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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Why CSR is great for smart SMEs

Why CSR is great for smart SMEs

  • Small businesses can immensely benefit from incorporating CSR as a part of their overall business strategy.
  • CSR activities can give a powerful message to your employees and in turn get a higher sense of belonging and loyalty to your project from them
  • While it might not always be possible for SME’s to donate cash for such initiatives, many companies are deploying winning strategies to bolster their own contribution in kind, either through barter or by volunteering time to an existing CSR project initiated by another organisations.
  • Engaging your suppliers can also amplify the impact of your CSR initiatives, while helping strengthen your relationships with them.

Should an SME owner embrace the concept and opportunity of getting involved and supporting Corporate Social Responsibility projects?

Some of you may have followed the news when it was announced last year that the US government was on the verge of defaulting on their debt. For average people around the world, this was one of the most confusing topics in recent times, considering the three tumultuous years of financial storms, earthquakes and tsunamis and let’s not forget, scandals.

What got my attention was that Apple Computer had within its own arsenal, stockpiled more cash in-house than the entire US government. Could it be that Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, once a scrawny geek of a kid who scrapped conventional wisdom to go out and innovate as an SME, to fulfill a dream that everyone should own a computer, could ride in like a white knight and save the whole country? Does charity begin at home?

Innovation and courage make it possible for an entrepreneur like Steve Jobs to support social programmes with millions of dollars each year. But what if you have a small business, and your focus is just on survival? What if you are struggling for loans or investors for your own project, and cannot even conceive the possibility of crossing the threshold of success and being able to give back?

When does it make sense to get involved as a small business and give back to your own cause or community? Well, for my part, and for many of the consultants on my team, we believe in looking for opportunities even before rolling out a start-up and building that into the mix as an integral part of the holistic structure of the entire business strategy.

To understand these reasons, one should reflect on some of the advantages of actually shaping your company culture with this type of commitment.

Powerful message

For a start, think of the message you will be sending out to your employees who will begin to realise that they are part of something more than just a 9.00 am to 5.00 pm job. This will often give them a higher sense of belonging and loyalty to your project and endeavor that makes them proud to say to total strangers, family and friends, what they do, who they are and why they love what they are doing now.

This, HR managers will tell you, is a powerful factor in human capital retention, and a recruitment magnet is always more powerful, when the team within, are all ‘game on’ and buzzed about the company. Among your clients, there is a percentage who will appreciate that some part of your margins which they contribute to, are recycled in a place that has a ‘feel good’ or worthy cause impression, again amplifying another good reason to do business with your company. This can grow to the next level, namely getting clients involved in social action projects, which are miracles of good CSR work in so many communities.

So, how much do companies need to invest in a CSR project, and how is it possible to do this before making a profit? The answer that I propose is that, although it’s nice to be able to donate cash, often, in the lifecycle of young start-ups, it’s not feasible. Many companies are, however, deploying winning strategies in order to bolster their own contribution in kind, either through barter or by volunteering time to an existing CSR project initiated by another organisation.

In the MENA region there are dozens of such organisations that have created CSR projects that would appreciate the focus and participation of one hour of someone’s time. This could range from having your team agree to spend half a day repainting a home for the elderly within your community, hosting a car wash to donate money to a needy school, creating a used book drive to donate to an orphanage. In fact, subject areas are endless and there is never enough. The unseen advantage in all of this is, there is a magical, intangible and yet amazing feeling of giving back to something or someone.

We, as business people, are able to feel a little taller in the process of this work, and at the same time, we have the advantage of not only putting a smile on the receiver’s face, but also spreading pride and significance amongst our teammates and our network for our participation.

Brand recognition

This is not thankless work either. Many participating SMEs are able to elevate their brand recognition and perception, by associating with causes that speak to their audience. This is a key factor of creating a strategy that works for your company. Find a CSR synergy that fits to the services or products that you deliver to the market. Build this into your overall business plan and connect with people on various levels as a result of your winning strategy. Be warned that there is a fine line between being genuinely involved in a CSR project and exploiting it so that you purely get a part of cash rewards.

It is better when companies form committees where employees and officers are part of the steering process, to make the best case scenario recommendations to the shareholders, about not only installing a CSR department, but guiding it and sustaining it. Another helpful hint if your SME adopts this practice is your key secret agents who can make your efforts even more powerful – your suppliers.

You will be amazed that when your team is committed, and has the ability to share a clear vision about what, why, and who, your suppliers will ask when and how they can help. Therefore, you, as the owner of an SME, are able to light a candle in your own store and by the power of passing the torch, ignite second and third party attention and support all around your organization’s CSR wagon.

And yes, remember, charity begins at your front door.

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

Case Studies: Corporate Governance in the Middle East

Case Studies-Corporate Governance in the Middle East

  • Numerous companies in the Middle East improved their governance practices in ways that boosted their performance and growth, highlighting that corporate governance is not a one-size-fits-all concept, but a customized approach.
  • The Nuqul Group case study highlights the role played by corporate governance in the decentralization of power and creation of higher level of accountability among all layers of management.
  • On the other hand, adoption of corporate governance by the Sorouh Group helped improve the credibility of its Sukuk issuance in the eyes of credit rating agencies, thereby resulting in one of the largest and most successful debt issuance in the region.

