INTERVIEWER: MAHMOUD MANSI
EDITOR: MENNATULLAH ZEINELDIN
PHOTOGRAPHY: OMNEYA DIAA
About DOORS Egypt: In December 2014 a new kind of “game” was introduced to the Egyptian culture; that is “Escape Games”. It started in Cairo and now through DOORS Egypt, launched on the 12th of November 2015, the game has arrived in Alexandria. Escape games or escape rooms are widely spread in different countries like the UK. Doors is a real life escape room simulation game, where you get to have a real life experience of action and excitement. Participants are locked in one room of their choice for one whole hour in a team consisting of 3 to 5 members. They have to work together in order to find a way out. The participants “will have to solve mind games, puzzles and riddles to try to get out of it.” So far there are three different scenarios in Doors: Haunted Room, Wild West Jail and White House Down.
The project is founded by a group of young Egyptians with the average age of 25. The founders are a mixture of Engineers and a business specialist.
1-HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: You are introducing a new product to the Alexandrian community. What are the consumer behavior challenges that faced you?
DOORS Team: People are used to hearing about a tangible product. When customers heard about our escape games they tended to ask themselves then ask us “What do I get in return after solving the riddle?”
People are used to receiving a gift when doing something, even if this thing is for their own benefit, like beating a mental and physiological challenge. However, after playing the game they understand the magnitude of the benefit and they come to play the other games. Our challenge is to convince them of this from the beginning.
2-HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: There are many computer games that enhance the strategy and ability to work in teams; like Counter Strike and Generals Zero for example. How is that different from what you offer?
DOORS Team: Of course these games have a very positive effect on strategy and teamwork; however, what we offer is totally different. It is not a computer, or a virtual game. It is a game where you interact mentally and physically, excluding the virtual world. You communicate, debate, persuade, brainstorm, experiment, use trial and error, you lead and follow, all in a reality and not in a virtual world. Even in videogames they are currently trying to encourage physical action, because physical action along with mental action generates better results.
In Doors, it is not a videogame; it’s a real life experience. We even encourage all our guests to avoid using the phone while they are in the waiting area. We want people to take a break from technology and use a different kind of intelligence, thus we provide them with puzzles until their turn comes.
3-HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: As an HR Magazine we are also interested to know about the conflict between having your career and your own private business. As the business owners of DOORS, do you have a day job? And why didn’t you quit after launching your own private business?
DOORS Team: Yes most of us have day jobs. We didn’t quit because as soon as you can manage your time, schedule and balance between your jobs without negative interference, we think everybody should invest in his or her free time, besides it would lower the risk that anyone would feel at the beginning of their business or startup.
4-HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: Do your employers know that you have your own private business? Does this create any sort of conflict with them?
DOORS Team: Yes, they know we have our own business, yet, it does not cause conflict at all since we are all able to create a balance.
5-HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: On your page you introduced the idea of DOORS very well, yet recently you have posted on your page a very different ad, and you wrote on the post “Tag your Manager”, what was the effect of this advertisement on the consumers?
DOORS Team: It attracted many employees who were actually tagging their managers which helped us reach a different segment of people. This ad also highlighted the importance of venturing escape games to the corporate field, and building a bridge between viewing this as an exciting game and viewing it as a professional training.
6-HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: For employees, what is the value added? What do they actually learn and can apply in their organizations?
DOORS Team: The following values are added to employees, students and even family members. They experience and learn more about teamwork, dealing with stress, leadership, dealing with conflicts. In the end they all reach a conclusion that they need each other in order to survive this, so it doesn’t matter who is the leader and who is the follower, what matters is the teamwork and result, because some people can be leaders in their work or life, but when they enter the challenge they get surprised by finding one of their friends being the new leader in the game. The challenge actually makes people discover more about their capabilities, know their negatives and positives, and most of all learn how to follow, and when to follow.
7-HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: What are the different departments that form DOORS?
DOORS Team: There is the CEO, board of directors (responsible for the management process), and the rest of the founders are only investors. As for the departments, we have a Marketing and PR department, and another department related to the direct management of the place itself and the guests. There is a third department called the “control room” which consists of a team that is responsible for monitoring the people inside the rooms and making sure they follow the rules of the game. This department also focuses on the people’s safety. In the end, they provide the players with comprehensive feedback. We also have Eng. Ahmed Abd El-Hafeez as our CFO; he is responsible for the accounting sheets, the salaries and dealing with our lawyer.
