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Interview with Cy Wakeman Drama Researcher, International Speaker on Leadership & Management, NY Times Best Selling Author, Global Thought Leader

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Interviewer: Mariham Magdy

Publisher: Ahmed Mohamed Hassan

Intro:

Cy Wakeman, Join the Revolution!
This is the first welcome you will receive immediately when joining Cy Wakeman website newsletters!
What Cy really presents to us today is such a revolution against our traditional way of thinking which have dramatically impacted us as well as our work in a negative way.
When reading her book “Reality-based Leadership”, from the first pages you will feel the influence of her golden advices that really touch a very deep point inside of each leader who suffer from the same impediments that may be holding back the performance of the team and even impacting tragically the work environment despite all the motivating activities adopted to help them move forward.

1- HR Revolution Middle East: Welcome Cy, we are really glad to be having such a great opportunity to interview your good-self & help our people to get to know more about you & your precious studies & books.
Please Cy, we are so curious to know from you about the first motives that encouraged you to start your research & writings about “work-place drama”
Cy Wakeman:
My entry into Reality-Based Leadership started with the Open-Door Policy. After several years as a family therapist, I got a promotion in my organization, and I was told in my company leadership training that a great leader always has an open door. The Open-Door Policy did exactly what it was supposed to do. Soon team members began popping their heads into my Open Door.
“Do you have a minute?” they asked. “Sure, I have two!” I’d reply. “Come on in.”
They’d ask for a minute or two, but then stayed planted in my office for an average of 45 minutes. Now, if they had really needed me — to talk through a critical decision for serving the business or to help them develop or hone skills — the time investment would have had a satisfying pay off. But people weren’t coming to me for that.
People came in to tattle on others. They wanted to tell me stories they’d concocted about things that hadn’t even happened. Or they’d vent about circumstances that couldn’t be changed (what I call reality.) They’d use our time to spin fantasies about the future. Frequently, it was a combination. I spent the majority of these impromptu “Got a minute?” meetings listening to elaborate narratives that had almost no basis in reality.
The kicker? At the end of the meeting, they would say to me, with a straight face: “Please don’t do anything about this. I just wanted you to be aware.”
As I witnessed the economic effect of this Open-Door Policy in action, it made no sense to me. Can you imagine what would happen if went to the CEO and said, “I plan to spend 10 hours a day in a series of 45-minute one-on-one meetings talking about stuff that doesn’t add one whit of value to the company. And I’m going to expense the door stop.” I’d be opening the door into the unemployment office.

2- HR Revolution Middle East: When did you first start reaping the fruits of applying your studies & methodologies in the workplace?
Cy Wakeman:
One of the first methodologies I taught employees was a good thinking process, adapted from my cognitive therapy background, was how to edit their stories and eliminate the emotional churn that muddied the waters and obscured reality. People began to learn productive ways to resolve their own issues. They began to figure out what the real issues were, and come up with productive options for tackling them. They stopped the BMW (bitching, moaning and whining) driving. It wasn’t long before our team began operating in a completely different way. While leaders in other departments were getting bogged down in constant firefighting, the teams I worked with were becoming independent, efficient and highly engaged.

3- HR Revolution Middle East: I do believe that I am really a fortunate person for having an opportunity to attend one of your workshops, I was so much touched with your famous saying “Your circumstances are not the reasons you can’t succeed. They are the reality in which you must succeed”. You know Cy that this thought has always been a conviction to most of us to be the reasons hindering our success, that it is all because of our circumstances, I could have been a better person if I were elsewhere,…..etc. How do you advice especially Egyptians to apply your golden advice “Stop Arguing with Reality?
Cy Wakeman:
Challenging the facts of situations like these is something that we’ve all been guilty of. The problem is that arguing against these facts is a battle we are sure to lose.

So why continue this losing battle? When we argue with the facts we’re wasting valuable time and energy. That’s why I’m challenging all leaders to think differently. Together, we can end this argument once and for all and use our time and talents for good, not evil – all while encouraging the same within our teams. Here’s how this can be accomplished: Be a lover of reality—Conserve energy that was used in the past to fight the situation and, instead, accept what is and use that energy to innovate and problem-solve.

4- HR Revolution Middle East: “Succeed Anyway- A 20 Day challenge” How was this initiative, launched on your website, able to influence leaders & change their way of thinking? I believe there must be a number of success stories & people who benefited from this program.

