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

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

A Best Practice in Strategy Formulation

A Best Practice in Strategy Formulation

  • One of the main reasons of the dissolution of numerous major corporations is the lack of vision and appropriate strategies for coping with the fast pace of business trends & technological innovations.
  • The Management Mix Guide is a 7 step referential platform for developing corporate strategy; it is also a guide for reengineering, & restructuring and dynamically managing the change.
  • The Guide is based on nine organizational elements to be analyzed & formulated taking into  consideration the impact of the five micro-environmental factors and four macro-environmental factors.
How can companies & organizations assure a sustainable strategic development?
One of the main reasons of the dissolution of numerous major corporations is the lack of vision and appropriate strategies for coping with the fast pace of business trends & technological innovations.
NCR, Wang Laboratories, BBAC are companies that have been vanished long time ago; and more recently major names such as Delta Airlines, General Motors or World Com have also disappeared.
In view of the above, a Managerial Guide is recommended which is implemented in hundreds of companies & organizations in specific industries such as the Banking & Finance, Telecommunications, Healthcare, Information Technology, Pharmaceuticals, Food Processing & other industries such as Machinery Manufacturing.
The Management Mix Guide is a referential platform for developing Corporate Strategy; it is also a Guide for Reengineering, & Restructuring and dynamically managing the change.
The Guide is based on nine organizational elements to be analyzed & formulated taking into consideration the impact of the five micro-environmental factors and four macro-environmental factors.
A Best Practice in Strategy Formulation1
The seven steps for implementing the 9-5-4 Guide are as follows:  
  1. Analyze the micro-environmental factors:  Competitors, Customers, Substitutes, Partners & Suppliers;
  2. Analyze the opportunities & threats in the macro-environment: Political, Economic, Socio-Cultural & Technological (standard PEST analysis).
  3. Identify the organization’s stakeholder’s constantly evolving needs.
  4. Analyze the organization’s strengths & weaknesses in the nine organizational elements, Each element elaborated separately in the following page.
  5. Formulate the Strategy regarding the 9 organizational elements.
  6. Set an action plan & implement the strategy.
  7. Continuously monitor & evaluate the strategy.
The nine organizational elements are as follows:
  1. Strategy: After revisiting and restating the Organizational Vision, companies should develop the corporate strategy, which includes the organization’s strategic orientations & objectives, based on the existing and required resources and assessment of the micro & macro environments in which the organization operates.
  2. Processes: Optimization, standardization & streamlining of the organization’s management, operational & supporting processes by controlling process related risks and ensuring the continual monitoring & improvement of the management system through the identification of KPI’s. Various types of international management standards are adopted, according to the industry and the needs of the organization.
  3. Talents: Development of a customized competency based talent management system for attracting, developing and retaining talents. The talents will implement the formal processes and informal processes for achieving operational and strategic objectives.
  4. Structure: Development of the required competencies and layers and setting the communication lines, the reporting system & cross-departmental coordination systems for supporting the achievement of the corporate strategies and organizational vision.
  5. Marketing: Development of a marketing plan by setting a Market Monitoring System for transforming information into intelligence and then into initiative in terms of new products and services, a pricing policy, a placing and a promotional policy by taking into account the constant changes of the customer behavior and the market requirements.
  6. Sales: Optimization of the sales process through the seven steps sales model and establishment cross-selling & up-selling approaches. In addition, development of sales channels in different geographical regions.
  7. Customer: Being in the center of the stakeholders, the company will develop a customer satisfaction and loyalty policy; the customer experience management system will be set and some specific procedures will be identified such as: loyalty programs, satisfaction surveys & complaint management systems.
  8. Information technology: Development & optimization of a holistic Information Technology policy that will support the implementation of the processes, including but not limited to Information security Management system.
  9. Resources: Development of financial Management and asset management systems for optimizing the exploitation of the resources.
A Best Practice in Strategy Formulation2
The Strategic Management Guide presented above has proven its efficiency in numerous corporations. Management Mix experts constantly monitor the results & performance of companies implementing the guide and provide customized recommendations to reduce the managerial waste (muda) and cope efficiently with the environmental changes.