8-HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: Launching a business in a field that is somehow new to your backgrounds, did you create the management and workflow system from the start, or was it a trial and error?
DOORS Team: We had our own system organized from the very start, yet after the opening we made lots and lots of updates, because as we worked we discovered details that were not there before on paper.
9-HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: As a startup, when did you start the recruitment process?
DOORS Team: Five weeks before the opening. We started the recruitment after the venue was ready, and after we started our marketing campaign, which was outsourced. We started the campaign in October 2015 and we opened in November. The marketing campaign helped us in two ways: it increased the audience’s awareness of what we do, and helped us a lot in starting the recruitment process.
10-HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: How did you start the recruitment process?
DOORS Team: The recruitment process took around three weeks. We first started by writing the job skills and specifications that we seek in our employees, and we wrote a brief about the job without going into details, because the idea was still new and maybe job seekers would be hesitant to send us their CVs. We thought that the face to face orientation would be best. We then posted the jobs in several recruitment websites and social media pages.
Around 90% of the applicants heard about us from the recruitment on social media pages. We filtered the CVs, then made the calls and interviewed the applicants. The ones who were accepted were well trained. The first thing we did with the applicants was letting them into the escape room as their first training. The accepted candidates were very happy as they imagined a totally different working environment when they first read the ad, and the reality is that we create a very fun environment for our employees.
11-HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: What was the age group of the applicants who sent you their CVs?
DOORS Team: We received CVs from different age groups, but the majority came from fresh graduates and undergraduates.
12-HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: On what basis did you filter the CVs?
DOORS Team: Since we are not searching for technical qualifications and we are more into the personality of the applicant and his/her ability to deal with people, their qualities are difficult to spot in the CV. Unfortunately you will find most of the CVs written in the same way, and in the end in the “Skills section” the applicants write the same exact things: leadership, teamwork, ability to work under stress, multitasking, etc…
Since most of the CVs were kind of similar, we interviewed around 90% of the applicants. When the applicants emailed their CVs to us, many of them left both the subject of the email and the body empty. They should address each company with its name and with a decent message. Some other applicants sent us their CVs in a long email thread, as they sent their CVs to DOORS and to 19 other different companies in the same email. Many organizations do not accept CVs this way. We did.
We carefully reviewed all the CVs and we were not judgmental; however, we advise jobseekers in general to always address the employer in the subject and in the body of the email.
In CV filtering, we mainly focused on the enrollment of the applicant in civil and social work, because this tells a lot about their personality. It also shows that they also have good social and communication skills.
13-HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: Were there any applicants who avoided the repetition of information in their CVs?
DOORS Team: Around 5% of the CVs did not have this repetition, and they were mostly engineers. I think engineers care more about highlighting their technical abilities.
14-HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: Did you outsource a recruitment consultant to help you in the selection or you have done that on your own?
DOORS Team: We all worked together on this without outsourcing as one of our team members– the CEO Mr. Ayman Ghareeb – is specialized in the HR field.
15-HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: How did the interviews go?
DOORS Team: Well we started with the usual questions asking the applicants to introduce themselves; then, we started asking them about the activities and details mentioned in their CVs. We found out that many of the applicants were not 100% accurate in the information they gave us, and a few of them exaggerated about their activities. From the interview you can know who was actually an active and knowledgeable member and who was only claiming to be so.
16-HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: Did you provide feedback to those who were not accepted in the interviews?
DOORS Team: We only informed them that there was someone else accepted. Since our selection was based on personality traits and not technical ones so this would be a very sensitive area, not everyone would be willing to receive criticism or advice in a positive way.
17-HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: As an Egyptian employee, what are your comments regarding HR in Egypt?
DOORS Team: I don’t think HR is well implemented in most companies in Egypt except for multinationals. HR should be more concerned with the problems of the employees, not only problems that are directly related to work. HR should also consider people’s moods and put them in a working environment that constantly refreshes their moods and high spirits.
Here in Egypt due to the high rate of unemployment, many companies abuse this fact and deal with their employees in a way that includes some abuse, kind of like saying “You should be thankful that you are currently employed.” However, the way I see it, the employees should have a specific time and fun place to have their breaks in, there should be games to release their stress as well.
18-HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: Assuming that most of the HR mentality in Egypt is thinking this way, how do you think you can approach them to see DOORS and escape games as a sort of training to their employees?
