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

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

Using external consultants to save time and money

Using external consultants to save time and money

  • Recruiting staff can be a painful experience because there is a dearth of highly qualified and competent professionals, and more often than not organizations end up hiring the least bad applicant and not the best.
  • Further, to manage ad-hoc overflow of work companies need temporary staffing, but finding qualified candidates who are ready to work for a short term is even more difficult than finding full time employees.
  • A viable solution to these issues might be to hire external consultants on short or long-term contracts. These consultants are specialists at recruiting, and eventually prove to be a cost-effective options as they help organizations mitigate the opportunity cost risk.

I was formerly a senior manager for a service company in the UAE and I discovered that recruiting staff was a painful experience as there are were always plenty of people seeking work, or alternative jobs in many instances, but there was a dearth of highly qualified and competent professionals. Any job advertised would have many applicants but it took a long time sifting through the CVs and at the end of the process you might have 5 people at most to interview as most applicants didn’t even meet the advertised job specs. And even after short-listing two or three candidates it felt more like a case of hiring the “least bad” applicant rather than the best.

Although my recruiting experience are limited to Dubai I believe the problems I suffered are common to managers throughout the Middle East region.  I have concluded that hiring professional staff in this region is a long-winded process and not everyone recruited will be a best fit for the role in mind. And with experienced professionals coming at a premium cost it can be an expensive hiring mistake should the successful candidate ultimately need replacing.

In addition companies often have temporary staffing needs for special projects or to solve work overflow issues. But finding experienced professionals who are prepared to work for a company on a short-term basis is even more difficult than hiring them long-term.

One solution to these issues might be to hire external consultants on short or long-term contracts. There are several benefits to this option including:

Contracts can be time limited: Although some consultants work on indefinite long-term contracts it is more usual for contracts to be time limited although often with an option to extend by mutual agreement. So if the contractor is not performing as expected, or is no longer needed, then the extension option will not be taken up. Most contractors work on annually renewable contracts but it is not for special projects a 3 month or 6 month contract might be more appropriate. (For one organization I worked on 3 month renewable contracts for over a year). By contrast very few employees would agree to a one year renewable contract and it might even be a breach of the relevant Labour Code to offer same in some jurisdictions. And I know by experience that initially good employees can experience dramatic performance deteriorations during the time that they are employed for various reasons.

Contracts can be terminated relatively easily: If a contractor is not even meeting basic requirements, or is creating some other business problem, then it is possible to terminate the contract even before the renewal date subject to meeting the notice period. Most annual renewable contracts will have a one to three month notice period. And there is no grievance process even if the consultant believes his contract has been terminated unfairly. So he can have no legal complaint if the termination complied with the terms of the contract. By comparison any manager knows just how difficult it is to fire an employee and there is always the risk of a wrongful dismissal case even if the employee was non-performing. (I have worked with companies that settled out of court with former employees claiming wrongful dismissal, rather than endure the expense of fighting the case, even when the companies concerned felt they were fully justified in the termination).

Consultants are already technically trained, are reliable and can work unsupervised: Many consultants are older people with long experience in their relevant industry and most such contractors have been managers so are used to motivating employees without the need to be motivated themselves. (Indeed in some industries it is common for persons who have reached mandatory retirement age to be hired back as consultants almost immediately after the retirement party).  These consultants understand the need to meet deadlines and other targets and have the motivation to know that their contracts can easily be terminated if they fail to perform as required.

Consultants have their own resources: External consultants can often work from home and will usually have their own fully equipped offices meaning that they don’t require valuable desk space or equipment that can be reserved to the company’s own employees. Nevertheless most consultants are willing to work from the company’s offices when required to. In my own experience I spend a lot of time working at home but also work on assignment sitting at an office desk each day but almost always in a different country to my home country. (The company usually pays my travel and living costs in such case).

Consultants can reduce employment costs: Most consultants do not receive employee benefits such as paid vacation and sick pay. And they are not eligible, in most cases, for the company’s health insurance and pension programs. So these are cost savings in themselves. It is also the case, (but not always), that consultants will accept hourly pay rates that are below that of a full-time employee for the equivalent position. (Consultants who work from home will usually require a lower fee than those that are expected to work from a company office). In addition consultants are often also prepared to accept retainer fees, which means that the company can retain their services for a very low fee, and then pay them at the regular hourly rates when the consultant’s services are actually needed. In my case I offer a substantial discount on my hourly rates if a company pays me a retainer fee.