The article is written by Raffy Semerdjian for 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

UAE – Innovating to Grow & Diversify

UAE – Innovating to Grow & Diversify

  • The UAE has been able to quickly and successfully transform itself from an oil-based economy into an innovative, knowledge-based economy; actively promoting innovation through policies and initiatives aimed at developing the three pillars of the innovation ecosystem – human, financial and technological capital
  • Being the first-ever World Expo to be held in the MENA region and themed as ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’, Dubai Expo 2020 is expected to strengthen the innovation ecosystem in the region.
  • UAE’s private sector will need to play an increasingly important role in supporting the government’s agenda and promoting the national innovation ecosystem to ensure that the UAE is able to maintain and strengthen its position as a hub for innovation, not just in the Middle East, but across the world.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE), which used to be known as an oil-based economy, has been able to quickly and successfully transform itself into an innovative, knowledge-based economy over the past decade. In fact, knowledge-based revenues now constitute a greater proportion of the nation’s GDP than oil revenues, having grown from 32.1% in 2001 to 37.5% in 2012. In its move towards becoming a knowledge-based economy, the UAE has diversified its economy, becoming a key player in the real estate and renewable energy sectors, in addition to becoming a global hub for trade, financial services and tourism. This vision to become a knowledge economy is evident in the UAE’s Vision 2021, which aims to build a nation where ‘knowledgeable and innovative Emiratis will confidently build a competitive and resilient economy’.

The nation has been actively promoting innovation through policies and initiatives aimed at developing the three pillars of the innovation ecosystem – human, financial and technological capital. 

Let’s talk about the human capital first as it is the most critical and fundamental pillar for all innovative changes. UAE has advanced its human capital on numerous fronts. Thanks to consistent investments across all education levels, UAE boasts one of the most advanced education systems in the MENA region. Moreover, advancing women’s education and economic participation has led to women taking up leadership roles throughout the country.

The UAE government’s budget allocation to education makes up more than 20% of the overall budget amount — this is way above than the benchmark average of 13%. Besides overhauling primary, secondary, and higher education systems, the nation is facilitating expansion of higher education institutes by establishing world-class local universities, attracting foreign universities to open branches in the nation, and entering into international partnerships. For instance, the Masdar Institute was established in 2007 in close cooperation with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). All these efforts have paid off, with the UAE’s rank on the Education sub-pillar of the Global Innovation Index going up from 65th in 2011 to 15th in 2013.

Second key element of knowledge economy is the financial capital because even the highly skilled human capital can fail to perform to its full potential without sufficient funds. Several sources of funding are available in the nation, including government funds, equity investing and crowd funding. Government funds typically provide early-stage funding and include the Khalifa Fund, the Expo 2020 fund, among others. In terms of equity investment, venture capital is the most accessible, despite the low risk tolerance of VC funds. The number of regional VC funds actively investing in the region is going up. Also, the number of VC deals has increased by 50% between 2010 and 2012, with 47% of the investment focused on technology.

Along with human capital and financial capital, technology accounts for another critical element for facilitating ground-zero innovation.  Although the UAE’s R&D expenditure as a percentage of its GDP (0.47% in 2011) is still below international benchmarks (global average of 2.08% and the OECD average of 2.32%), it is launching several targeted initiatives to develop its R&D efforts. Besides driving R&D in universities, the UAE government is keen to establish scientific hubs, for example, TechnoPark was set-up as a science and technology park managed by the Dubai Institute of Technology (DIT). Also, the Masdar Institute is developing a technology for desalinating sea water using renewable energy sources, and building the London Array, the world’s largest offshore wind farm.

The UAE’s innovation ecosystem has been encouraging many residents to become entrepreneurs. UAE-based technology start-up launches are expected to increase at a faster rate than the MENA average. By 2015, the UAE is expected to witness 185 new technology-based start-ups. Furthermore, the UAE government has reviewed its intellectual property and copyright laws with an aim to align them with international standards.

Exhibit 1: Snapshot of Some UAE Start-ups

UAE – Innovating to Grow & Diversify 1

Source: The Global Innovation Index 2014: The Human Factor in Innovation, Cornell University, INSEAD, and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)

The UAE topped the World Bank’s Knowledge Economy Index (KEI) among Arab countries, ranking 42nd globally with a score of 6.94. On all the four pillars of the knowledge economy—the economic and institutional regime, education, innovation, and information and communication technologies (ICTs), UAE was ranked among the top four Arab nations.

While the UAE leads the Middle East with a global ranking of 46 in overall innovation performance, Dubai is the first city in the region to establish first knowledge centers, including Dubai Internet City, Dubai Media City and Knowledge Village.

