Interviewer: Mahmoud Mansi
“If you’re stuck in a job and you can’t get what you want, venture to do something on the side or eventually full-time on your own that gets you what you want. In other words, you want something, go find a way to get it. Don’t wait forever for things or people to give you what you want, go earn them… make things happen.”
Author | Business Leader | Entrepreneur
“I was born in Alexandria, Egypt, where I grew up till age of thirteen before relocating to the U.S. and attending high school and California States and New York Universities, where I studied pre-law and entrepreneurship studies. So, you can say I was always passionate about business and entrepreneurship and the startup world, which was only cultivated by working at such exciting companies as JumpTV, Souq.com, and into MENA Group, working and living mainly between Dubai, Los Angeles, Toronto, and New York.”
1- HR Revolution Middle East: Amir we are grateful to interview you at HR Revolution. Can you share with the readers the idea behind your book? How did the inspiration to writing come in the first place?
Amir Hegazi: Thank you for the opportunity, my pleasure! As far as the initial inspiration for Startup Arabia goes, it was really the genesis of two events: the first took place back in December 2012, when I attended The Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) in Dubai and heard Fadi Ghandour speak passionately about the “youth bulge” and the 100 million projected unemployed youth in the region by 2020, and instinctively recognized the dire ramifications of such mass unemployment, not just on individuals’ quality of life and the economic climate in general, but practically on all aspects of society, on the entire well-being of nations and the region as a whole.
The second event that triggered my interest in writing this book, which happened four years later, was the Amazon acquisition of Souq.com in March 2017. Prior, I was a top executive at Souq reporting to Ronaldo Mouchawar, one of the top visionaries in the region and a true entrepreneur in every sense of the word. Ronaldo instilled in the team a culture of making an impact, or “making history” as we liked to say internally. For me as I know for many of us at Souq.com, Souq.com represented something special that went well beyond providing a great value to our customers, it was out to break a mental barrier of some sort that can be best described as “it can happen here.”
That’s when I realized the urgent need to create a product that help educate and inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs in the region, utilizing existing local success stories that are relatable, insightful, and uplifting. Hence, I set out to capture the stories and advice of 22 of the top tech entrepreneurs across the Arab world under one title, Startup Arabia.
2- HR Revolution Middle East: You have interviewed many entrepreneurs in order to form this excellent book. I am sure there are countless startups out there that are quite exquisite, so what was your criteria for selection?
Amir Hegazi: I had an extensive criterion for selection– first, they had to be founders or co-founders, as I felt I wanted to capture the experience of someone who built something from the ground up versus someone who comes in at a later stage as say a seasoned executive, not to take away from the accomplishment of the latter. Still, there’s something magical about creating something from nothing or is now commonly referred to as going from “zero to one” to quote Peter Thiel excellent book with same title.
Second, they must have had established a great business, have had an exciting and interesting success story, and are articulate and generous enough to share.
Third, I deliberately chose entrepreneurs who are passionate about being active participants and contributors to the startup ecosystem. And saw their role to extend beyond achieving financial success, but also to make positive social impact.
Finally, I tried as much as possible to present a wide array of “types” of entrepreneurs from different gender, age, background, nationalities, location, industries, stage of development, etc. I even looked for diversity in terms of subtle and intangible things like personality type, style, etc. I aimed to provide a multi-lens approach than a one-dimensional one-size fits all one. I felt that different readers will relate to and learn more from some than others, so I went about covering a wide spectrum of entrepreneurs and startups.
3- HR Revolution Middle East: Since you have personally interviewed each of those leaders, what’s the one lesson you observed?
Amir Hegazi: There are countless lessons, but if I had to boil down to one essential must-have trait, it would be that they are driven by much greater force than financial gain. I can’t say exactly that financial success is not part of their motivation, because clearly it is, it has to be. After all, as an entrepreneur, you’re building a commercial venture that needs and aims, by definition, to be profitable, sustain itself, and reward its founders, staff, investors, and other stakeholders handsomely for their commitment and effort. No one wants to or aspire to work in a cash/resource draining organization of any kind, even if it’s non-profit per se. Nevertheless, they are clearly all deeply committed to a personal cause they’re passionate about, typically solving a massive problem or a major economic inefficiency in the market. Typically, I found, they deeply relate to customer pain and genuinely would like to help. At their core, they’re all trying to bring about positive change for the world and for themselves. In that sense, they’re after something bigger than themselves with the potential for massive and lasting impact.
4- HR Revolution Middle East: This book is clearly a complicated project, so from a project management perspective, what’s your advice to someone who is considering taking a complex project, in terms of pre-planning and avoiding or overcoming such challenges as “project creep”, etc.?
