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Interviews

Interview with Consultant, Entrepreneur, Writer & Speaker ~ Hanane Benkhallouk

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Interviewer: Mahmoud Mansi

Without hard work, ambitions are just wishes for the future.

Hanane Benhkallouk

Executive Director of Sustain Leadership

Hanane Benkhallouk is a multi-industry business consultant with well over eighteen years of professional experience across a broad range of fields. Her work has carried her across the world, touching down in Europe, the United States, and the MENA region. In the past, Hanane has held a multitude of senior managerial roles with governments, Fortune 500 companies, and non-governmental organizations in fields ranging from finance to retail to real estate. Currently, however, Hanane’s professional endeavors primarily take place in the MENA region and she is based in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, where she works as the executive director of Sustain Leadership. Sustain Leadership is a boutique innovation and leadership consulting firm that helps individual entrepreneurs, SMEs, and NGOs achieve their potential. Outside of her work with the firm, Hanane further serves as a mentor a number of UAE-based incubators, such as the Impact Hub Dubai, the Cribb, Intelak and others. She is an accomplished speaker and writer, and has previously had work published in influential publications such as the Harvard Business Review and SME Advisor Arabia.

THE INTERVIEW

1- HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: Hanane, through your profile, it shows the various interesting careers you have been through. We are curious what was the first job you ever had, how old were you at that time, and what did you learn most from this job?

Hanane Benkhallouk: I began my very first job when I was still a student in my native Casablanca. Since I was 17, it was limited position for the summer. A relative of mine worked as an international health exhibition organizer, and she invited me to work as an assistant and hostess for the main exhibitor’s team. They were European, and didn’t speak any Arabic or French. Not many teenagers knew how to speak English, but I had the benefit of understanding the language. At the time, I felt privileged to have an extra skill that created such a wonderful opportunity for me. Looking back, I realize that it was that experience that prompted me to develop and value a “growth mindset,” and to continually strive to learn and develop my skills. That experience also taught me that I was a people person, and ultimately showed me the importance of tailoring a message for audiences from all walks of life.

2- HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: One of the things that is highly appreciated in you is that you work on developing organizations, corporate leaders and entrepreneurs. This means you are exposed to different opinions in the market. Most people ask about the differences between entrepreneurship and corporate, but can you tell us about what you find “common” between them?

Hanane Benkhallouk: People. I believe that the commonality always comes back to people. Sure, we love to put businesses into categories and isolate entrepreneurs from, say, corporate ventures or public sector work. We focus on their products, their founders, and the ways they disrupt the status quo – and every single difference is important and worth looking into. But at the end of the day, all businesses are human-centered. An entrepreneur’s high-flying product can’t guarantee business success any more than a corporate memo can guarantee employee engagement. We need people – leaders – to implement policies, inspire employees, and move their companies towards a vision. Every business requires emotionally intelligent leadership to thrive; developing that quality is an important aspect of the work I do with all of my clients.

3- HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: As an “innovation” coach, how does innovation start? And how do you define it?

Hanane Benkhallouk: It is interesting, because I’ve found that asking five separate people for their definition of innovation will get you five different answers. There are some commonalities: technology and science are common descriptors. But to me, innovation isn’t a single shot of tech inspiration or a motivational slogan to sling around the office, but a culture to foster and grow. Innovation is a philosophy that starts at a company’s most foundational level. It seeps into how we communicate with our employees and supervisors, and defines how we look to the future. A company with an innovative culture is never contented with resting on its laurels and doing projects the “tried and true” way.

In our fast-paced world, technology is constantly changing and the business world evolving. Embracing innovation as a culture isn’t an extra step to get ahead, it’s a necessity for keeping up. We need to be productively restless; to keep our eyes constantly turned towards the future. Who knows – we may be working with AI colleagues in a decade! If we aren’t innovative, if we aren’t flexible, if we aren’t communicative, we won’t be able to change enough to incorporate advanced technology into our daily processes. And outdated businesses, as we all know, only stagnate and fall out of favor.

4- HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: As you mentioned, words like “innovation” can be interpreted differently. Did you ever face a conflict in that in one of your consulting projects?