Further, the Dubai Expo 2020 is expected to benefit several sectors of the economy such as hospitality, tourism, trade, shipping logistics and real estate; nearly $7 billion (Dh25.7 billion) has been allocated for development and infrastructure projects in Dubai so far. Being the first-ever World Expo to be held in the MENA region, the Expo will also add more than Dh140 billion to Dubai’s GDP, create nearly 277,000 new jobs and draw over 25 million visitors.  The theme of Dubai Expo 2020, Connecting Minds, Creating the Future emphasizes the importance of partnerships and innovation for building a sustainable world today and in the future­. Especially Dubai Expo’s new 100-million-euro Expo Live initiative will help drive innovation by uniting research institutes, companies, citizens and entrepreneurs across the globe in finding solutions to global challenges.

Exhibit 2: World Bank’s Knowledge Economy Index (KEI) Ranking of Arab Nations

UAE – Innovating to Grow & Diversify 2

Source: IMF, MRD/Orient Planet

Overall, if we look at the UAE’s innovation ecosystem, it seems that the pieces of the puzzle are falling into the correct places. The nation now boasts a number of unique advantages, such as strong education system, a diverse talent pool, a growing innovation culture, and a number of targeted R&D initiatives. While the UAE government has been capitalizing on these strengths and issuing relevant policies that address the issues of talent, funding and stakeholder cooperation, the private sector will need to play an increasingly important role in supporting the government’s agenda and promoting the national innovation ecosystem to ensure that the UAE is able to maintain and strengthen its position as a hub for innovation, not just in the Middle East, but across the world.

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

10 Time Management Techniques that will Make You Highly Productive

10 Time Management Techniques

  • Efficient time management not only increases productivity, but also reduces stress levels and increases our happiness quotient.
  • We share some time management techniques that are a combination of age old (and still effective) methods and latest technological applications, aimed at helping you make the most of your time and helping you become highly productive.

Time waits for none. This age old adage is probably more relevant now than ever.

Between running for meetings and completing other “important” tasks on a given day, do you often find yourself wondering why does a day have only 24 hours? And does the thought of a never ending to-do list stress you out? Also, does it happen that despite your best efforts, critical tasks are still left incomplete at the end of what seems like a long day? If the answer to these questions is yes, then you – like most of us – need to change your time management techniques, because efficient time management not only increases productivity at work, but also reduces stress levels and increases our happiness quotient.

The suggestions that follow are a combination of age old time management techniques and latest technological applications, aimed at helping you make the most of your time and helping you become highly productive.

1. Maintain a calendar and plan your day (and week) in advance

While going to work, if you are unsure of what you want to achieve on that particular day, then you are more likely to miss your targets than achieve them. Hence, it is advisable to spend a few minutes to plan your day and working week in advance.

The quintessential diary/notebook is one way of planning your calendar. And for those that have already embraced or want to embrace technology to plan their calendar, you can consider using Doodle, an online tool which simplifies the process of scheduling events, whether they’re board or team meetings, dinners with friends, reunions, weekend trips, or anything else.

Make sure that you demarcate between on-going tasks and one-time tasks, and update your planner periodically to ensure that it reflects the evolving list of things that need your attention. Creating and maintaining a planner may seem tedious to start with, but once this activity starts giving results (higher productivity and effectiveness), it will become an inevitable part of your life.

2. Prepare a to-do list

One of the ways to ensure that you remain focused on completing the most important tasks on a given day, is to have a list of to-do’s with all the tasks you intend to do in the day.

The to-do list is intended to help you remain organized, by breaking larger tasks into smaller ones, thereby making them more manageable and easier to track and achieve. These tasks may be classified under different heads such as work, home, and personal.

You can consider using WorkFlowy for making and managing your to-do lists. WorkFlowy is an organizational tool that can help you organize to-dos, by making a list of high level ideas and tasks and then breaking them into smaller pieces. You can subdivide lists like this almost infinitely. Apart from managing to-do’s, this tool can be used to collaborate on large team projects, take notes, write research papers, keep a journal, and much more.

3. Prioritize and focus

Once you have prepared the to-do list, the next challenge is to prioritize the tasks and focus on completing them.

You need to ensure that you are focused on important things, and not just urgent things. Some tasks may be urgent but have lower strategic value, and completion of such tasks will give lower returns. It is important that such tasks are not prioritized over important tasks – which you should be reflective of your long-term goals and priorities. You can use a 1-5 coding system for prioritizing tasks – 1 for high priority items, 5 for low priorities, depending whether the task is high-yield and high-priority, or low-value, fill-in.