Amir Hegazi: Writing a book or taking on any complex, seemingly overwhelming project whether its building an app, learning a new subject, or creating a business plan comes down to a simple “divide and conquer” approach. You have to be able to break your so called “complex project” into bite size, manageable tasks that you can focus on completing one at a time. You begin by doing task A and only worry about task A, task B doesn’t exist for now. Then you move on task B and forget about tasks A and C, and so on. Then when you’re done with these tasks say A to Z, then you step back and organize these “puzzle” pieces into a coherent whole.
Having said that, the key underlaying pre-requisite to getting you setup for success and focused on the right tasks is to pre-think and pre-plan your project. Without a very strong, focused intention why you’re doing what you intend to do and what you’re seeking to accomplish in terms of outcome, your ship is likely to stray off target and that’s when you have “project creep”. As a captain of your ship, you have to always steer ship back on target by always keeping that target in front of your eyes. You take your eye off target for too long, then ship gets off course. The same is true for any project you undertake, as was the case with writing Startup Arabia.
I set out to educate and inspire MENA entrepreneurs, so that entails providing insightful stories that touch on all the key topics of starting and scaling a new company and the inherit challenges entrepreneurs face in the region. It also needed to be motivational and even entertaining, unlike say a text book. It also had to resonate with the readers via local success stories from local, likable, and articulate entrepreneurs. Once I was clear on the vision of the final product, which is something you visualize and plan, then the rest seem to fall in place and it’s just a matter of again dividing and conquering.
If you’re at the outset of a new project, I recommend you start with a broad intention of what you’re trying to do, try to capture in one sentence, that’s your “direction” so to speak. Then zoom in more into more focused “path”, so then decide on “highway” you need to take and finally which “lane” you choose. But it all starts with that broad intention and statement of purpose that sets you on the right track.
Of course, easier said than done, but it can be done!
5- HR Revolution Middle East: I am curious, what was the first job you ever had, and what did you learn most from it?
Amir Hegazi: Funny you ask, you can say my father was my first employer. I was just 5 years old and my father owned an apparel boutique store and I was put in charge of folding and stacking t-shirts and jeans, and placing on shelves. I resented having to work after school, but I also realized that the faster I can complete my tasks, the sooner I get to watch cartoons. So, I came quite proficient at it working diligently against the clock, so what used to take 2-3 hours to complete, I was able to finish in an hour or less. It was a good lesson—though of course I didn’t know at the time that it was a lesson—in the value of focus and speed on output and productivity.
I should also mention that during the same period, I went on a semi-strike when my father had turned down my request to buy me some new toys. So, following my father’s business best practices, I decided to set shop within a shop. I gathered all my unwanted toys and laid on a table to showcase and started selling, I remember placing a sign I borrowed from the store that said “Sale”. So, I was off and running selling toys, like a real small-time entrepreneur, both literally (I must have stood barely at 100 cm. tall) and figuratively. And when I gathered enough money, I went and got some new toys, mainly matchbox cars which I was obsessed with as a child. I guess lesson learned here, in retrospect of course, is if you’re stuck in a job and you can’t get what you want, venture to do something on the side or eventually full-time on your own that gets you what you want. In other words, you want something, go find a way to get it. Don’t wait forever for things or people to give you what you want, go earn them… make things happen. That was invaluable lesson to say the least.
6- HR Revolution Middle East: From your experience and observation, what can organizations learn from startups?
Amir Hegazi: There’s a lots organizations can learn from startups, least of which being frugal, testing quickly and inexpensively, being responsive to customer/market needs. Great, promising ideas from front line folks in organizations, who are often at the pulse of customers’ pain points and market demands, often get killed early on without even getting a hearing due the high bar that’s required of them internally within large organizations.
Not every new idea needs to be green-lighted by top management, formalized into a project, assigned resources, or get funded within an organization to get tested on small scale to validate; there needs to be agile practices within an organization where there is a small budget within organizations and freedom to test new ideas quickly and affordably and tweak as needed, before surfacing promising ones to management. Often what happens is you have staff member A who’s low on the command chain, who gets assigned a task amongst dozens or even hundreds of colleagues within same the department, before stepping back and identifying a major flaw in the system or a major breakthrough, or at least a glimpse of something promising. Given their low-rank in the organization, their suggestions are either dismissed or worse, they’re accused of being “unfocused” working on tasks outside their job scope.
Organizations need to build a forum where new ideas that fit within the company mission and objectives, and capitalize on the company strengths are encouraged, nurtured, and given the support they need to grow. The alternative is organizations stay stuck in their own ways, not learning or being responsive to customer needs or market demands fast enough, and eventually lose grounds, and eventually get disrupted by innovative startups. Case in point, established taxi organizations Vs. ridesharing services such as Careem and Uber. There are countess other examples, practically in every industry.
7- HR Revolution Middle East: How important is the role of tech education and digital transformation in today’s organizations and do you see a positive movement in that direction?