Cy Wakeman:
In my research, I’ve learned much about what it takes to achieve the personal or professional goals you’ve set for yourself, make it stick for good, and ultimately have more success and happiness in your life. There’s no doubt you will be met with challenges and circumstances along the way, but you can succeed anyway. My research shows that highly accountable, successful people know that accountability is a mindset, not a skillset, and it begins with a willing commitment to do whatever it takes to accomplish the goal.

Here’s a testimonial that seemed to be a theme from those who took the challenge, “Don’t let circumstances or others be an excuse for not achieving what you want to. There will always be setbacks but you need to work through those and recommit every time you face a setback.”

5- HR Revolution Middle East: In your book “Reality-based leadership” you wrote such a great quote when you said “The future belongs to the leader who is able to change the way people think and perceive their circumstances” we would like to learn from your experience what competencies a leader must develop in order to be able to change the way people think?
Cy Wakeman:
In order to restore peace to your life, first you need to understand that the source of your suffering is not what happens to you, but the stories you create about what happens to you. We all tell ourselves stories and live with the resulting drama, whether we are conscious of it or not. I call it “arguing with reality” and it’s the single largest barrier to peace and success for most people. The only way to change it is by becoming aware of when and how you tend to do it. You are arguing with reality whenever you judge your situation in terms of right or wrong instead of fearlessly confronting what is. When you are judging, you are not leading; not serving; not adding value. Your judgment is a waste of your time and energy—an opinion that cannot be proven and is only loosely based on the facts of a situation. As I mentioned above, a great tool to use is to edit your story – write down what is happening, and edit it again and again until you are left with only the facts. Then ask yourself, “what is the next best action?”

6- HR Revolution Middle East: “Free yourself from frustration and find opportunities in every challenge you face” How can Cycology  help us to do so?
Cy Wakeman:
The ego hates changes – it prefers the status quo where it can stay comfortable without the pain that can come from growth experiences. Yet it’s not change that causes us pain, it’s attachment to our current circumstances. Employees who are in a high state of readiness don’t require time to grieve change. They are aware, they are willing, they are advocates and they are all in for what’s next. They adjust their sails and chart a new course. They’re not attached to the past because they’re ready for the future. They’re not naïve about the realities of making change work, nor are they blind to the obstacles and difficulties of new processes or projects. Ultimately, they’re not generating emotional waste by voicing resistance and frustration by arguing with reality. They’re too busy ensuring a successful outcome and adding value because they were ready for what’s next

7- HR Revolution Middle East: I like so much the way you foster “accountability” correlation to our happiness & productivity at work. You indicate that we must develop our employees so that they can have a real impact on what happens around them. How can we start actively reducing the office “freak-out factor”?
Cy Wakeman:
Personal accountability is the belief that you are fully responsible for your own actions and consequences. It’s a choice, a mindset and an expression of integrity. Some individuals exhibit it more than others, but it can and should be learned as it is not only the foundation for a successful life, but also a prerequisite for happiness. This outlook may, at first, seem backwards for some. That’s probably because many of today’s leaders have blindly bought into the concept that engagement and happiness come from a lack of stress at work. As a result, they’ve spent an exorbitant amount of time and resources working to perfect their team’s circumstances – creating nothing more than a culture of entitled employees with unrealistic expectations. The truth is, this approach is not sustainable long-term, nor will it help prepare their teams for navigating tough times.

Instead of attempting to soften the blow of change or adjust workplace realities, work to call your people up to greatness by asking, “What would great look like?” or “How can you get skilled up to succeed here?” Once they stop focusing on what’s happening “to” them and focus on what they can do within their current circumstances to succeed, they will get the results they are looking for.

8- HR Revolution Middle East: As an HR magazine, we would like to learn more about the HR solutions you provide to Organizations: “Reality-check Survey”, “Reality-based Performance”, & “Reality-based Talent”
Cy Wakeman:
We are the voice that interrupts thinking, reveals the truth and settles the mind. We translate the best research into Reality-Based Philosophies, tools and training. We eliminate drama and restore sanity to the workplace and worldplace.