There are other benefits to retaining external consultants including the fact that a retained consultant can eventually become a full-time employee if it is mutually beneficial to all concerned.  And there are a few downsides such as no perceived loyalty to the retaining company although I doubt that many full-time employees have much loyalty to the companies that employ them for the first few years of their employment.

The article is written by Ed Rogers  for Arab Business Review

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

Unemployment Paradox in the MENA Region

Unemployment Paradox in the MENA Region

  • High and increasing unemployment rates in the MENA region are a concern for governments and economy.
  • We have at our hands a peculiar situation where we lack employment opportunities, as well as a lack of qualified candidates who can meet specific job requirements
  • This article deals with the common employment paradoxes faced by employers in the region.

One of the challenges that face any economy is its unemployment percentage and the MENA region is not an exception; where these rates are not only high…But unfortunately increasing!

Unlike most people claims; unemployment is not mainly attributed to unavailability of employment opportunities, but surprisingly enough, employers are also facing the challenge of scarce caliber resources who can meet minimum requirements of a specific job. Companies need workers who can do their jobs perfectly or at least do the minimum requirements needed for the job to be productive; while employees are mainly focusing on job rewards.

Therefore there is a paradox between the 2 claims, one which states that the market does not have enough jobs and the other that claims that many jobs can’t find candidates to fill! Well actually both are true!

While investors are not investing enough (Development and Money), also workers are not working hard enough!

The following chart shows different unemployment rates across the global regions (2014-Q2):

Unemployment Paradox in the MENA Region1

Common Unemployment Paradoxes

A) Attitude vs. Skills:

  • Most employers are eager to realize positive performance results and therefore seek in their interviews to hire employees with “technical” experience with low focus on attitude and behavior; thus leaving a lot of “Inexperienced” or “fresh graduate” candidates unemployed. The more we have employers like these, the higher will be the salaries of experienced workers and the lower will be the chance for potential good calibers.
  • ​MNC expansions through the past 2 decades has dramatically influenced the general market trend for people development in 2 ways:
  • Exported good candidates who are seeking better packages (Especially Managers) to local companies.
  • They directly forced their competitors to provide people with better development path and financial packages to avoid high employee turn-over.
  • MNC invasion was not all so good also; some employees would just leave because they are perceived below expectations at their former companies where the performance bar is really high, while they know they can get a better salary and job title at another organization that is not so very much sophisticated! This was one of the reasons for salary bubbles raising the gap between different company ranks.

B) Able to Work vs. Willing to Work:

  • While some people can’t find a job, some others are not willing to work unless in very specific jobs or even unwilling to work at all!
  • Some insist on finding jobs in their specific education field, while others are not willing to work unless with a specific salary or a specific position.
  • The main issue is not the perception itself, but rather their willingness to improve their knowledge, skills and attitude… Some workers just don’t and won’t upgrade any of those three, but still are demanding specific jobs that can’t be matched by their current set of skills and will (Most probably) stay unemployed!

C) Gap between Education and Actual Required Market Experience

  • While employers are still valuing technical and functional skills, millions of fresh graduates are out in the market getting frustrated from the amount of job applications and interviews replied to negatively or even none replied to at all! I always face this question from frustrated young people “How can I have experience if nobody is willing to provide me with this experience without having prior experience?!”

D) Perceived vs. Actual Skills:

  • Another paradox that invaded the job market is how a candidate perceives the skills required to perform adequately in a given job. If an employee is given a negative feedback from his / her direct boss, most commonly they will seek another job where they are perceived as better candidates to fill the required positions

E) Low Caliber

  • It is very common that company X is looking for a senior manager and 100 people apply for the job, then the number reaches 10 candidates after the initial screening and then 2 at the final interview them 0 accepted, then company X looks for a specific senior manager to hire later by direct head hunting.

What we are facing currently is a multifaceted “unordinary” issue; therefore the solution also should be “unordinary”

Real change of: Perception – Attitude – Creative Solutions.