Amir Hegazi: I think there is definitely a positive movement on the tech education front in the region, most notably the ever-growing tech talent pool in the region, which has been a major bottleneck for quite some time and continues to be though to a significantly lesser degree. The shortage of qualified engineers, developers, and designers has historically seriously hindered the tech ecosystem, whereas, we are seeing some progress on that front. Granted it is still not where it needs to be to be regionally self-sufficient and no longer a limiting factor to startup and corporate growth, there are few promising digital transformation initiatives on the education front happening.
One initiative that comes to mind is Misk Academy, which was launched in summer in 2018 in Saudi Arabia in partnership with General Assembly, a world-renowned innovative education provider. The program focuses on offering “skills for twenty-first century” education in critical and timely tech-related areas, such as UX design, data science, software and app development, user experience, etc. It’s a clear example of how governments, or corporations for that matter, can be pro-active in educating their community about timely digital and technology skills and stay ahead of the curve.
8- HR Revolution Middle East: What is your future plans for Startup Arabia?
Amir Hegazi: I’m working with my publisher, Nahdet Misr, who have been extremely supportive on expanding the awareness and distribution of the book into new markets and platforms, including universities, high schools, NGO’s, events, incubators, and other channels where it can give book exposure it needs to its target readers, being entrepreneurs or anyone who is working in startup most particularly.
We’re expecting the Arabic version to be released in Jan, 2019, so that’s quite exciting. We are also looking into converting book into audiobook for both English and Arabic version, so there is a lot of work ahead to capitalize on the amazing stories in the book and spread the word to mass audience and get in the hands of those who need it most and help them in create their own success stories. Please stay tuned.
Interview with Keith F Watson -Online Tutor ICS Learn
“We feature our student success stories in our monthly Student Newsletter, as we know this inspires learners to keep going with their studies, as well as showing them how other students overcame the challenges they faced” Keith F Watson – ICS Learn
The Interviewee: Keith F Watson, LL.M, Chartered FCIPD, FCMI, FLPI, FITOL
Job Title: Owner 360 HR Solutions and Online Tutor ICS Learn
Keith’s qualifications include LL.M (Employment Law and Practice) and CIPD. A tutor since 2007, Keith worked in the financial services sector from 2006 in a variety of senior HR roles before setting up his consultancy in 2016. He’s actively involved with the CIPD in various capacities, including being a past branch chair, member of Council and a voluntary membership assessor. He is currently a member of the Professional Standards Panel (Chair) and a member of the Qualifications Advisory Group, as well as a member of the Employment Tribunal. Keith is also an Equality Act Assessor in the Sheriff Courts.
1-HR Revolution Middle East: The CIPD has become one of the most important certifications in the HR and the L&D field. Would you please explain to our readers the scientific value of the CIPD Certification, as well as its impact on the professional career progression in those fields?
ICS Learn: HR is an art underpinned by science, and the CIPD qualification benefits individuals and organisations by going beyond the technical aspects of people management and development.
Whilst the qualification requires a robust technical knowledge across a range of topics, the real strength lies in the requirement to adapt that knowledge to the business environment and become a critical thinker who can devise best-fit solutions.
There is no doubt that the increasing requirement by organisations for their HR teams to have CIPD qualifications is due to those already with these qualifications having demonstrated the effective application of their technical knowledge in the workplace, rather than taking answers from a book and trying to make them fit situations where they simply don’t work
2- HR Revolution Middle East: From your experience, what are the most recurring challenges do learners have in completing their CIPD studies? What recommendations would you give them to help facilitate their time management for study?
ICS Learn: One of the most reoccurring challenges is time management. New learners – especially those studying part-time – do sometimes underestimate the time commitment in undertaking a professional qualification. Whilst we generally recognise the time necessary for classroom attendance, be it in-person or virtually, we often forget about the additional time required for self-study, research, and assignments – all of which are critical to our success.
There are only 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, and even in lockdown, there are very few people claiming to have a lot of free time. Therefore, we must decide (ideally in advance) what activities we are going to put aside for the duration of our studies.
We all have different approaches to learning, so it’s important to free up the time when we’re going to be most effective, be that early in the morning, lunchtime, evening or later at night. Some people study better in short bursts, whereas others prefer to set aside a specific day at the weekend. There is no right or wrong way to study, it’s simply a question of when works best for you.
Another reoccurring challenge for students looking to complete their CIPD qualification is understanding the question set. Whilst it is never the intention of an examiner to confuse a student with a question, it does sometimes happen. For example, it’s often said that businesses working in English are divided by a common language and HR practice is no different. An SME, for instance, can be a “small medium enterprise” or a “subject matter expert”. To avoid confusion, the first step is to read the question not once, not twice but at least three times to understand what has been written. If there is the slightest doubt as to what is being asked, seek clarification from your tutor.