We do this by offering some core solutions:
Speaking Programs: http://www.realitybasedleadership.com/speaking-programs/

Reality-Based Leadership Facilitator Certification Programs: http://www.realitybasedleadership.com/certification/

Online Virtual Training Program: http://www.realitybasedleadership.com/reality-based-vt/

Reality-Check Engagement Survey: http://www.realitybasedleadership.com/reality-based-engagement/

9- HR Revolution Middle East: Are you planning in the near future to provide Reality-based Certification Program (TOT) in Egypt or in the Middle East in general?
Cy Wakeman:
We have no immediate plans to offer certification programs, however, you can learn and apply the philosophy via this on-demand, interactive micro learning platform. Online Virtual Training Program: http://www.realitybasedleadership.com/reality-based-vt/

10- HR Revolution Middle East: You have lately published your new book “NO EGO” where you provide leaders to learn how to cut the cost of workplace drama. From your experience how much are Organizations losing as a result of “workplace drama”, considering the fact mentioned in your book that the average employee spends 2.5 hours per day on drama?
Cy Wakeman:
They lose money in two ways. First, they’re investing money and organizational energy in employee engagement surveys, HR initiatives, and Learning-and-Development programs that actually exacerbate the problems they’re trying to solve. Second, organizations aren’t developing leaders who have the mindsets, methods and tools they need to help eliminate costly Emotional Waste.
Our research found that the average employee spends two hours and twenty minutes per day in drama and emotional waste. While wages and salaries vary greatly from organization to organization, let’s use a hypothetical of a company with 100 employees, each earning $30 an hour and working 40 hours a week. Annually, wages paid would equal $6,240,000. Based on our research on the cost of emotional waste, well over $1,794,000 would have to be written off as a loss.

11- HR Revolution Middle East: “Better/faster/cheaper” how valuable could be our contributions to “change” if we really thought with the concept you provide us in the book “Reality-based Leadership”! Can you kindly share with us sample success stories for Organizations who succeeded to train their people to map their minds to act with this concept towards change?
Cy Wakeman:
Businesses who are successful who are able to build a workforce that is ready for what’s next have moved beyond traditional change management practices, which focus on protecting people from the impacts of change, to business readiness, which shifts the focus of keeping the business ready change. While working with a multi-national client pharmaceuticals company, I saw a great opportunity to gather data on my business readiness methodology. The company had long worked in a traditional, hierarchical office-and-cubicle environment. Senior leaders made a strategic decision to move to an open environment to foster more collaboration, cooperation and creativity. Private rooms still would be available for meetings or private conversations as needed, but in general, the walls were coming down. Employee chatter about the impending change spanned the emotional spectrum, from predictions of doom to skepticism about the viability of the plan, from tentative exploration to excitement.
To see if readiness was linked to difficulty of change, we created a survey that would help us assess employees’ state of readiness. Before the move, we asked questions see how technology savvy they were. We inquired about the size of their networks, what current communication methods they used, whether they were up on new music, what innovative ways of working they had tried. How up to date they were on the news in their industry? Were they citizens of the modern world or still living in a bygone era?
Three months after these folks moved into their new environment, we did another survey asking them to rate their experience of how hard the change was and how the company had managed it. We found an overwhelming correlation between people who were low in readiness and those who categorized the change as difficult. The employees who said they had really struggled with open environment also were the most critical of the way the business managed the change. They stepped down into blame instead of stepping up to accountability.

12- HR Revolution Middle East: In your journey with different organizations, to what extent have you seen CEOs willing to accommodate & accept implementing this new culture in the work-place?
Cy Wakeman:
CEOs love the Reality-Based Leadership approach because they, along with other c-level executives, get value. And by subtracting the cost of drama from performance, we can finally align employee value to business results. They understand the positive impact that can come from ridding the workplace of emotional expense and drama. They recognize how it can greatly impact the bottom line by improving productivity versus trying to achieve results solely through improving performance or trying to increase engagement. Many of my clients embrace Reality-Based Leadership because their CEO loved the message, and then told their leaders or HR team about it.

13- HR Revolution Middle East: What was your first impression about Egypt in your last visit past December? Was it your first visit to Egypt? Are you planning to come again soon?
Cy Wakeman:
Yes, this was my first visit to Egypt! I was so thrilled to be there for the first time. My husband joined me and were blown away by the hospitality and love of the people. I was spoiled rotten with fabulous food and lots of learning about the culture. I witness the true definition of resilience in Egypt – the people have so many challenges in terms of currency and revolution, the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well. I don’t have a return trip on my calendar – yet!

14- HR Revolution Middle East: How can Talent Management professionals start a “Proactive Talent Management”, with the Cy approach, nowadays, to cope with all the technological & economic disruptions we are facing?
Cy Wakeman:
Work with the willing. Focus on the group that says “yes” – give them your time and attention and support. Remember, the average manager spends about 80 hours extra per year on employees that are in a mode of resistance and who have very low odds of moving out of resistance any time soon. Why waste your time and resources? You don’t need everyone on board to move forward – only about 46%. So find them and reward them.