The article is written by Sherif Taha for Arab Business Review

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

BYOD in the Middle East

BYOD in the Middle East

  • The rise in IT spending is fueling the increased adoption of the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) culture in the region, and given its inherent advantages for employees and employers, BYOD adoption is bound to grow further in the coming years.
  • However, BYOD adoption is accompanied by IT security risks arising out of lack of awareness about device security among employees. The situation is compounded by insufficient network resources and the lack of formal BYOD policies at organizations to manage security risks emanating from use of personal devices on official servers and networks.
  • CIOs in the region need to respond by preparing IT networks and formulating a BYOD policies, which are designed to manage this increased demand for BYOD and mobile diversity in the region.

An Employee Engagement Tool or an IT Threat?

  • Middle East is among the fastest growing IT markets in the world, with IT spending in the region expected to exceed $32 billion in 2014. As per the latest IT forecast by IDC, spending on IT products and services in the Middle East will increase 7.3% year on year and will cross $32 billion in 2014.  Nearly 75% of this expenditure is expected to come from individual customers, the public sector, and the communications and financial services verticals. The key growth driver will be public sector investments in improving government services, education, and healthcare services in the GCC region.
  • The rise in IT spending is fueling the increased adoption of the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) culture in the region, as the increased proliferation of smartphones and tablet PCs, as well as increased mobility of workforces is forcing a shift in the way that companies operate on a day-to-day basis. A survey by Aruba Networks found out that employers in the Middle East were more likely to say Yes to BYOD, as compared to companies in other parts of the world.  The study found that 70% of EMEA enterprises allowed some form access from personal devices, a figure backed by Cisco’s 2013 Middle East ICT Security which found that almost two-thirds of employees in the region are allowed to use their own devices to access the company server or network.

Percentage of Companies saying Yes to BYOD across Regions

BYOD in the Middle East1

 Source: Aruba Networks

  • Given its inherent advantages for employees and employers, BYOD adoption is bound to grow further in the coming years. BYOD allows workers to operate on devices that they are comfortable working on, and in some cases from a location of their choice (e.g. home), thus extending flexibility in working environment.  Therefore, the BYOD culture benefits employees and bossts their motivation and engagement levels.  But its benefits are not limited to employees are alone.  Employers too stand to benefit considerably. As per Cisco Consulting Services estimates, the annual cost benefits of BYOD range from $300 to $1,300 per employee, depending on the employee’s job role.  In addition, happier and motivated employees have higher productivity, and are more likely to focus on innovation rather than just dealing with daily chores at workplace, thus contributing to the overall growth of the organization.
  • However, BYOD adoption is accompanied by IT security risks arising out of lack of awareness about device security among employees. The use of mobile devices like smartphones and tablets is expected to grow over the next few years, as the region is expected to have 850 million mobile users by 2017.  And most of these devices will also be used by employees at workplace as BYOD adoption increases – this is corroborated by the Middle East ICT Security Study that found that nearly 64% employees are allowed to use their own devices to access the company server or network. However, 65% of employees their own devices in the workplace currently do not understand the security implications of using personal devices in the workplace, thereby exposing the company server or network to high degree of IT security risk.
  • The situation is compounded by insufficient network resources and the lack of formal BYOD policies at organizations to manage security risks emanating from use of personal devices on official servers and networks. As of 2013, only 55% companies in the Middle East have a plan or a formal policy to manage the use of personal devices for work related purposes.  As a result, cyber-criminals are increasingly attacking internet infrastructure rather than individual computers or devices, with password and credential theft, infiltrations, and breaching and stealing data.  Therefore, it is not surprising that businesses in the Middle East are facing a growing risk of cyber-attacks as per the 2014 IT Security Study in the Middle East.

As per the Aruba Networks survey, the IT security challenge is accompanied by  insufficient network resources to support the influx of multimedia-rich devices, as 35% organizations claimed that they did not have enough wireless coverage and capacity for supporting BYOD.

  • Overall, the key challenges and concerns highlighted by businesses considering or implementing BYOD in the region are:
    • Securely connecting devices (especially mobile) to corporate networks
    • Avoiding an increase in IT resources and expenses
    • Ensuring wireless coverage and capacity
    • Ensuring device security
    • Establishing corporate policies and acceptable uses
    • Enforcing access rights to resources based on user, device, and app
  • CIOs in the region need to respond by preparing IT networks and formulating a BYOD policies, which are designed to manage this increased demand for BYOD and mobile diversity in the region. As a first step, CIOs need to develop IT infrastructure that is capable of supporting a broad array of devices without overburdening their IT staff. With mobile devices leading the BYOD adoption, this would mean increased investment in wireless infrastructure in the coming years. The requisite IT infrastructure development needs to be complemented by developing and implementing organization-wide BYOD strategy and policy. To develop an effective policy, organizations need to define and understand factors such as which devices and operating systems to support, security requirements based on employee role and designation, the level of risk they are willing to tolerate, and employee privacy concerns.