3- HR Revolution Middle East: To what extent do you believe that the body of knowledge of the CIPD Certifications can be applied to practical work in different countries?
ICS Learn: Whilst the legal aspects of the CIPD qualification are based on UK law, most CIPD qualifications are very general so that they can be applied internationally. Being that culture varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, the core elements of HR practice remain the same in that we help support organisations in achieving their objectives through good people management and development practices.
The breadth of learning is a distinct advantage in all jurisdictions, as is knowing about practice and regulations in other jurisdictions. Given that laws and regulations vary over time, being able to identify and apply relevant regulations in an assignment is a valuable skill to have regardless of whether the same regulations apply in the countries we support. I have often joked that if I was ever to become an employee again, I would wish my contract to be based on Indonesian law as in that jurisdiction employees must agree to their dismissal!
4- HR Revolution Middle East: As an Instructor, how did your journey with ICS start? What makes you most passionate about this role?
ICS Learn: I started my journey with ICS Learn more than 20 years ago as a CIPD student at which time, in addition to assignments, each module was tested by exam. Around 14 years ago, I received an email from one of my former ICS Learn tutors asking if I would be interested in attending an Advanced Employment Law workshop she was running as she was looking to retire from these workshops and she had been asked to look for a potential successor. Having literally that weekend just finished my dissertation for my master’s degree in Employment Law, for the first time in years I had a “free” weekend.
As I always enjoyed such workshops I readily agreed to attend. However, on arrival, I received a message that the tutor was unfortunately unable to attend and I was instead asked to run the workshop! Perhaps it was being thrown in at the deep end with no time to worry about anything, but the workshop was a great success with all the attendees passing their Employment Law exam a few months later and my having fully acquired the tutoring bug.
Over the years much has changed, and I have had the pleasure of running training sessions and workshops on a variety of CIPD and non-CIPD topics both virtually and in numerous countries including Singapore, India, Sudan, Nigeria, and of course in the Middle East both in UAE and KSA.
Whilst HR and the world has evolved, facilitating learning in others whilst learning from students and their personal workplace experiences is as inspiring and exciting today as it was 14 years ago.
5- HR Revolution Middle East: As a learner how did the CIPD qualification change your life?
ICS Learn: Without a doubt, gaining a CIPD qualification has been life-changing and has allowed me to have not only a successful career in HR within financial services but to successfully run my consultancy for the last 5 years. I must admit that being able to work internationally in so many different regions has been a distinct bonus and certainly embeds the learning that no matter what we do in HR there is always more than one way of doing it.
6- HR Revolution Middle East: What special tips would you share with professionals unable to choose the appropriate CIPD Certification Level for them? How does ICS Learn help learners in taking this step?
ICS Learn: Our advice would always be to chat to our CIPD Course Advisors, whether that be through our website, email, or on the phone. Their job is to talk through your experience, ambitions, and previous education to make sure that you choose the right CIPD course for you.
7- HR Revolution Middle East: What are the most common challenges CIPD students face? What pieces of advice do you have for them?
ICS Learn: As detailed in question 2, the most common challenge is time. We must be willing to accept that in taking on a new challenge we must set aside some of our current activities. Short term pain for long term gain!
8- HR Revolution Middle East: What should be the “competencies” of a CIPD student in order to excel and accomplish the degree?
ICS Learn: Self-discipline, commitment, curiosity, an open mindset, and of course an ability to understand and write in business English
9- HR Revolution Middle East: ICS Learn cares to publish students’ success stories with different certifications and how they got opportunities to progress substantially in their careers. How often do you refer to those stories to encourage reluctant learners to finish their studies?
ICS Learn: We feature our student success stories in our monthly Student Newsletter, as we know this inspires learners to keep going with their studies, as well as showing them how other students overcame the challenges they faced. It’s a great way for students to learn from each other!
Interview with Mr. Vijay Gandhi, Regional Director of Korn Ferry Digital
“2021 is here and there has been never a tipping point like this before for governments and organizations to transform how they work, engage the employees and service their clients. It is this mix of internal and external challenges that will also create opportunities for leaders to make a difference as we embark upon a new calendar year.” Mr. Vijay Gandhi
Interviewer: Mariham Magdy
Brief Biography about the Interviewee:
Mr. Vijay Gandhi has worked with human resource teams for over 20 years to provide them with tools, benchmarks, insights and data to help them design high level global HR frameworks and make decisions for local executive teams, remuneration committees and board of directors in public and privately owned companies across different sectors. He oversees the commercial activities of Reward & Benefits in KF Digital across Europe, Middle East and Africa.
Vijay has an MBA from Durham University (UK) and BBA in Finance & International Business from University of Wisconsin-Madison (USA). He joined Korn Ferry in 2001 in Dubai and has worked in EMEA and Asia region. In May 2018, he was honored with Forbes “Top 50 Indian Executives in Arab World”
1.HR Revolution Middle East: Mr. Vijay, welcome to HR Revolution Middle East Magazine. It’s a great pleasure to have the opportunity to make this interview with you.
