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Interview with Chief Identity Hacker ~ Sallyann Della Casa

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Organized By: Mahmoud Mansi

“When people feel safe and a sense of belonging to fully show up in life and work that’s where ‘business unusual’ happens and the whole world pays attention.”

Sallyann Della Casa

ABOUT THE INTERVIEWEE

Sallyann is the Chief Identity Hacker at GLEAC, a “future of work” technology focused company using cutting edge neuro-science and behavioral science + A.I. and Machine Learning + Soft Skills Micro-Learning to resolve 21st century organizational challenges.

She also heads up the Growing Leaders Foundation which designs and mobilizes, using corporates as teachers, 21st century skills to schools across the MENA region and Caribbean. She has worked with reputed companies such as Nestle, DP World, NBAD, Repsol, Mubadala, Careem, etc… in the region and has delivered soft skills to over 25,000 youths and adults through her Foundation in the last 6 years.

Sallyann holds a judiciary doctorate, degrees and certifications in Law, Urban Planning, French and Italian and Organizational Behavior from Harvard University, University of Miami, St. Thomas University and Franklin College. She is a published author and speaks five languages. She developed and holds patent-pending technology on measuring soft skills.

THE INTERVIEW

  1. HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: You are using A.I. through your APP, GLEAC to make people more human… is that not very ironic and how exactly are you doing it?

Sallyann Della Casa: The magic is often in the unexpected (said with a chuckle). Our heads are all swirling due to the share length, breadth and speed of technology, robots, A.I., Chatbots, etc… in the HR space, but the truth is the real winners will be those of us with superior human skills.

In an October 2017 CNN interview between Fareed Zakaria and Satya Nadella (the CEO of Microsoft), Satya noted: “In a world where there is a lot of artificial intelligence, real intelligence will be scarce.” Fareed then hit the nail on the head when he chipped in adding: “The challenge is for human beings to figure out how to become more human!”

So why would we not use A.I. to help us embrace our humanness?

A.I. is used in GLEAC to answer the following basic questions:

  • Who is the right human with the personality, skills and behavior who can thrive and deliver in a particular role in my organization?

This is the million-dollar question. Gleac uses proven science backed behavioral tests to competency map the people within an organization on their values, behavior, motivations, soft skills, etc… and then align this to dynamic corporate outcomes. A.I. can quickly decipher the people and performance patterns on both soft and hard skills, situational judgment, etc… providing a LIVING cohesive self-adjusting snapshot of a workplace. All of this means a company can predict its present bottom line and its future next move. People are no longer the wildcards when we Gleacerize them ;-).

  • How do I measure ROI when developing people in soft skills such as leadership, etc…?

The reason soft skills training in any organization is the first thing to go when tightening the belt is because the impact and outcome is not clear, not measured nor tied to the bottom line. Soft skills development such as creativity, judgement and decision making, communication, etc… all require us to approach something or someone with a new filter. This means we have to develop a new habit or strengthen an existing one. That can only be done with purposeful practice and not the mindless kind of 10,000 hours gets us good at anything. We use A.I. to note the improvement in your quality of thought in our daily 5-minute situational micro-learning modules practicing with precision 10 core soft skills applicable to any 21-century workplace. With time our A.I. learns and measures the improvement in how you are practicing this skill. That info coupled with an automatic simultaneous integration to your performance tell us way more than sending an employee to a weekend team-work and innovation retreat.

  • What combination of people within my workforce can give me a World Cup Title?

Vertical career paths become a thing of the past. Workforces are becoming more virtual and internally fluid, assembling and dis-assembling for projects, so knowing exactly the recipe of an all start team to tackle various organization challenges is critical. On a macro level GLEAC uses A.I. to assemble in one click your A team in a dynamic way given every day it is self-learning your people and performance patterns.

  1. HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: What are we so afraid/apprehensive about unemotional A.I. in the touchy-feely space of HR?

Sallyann Della Casa: We reject any change really. But I do have to say A.I. in HR is really personal since it is taking away from us our human biases, prejudices, assumptions, etc… that literally has driven HR decisions for decades.

  1. HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: If you can share with us three examples of how A.I. can immediately turn around an HR problem.

Sallyann Della Casa:

  • Resumes are the absolute worst predictor of the ability of a person to perform a job yet we still use it. The most cutting edge A.I. driven multi-measures tests, like the one we have on GLEAC, are the absolute best predictor of performance.
  • Many companies are using Chatbots such as Amber and Talktospot to get proper reporting and metrics on employee engagement or workplace harassment as an example.
  • Sexual discrimination is being tackled head on by companies such as Textio with algorithms that ensure job postings are gender neutral.
  1. HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: You started out at 21 as a corporate lawyer, tell us how you ended up here in the A.I space given you have “0 coding or tech” experience.

Sallyann Della Casa: Don’t count me out so fast! Laszlo Boch, head of Google People for over 10 years, also started out as a lawyer. He moved Google away from traditional HR bringing into HR 30% business consultant types, 30% analytic types and 30% traditional HR types into the People Operations mix which set the stage for the performance we all read about at Google.