In part one of our corporate governance article series, we had talked about the meaning of corporate governance and the factors driving the implementing of corporate governance reforms in the Middle East. In the second part, analyzed the progress made on corporate governance implementation by various Middle East nations. And in this third and final part, we share two specific case studies of Middle East-based companies that implemented corporate governance practices to boost business performance and growth.

Case Study 1: Nuqul Group | Jordan   

Founded: 1952 | Conglomerate of over 30 companies                                           

Company Overview: Nuqul Group is a Jordan-based producer of manufactured goods. In 1985, Ghassan Nuqul, the vice chairman of Nuqul Group, took a leading role 33 years after his father founded the company.

Situation: After taking over the leading role, Ghassan Nuqul realized that the firm’s head office had to process all purchase orders, as well as account and audit documents from its four plants. As a result, little accountability existed outside the head office. Also, such a strong concentration of power in one office made the Nuqul Group unattractive to investors. To correct the situation, Ghasan Nuqul took a series of corporate governance steps to institutionalize processes, allocate tasks, and develop accountability mechanisms.  The steps were aimed at increasing accountability at all levels, and also to ensure that all family members understood their roles, responsibilities, and rights within the organization.

Corporate Governance Measures Taken:

  • Over a period of five years, Nuqul headed the firm’s decentralization process. He separated and delegated tasks, created job descriptions, measures of accountability for managers and employees, established key performance indicators (KPIs), balanced performance scorecards and evaluated the company against competitors in the industry.
  • The firm established a strong board composed of both family and non-family members. It now includes board members who are employed by the firm, board members from outside the firm, and board members with relevant specializations.
  • Being a private, non-listed, family-owned company, Nuqul Group is not required by the government to publish financial statements. However, the company publishes an internal annual report voluntarily disclosing information including staff turnover, corporate social responsibility indicators, community service participation, and philanthropy operations in the family foundation.

Impact: Nuqul Group has expanded from four subsidiaries in 1985 to 30 today, and as per vice chairman Ghassan Nuqul, this level of growth would not have been possible without the improved corporate governance practices.

  • As a result of the corporate governance measures taken, Nuqul Group increased accountability among managers, employees, and the family, which ensures the company’s sustainability.
  • By implementing a 10-year business plan, with forecasted budgets for every year, the company was able to create benchmarks and measure itself against global best practices.
  • Since the implementation of these practices, Nuqul Group has continued to grow in terms of size and level of profits.

SOROUH | U.A.E   

Founded: 2003 | Real Estate company                                           

Company Overview: Located in Abu Dhabi, Sorouh Real Estate PJSC is one of the largest real estate developers in the UAE, and currently has over AED 70 billion worth of projects under development.

Situation Faced: From 2006 to H1 2008, Sorouh did not make any major borrowings; however, it wanted to finance its growth. For this, it issued Sukuks to help finance the development of 170 hectares on Al Reem Island and the Saraya development in Abu Dhabi’s central business district. However, as part of this process, Sorouh’s corporate governance practices had to be assessed by external credit agencies responsible for rating the Asset Backed Securities (ABS) transactions that Sorouh used to raise the money.

Corporate Governance Measures Taken: The company’s successful Sukuk issuance is rooted in the improvements it made in its corporate governance framework, in compliance with the UAE Securities and Commodities Authority’s standards. Sorouh had adopted these regulations and implemented all its material requirements in 2007, two years ahead of the compliance deadline.

  • Sorouh developed an Employee Disclosure Policy to ensure that employees are able to “blow the whistle” whenever and wherever they have adequate reasons to believe that ethical conduct has been breached.
  • The company has developed an Insider Share Dealing Policy in order to ensure that directors and employees do not misuse their possession of the company’s stock price-sensitive information.
  • In 2007, the company implemented an enterprise-wide risk management system, which has been initiated to structure and formalize existing risk management practices.

Impact: According to Sorouh’s Chief Corporate Officer, Afshar Monsef, “The actions we took for our corporate governance had a direct impact on the rating we received for our Sukuk and ultimately the interest rate premium, which resulted in paying a lower premium compared with other companies in the region.”

  • Sorouh’s corporate governance practices allowed it to issue more than US$ 1 billion worth of securitized Islamic certificates (or Sukuks), to be used for growth and expansion purpose
  • Moody’s rated the majority of the notes “AA3” while S&P rated them “A”.
  • The high ratings helped Sorouh to gain market acceptance for the Sukuks, resulting in millions in savings for the company.
  • The debt issuance was the first of its kind and size for a Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region corporation.
  • In 2009, Sorouh was ranked 1st in Abu Dhabi and 3rd regionally by the BASIC2 GCC-wide study of corporate governance.

We hope you have enjoyed our coverage on Corporate Governance in the region. Please free to comment and share your views and other relevant examples on this increasingly important issue for businesses 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