15- HR Revolution Middle East: Cy to what extent do you see business leaders aware of the fact you indicate in your book that “HR role is to protect the Company & serve the employees, not to fill in the gaps left by poor leadership”?
Cy Wakeman:
A big shock to people when we first meet is when they learn that I research drama in the workplace. The work experience is so full of drama that it’s seen as a normal cost of doing business. But I believe drama is both avoidable and has a real negative financial impact. It leads to lost productivity, peace and happiness. Historically, leaders have been told their role is to inspire, to motivate and engage their teams. But as a therapist, I know from behavioral science that people make their own choices about motivation and inspiration, so for leaders, employee happiness and engagement is an impossible responsibility. I believe the modern leader’s role is to help employees eliminate drama (emotional waste) by facilitating good mental processes. For the many who hear the message it’s a game-changing approach that relieves leaders of the burden of coming up with all the answers. As these mental processes are hardwired, employees begin to self-manage, become more productive, and as a result, understand the connection to accountable choices, their mindset and the results they deliver.

16- HR Revolution Middle East: Finally I would like to thank you so much for the opportunity you gave us to make this interview. What last advice would you give to CEOs & business leaders in Egypt in order to encourage teams to conserve their energy lost to drama and put it directly into outcomes and results?
Cy Wakeman:
What you might be realizing throughout this interview is self-awareness has a big role to play here. So, when people ask me for my best advice, I tell them, “Stop believing everything you think. Question most of what you think.” This new awareness is groundbreaking in and of itself. A great question, then, to enter into self-reflection is, “If I were being great right now, what would that look like?” You see, everyone knows what great looks like, because “great” is the basis for which we judge other people on. And so the question, “What would great look like?” causes judgment and drama to stop, and switches back to the better part of your brain. Then all those things we teach people, like innovation, collaboration, creativity, team work; those come naturally, because those behaviors are our natural state once the drama is gone.

THANK YOU

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

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“2021 is here and there has been never a tipping point like this before for governments and organizations to transform how they work, engage the employees and service their clients.  It is this mix of internal and external challenges that will also create opportunities for leaders to make a difference as we embark upon a new calendar year.” Mr. Vijay Gandhi

Interviewer: Mariham Magdy

Brief Biography about the Interviewee:

Mr. Vijay Gandhi has worked with human resource teams for over 20 years to provide them with tools, benchmarks, insights and data to help them design high level global HR frameworks and make decisions for local executive teams, remuneration committees and board of directors in public and privately owned companies across different sectors. He oversees the commercial activities of Reward & Benefits in KF Digital across Europe, Middle East and Africa.  

Vijay has an MBA from Durham University (UK) and BBA in Finance & International Business from University of Wisconsin-Madison (USA). He joined Korn Ferry in 2001 in Dubai and has worked in EMEA and Asia region. In May 2018, he was honored with Forbes “Top 50 Indian Executives in Arab World”

1.HR Revolution Middle East: Mr. Vijay, welcome to HR Revolution Middle East Magazine. It’s a great pleasure to have the opportunity to make this interview with you.

As the Regional Director for Korn Ferry Digital, we are keen to learn from you more about KF Digital, how do Korn Ferry’s digital applications help organizations to transform or enhance their organizational strategy?

Mr. Vijay Gandhi:

Through the Korn Ferry Digital platform, our clients gain direct access to our data, insights, analytics and digital solutions – enabling them to drive performance in their organizations in a scalable way through their people, using one enterprise-wide framework and language of talent.  Our digital solutions cover the whole talent journey. So, whether it’s developing a new talent strategy or reward program, making informed decisions about hiring or developing talent from within the organization, getting the right people on board, or even collecting feedback on how engaged employees really are, right across the organization – Korn Ferry Digital provides the answers.

Our solutions serve as an integrated platform that gives clients direct access to the data, insights and analytics. Clients benefit from one enterprise-wide talent framework and language that helps drive organizational performance through people.

2- HR Revolution Middle East: To what extent can we trust the results of the digital assessments? How can organizations use the data that Korn Ferry collects to make intelligent hiring, reward, development decisions?