Hanane Benkhallouk: Once, a large corporation called my consulting firm – Sustain Leadership – to express their interest in developing innovation across the company. I immediately proposed a long-term approach to foster a forward-thinking mindset and spread innovation as a culture. However, a far-sighted approach didn’t appeal to them; they wanted a quick fix that they could schedule into a two-hour workshop. But innovation simply doesn’t work that way. It isn’t a buzzword to be repeated into meaninglessness; it’s a mindset, a philosophy, a way of navigating the world. Welcoming innovation into company takes time, perseverance, and encouragement. Try as we might, we can’t foster a new corporate culture in a day-long workshop.

5- HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: Further speaking about innovation, you have published many articles in major magazines like (SME Advisor Magazine, HBR Arabia, The Executive Women magazine, etc). How do you apply innovation in writing?

Hanane Benkhallouk: Writing, like innovation, is an inherently creative process. For me, it’s a chance to reflect on my past experiences and apply my ideas to questions I might wonder about in the future; to keep my eyes turned towards future possibilities. I think of writing as a way to plant the seed of an idea, and of sharing my work as a way to grow it to inspiration. Sharing ideas is, after all, at the very core of innovation. Think, if we didn’t collaborate or consider other viewpoints, where would we be? What would we get done? Silence is the quickest way to muffle creativity, I think.

6- HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: As a coach sometimes you work with individuals and at other times you work with groups. Are these two different approaches in coaching?

Hanane Benkhallouk: One-on-one coaching centers around individuals: (executives, leaders or entrepreneurs, etc.) who have some personal goals to achieve or challenges to tackle. With these independent operators, the focus is on helping the individual to unlock their own potential and create a change within themselves. This change might be recognizing or developing a new skill, or unlocking a previously unexplored capability needed for a new role.

Group or Team coaching focuses more on the team dynamic. When I work with groups, every member of the group is involved in the growth process, and my end goal is to help individuals come together and agree to work towards a common goal and use their collective skills to achieve a set goal. The tools used differ from individual coaching to group coaching or team coaching; however, both are connected by mentee mentality. Success or failure hinges on the individual or group’s willingness to follow through, be accountable, take action, and actually do what they have agreed to do.

7- HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: As an entrepreneurship coach, how do you advise organizations to apply entrepreneurship inside the corporate world?

Hanane Benkhallouk: When most people think of entrepreneurship, they think of a scrappy young person who somehow managed to build a thriving business out of little more than a few dreams and years of hard work. But entrepreneurship doesn’t begin and end within the bounds of that stereotype. The truth is, an entry-level corporate employee could be (maybe even should be!) entrepreneurial. Entrepreneurship is a mindset, not an occupation, the very word entrepreneur comes from the French verb “Entreprendre”, which simply means: taking initiative, so entrepreneurship in my opinion is: a state of being innovative, curious, motivated, and constantly willing to generate productively disruptive ideas. Now, a corporate employee will of course go about being entrepreneurial differently than an independent entrepreneur might. Corporate businesses have structures to follow and channels to go through, after all. However, if a company fosters a communicative and innovative culture and encourages its employees to be entrepreneurial, they can make use of their employees’ creativity and engagement.

8- HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: Speaking about corporate, can you share with us some of the “HR transformation” projects that you worked on as a case study?

Hanane Benkhallouk: One of my client companies operates in the construction industry – and as we all know, that field is still distinctly male-dominated. As the company underwent a management change, I was called to help develop a new corporate vision and expansion plan. One of significant changes suggested during this time was fostering a more inclusive and balanced environment that supported more female employees as active agents for change. Breaking through to this more diverse gender base produced a multitude of innovative ideas, considerable business growth, and a more engaged workforce. However, the shift itself required a detailed strategy that could both “pull” everyone involved into a new mindset and align all levels of the organization with the new vision. Ultimately, this resulted in the implementation of a new corporate culture and remodel of the company’s HR department.

9- HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: “Change management” is one of the demanded solutions nowadays. Can you tell us more about it, and what issues does it resolve?

Hanane Benkhallouk: As humans, we tend to resist change. We like our habits and routines; we feel comfortable living in the familiar. But in order to embrace innovation, we need to accept change. We can’t be comfortable with old processes when they could easily become an outdated hindrance to company progress. That said, implementing change isn’t as simple as sending out a company-wide memo because, again, people don’t like change. If employees don’t understand why a change is happening or think that it’s unnecessary, they will inevitably drag their feet and resist it. Whenever a company needs to implement a shift, they must first make sure that every change needs towards renewal, transformation, or on-going natural innovation. Then, they kickstart change management by activating individual employees as change agents. If they employees understand and believe in the value of the change, they will be engaged in bringing it about.

10- HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: You have developed your own methodology “SEAD”. Can you tell us more about it?

Hanane Benkhallouk: I developed the SEAD methodology for the Sustain Leadership team to use during consulting projects. Broken down, the acronym stands for: Sensing, Engaging, Aligning, and Developing.

Sensing is the initial step. This entails engaging with client organizations in a way that generates insights into potential challenges and strength. By drawing focus groups we prompt reflection, brainstorming, and collective creativity. Once the sensing stage draws to a close, my team collates and analyzes the data.

Next, we put that collated data to use. In the Engaging & Aligning stage, we share our findings and conclusions with the team and engage members in open discussion. In my experience, by encouraging the team to co-create ideas, plans, and solutions, we generate better solutions and allow the team to take personal responsibility for creating and upholding a positive working environment. Lastly, we enter Development. In this stage, we connect all team members via tailor-made experiential positive psychology and development programmes and bring the ideas circulated in the previous stage to life. Ultimately, our goal is to encourage team members to make and continue making positive contributions to the corporate culture.

11- HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: As a keynote speaker and a public speaking coach, you have sure attended lots of conferences as an attendee; an observer. What kind of positive criticism you can provide to many speakers out there, wither representing an idea or their companies?

Hanane Benkhallouk: Preparation is always key. When I’m called to present at a conference, I always make sure to research not only the topic I’ll be speaking on, but the audience I’ll be speaking to. I need to gather every detail I can about the mix, their level of knowledge about the topics under discussion, their roles in relation to the subject, and their understanding of the conference objective. For me, a good speech is about aligning my topic with all of the above-mentioned factors and making sure that I bring a fresh perspective to the room. In the light, what I suggest to new speakers is as follows:

Don’t try to sell yourself at the expense of your topic and audience!

While it is good to mention what you or the company you represent have accomplished as a means of building credibility, the stage or panel you speak from is not a platform to market, sell, or showcase your professional “muscles.” When you outline your speech or speak on a panel, always take a moment to imagine your audience asking: “What’s in it for me?” or “How are you adding value to me?”

12- HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: As you also do life coaching and support people emotionally and mentally, do you believe human capital can be applied in relationships?

Hanane Benkhallouk: At the end of the day, a business is a sum of its people. As I mentioned earlier, my approach is always a human-centric one. Having effective human capital management skills means being able to focus on helping employees at work, lead with empathy, provide and receive constructive feedback effectively, build trust, manage conflicts, and share common goals. In short, human capital management demands proficiency in the same basic elements of all interpersonal relationships regardless if those bonds are between a company and customer, employee and employers, or personal friends.

13- HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: What is your piece of advice to employers and employees who wish to sustain a work/life balance?

Hanane Benkhallouk: I’ve always been a tremendous believer in the value of a life balance. No, not a work/life balance – a life balance. The difference in terminology is one that always sparks debate among my colleagues and friends. To me, if we separate work from life, it means that we are not living when we work. But the workplace is where we spend at least a third of our days – if not more! Every moment is a part of our lives, and work isn’t exempt. So, I would say that a career should be something that adds meaning and joy to your life – but it should never be the sum total of that meaning or joy.

Having time to spend with family members and friends is valuable, rewarding, and I would even say healthy. If all we do is work, we risk burning out and losing both productivity and passion for our projects. In my experience, this struggle can be particularly pointed for women, who often need to balance caring for their families with time spent at work. I would advise employers to stay attuned to employee happiness and engagement. If something doesn’t seem to be working, try to fix it! Speak with your employees to determine if there’s a way to make balancing responsibilities easier. Engaged and happy employees are always more productive than those battling overwork and burnout.

– HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: Dear Hanane, on behalf of all the readers I sincerely thank you for this valuable and inspiring interview, and for your efforts into developing entrepreneurs and organizations.

Interviews

Interview with Mustafa Naisah, Mustafa Naisah, People Learning & Growth Partner

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“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.

6HR 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…

THANK YOU

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Interviews

Interview with Keith F Watson -Online Tutor ICS Learn

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“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

INTERVIEWERS: MARIHAM MAGDY & MAHMOUD MANSI

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!

THANK YOU

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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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