As the Regional Director for Korn Ferry Digital, we are keen to learn from you more about KF Digital, how do Korn Ferry’s digital applications help organizations to transform or enhance their organizational strategy?
Through the Korn Ferry Digital platform, our clients gain direct access to our data, insights, analytics and digital solutions – enabling them to drive performance in their organizations in a scalable way through their people, using one enterprise-wide framework and language of talent. Our digital solutions cover the whole talent journey. So, whether it’s developing a new talent strategy or reward program, making informed decisions about hiring or developing talent from within the organization, getting the right people on board, or even collecting feedback on how engaged employees really are, right across the organization – Korn Ferry Digital provides the answers.
Our solutions serve as an integrated platform that gives clients direct access to the data, insights and analytics. Clients benefit from one enterprise-wide talent framework and language that helps drive organizational performance through people.
2- HR Revolution Middle East: To what extent can we trust the results of the digital assessments? How can organizations use the data that Korn Ferry collects to make intelligent hiring, reward, development decisions?
Mr. Vijay Gandhi:
Korn Ferry Digital is fueled by the most comprehensive and up-to-date people and organization databases. This data provides the DNA for our digital solutions, bringing a research-based foundation to underpin quality and consistency in your HR practices. Over 4 billion data points have been collected, including:
- Over 69 million assessment results
- 8 million employee engagement survey responses
- Rewards data for 20 million employees across 25,000 organizations and 130+ countries
We’ve pulled the data together into a comprehensive set of actionable and dynamic Success Profiles. Success Profiles define “what good looks like” and include data around three dimensions – the accountabilities of a role, the associated capabilities to perform these responsibilities, and the traits and drivers that are characteristic of a person who will thrive in this role.
Organizations have access to over 4,000 individual Success Profiles across 30,000 job titles – and we are continually updating and adding new profiles, so you get to leverage the latest thinking on emerging roles. The results are therefore based on deep insight and research.
3- HR Revolution Middle East: Mr. Vijay, we are eager to learn from you more about the success story behind honoring you as one of the Top 50 Indian Leaders in Arab World by Forbes Middle East in 2018 – Region’s greatest success stories as Regional Director at Korn Ferry Digital.
Mr. Vijay Gandhi:
I am a long-time resident of the Arab region, where my family roots go back 60 years, before the UAE federation was formed. Knowing the culture, people and dynamics of working in the Arab world has been natural as this has been home to our family where my kids are the 5th generation. For more than 20 years, I have worked closely with human resource teams in the Arab world to execute their talent strategy. A lot has changed in this period in HR function itself which was regarded as a payroll function few decades ago. Today, HR and People strategy are board room discussions where HR plays a strategic role in driving workforce performance.
In these positively growing and changing times, my focus was on leveraging tools, benchmarks, insights and data to design high-level global HR frameworks for senior executives in the region – helping them more effectively manage their talent. We have built successful client partnerships in the region which has made Korn Ferry as a go to organizational consulting firm.
4- HR Revolution Middle East: For over 20 years, you have overseen the activities of pay, talent, surveys and listening products across Europe, Middle East and Africa. What are the unique characteristics of the Middle East organizations especially in talent and pay management? How does we differ from other regions as Europe & Africa?
Mr. Vijay Gandhi:
Change is taking place rapidly in the world of work with any organizations taking unprecedented steps to remain relevant and connected to their people , their customers and society. In the Middle East we have seen many companies implement temporary pay-cuts. Diversified conglomerates have shifted their employees from one division to another to balance the demand and supply. There is no denial that the way we work is changing and organizations have had to prepare a blueprint for the unexpected. This year it’s coronavirus. Next time, and there will be a next time, it could be a natural calamity, a recession, talent flight or something else unforeseen.
- Redefining the nature of work: Even today most organizations in the Gulf region are measuring success or performance using the metric of attendance. There is a mismatch between modern, flexible ways of working and traditional ways of organizing and rewarding work. To close this gap, organizations need new approaches that fit today and can flex for the future. New and evolving technologies allow organizations to operate more effectively and more efficiently. They do this by preparing people to work more productively and by introducing virtual ways of doing things that previously required physical presence. Some organizations in the region have started tocreate “flexible teams” for specific projects, and then dismantling them once the project is complete.
- Moving towards a liquid workforce: HR laws in the Middle East region have undergone change in the last 3 years to allow for part-time employees, internships and with the spring of an independent freelance community offering specialized professional services which were rare to find few years ago. In the future, we will see more organizations tailoring their resource requirements to the needs of the labor market. Organizations will move towards a liquid workforce to capture the best talent regardless of source or nature of contract which may not be employed full-time.