Mr. Vijay Gandhi:

Korn Ferry Digital is fueled by the most comprehensive and up-to-date people and organization databases.  This data provides the DNA for our digital solutions, bringing a research-based foundation to underpin quality and consistency in your HR practices.  Over 4 billion data points have been collected, including: 

  • Over 69 million assessment results
  • 8 million employee engagement survey responses
  • Rewards data for 20 million employees across 25,000 organizations and 130+ countries

We’ve pulled the data together into a comprehensive set of actionable and dynamic Success Profiles.  Success Profiles define “what good looks like” and include data around three dimensions – the accountabilities of a role, the associated capabilities to perform these responsibilities, and the traits and drivers that are characteristic of a person who will thrive in this role.

Organizations have access to over 4,000 individual Success Profiles across 30,000 job titles – and we are continually updating and adding new profiles, so you get to leverage the latest thinking on emerging roles.  The results are therefore based on deep insight and research.

3- HR Revolution Middle East: Mr. Vijay, we are eager to learn from you more about the success story behind honoring you as one of the Top 50 Indian Leaders in Arab World by Forbes Middle East in 2018 Region’s greatest success stories as Regional Director at Korn Ferry Digital.

Mr. Vijay Gandhi:

I am a long-time resident of the Arab region, where my family roots go back 60 years, before the UAE federation was formed.  Knowing the culture, people and dynamics of working in the Arab world has been natural as this has been home to our family where my kids are the 5th generation.  For more than 20 years, I have worked closely with human resource teams in the Arab world to execute their talent strategy.  A lot has changed in this period in HR function itself which was regarded as a payroll function few decades ago.  Today, HR and People strategy are board room discussions where HR plays a strategic role in driving workforce performance.

In these positively growing and changing times, my focus was on leveraging tools, benchmarks, insights and data to design high-level global HR frameworks for senior executives in the region – helping them more effectively manage their talent.  We have built successful client partnerships in the region which has made Korn Ferry as a go to organizational consulting firm. 

4- HR Revolution Middle East: For over 20 years, you have overseen the activities of pay, talent, surveys and listening products across Europe, Middle East and Africa. What are the unique characteristics of the Middle East organizations especially in talent and pay management? How does we differ from other regions as Europe & Africa?

Mr. Vijay Gandhi:

Change is taking place rapidly in the world of work with any organizations taking unprecedented steps to remain relevant and connected to their people , their customers and society. In the Middle East we have seen many companies implement temporary pay-cuts. Diversified conglomerates have shifted their employees from one division to another to balance the demand and supply.  There is no denial that the way we work is changing and organizations have had to prepare a blueprint for the unexpected.  This year it’s coronavirus.  Next time, and there will be a next time, it could be a natural calamity, a recession, talent flight or something else unforeseen. 

  1. Redefining the nature of work:  Even today most organizations in the Gulf region are measuring success or performance using the metric of attendance.  There is a mismatch between modern, flexible ways of working and traditional ways of organizing and rewarding work. To close this gap, organizations need new approaches that fit today and can flex for the future. New and evolving technologies allow organizations to operate more effectively and more efficiently. They do this by preparing people to work more productively and by introducing virtual ways of doing things that previously required physical presence.   Some organizations in the region have started tocreate “flexible teams” for specific projects, and then dismantling  them once the project is complete.
  2. Moving towards a liquid workforce:  HR laws in the Middle East region have undergone change in the last 3 years to allow for part-time employees, internships and with the spring of an independent freelance community offering specialized professional services which were rare to find few years ago.   In the future, we will see more organizations tailoring their resource requirements to the needs of the labor market. Organizations will move towards a liquid workforce to capture the best talent regardless of source or nature of contract which may not be employed full-time.
  3. Splitting time and skills:  A few global companies are making use of employees’ skills and motivation within the confines of a traditional role.  They have developed a SharePoint platform where employees can give up to 20% of their time to projects outside of their core role. The 80/20 approach allows for flexibility without the contractual implications of making significant changes to roles and functions. The projects range from large, like supporting big corporate initiatives, to small, like moderating a series of workshops. These smaller projects may last just a few weeks and take up less than 20% of a person’s working time. Trainees, called ‘Start-up’ participants, also work according to the 80/20 principle. That means they follow a set rotation programme for four days of the week and meet on Fridays to work on joint projects.
  4. Rethinking Reward:  Even after right-sizing in many Middle East companies, there has been a significant impact of grade/title inflation on performance. In the short-term it is important to preserve operating capacity in the event demand returns to normal sooner than expected by managing leaves and cutting pay for a limited time.  In the medium-term, organizations will have to adjust individual performance incentives as conditions normalize and consider crisis-related spot awards where applicable.  In the long-term, organizations will have to not only maintain awards for top-performers but also consider tying bonuses and incentives to crisis-related health and-safety metrics.

