How do you make your organisation an attractive place to work?
AW: Visa is in the Forbes Top 35 Most Valuable Brands, but we work hard to ensure that our employment policies and benefits are ‘best in class’. We undertake an annual employee engagement survey, hold focus groups to address the outcomes and regularly review our benefits offerings to keep up with changes in the market. We are committed to attracting high quality UAE graduates into our business and we’re expanding our intern program this year to attract more talent from local universities. We want to create a pipeline of locally educated talent to fuel the growth in our business regionally.
NAD: We focus on maintaining an attractive pay scale, especially accounting for changes in the cost of living and making it separate from the performance pay increase. We invest in employer branding, offering flexible working hours and attracting nationals by providing development programs that expose talented employees to different markets and geographies.
ZF: The EVP for Johnson & Johnson is based on our culture and credo. The new generation of talent is mostly attracted to our company for the learning experience and growth opportunities. We take succession planning very seriously and our diversity strategy is fundamental to the attraction of diverse talent.
YAA: We emphasize our HR initiatives, which include a Saudi graduate development program and management career development scheme. We comply with all new government regulations, specifically within the nationalization program.
AYH: Our Saudi Arabia competency framework forms the backbone of our HR management strategy. Its consistent use in multiple HR programs, policies and procedures constitutes a significant step towards the development of a performance and growth-oriented organizational culture.
IAA: We are urging local HR functions to drive strategic initiatives such as employer branding and succession planning, and convert the nationalization approach into a friendly objective. More importantly, EVP can be formalized to improve the alignment between HR processes and overall business aims. Once this is in place, employees will be empowered to take charge of their own development.
KM: Over the past 12 months, we have created a set of company values and recognise those that ‘live’ these values on a regular basis. We have also created a program that focuses on different populations of employees and provides basic job skills training, professional development of our pharmacists, management development and executive coaching for senior management. Due to the geographical spread of our business, the courses are delivered using a mixture of online and classroom-based learning. Nationalization is another priority and we have recruited Saudis into many positions, supporting them with professional development and English language courses. In terms of employee engagement, we have boosted motivation and morale by launching a company newsletter, holding regular briefing sessions, running our first opinion survey and implementing listening forums hosted by executive management.
RM: We run a national competition called Ace the Case in which graduate employees work on real KPMG cases, helping us to identify a top talent pool. Winners go forward into an international contest. Our nationalization program includes short-term secondments, student internships and graduate schemes, and to build talent we run a future partner program in which directors are assessed and mentored to develop their financial and community capital. We have also designed a program in which people management leaders are appointed to provide coaching, leadership and counselling to staff as well as influencing decisions on policy changes and improvements across the company.
What success have you had with these programs?
AW: Measuring the impact of HR is always challenging. We focus on the low employee attrition rates across MENA and year-on-year improvements in our engagement survey scores.
NAD: It is ineffective and counter-intuitive to attempt to attract and retain talent by setting salaries higher than market pay. Negotiating pay packages with employees who have been offered better pay by competitors is a short-term remedy only that will do employees and line managers more harm than good.
ZF: At just 5%, our staff turnover is low. Almost 90% of our managers and leaders have been promoted from within, a third of our senior board members are female and we have employees from 28 nationalities across the region. The EVP has been changing for the new generation, with more people seeking work in a dynamic and challenging culture that drives creativity and innovation.
YAA: With our nationalization program, we are focusing on creating jobs for nationals rather than discontinuing expat employees. Female employment is another aspect. The rate of filling a key vacancy through succession planning is 40%, while employee satisfaction is 60% and employee wellbeing is addressed through workplace safety programs, family health care packages, stress management training and employee recognition and recreation activities.
AYH: Our success rates have been better than we expected. We challenge convention, conformity and uniformity. We understand the rules, yet challenge ourselves to be bold, try new things and have fun while we are doing it. The programs will be reviewed and updated every year so that we can continue to improve our people strategy as the market and economy changes.
KM: Building an online learning platform, with development programs designed for different employee groups, is making a positive impact on the business and feedback has been extremely positive. By focusing on the development of Saudi nationals, we have been able to reduce the turnover within this population. Accurate and timely communication has also given employees an understanding of business issues and how they can contribute to the overall business strategy.
RM: Our graduate recruitment initiatives develop a talent pool of more than 200 applicants each year, of which 32 are top performers from reputable universities in the UAE. Function leaders are taking ownership of people management issues, moving away from the core responsibility that lies with HR and adopting a culture to partner with business units.
How do you see HR changing in the region?
AW: More companies, particularly local entities where the concept is relatively new, are beginning to recognise the value of a strong HR business partnering function. I see a shift towards a model in which business partners are supported by an HR ops function and are more strategically focused.
NAD: HR will play a very important role, especially now that governments are taking the unemployment issue more seriously and taking action to help reduce its social impact. New regulations are forcing the private sector to take more responsibility in resolving the unemployment problem and HR professionals will be instrumental in any solution.
ZF: HR practitioners will focus even more on business profitability and move away from driving HR processes. Within three years, most companies will completely separate HR business partnership from HR operations.
YAA: It will take on a progressive function. Complex challenges and measures will develop in view of continuing labor market competition, complicated job requirements, currency ratios and stringent government regulations.
AYH: We will focus more on talent management, retention and the localization and development of the human capital in the region.
IAA: The political landscape is changing rapidly with new government initiatives, namely, increasing the employment of women and disabled people. If businesses want to grow they need to invest more in their people.
KM: The biggest challenges will be nationalization and employee engagement. In response to rising unemployment rates among nationals and ongoing dependence on the expat workforce, HR must influence and change policies to ensure they meet regulatory requirements. It must also place more emphasis on engaging employees by increasing communication, providing development opportunities, rewarding good performance and creating a great environment in which to work.
RM: HR will take on an advisory role to the board to support change initiatives and manage people’s responses. This is already happening in a few organisations, but needs to happen across more industry sectors. There will also be a more humane approach in people strategy and greater investment in training and development. Work governance rules and reward schemes will become more expat-friendly and working mothers will be better supported. HR will also contribute to national leadership pipelines by focusing on long-term investment in work placements for those in education.
What’s your advice to other HR directors and leaders to help them become strategic players in their organisation?
AW: Understand all aspects of the business from the bottom up. Recognise the significant differences within the region; don’t assume all locations in the Middle East have the same challenges and requirements. Don’t be afraid to innovate and lead the HR agenda.
NAD: Demonstrate HR’s financial impact on the organization and, in discussions, focus more on future profit and forward thinking.
ZF: The most important thing is to understand the business and be close to the external customers. Any HR strategy should positively impact the bottom line and this cannot be done if it is disconnected from customers’ needs. Stay connected to key stakeholders and business leaders, address their challenges and listen to what motivates them.
YAA: Build a pro-active HR team, align your team’s goals with those of the organisation and influence executives and top management to adopt best practice.
AYH: You need to understand your business very well to support and advise your organization in HR strategy and play a part of its success.
IAA: The EVP must be dynamic and shift with global changes and generations. At the same time, localization is a national responsibility shared by all local businesses, yet success comes from matching the right people with the right job.
KM: HR leaders must fully understand the business strategy and be able to articulate the strengths and weakness of the organisation. You can then begin to develop HR strategies to meet business needs and map out the initiatives that will support the overall strategy. You must continue to keep sight of external opportunities and threats as they arise, and be prepared to change your strategy accordingly.
RM: Don’t be afraid to build a team of different and unconventional HR talent – a strong team with varied strengths will support your transformation of the function. Remember to invest in yourself, too – study, get relevant qualifications and transfer your learning to the workforce.