DOORS Team: This is a challenge of course, since our work is to create challenges, so this will be an exciting one for us. We will prove that it is a win-win situation for companies to use this training. In the end, the manager wants to see actual results, in the form of production, money and intelligence. When the manager comes to visit us, and observes the attitudes and reflex actions of the gamers from the control room, he/she will know how this is a truly effective way of training. Not only so, but it will show the manager the hidden capabilities in people that were not visible through their routine tasks, especially when applied to his/her employees.
Eventually, the manager can build decisions on reallocating the roles of employees in his/her own company and will know more about their strengths and weaknesses in only one hour, which is something that might take months or years to discover in your employees through the routine.
HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: Thank you so much Mr. Mohamed and your team for this interview and for the inspiring changes you are making to the social and business culture in Alexandria.
Interview with Mustafa Naisah, Mustafa Naisah, People Learning & Growth Partner
“We need to tap into the mind-set and enhance it by changing the story we tell ourselves each morning and in every situation, and that requires some training and practice. Once we acquire that positive, proactive, and growth mind-set, it will flawlessly reflect on our behaviors, and eventually the results we get.” Mustafa Naisah
Interviewer: Mariham Magdy
Brief Biography About the Interviewee:
Mustafa Naisah, People Learning & Growth Partner (CRP, ORSC, CVT, ADTTAL, MBA).
Mustafa has extensive experience in the GCC region since 2005 working with Pay TV and Telecom organizations such as Arab Radio and Television (ART), Pehla, FirstNet, ShowTime, and du Telecom, to help them deliver on their brand promise and achieve their commercial aspiration through people and culture development. His last role at du Telecom as a Sr. Manager People Learning & Growth for the Enterprise Business & ICT for 14 years was invaluable one as he assisted in shifting from conventional training methodologies to a more agile and digital one, with many key achievements such as launching Marketing, Sales and Service, and ICT Academies, applying ROI methodologies and enhancing overall business results.
1. HR Revolution Middle East: Welcome to HR Revolution Middle East Magazine. It’s our pleasure to make this interview with you.
“Changing behaviors to deliver stunning business results” what a catchy introduction to your respectable profile. How can we change people’s behaviors?
Mustafa Naisah: Pleasure is mine to be interviewed by HR Revolution Middle East Magazine. I hope I can provide your readers with few tips that they find practical and actionable
I believe that, if we want to change the results we achieve as individuals or as a business, we need to change the behaviors we demonstrate. However, these behaviors stem from the feelings, which can’t be easily changed, unless we work on the deeper cause of the feelings, and that is The Mind-Set.
The mindset is the reason why we feel the way we do, and therefore, act –behave- the way we do, thus, get the results that are always linked to how we behave.
We need to tap into the mind-set and enhance it by changing the story we tell ourselves each morning and in every situation, and that requires some training and practice. Once we acquire that positive, proactive, and growth mind-set, it will flawlessly reflect on our behaviors, and eventually the results we get.
2- HR Revolution Middle East: How does people behaviors shape organizations?
Mustafa Naisah: Individual behavior, group behaviors, and organizational system correlate together to form the shape of the organization, however, each one has its impacts
Most of organizations nowadays have competitors that offer the same products or services. The main differentiator to why customers will choose one over the other is the authenticity in the way they are being served. This service is delivered through people, thus the formula is simple: Happy employees = Happy customers.
Having the right products or services, knowledge, skills, processes, and abilities is critical, however, to stand out of the crowd, the multiplier for that is the mindset.
The key to success for most organizations is how they motivate and empower their employees to demonstrate 3 behaviors: Empathy, taking ownership, and creating a culture of feedback and coaching.
If we manage to create the right mind-set and improve these 3 behaviors, the results is guaranteed and the organization will have the desired culture and shape, and shape. Ultimately, it’s all about how we treat our internal and external customers, however, customer service is not a department. It’s an attitude.
3- HR Revolution Middle East: As a Certified ROI Professional, how does the ROI Methodology inspire leaders to plan for preparing people reactions towards new projects? To what extent do you believe that this critical factor can impact the success or failure of any project?