The key characteristics of a good BYOD policy are:

  • Balances security requirement vs. employee experience and privacy. It is important to develop policies that have minimal impact on employee’s experience, while maintaining the required security levels. Equally important is defining and communicating the level of vigilance/monitoring that IT department plans to implement to monitor device usage. Given that BYOD is an employee-driven phenomenon, a policy that is too restrictive or invades user privacy might prove counter-intuitive to the whole concept (and related benefits) of BYOD. So mapping the security requirement based on employee role is critical.
  • Supports multiple devices and operating systems: It is important for CIOs to factor-in all types of platforms and operating systems used by employees. While iOS is a natural choice due to the high level of in-built security, Windows (phone, PC, tablets) and Android (phone, tablets) have also gained immense popularity and can no longer be overlooked.
  • Is flexible (semi-BYOD): for organizations that have high degree of data security risk (e.g. financial services firms), CIOs can opt for semi-BYOD policies which allow their employees to use their own devices so long as they comply to a list of company-approved devices, so that IT departments don’t have sleepless nights over what devices their networks might have to accommodate.
  • Most importantly, a good BYOD strategy is focused educating employees about BYOD policies and ensuring compliance to alleviate related risks. It is important for organizations to not just develop such policies, but also provide guidance on ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ and best practices on using personal devices for official purpose. Conducting company-wide roadshows and training/counselling sessions, followed-up by online tests around the company’s BYOD policies is another way to driving home the message of the company’s seriousness about such initiatives and IT security at the same time.

We believe designing and implementing BYOD policies is important not just for organizations that either adopted or are considering BYOD, but for others as well since BYOD adoption is a question of ‘when’ and not ‘if’ for businesses in the region.

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

Amazon is stealing your customers by paying their employees to leave

Amazon is stealing your customers

  • Regional competition for customers shows focus on customer satisfaction as the key business driver
  • Developing a customer centric corporate culture is essential for success
  • Motivate employees to care and be creative to keep customers happy and develop employee growth
How committed to your customer are you?

No company wants to say that, do they?  And while the Region sorts out logistical, cultural, and human capital specifics, Amazon.com and their CEO Jeff Bezos are already doing a growing business here.

Now, while you may say the GCC and Regional organizations have adopted a steep learning curve to meet customer needs and things are improving; the reality is simply this: you’re customers are there already and they’re waiting with high expectations for you to take care of them.   And if you don’t, Jeff et almost certainly will.

Today, commitment to the organization’s success is expressed directly as commitment to the customer.  And in our Region and around the world, it has to be.  Otherwise you won’t survive for long in today’s highly competitive marketplace.

The secret is to bring smart and creative customer driven employees and timely value based solutions to customers so they are happy and continue to buy from you. Simply said, you need a customer-centric culture to drive organizational success.  Commitment to your customer must be paramount.

Take Zappos, which has been acquired by Jeff Bezos’ amazon.com, and how they both feel about the importance of customer service and the need for staff to buy into their concept.  For Tony Hsieh, Zappos’s CEO, this meant taking his customer-centric philosophy to another level. Zappos employee training and orientation process sought to retain only the best employees with the most customer oriented mindset.  This paradigm was so engrained in its culture,  Zappos designed a program unheard of in the industry.  Hsieh referred to it as the “walk-away option” where newly trained employees were offered up to one month’s salary to walk away after completing their intensive training program.

That’s right, after finishing Zappos’s comprehensive and intensive training, newly hires were given the option of leaving the company to pursue other job possibilities.  About 2-3% would take the offer, but the vast majority, or upwards of 97-98% decided to stay.  For Hsieh, this method created an internal culture driven to be the best and drove out anyone who wasn’t as committed to their programme’s customer-based ideals.

This unorthodox approach, along with Zappos strong brand attributes, caught the eye of Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos.   After Bezos acquired Zappos, he tweaked Hsieh’s idea and adapted it to the Amazon culture.   Bezos has adopted a similar pay-to-leave program aiming to copy its subsidiary’s selective recruitment and retention strategies.

