professional network, this is an encouraging word for you to be both be a connector and someone who readily turns on their follow up switch when they’re referred professionally.

For years now, I have been instructing graduate and undergraduate business and, during this time, I have been fortunate to have exceptional cohorts and find the experiences quite rewarding.  There are a few litmus tests I like to use when assessing my willingness to connect any student or professional contact to a someone I know.  They’re pretty simple and relatively few.  Actually there are only two:

1. Will this person represent me well?  After all, this is my reputation I am entrusting to a person.  Professional contacts are valuable and, before I just go on and give you the keys to open the door, I need to be relatively secure in the fact you will conduct yourself well and be a positive reflection of me to the person I introduce you to.  It’s about trust.

One recent example of this causing some stress was when I had a student look through my Linkedin contacts and send me a list of 50 people they wanted me to introduce them to.  First, let’s get some focus here.  If you’re asking for help, the “throw it against any wall and see what sticks” approach is far from recommended. Certainly, I wasn’t about to refer anyone to 50 contacts straight away.

What made this especially delicate is the fact this person was a B- student at best.  They were clearly not focused on the course, on participating, on their assignments, on helping others in class, and there was simply no way I was going to refer them to anyone, anytime soon.  I let them know “you’re asking me to trust you with my reputation and introduce you to these professionals?  At this time, I don’t have the confidence you would properly take care of my reputation, sorry”.    It was an honest and certainly eye opening conversation.

2. Will this person actively follow up appropriately with intelligent communication with the person to whom theyre referred.  See above of course as to why this is important; however, it’s a deeper issue. With all due respect to younger professionals and graduate school students who’ve worked a bit, if you are connected to a senior executive, someone with a far more senior role, and they make time to offer to meet you- drop everything within reason to accommodate their availability.

Admittedly, this is harder to read.  Will someone, when given the change to meet an executive, make every effort to make it happen? This would seem like a no- brainer right?

You are offered a chance to meet a senior executive in their office when they return from overseas or regional business travel.  You’d jump to make it happen right? Well this example went very differently and I must thank my brother, President of an advertising agency, for his patience.

Not too long ago, an excellent student of a respected colleague was recommended to me for assistance in their career planning.  The student came to speak with me while I was guest lecturing at my Alma Mater. They presented themselves well, seemed focused, and asked me for an introduction to 3 specific people I was connected to via Linkedin.  “Wow” I thought, “they have it together!” A quick check with my colleague validated their hard working nature and industriousness. As mentioned in point 1 above, my colleague trusted this person and their reputation to me.

As it were, one of the contacts with whom they wished to meet was my brother, who is also an alum.  Now I reserve the holy grail of referrals, my brother, for one or two people annually.  Not only does this referral carry the usual weight of professional contact, but I really don’t want to hear how I wasted his time over Holiday dinner when I am looking to enjoy our family time.

To his credit, my brother took time from his extremely busy schedule to make a few attempts to connect before asking me if he could “cut them loose”,  I concurred it was time to do so because his offer to meet this senior student 3 times was met with “that’s not a convenient time for me” FROM the student.  I almost thought he was joking.  Actually, after the second call from him, I did think he was gaming me.  I was shocked.

My colleague and I were both embarrassed.  This student carelessly jeopardized the reputation of their professor who in tern recommended the student to me and jeopardized my reputation.  In an attempt to curtain such behavior in the future, I made a call to the student to let them know they would not be meeting my brother and to try and not make a habit of this again.

The bottom lines, look for the win-wins and how you can help people. And when someone offers you help, follow up like your reputation depends on it. Because it does.

Connect; switch on; and succeed.

The article is written by Jonscott Turco for Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

The ‘Social’ Enterprise is here

The ‘Social’ Enterprise is here

  • ‘Social Business’ or ‘Enterprise 2.0’ is nothing but an additional layer of communication and sharing capabilities that is added to already existing online software which enables social-style interaction incorporated into enterprise software.
  • Software as a Service (SaaS) has been a prevalent model in modern organizations for a few years now, and major enterprise software vendors are incorporating core business functions of the organization into an interface accessible from any device.
  • ‘Consumerization of business’ is the next milestone in the enterprise software world, where functions available on social media channels such as chatting and messaging, posting on forums or user groups and collaborating on shared content are now being integrated into the enterprise software suites.

We live in the age of ‘social’ software and ‘smart’ devices, which could make you cynical when you hear terms like ‘social-this’ or ‘social-that’. However, sometimes the use of ‘social’ as a prefix is indeed merited.

An excellent example is the maturing field of social-style interaction incorporated into enterprise software, to create what is being considered a ‘Social Business’, or ‘Enterprise 2.0’.

Basically, it is an additional layer of communication and sharing capabilities that is added to already existing online software which enables employees, customers and suppliers to collaborate and organize information, using web and mobile platforms.

Software as a Service (SaaS) has been a prevalent model in modern organizations for a few years now. Every major software vendor now enables company staff to work from anywhere by incorporating core business functions of the organization into an interface accessible from any device.

What was missing, though, was the adoption of some of the best ideas and functions available through social media from the consumer side. Chatting and messaging, posting on forums or user groups and collaborating on shared content are all clear examples of what can be taken into the organization for its benefit.

Analysts and consultants call this the ‘consumerization of business’; but to keep it simple, it’s just businesses being smart and capitalizing on the changing nature of the typical employee.

People want the same communication experience they enjoy in their personal lives, to be available in their professional life; to share data with co-workers, and seamlessly communicate through messaging instead of just using email. If this increases their productivity and happiness, companies should realize its impact on the bottom line.

With the entrance of millennials into the work place – those born between the early-eighties and the turn of the century- it has become imperative to adopt such communication and collaboration abilities to retain younger employees.

That’s why the biggest players in enterprise software are getting in on the act.

In 2012, Microsoft acquired Yammer, a private social network, which puts people, conversations, content, and business data on one platform. At the time, more than 200,000 companies worldwide were already using Yammer to collaborate with employees. It was an example of businesses seeking out a solution, even from a small vendor, if the bigger software companies weren’t providing it.

So, Microsoft jumped at this opportunity demonstrating that social media in the enterprise is much more than a fad. Yammer is now part of Microsoft’s Office division, and is major part of its Office 365 strategy, within the SharePoint Online service.

Oracle, another major player in enterprise software, has recently purchased Involver, to create what it calls ‘a cloud-based social platform across marketing, sales and service touch-points’. Oracle is now presenting an expanded social platform using Involver’s SML (Social Markup Language). The result will be a more comprehensive, and consumerized, experience.

The enterprise software specialist SAP has also launched “Jam” which is a secure, social collaboration solution that extends across SAP’s entire technology landscape to give social capabilities.

IBM already has a Social Business division, and its aims in this field are well articulated. IBM says it wants to “connect employees and customers to share their best ideas and new processes’.

It would appear that the customer is now, finally, in control! Enterprises will also reap the benefits of enhanced feedback for the purposes of product and service development.

This is an ‘open’ age of information. So, enterprises are going to have to open up too.

There are, of course, software security challenges involved. But that’s part of this evolution, whereby the benefits truly outweigh the potential concerns, which can be tackled.

Empowering employees and communicating better with consumers must be every company’s goal. Positive experiences create satisfied customers, and more revenues. That’s the optimal goal that corporate IT departments aim to achieve.

For decades, businesses have claimed to be ‘at the service of the customer’. Now, such claims are being truly tested as technology weeds-out those who cannot deliver on that promise. Beware the rise of the ‘social enterprise’, you have been warned.

The article is written by Zeid Nasser for Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review