- Splitting time and skills: A few global companies are making use of employees’ skills and motivation within the confines of a traditional role. They have developed a SharePoint platform where employees can give up to 20% of their time to projects outside of their core role. The 80/20 approach allows for flexibility without the contractual implications of making significant changes to roles and functions. The projects range from large, like supporting big corporate initiatives, to small, like moderating a series of workshops. These smaller projects may last just a few weeks and take up less than 20% of a person’s working time. Trainees, called ‘Start-up’ participants, also work according to the 80/20 principle. That means they follow a set rotation programme for four days of the week and meet on Fridays to work on joint projects.
- Rethinking Reward: Even after right-sizing in many Middle East companies, there has been a significant impact of grade/title inflation on performance. In the short-term it is important to preserve operating capacity in the event demand returns to normal sooner than expected by managing leaves and cutting pay for a limited time. In the medium-term, organizations will have to adjust individual performance incentives as conditions normalize and consider crisis-related spot awards where applicable. In the long-term, organizations will have to not only maintain awards for top-performers but also consider tying bonuses and incentives to crisis-related health and-safety metrics.
With no ‘rules of the game’, and such rapid evolution, it’s not surprising that many companies feel they don’t know where or how to start. They need fresh thinking and new approaches on a whole range of topics – including how to create a ‘new deal’ that works for their people.
5- HR Revolution Middle East: The digital transformation has changed totally the way businesses make decisions. Given that almost every organization has been forced into a new way of working, how can they navigate through a new normal?
Mr. Vijay Gandhi:
The positive new is that, apart from solving immediate effects of the crisis, we have seen a resilience to operate from home by employees and employers moving from “no flexible hours” to “you can work remotely if the job doesn’t require you to come to the office”.
Whilst it’s great to move to more flexibility, we may be going over the top to think that this will be the norm for all employee segments. Let me share some of the discussions with HR professionals in last few months in the region.
- Leadership matters and they want to be visible with the workforce. Ask any leader when do they have the most impact? It’s when they are spending time with their people to engage with them and enable them by listening to their concerns.
- There were aspects of our lives – work, family, friends – which were separate but now happening all in one physical space. The self-complexity theory shows that individuals become vulnerable to negative feelings when these social activities and goals aren’t differentiated.
- Certain roles in healthcare, manufacturing, hospitality sectors cannot work remotely, and fantastic efforts have been made to make the workplace safe.
- Sales and Business development were areas identified as most dependent on face-to-face meetings. According to Harvard Business research, in-person meetings were seen as most effective for:
- Negotiating important contracts (82%)
- Interviewing senior staff for key positions (81%)
- Understanding and listening to important customers (69%)
Although there are many reasons why video conferencing works well to stay connected in isolation and keep dispersed teams connected and aligned, latest research shows they wear on the psyche in complicated ways. Psychologists say a new phenomenon “video call fatigue” is emerging. It describes the feeling of being worn out by back-to-back virtual meetings and having to perform for the camera by over-scheduling ourselves.
So, whilst working from home since March 2020 was considered as a great move from being non-flexible to trusting people, it’s now time to rationalize our thinking. The answer lies somewhere in the middle by being flexible and not drifting like nomads too. We cannot take all home and it won’t be forever.
6- HR Revolution Middle East: How did all the twists and turns occurred in 2020 changed the traditional way organizations used to manage pay? Do you expect that businesses would return to the normal management of pay in 2021?
Mr. Vijay Gandhi:
Shifting to “people” priorities in 2021
2020 will be a fable for us to share with generations to come. It is a year which has revolutionized the way we work and adapt to uncertainty. A year which started with negativity around jobs and pay cuts. Life came to a stand-still. Organizations who have survived the pandemic have shown tremendous resilience and agility to adapt to tough times. As costs were taken out of the business in the first half of the year, we have seen higher productivity and the drive to restore profitability. It was also a year where there remained no doubt that that the most critical driver for any organization was its workforce.
2021 is here and there has been never a tipping point like this before for governments and organizations to transform how they work, engage the employees and service their clients. It is this mix of internal and external challenges that will also create opportunities for leaders to make a difference as we embark upon a new calendar year.
Transformation in business set-up and labour reforms were on top of the agenda in 2020. The Labour Reform Initiative (LRI) brought into action by MHRSD in Saudi under the National Transformation Program (NTP) has swung the focus back onto shared services and their significance in the Saudi business world. This initiative has not only set a strong precedent for the future of workers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) but also carved a structured model for businesses looking to hire personnel. Similarly, there were 2 landmark moves in United Arab Emirates (UAE)
- allowing foreign investors to own local companies without the need for an Emirati sponsor will open doors for more FDI and greater business opportunities.
- allowing professionals to reside and work in Dubai residency rule was a big boon for professionals in workplaces where they are delivering or leading teams remotely.