Our calling often shows up during childhood and I have always been that kid fully showing up and prodding others along to do it through coaching, mentoring, teaching, etc… It may have come across as trouble making back then but today in the world we live in we want our people leaving no parts of their identity at the door. When people feel safe and a sense of belonging to fully show up in life and work that’s where “business unusual” happens and the whole world pays attention. As for the A.I., well I have to admit I am love data, patterns, etc… but I am not being a micro-person so A.I. became my best friend completing me in many ways, filling my gaps.

  1. HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: How is your work at your Foundation, Growing Leaders, different from the work in your at GLEAC?

Sallyann Della Casa: What I do to make a living and what I do to make the world a better place has never been so aligned. I can only see it now looking back. The Foundation I started 7 years ago with my inheritance when my dad passed away. I wanted to ensure every child knew he or she was more than a report card. As a result the Foundation teaches and have always taught the exact same 21-century skills we do on GLEAC only off-line and under the umbrella of Leadership. The Foundation has also always used corporates to teach these skills in classrooms. It was as if I always knew the corporates needed to teach through their people what they themselves needed to lean the most. GLEAC does the exact same work of the Foundation only on-line using cutting edge science and technology. Many GLEAC clients I end up putting through the Foundation program to humanize further their Gleac experience. In the end, both GLEAC and the Foundation help us to show up fully who we are and who we can become in the world. What an absolute gift I have been given re-define how we see ourselves and our role in the world!

  1. HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: You clearly have an addiction to discovering people’s potential, is there any evidence or experiences from your childhood that has influenced you into this arena?

Sallyann Della Casa: Both my Foundation and GLEAC are expressions of my own potential, not purposely by my parents who did not know any better, being shut down and ignored as a child. If you look really close at Founders doing really significant work, you will see this common thread of trying to undo a wrong on themselves so I am not alone. I have always been a misfit of sorts. Super confident, curious as ever, never belonging to any one social circle, speaking up about uncomfortable things, etc… and all of that got ignored and/or often times suppressed by the adults around me for fear of who I might become. As a result I went into a shell and became who everyone wanted me to be, great student (3 degrees and 5 languages), lawyer at 21, sat on the right boards, etc, etc… living a life where the doors that made up my identity were 90% shut with no key. Then something shifted when I turned 30. In the unravelling of myself, I have come to discover that it is in the teaching others and helping them find their own potential, I discover the bigness of my own. Make no mistake I am doing the work I was placed here on this earth to do… I can feel it to my core.

  1. HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: Your book is titled “Who will I Become”… we are going to turn the tables on you and ask, “Who is Sallyann going to become?”

Sallyann Della Casa: How very sad it would be if I told you exactly who I was going to become. All I can tell you is I am so going to blow my own mind with my becomings which I plan on happening over and over again until my last breath. Just watch (mischievous smile)!

  1. HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: Let’s say a company wants more women in C-suite positions and came to you to program their leadership academy using your patent-pending technology of GLEAC, what is your unique offering?

Sallyann Della Casa: This is a problem we are actually solving for a few global hospitality companies right now. Really simple: 1- We canvass using our cutting edge behavioral and neuro-science tests top females in this same or similar role within the local context or similar local context, 2- Our SaaS data science system maps the results along with unique Company indicators such as values, etc… coupled with any other verified and published indicators of the same stakeholder group, 3- We create our “ideal success mould/template” to develop women to be C-level ready, 4- We identify through high potential candidates using our unique tests, 5- We then co-design the L and D pathway using GLEAC and other providers to obtain the desired outcomes which is monitored live on our dashboards.

  1. HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: Why are psychometrics not accurate predictors of performance given many companies use them? And what is the most accurate predictor?

Sallyann Della Casa: Most of us think psychometrics are personality tests and they are not… certainly not alone. There are 3 layers of psychometric tests: Behavioral, Aptitude and Situational Judgement. Behavioral tests are the personality tests and not predictors of performance as a stand-alone test. Aptitude is our capability to do the particular job such as an accountant needing to know how to read a P and L, etc… And situational judgement has to do with how we act in certain instances. This last indicator is probably the most crucial indicator of performance since you may have a candidate who is female, highly persuasive in her behavioral and communication tests but what if culturally this person does not exercise these qualities in the presence of men. And what if the job is corporate communications for a male dominated blockchain company. You can see how she may not be the best person for the job and no test or resume would have shown you that!

  1. HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: You are a very happy person calling everyone “Lovely Human” tell us 3 things you do that allow you to operate in the world in this happy way.

Sallyann Della Casa: Awwwww…. you noticed 😉 My trick to being so happy is simple:

  1. I guard my space like a hawk. I am extremely boundaried with who I allow into my intimate space and circle of influence.
  2. I made a decision that all I have is this moment right now so why not live joy in real time in every moment? Tomorrow is not promised to any of us.
  3. Happy people look young and well just look at my face… ha 😉

THANK YOU

Corporate

Interview with Mr. Vijay Gandhi, Regional Director of Korn Ferry Digital

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“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?