With no ‘rules of the game’, and such rapid evolution, it’s not surprising that many companies feel they don’t know where or how to start. They need fresh thinking and new approaches on a whole range of topics – including how to create a ‘new deal’ that works for their people.

5- HR Revolution Middle East: The digital transformation has changed totally the way businesses make decisions.  Given that almost every organization has been forced into a new way of working, how can they navigate through a new normal?  

Mr. Vijay Gandhi:

The positive new is that, apart from solving immediate effects of the crisis, we have seen a resilience to operate from home by employees and employers moving from “no flexible hours” to “you can work remotely if the job doesn’t require you to come to the office”.

Whilst it’s great to move to more flexibility, we may be going over the top to think that this will be the norm for all employee segments.  Let me share some of the discussions with HR professionals in last few months in the region.

  1. Leadership matters and they want to be visible with the workforce.  Ask any leader when do they have the most impact? It’s when they are spending time with their people to engage with them and enable them by listening to their concerns. 
  2. There were aspects of our lives – work, family, friends – which were separate but now happening all in one physical space.  The self-complexity theory shows that individuals become vulnerable to negative feelings when these social activities and goals aren’t differentiated.
  3. Certain roles in healthcare, manufacturing, hospitality sectors cannot work remotely, and fantastic efforts have been made to make the workplace safe.
  4. Sales and Business development were areas identified as most dependent on face-to-face meetings.  According to Harvard Business research, in-person meetings were seen as most effective for:
    1. Negotiating important contracts (82%)
    2. Interviewing senior staff for key positions (81%)
    3. Understanding and listening to important customers (69%)

Although there are many reasons why video conferencing works well to stay connected in isolation and keep dispersed teams connected and aligned, latest research shows they wear on the psyche in complicated ways.  Psychologists say a new phenomenon “video call fatigue” is emerging.  It describes the feeling of being worn out by back-to-back virtual meetings and having to perform for the camera by over-scheduling ourselves.

So, whilst working from home since March 2020 was considered as a great move from being non-flexible to trusting people, it’s now time to rationalize our thinking.  The answer lies somewhere in the middle by being flexible and not drifting like nomads too. We cannot take all home and it won’t be forever. 

6- HR Revolution Middle East: How did all the twists and turns occurred in 2020 changed the traditional way organizations used to manage pay? Do you expect that businesses would return to the normal management of pay in 2021?

Mr. Vijay Gandhi:

Shifting to “people” priorities in 2021

2020 will be a fable for us to share with generations to come.  It is a year which has revolutionized the way we work and adapt to uncertainty.  A year which started with negativity around jobs and pay cuts. Life came to a stand-still.  Organizations who have survived the pandemic have shown tremendous resilience and agility to adapt to tough times.  As costs were taken out of the business in the first half of the year, we have seen higher productivity and the drive to restore profitability.  It was also a year where there remained no doubt that that the most critical driver for any organization was its workforce.

2021 is here and there has been never a tipping point like this before for governments and organizations to transform how they work, engage the employees and service their clients.  It is this mix of internal and external challenges that will also create opportunities for leaders to make a difference as we embark upon a new calendar year.

Reforms

Transformation in business set-up and labour reforms were on top of the agenda in 2020.  The Labour Reform Initiative (LRI) brought into action by MHRSD in Saudi under the National Transformation Program (NTP) has swung the focus back onto shared services and their significance in the Saudi business world. This initiative has not only set a strong precedent for the future of workers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) but also carved a structured model for businesses looking to hire personnel. Similarly, there were 2 landmark moves in United Arab Emirates (UAE)

  • allowing foreign investors to own local companies without the need for an Emirati sponsor will open doors for more FDI and greater business opportunities.
  • allowing professionals to reside and work in Dubai residency rule was a big boon for professionals in workplaces where they are delivering or leading teams remotely.  

The road ahead for employees working in this region looks bright as these reforms would strengthen labour competencies, enrich the work environment, and put together an inviting job market.  The flexibility will help employers in 2021 to drive innovations, provide access to more talent, drive performance and results regardless of where the team is located in the region.

Empathy

Leaders will have to go beyond showing interest in the development of everyone and be empathetic towards employees who survived the crisis with them in 2020.  In fact, the ‘Global Workplace Study 2020’ by ADP Research Institute shows that employees are approximately 13 times more likely to be resilient when more workplace disruption occurs. Empathy was shown by employees in many ways e.g.  working from home in different circumstances or taking a pay cut to help companies save further job cuts. 