The road ahead for employees working in this region looks bright as these reforms would strengthen labour competencies, enrich the work environment, and put together an inviting job market. The flexibility will help employers in 2021 to drive innovations, provide access to more talent, drive performance and results regardless of where the team is located in the region.
Leaders will have to go beyond showing interest in the development of everyone and be empathetic towards employees who survived the crisis with them in 2020. In fact, the ‘Global Workplace Study 2020’ by ADP Research Institute shows that employees are approximately 13 times more likely to be resilient when more workplace disruption occurs. Empathy was shown by employees in many ways e.g. working from home in different circumstances or taking a pay cut to help companies save further job cuts.
Technology innovation is here to stay
Organizations in both the public and private sectors had to make a change in the way they work and move to digitization. Another conundrum we are presently facing is the real-estate impacts of employees desiring greater work-life flexibility. It’s unlikely that office spaces will disappear overnight, but rather a greater integration of virtual and in-person work is right around the corner. The recent decision by Dubai Government to work-from-home comes at the back of flexible working hours announced in April 2020. Workplace flexibility works best when implemented to address both the organization’s need to for a leaner workforce and employees’ need for work/life support.
The social element of your workplace has likely taken on a much different look in 2021. You may have employees in a social distance-friendly environment, employees working from home, or a mix of both. Organizations will have to find ways to encourage them to stay connected while being physically disconnected. Even before the pandemic COVID-19 had entered our vocabulary, burnout, stress and anxiety were significant issues in the workplace, and society generally. Once we throw the mental health impact into the mix, and work-related stress is likely to reach staggering levels. Going into 2021, leaders must promote the mental wellbeing and invest into benefits which will bring people together in a different way.
7- HR Revolution Middle East: What final tips would you give to business leaders at the beginning of 2021 with all the apprehensions and fears they have for the new wave of covid-19?
Mr. Vijay Gandhi:
Technology will continue to dominate the workplace and improve efficiencies. However, the most valuable services in the marketplace will always be done better by humans. In an era defined by crisis, where emotional intelligence, compassion, resilience, and morality may prove more important than ever before, the future of work is human. If business is about humans, the future of work must be too.
One thing to look forward to in 2021 from job and career perspective is slow change. Disruption has already happened. However, more often and less discussed are the small changes occurring each day that eventually add up to huge impacts. The present moment is worthy of your attention.
Interview with Meiraj Hussain, Head of Corporate Support & Group HR at Al Masaood
Interviewer: Mariham Magdy
“An open and progressive business organizational culture is described as having a healthy work environment where employees feel valued and are recognized as fundamental to the success of an organization” Meiraj Hussain
Brief Biography about the Interviewee:
Meiraj Hussain, Head of Corporate Support and Group HR
Meiraj Hussain joined Al Masaood as Group Head of Human Resources in 2017, bringing over 20 years of professional experience as HR Leader across multiple industries such as Automotive, FMCG, Manufacturing, IT, Services, Real Estate, and Trading. Prior to joining Al Masaood, Meiraj has managed the Human Resources function in both multinational corporations and family-owned businesses across UK, Europe, and the Middle East.
In his current role, Meiraj places great emphasis on talent management, employee-experience, high-performance culture, and leadership excellence development. He is an advocate of building a progressive work culture where trust is the backbone of relationships and creating a workplace wherein employee empowerment and engagement plays a crucial role. Meiraj strongly believes in the digitization of systems and processes, thus, leading to better business results. Moreover, Meiraj has played an extensive role in the Emiratization initiative with the Ministry of Human Resources & Emiratization (MoHRE) to ensure top-tier UAE Nationals are recruited and retained within Al Masaood, consequently resulting Al Masaood to become a proud Platinum Partner with MoHRE.
HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: Meiraj welcome to HR Revolution Middle East, we are so happy to make this interview with you. You have extensive experience in different industries such as automotive, FMCG, manufacturing, IT, services, real estate, and trading in both multinational corporations and family-owned businesses across the UK, Europe, and the Middle East. How does HRM differ according to the industry, and also according to the business type (multinational corporations and family-owned businesses)?
Meiraj Hussain: Across industries, Human Resources Management (HRM) is a critical part of business operations that focuses on unleashing the people’s best potentials and building a work culture where employees can truly flourish. From process improvement and employee experience enhancement to talent management and performance, HR professionals, as a success partner and enabler, play a diverse role in any organization regardless of business type.
The difference, however, lies in organizational culture. While multinationals have robust policies and processes in place, local family-owned companies are often more agile and faster in implementing the best practices.
HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: Meiraj, I loved so much this statement in your bio: “He is an advocate of building progressive work culture.” How can we build a “progressive work culture?” What advice would you share with other HR professionals about that?