Mustafa Naisah: This is indeed an excellent question. See, all organizations would require an answer to the question: why will I invest my time, money, and resources in this project or initiative? What’s in it for me (WIIFM)? And it’s absolutely a justifiable question. A lot of organizations now understand that ROI is a since and an art. Unlike a few years ago when the assumption was ROI is merely applicable when purchasing a new machine, or asset, or deploying a new system. Organizations now prefer to measure all the 5 levels of the evaluations, and the 5th one (ROI) is applied to strategic initiatives as a standard practice nowadays.
You can’t improve what you can’t measure. ROI actually can be greatly predictive as well, and to a high extent of accuracy, thanks to its scientific methodologies and isolation techniques. Moreover, it can measure not only the return on investment (ROI) but also the return on emotions (ROE) for a short term and a long term and it provides that to a very wide array of projects, investments, and programs that many people are not aware that it can be measured. Doing so gives the organization a good predictive indicator whether to proceed or not, and later on, whether to continue or not. Moreover it justifies the money that was spent as the results are measured and analysed.
4-HR Revolution Middle East: As a lecturer to MBA Students, what specific value do you believe the MBA offers to professionals in today’s business world? At what age do you advise professionals to complete their MBA Degrees?
Mustafa Naisah: I personally believe one should not rush to the MBA unless he knows clearly why they are heading for it. With the many MB specializations, one should go for the relevant and applicable specialisation. Otherwise it may not add the same value. New graduates should spend the first two or three years deciding what is it that they really want to do. During these years they may change jobs at a very low cost. Once they have the clarity on what they’ll be doing, it is the right time to go for the MBA (or other qualifications such as CIPD in case of HR Professionals) as it will be more relevant and it will relate to things they are already doing or seeing in the real-world environment.
5- HR Revolution Middle East: What are the most common challenges do People Managers face in order to maintain a positive organizational culture? What special tips would you share with HR professionals about this?
Mustafa Naisah: Silence and sense of indifference by employees. That’s is the most poisonous item to the culture, and that can be from both sides, manager to subordinates and vice versa. However, managers are responsible and accountable for not eliminating this culture killer.
Imagine a culture where the company mission, vision, values, and promise are not communicated clearly and instilled in the employees. That is silence. The reason # 1 for employee engagement and performance is having a clear sense of their MEANING. Imagine if that wasn’t nurtured in them.
Imagine when a company is going through a restructure or change initiatives and employees are sitting worried, confused, hearing rumors, and not knowing what’s going on, due to the silence. Can you see the impact on the employee productivity?
Imagine a company that doesn’t talk to its employees unless something goes wrong. A super-achiever or even an on-target achiever that doesn’t hear an appreciation or encouragement, or an underachiever that doesn’t receive constructive feedback, personal development plan, and proper coaching, just to realize when it’s too late that he has not been doing well.
For the above and many more reasons, I regard silence as the biggest challenge and companies that want to maintain a positive and healthy culture must have strategies to switch to a culture where communication, feedbacks, and coaching are daily practices.
6– HR Revolution Middle East: How can organizations quantify the ROI of having positive leadership styles in the workplace?
Mustafa Naisah: This is a controversial question and not an easy one to answer in fact. Jack Philips & Patricia Pulliam published an interesting book named “Measuring Leadership Development” where he linked the positive leadership style with the organizational performance, then quantified that into Impact on Business and ROI. In short, many companies claim that they care about their leadership, but few only show the commitment to that philosophy. Many companies promote employees to become managers based on technical performance, but unless they invest in their development, and equip them with the sophisticated competencies and skills, both hard and soft, with a deep sense of when to offer help and directions and when to hold back. Leaders are most effective when they drive team performance, that means engaging, inspiring, and coaching, doing fewer tasks themselves, and spend more time helping others achieve better results.
Investing in positive leadership development pays-off in many ways. Trust, engagement, retention and reduced turnover, productivity and performance, in addition to many other things that can’t be measured in numbers. Engaged employees are more likely to work 140% for their best boss, and thus the overall company performance improves.
7- HR Revolution Middle East: What final piece of advice would you share with HR professionals world-wide to develop special competencies that can help them excel in todays’ business challenges?
Mustafa Naisah: My advice to HR professionals is to comprehend their business very well, engage and partner with them, and add value to them. Widen your skills and network and stay updated with best practices and industry trends. Be a game changer without essentially trying to apply every new trend or practice that are seen as the “topic of the hour”. What works for others may not necessarily work for your organization. Focus on the desired outcome. Finally, Communicate, communicate communicate…
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.
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