Technology innovation is here to stay

Organizations in both the public and private sectors had to make a change in the way they work and move to digitization.  Another conundrum we are presently facing is the real-estate impacts of employees desiring greater work-life flexibility. It’s unlikely that office spaces will disappear overnight, but rather a greater integration of virtual and in-person work is right around the corner. The recent decision by Dubai Government to work-from-home comes at the back of flexible working hours announced in April 2020. Workplace flexibility works best when implemented to address both the organization’s need to for a leaner workforce and employees’ need for work/life support.

Balancing wellness

The social element of your workplace has likely taken on a much different look in 2021. You may have employees in a social distance-friendly environment, employees working from home, or a mix of both.  Organizations will have to find ways to encourage them to stay connected while being physically disconnected.  Even before the pandemic COVID-19 had entered our vocabulary, burnout, stress and anxiety were significant issues in the workplace, and society generally.  Once we throw the mental health impact into the mix, and work-related stress is likely to reach staggering levels.  Going into 2021, leaders must promote the mental wellbeing and invest into benefits which will bring people together in a different way.

7- HR Revolution Middle East: What final tips would you give to business leaders at the beginning of 2021 with all the apprehensions and fears they have for the new wave of covid-19?

Mr. Vijay Gandhi:

Technology will continue to dominate the workplace and improve efficiencies.  However, the most valuable services in the marketplace will always be done better by humans. In an era defined by crisis, where emotional intelligence, compassion, resilience, and morality may prove more important than ever before, the future of work is human. If business is about humans, the future of work must be too.

One thing to look forward to in 2021 from job and career perspective is slow change.  Disruption has already happened.  However, more often and less discussed are the small changes occurring each day that eventually add up to huge impacts. The present moment is worthy of your attention.

THANK YOU

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Interviews

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

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on

Interviewer: Mariham Magdy

“An open and progressive business organizational culture is described as having a healthy work environment where employees feel valued and are recognized as fundamental to the success of an organization” Meiraj Hussain

Brief Biography about the Interviewee:

Meiraj Hussain, Head of Corporate Support and Group HR
Meiraj Hussain joined Al Masaood as Group Head of Human Resources in 2017, bringing over 20 years of professional experience as HR Leader across multiple industries such as Automotive, FMCG, Manufacturing, IT, Services, Real Estate, and Trading. Prior to joining Al Masaood, Meiraj has managed the Human Resources function in both multinational corporations and family-owned businesses across UK, Europe, and the Middle East.
In his current role, Meiraj places great emphasis on talent management, employee-experience, high-performance culture, and leadership excellence development. He is an advocate of building a progressive work culture where trust is the backbone of relationships and creating a workplace wherein employee empowerment and engagement plays a crucial role. Meiraj strongly believes in the digitization of systems and processes, thus, leading to better business results. Moreover, Meiraj has played an extensive role in the Emiratization initiative with the Ministry of Human Resources & Emiratization (MoHRE) to ensure top-tier UAE Nationals are recruited and retained within Al Masaood, consequently resulting Al Masaood to become a proud Platinum Partner with MoHRE.

HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: Meiraj welcome to HR Revolution Middle East, we are so happy to make this interview with you. You have extensive experience in different industries such as automotive, FMCG, manufacturing, IT, services, real estate, and trading in both multinational corporations and family-owned businesses across the UK, Europe, and the Middle East. How does HRM differ according to the industry, and also according to the business type (multinational corporations and family-owned businesses)?

Meiraj Hussain: Across industries, Human Resources Management (HRM) is a critical part of business operations that focuses on unleashing the people’s best potentials and building a work culture where employees can truly flourish. From process improvement and employee experience enhancement to talent management and performance, HR professionals, as a success partner and enabler, play a diverse role in any organization regardless of business type.

The difference, however, lies in organizational culture. While multinationals have robust policies and processes in place, local family-owned companies are often more agile and faster in implementing the best practices.

HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: Meiraj, I loved so much this statement in your bio: “He is an advocate of building progressive work culture.” How can we build a “progressive work culture?” What advice would you share with other HR professionals about that?

Meiraj Hussain: An open and progressive business organizational culture is described as having a healthy work environment where employees feel valued and are recognized as fundamental to the success of an organization. All workers have so much to offer and contribute, but, oftentimes, they are constrained by internal dynamics, poor leadership, and weak policies designed to create “carbon copies” instead of celebrating and unleashing individual ideas and potentials. Another equally important feature of progressive work culture is employee engagement. As humans, we can easily lose our motivation, which translates to poor performance and low productivity in the workplace. In such a case, HR professionals can steer the employees back to the path of motivation and engagement by taking quick and corrective actions that effectively address employee sentiments and issues.

HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: Digital disruption is one of the most important challenges facing organizations nowadays. To what extent shall organizations shift to the digitization of work processes? How would this lead to better business results? What considerations shall they take in this transformation process?

Meiraj Hussain: At this age and time, digitalization is considered a business enabler. It is for this reason that businesses should consider transforming through automation their time-consuming and mundane processes. By freeing their employees from doing repetitive tasks, they can shift their attention to business-critical tasks such as in the areas enhancing customer experience and driving revenue. For the HR department, the staff can focus their time on core areas of performance, leadership, employee development and people support.

HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: Employee engagement is always an important topic among HR leaders worldwide. Would you share with us how Al Masaood can use its strategy as a tool to empower the employees and engage them in its success journey?

Meiraj Hussain: Communication is the backbone of employee empowerment and engagement. As such, we consider it important to know the sentiments of our employees so that the management can act and address them accordingly. We measure employee sentiments through surveys regularly conducted at the business unit and corporate support levels. Additionally, through the joint efforts of the HR department and the Marketing and Communications office, Al Masaood’s strategy, organizational viewpoints and milestones, and challenges are communicated to the employees across departments to provide clarity about their role and impact on the organization’s success under the guidance of their respective managers and leaders.

HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: Meiraj, you played an extensive role in the Emiratization initiative of the Ministry of Human Resources & Emiratization (MOHRE). Can you walk us through the Emiratization initiatives Al Masaood has recently taken?

Meiraj Hussain: In response to the directives of the country’s wise leaders and as per the decision of its Board of Directors, Al Masaood has fully expressed its strong support for the Emiratization initiative. More and more Emiratis continue to join our employees of different nationalities. Al Masaood’s Emiratisation program comprises four main pillars: the Internship program, the Functional Training program, the Scholarship Program, and Job opportunities; which all aim to enhance the skills of university students, fresh graduates, and experienced Emiratis, and equip them with the required competencies across business units and corporate support departments. Our Emiratization journey has begun two years ago, starting with offering UAE nationals internship opportunities and training programs. We have also ramped up our recruitment drives in universities as well as formed partnerships with vocational institutes such as Abu Dhabi Vocational Education and Training Institute (ADVETI) to advance the employment of Emirati youth. The UAE Government’s measure to close the salary gap between the public and private sectors is a major boost to our Emiratization efforts as well. In recognition of the intensified Emiratization initiatives across the Al Masaood Group, we have achieved the Platinum Partner status given by the MoHRE. Rest assured that we will continue to recruit local talents, invest in their skills development, and provide them with opportunities for growth in a progressive and fast-paced work environment.

HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: Meiraj, you wrote a series of very interesting articles, posted on your LinkedIn profile. One of the controversial articles you wrote is “The Inglorious 6 – HR Types to Avoid.” What made you write this article? What important traits shall HR professionals have, on the contrary, from your point of view?

Meiraj Hussain: “The Inglorious- 6” article went viral and I received comments and feedback from global HR thought leaders. The article uses humor to identify some of the common pitfalls HR leaders should avoid.

HR, as a profession, is going through an identity crisis and, unfortunately, many professionals may not make it through in the course of this transformation. HR is an art and it’s understood through practice; HR is learned through doing and mentorship. Further, there is an unclaimed territory in organizations that other corporate support functions are not addressing. This territory can be claimed by HR.

But the biggest enemy facing HR today is mediocrity. It could be mediocrity of people, leadership or processes, which, in turn, leads to the mediocrity of performance and business results. Leaders need to determine the high standards that their respective organizations should adhere to for them to compete successfully in their markets. This is because consumers are now less and less forgiving of companies that deliver average value in terms of experience and engagement.

HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: Finally, what should be the focus of HR initiatives in organizations nowadays?

Meiraj Hussain: HR initiatives should be in sync with the company’s overall growth strategy. Once this is clear, the implementation plan can be developed. The initiatives can cover talent and leadership; training and development; processes and technology; performance; culture; and talent acquisition and management, among others. The major consideration in executing these initiatives is to identify how they support the leadership in its efforts to attain the vision of the organization. It is important to note as well that HR acts as the voice of reason with leaders. It should be able to challenge management decisions and resolve conflict for the good of all. Moreover, HR is the voice against the hidden enemy of mediocrity.

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