Mr. Vijay Gandhi:

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. 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.
  3. Certain roles in healthcare, manufacturing, hospitality sectors cannot work remotely, and fantastic efforts have been made to make the workplace safe.
  4. 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:
    1. Negotiating important contracts (82%)
    2. Interviewing senior staff for key positions (81%)
    3. 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.

Reforms

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.

Empathy

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.

Balancing wellness

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.

THANK YOU

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Interviews

Interview with Meiraj Hussain, Head of Corporate Support & Group HR at Al Masaood

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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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Interviews

Interview with Eng. Noha Bennis – Founder of Fresco Gelateria

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Interviewer: Mahmoud Mansi

“Engineering helps your mind grow, and teaches your mind to think out of the box, which helps in finding solutions to mostly everything and sometimes unexpected solutions. So of course it helped me a lot in starting my project…”

Noha Bennis
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWEE

Noha Bennis is an animal lover, an enthusiastic traveler, an air yoga practitioner and a young entrepreneur who lives in Alexandria. She studied Electronics and Telecommunications Engineering at Arab Academy for Science and Technology and Maritime Transport and graduated in 2007, worked in corporate for some time then she founded her startup “Fresco Gelateria” in Alexandria, Egypt.

THE INTERVIEW

1- HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: What inspired you to start Fresco? The need to work? The need to make extra income? Or is it something else?

Noha Bennis: I have been working in the field of pastries and desserts for over 7 years, and I wanted to expand my work and be more creative. But actually the main reason is my love for ice cream, so I decided to open an Italian Ice cream parlor (Gelateria).

2- HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: How did you prepare yourself to become the Managing Director of Fresco?

Noha Bennis: I had no experience with ice cream whatsoever, so first thing I signed up for a Gelato course in Italy in one of the best Italian gelato schools. There I learned about Gelato and also they taught us how to manage a Gelateria. The rest of my knowledge I gained from the experience and the market.

3- HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: How did you start your recruitment process from scratch? Were there any challenges?

Noha Bennis: We published an ad in one of the recruitment papers and a lot of people applied for the job. We interviewed them all, and we were very picky with choosing the right staff. Depending on their experience with ice cream, serving and dealing with direct clients.

One of the challenges we faced is that many people who are looking for jobs do not read the job ads well, so they apply for jobs that wasn’t mentioned in the ad, for example we asked for ice cream vendors and they are looking to work as a cashier. And some with other qualifications who want to apply for jobs they are not qualified for.

4- HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: Creating a startup, you had to recruit employees to work in different departments. Which was the most difficult post and why?

Noha Bennis: Recruiting the shop manager was the most difficult of all. Because I was looking for someone experienced with dealing with everything like the staff, the clients, and on top of all this I was looking for a problem solver; someone who can handle and face any problem.

5- HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: Which is more important in a startup, to cutoff expenses or sell more?

Noha Bennis: Selling more is more important.

6- HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: How did your background in engineering support you whether directly or indirectly in starting your own project? Is there any similarity between engineering and creating a business?

Noha Bennis: Engineering helps your mind grow, and teaches your mind to think out of the box, which helps in finding solutions to mostly everything and sometimes unexpected solutions. So of course it helped me a lot in starting my project, it taught me how to be creative. In my opinion, there is no similarity, they complete each other.

Italy

7- HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: When you first launched Fresco, did you reply only on the place to create awareness in consumers’ minds, or did you use other methods?

Noha Bennis: I used social media to create awareness. We posted articles to introduce the differences between gelato and ice cream to costumers. Most of the people thought that gelato is the Italian name for ice cream, which is not correct, they are totally different products.

8- HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: As an engineer, from your observation what are the common problems that face Engineers in Alexandria?

Noha Bennis: Being an engineer in Alexandria is very difficult. Because limited posts are available. All of the company’s head offices are based in Cairo, so usually engineers have better opportunities in Cairo.

9- HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: What advices do you have for people who want to create their own project?

Noha Bennis: Study it very well. Don’t have high expectations at the beginning and not to be depressed! Be creative. Learn from your competitors don’t imitate them. Last but not least, run your own business, don’t leave it for anyone to run it for you even if you see them perfect, still no one will care about your business as much as you do.

10- HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: What advices do you have to already existing startups?

Noha Bennis: Every business has its own difficulties, don’t give up quickly, face them. Listen to your clients, they are the ones that will help you grow and improve.

11- HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: As an ex-employee, what was your criticism regarding the corporate work style? Do you have any advice for management to make it more appealing for the employees?

Noha Bennis: The working environment is very stressful and consumes so much of the employees’ time, leaving them with no family time and social life which are very important aspects of life. The Management sometimes forces employees to work extra hours and sometimes weekends too, which causes the people to be very stressed and angry all the time and this can reflect on clients and family members.

To get the best out of your employees, Management should try to create stress-free working environments, avoid burdening employees with extra working hours and most importantly, no working on weekends.

THANK YOU

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