Once a year, Amazon’s front line employees have a chance to reflect on their work, their company, and their coworkers to decide if they are committed or if they wish to take a pay-to-leave package.  Those who choose to stay and forego the quick cash remain a more closely tied group of committed employees.

This kind of environment  is one wherein Amazon and Zappos are not only saying “there’s the door if you don’t like it”, but “here’s how much we care for our customers.  If you’re not fully on board, here’s the door and cab fare as well to take you home.  Thanks for coming.”

Creative retention and employee training programs like these may be a key driver to attract people to your company.   Furthermore, this could be key in developing an internal brand identity whose hallmark is serving customers’ needs.  And of course, no matter what your business is, when customers’ needs are met or surpassed, business succeeds.  We can thank Zappos for a creative option to building a culture of customer service and yes, Jeff Bezos for building on a solid construct in customer-centric thinking.

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

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

Workplace Wellness: An investment well worth it

Workplace Wellness-An investment well worth it

  • Approximately 20% of the UAE population are living with Type II Diabetes, ranking the UAE in the top 20 worldwide.
  • There is also a link between obesity and productivity levels at work and studies have shown, workers who are overweight are less productive.
  • Since many employees spend more than half of their waking hours at work, companies are slowly starting to realize the important role of Wellness Programs.
  • However, employers need to start thinking about wellness as a long term valuable asset to their employees, who will in turn work better for them.

Healthy employees are the key behind every successful business. Since many employees spend more than half of their waking hours at work, companies are slowly starting to realize the important role of Wellness Programs. Such programs are designed to help:

  • Reduce medical costs
  • Reduce absenteeism and presenteeism
  • Increase employee morale and job satisfaction
  • Reduce staff turnover
  • Increase productivity levels
  • Increase organizational effectiveness
  • Decrease employee turnover

It’s no secret that the UAE is not the healthiest country. Approximately 20% of the UAE population are living with Type II Diabetes, ranking the UAE in the top 20 worldwide. Research and statistics report on diabetes across the UAE suggest that the disease will cost an estimated Dhs 10 billion by year 2020 if the condition is not treated. Workplace wellness programs can improve dietary habits through education and a supportive work environment where employees can work together to reach personal goals.

There is also a link between obesity and productivity levels at work. Studies have shown, workers who are overweight are less productive at a value of over 42 billion US dollars. When compared to the productivity levels of workers who were at a healthy weight, employers could save approximately 11 billion US dollars by investing in programs that educate their employees on overall health and wellbeing.

Stressed employees do not work at their maximum potential. The UAE is not an easy place to work and jobs in this region can bring about longer working hours, higher demands, and increased pressure. Thus, there is a need for workplace wellness programs to help employees carry out their daily tasks with higher productivity levels to avoid increased stress levels (which can also lead to other health and performance concerns). A stress-free employee will perform better when carrying out daily tasks and thus have higher productivity levels.

What’s in it for the employer?

Employers may see workplace wellness as low priority, as it is a long term investment, where results may not be seen right away. In fact, workplace wellness is a service that is not tangible at all, so what’s the point? Similar to diets, workplace wellness will not work if you don’t commit to changing an entire work environment. A healthier workplace can’t happen overnight and it can’t happen with one “health day”. Employers need to start thinking about wellness as a long term valuable asset to their employees, who will in turn work better for them (see below diagram).

Workplace Wellness-An investment well worth it-1

Companies like Johnson & Johnson have seen the benefits of investing in employee wellness programs. In specific, from 2002 to 2008, they estimated a cumulative savings of $250 million  US dollars. This calculated to be a return on investment (ROI) of $2.71 (US) for every dollar that was spent.

Sources:

– Gulf News: http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/uae/health/diabetes-likely-to-cost-uae-dh1…

– Ricci, J. & Chee, E. Lost productive time associated with excess weight in the US workforce, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 47 (10), 1227-1234, 2005 

– Berry, L.L., Mirabito, A.M., & Baun, W.B. What’s the Hard Return on Employee Wellness Programs? Harvard Business Review, 2010

– Berry, L.L., & Mirabito, A.M.  Partnering for Prevention With Workplace Health Promotion Programs. Mayo Clin Proc ;86(4):335-337, 2011.

The article is written by Alison McLaughlin 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