Most importantly, once you have a prioritized to-do list defined, make sure that you set a realistic timeline to complete it, and stick to it! Within each day, you can focus on the most important and challenging tasks in the morning, when you are fresh and have most energy. You can move towards some of the less important tasks in the second half of the day, when your energy and attention levels are relatively lower. To start with, incentivize timely task completion by rewarding yourself for meeting timelines. Once you fall into the habit of timely completion, such rewards won’t be required.

4. Delegate

We all tend to make a common mistake of biting off more than we can chew, i.e. we tend to take on more work than what we can realistically complete, which ultimately leads to stress, frustration and exhaustion. Therefore, it is important to delegate work to peers and subordinates as per their skills and abilities.

Ask yourself a simple question – am I doing something that someone else within the organization could do? If the answer is a yes, then you need to delegate. When another person who is fit to do a job takes over, it is like getting twice the work done in same timeframe.

Also, administrative tasks like photocopying, filing, etc. take lot of time, but do not yield high returns. You may be doing these things yourself right now to save cost, but if training a person on it can save your time in the long run, then it is worth it as the time that you will save can be focused on innovation, skill building, and other value added tasks that will help you grow as professional.

Remember, ‘delegation’ is not running away from responsibilities; rather, it is an important management skill that separates successful leaders from the not-so-successful ones.

5. Learn to say “No”

Most of the times, our inability to say ‘no’ leads to confusion. When instead of saying a ‘no’, we say ‘maybe’ or ‘I will do that’ or ‘let me see’, it sets wrong expectations for others and puts pressure for us.  So, make sure that you do no leave a conversation hanging by saying ‘yes’ or ‘maybe’ to something you can’t do. Also, don’t always feel a need to give reasons for refusing a task. A simple ‘no’ is enough in most cases.

Remember, most people appreciate honesty, and will not feel hurt if you set the right expectations at the outset. Instead, the heartburn (and loss) will be much higher – for you and for the other party – if you are unable to deliver and live up to your commitment.

6. Avoid Procrastination

Procrastination affects productivity and may result in loss of time and energy. It occurs when we put off tasks that we should be focusing on right now. It may give a temporary relief, but soon you will start feeling guilty of not having started the task and become more anxious to complete it, which may eventually lead to inability to complete the task on time or in the proper manner.

So, try to take decisions immediately when possible as the best time to do anything is NOW.

7. Prefer sequential-tasking over multitasking

You may feel that that if you multitask, you will gain more efficiency. However, we are usually better off when we focus on one thing at a time. For example, writing e-mails while speaking on the phone may seem like an efficient use of time, but the reality is that we may take up to 20-40 percent more time to finish our tasks when we multitask than if we do it in a sequence. Also, such an e-mail could be full of errors due to lack of attention paid while drafting it.

Therefore, it is better stay focused on one thing at a time, and after the first task is complete, move on to the next task.  Multitasking may sound fancy and it sure creates a lot of activity, but it reduces productivity levels and should be avoided to improve time management.

Bottom line, move from multitasking to sequential-tasking.

8. Avoid unnecessary appointments

Controlling appointments can play an important role in time management as unnecessary appointments can lead to wastage of time and energy. Also, we tend to attend meetings without having clarity on the agenda/end objective and without reading the documentation beforehand. These meetings end up being unproductive. Therefore, it is important to avoid unnecessary meetings; and for those that you do attend, make sure that you are well prepared so that those meeting result in concrete next steps and results.

9. Keep distractions under control

We lose about two hours a day to distractions – which is quite a lot time. These distractions can come from emails, colleagues, phone calls from customers. To manage time effectively, you must minimize distractions and manage the interruptions effectively. For example, you may put a busy message on IM chats when you want to concentrate and let people know that they will be disturbing. You can also consider blocking Facebook and other social media platforms if they are not meant to be used for business, and end up being distractions rather than enablers. Instead, you can have dedicated computer terminals/cyber café within the office premises, where employees can spend their break time tending to personal e-mails and visiting social media sites.

10. Take Breaks

Ensure that you take 10-15 minutes break from work after regular intervals, as long sittings increase stress and reduce productivity levels. We may think that we are capable of working 8-10 hours on a stretch, but it is impractical to concentrate and be productive and efficient without relaxing and recharging ourselves.

So take a walk, listen to music or do whatever you like to make sure that your breaks help you recharge. It is, however, helpful if you can plan your breaks to ensure that your colleagues know when you are away and don’t end up expecting anything urgent in that time frame. Also, take some time off from work, plan vacations and spend time with your friends and family. It will refresh you and also increase your productivity.

The above are but some tips on how to improve our time management, and ultimately it is for each one of us to design- and stick to- a plan that meets our needs.

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

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