Meiraj Hussain: An open and progressive business organizational culture is described as having a healthy work environment where employees feel valued and are recognized as fundamental to the success of an organization. All workers have so much to offer and contribute, but, oftentimes, they are constrained by internal dynamics, poor leadership, and weak policies designed to create “carbon copies” instead of celebrating and unleashing individual ideas and potentials. Another equally important feature of progressive work culture is employee engagement. As humans, we can easily lose our motivation, which translates to poor performance and low productivity in the workplace. In such a case, HR professionals can steer the employees back to the path of motivation and engagement by taking quick and corrective actions that effectively address employee sentiments and issues.
HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: Digital disruption is one of the most important challenges facing organizations nowadays. To what extent shall organizations shift to the digitization of work processes? How would this lead to better business results? What considerations shall they take in this transformation process?
Meiraj Hussain: At this age and time, digitalization is considered a business enabler. It is for this reason that businesses should consider transforming through automation their time-consuming and mundane processes. By freeing their employees from doing repetitive tasks, they can shift their attention to business-critical tasks such as in the areas enhancing customer experience and driving revenue. For the HR department, the staff can focus their time on core areas of performance, leadership, employee development and people support.
HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: Employee engagement is always an important topic among HR leaders worldwide. Would you share with us how Al Masaood can use its strategy as a tool to empower the employees and engage them in its success journey?
Meiraj Hussain: Communication is the backbone of employee empowerment and engagement. As such, we consider it important to know the sentiments of our employees so that the management can act and address them accordingly. We measure employee sentiments through surveys regularly conducted at the business unit and corporate support levels. Additionally, through the joint efforts of the HR department and the Marketing and Communications office, Al Masaood’s strategy, organizational viewpoints and milestones, and challenges are communicated to the employees across departments to provide clarity about their role and impact on the organization’s success under the guidance of their respective managers and leaders.
HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: Meiraj, you played an extensive role in the Emiratization initiative of the Ministry of Human Resources & Emiratization (MOHRE). Can you walk us through the Emiratization initiatives Al Masaood has recently taken?
Meiraj Hussain: In response to the directives of the country’s wise leaders and as per the decision of its Board of Directors, Al Masaood has fully expressed its strong support for the Emiratization initiative. More and more Emiratis continue to join our employees of different nationalities. Al Masaood’s Emiratisation program comprises four main pillars: the Internship program, the Functional Training program, the Scholarship Program, and Job opportunities; which all aim to enhance the skills of university students, fresh graduates, and experienced Emiratis, and equip them with the required competencies across business units and corporate support departments. Our Emiratization journey has begun two years ago, starting with offering UAE nationals internship opportunities and training programs. We have also ramped up our recruitment drives in universities as well as formed partnerships with vocational institutes such as Abu Dhabi Vocational Education and Training Institute (ADVETI) to advance the employment of Emirati youth. The UAE Government’s measure to close the salary gap between the public and private sectors is a major boost to our Emiratization efforts as well. In recognition of the intensified Emiratization initiatives across the Al Masaood Group, we have achieved the Platinum Partner status given by the MoHRE. Rest assured that we will continue to recruit local talents, invest in their skills development, and provide them with opportunities for growth in a progressive and fast-paced work environment.
HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: Meiraj, you wrote a series of very interesting articles, posted on your LinkedIn profile. One of the controversial articles you wrote is “The Inglorious 6 – HR Types to Avoid.” What made you write this article? What important traits shall HR professionals have, on the contrary, from your point of view?
Meiraj Hussain: “The Inglorious- 6” article went viral and I received comments and feedback from global HR thought leaders. The article uses humor to identify some of the common pitfalls HR leaders should avoid.
HR, as a profession, is going through an identity crisis and, unfortunately, many professionals may not make it through in the course of this transformation. HR is an art and it’s understood through practice; HR is learned through doing and mentorship. Further, there is an unclaimed territory in organizations that other corporate support functions are not addressing. This territory can be claimed by HR.
But the biggest enemy facing HR today is mediocrity. It could be mediocrity of people, leadership or processes, which, in turn, leads to the mediocrity of performance and business results. Leaders need to determine the high standards that their respective organizations should adhere to for them to compete successfully in their markets. This is because consumers are now less and less forgiving of companies that deliver average value in terms of experience and engagement.
HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: Finally, what should be the focus of HR initiatives in organizations nowadays?
Meiraj Hussain: HR initiatives should be in sync with the company’s overall growth strategy. Once this is clear, the implementation plan can be developed. The initiatives can cover talent and leadership; training and development; processes and technology; performance; culture; and talent acquisition and management, among others. The major consideration in executing these initiatives is to identify how they support the leadership in its efforts to attain the vision of the organization. It is important to note as well that HR acts as the voice of reason with leaders. It should be able to challenge management decisions and resolve conflict for the good of all. Moreover, HR is the voice against the hidden enemy of mediocrity.
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