INTERVIEWER: MAHMOUD MANSI
EDITOR: AYAM AMIN
About Marta Sikora:
Marta is originally a Pharmacist. Before she moves to Egypt she worked as a Pharmacy Manager for 3 years. Later on, Marta became an Executive Manager for 4 years for one of the leading aesthetic medicine clinics. She started with one branch and made it to 3 branches in Alexandria and Cairo.
“As you can see, from my past work history, I had to deal with clients and manage different employees. I had to evaluate, train and change people’s behavior for a better work outcome. That’s my passion, and that’s when I started to go for coaching people and for personal development.”
Marta is working now as a Personal Coach, a Trainer and a Speaker in Egypt and she the founder of (www.SuccessWithMarta.com), and she also has her own blog (www.MartasWorld.com). She is certified from Jack Canfield’s Company to train people and teach them the “Success Principles”. She conducts her workshops and courses in several places. One of those places are ALEF Bookstores, Kafr Abdo Branch, Alexandria.
Marta explains further, “I’m teaching people how to become successful in their lives and careers, how to stop their bad habits and how to develop new successful ones. I love doing this and I love seeing people that I coach doing progress and developing new skills.”
1-HR Revolution Middle-East: You have been working as a personal coach and trainer in the field of Success Principles in Egypt. You mostly focus on coaching women. Why women in specific?
Marta Sikora: When I think of the ideal person I want to work with, it’s definitely a woman. I understand them well, feel for them and go through the same struggles and hardships as them. They can relate to my journey and me, and can find a lot of inspiration and empowerment just by listening to my story. I have a feeling that they open up to me much easier than with male coaches who are the majority in the field of personal development.
In my group coaching or workshops organized just for women, the energy, the insights and the results are multiplied, thanks to the fact that women honestly and loudly speak about the problems they face every day. One girl told me once after the whole course of sessions that she didn’t understand before why it was “Women Only”, but she appreciated that I thought of it and organized it that way. She said the value of sharing and discussing private issues in the safe, welcoming and non-judgmental environment that I created for them during the sessions was priceless.
I invite men to my lectures as well. I know that many of them gain much knowledge and gain new perspective about their life. After all, my first ever coaching session was done “on” my husband, willingly or not, let it be a secret (WINKS).
2-HR Revolution Middle-East: From your own experience and observation, are women in Egypt facing a different kind of abuse than women in Poland? What are the women abuse problems that women in Egypt face?
Marta Sikora: I believe the country doesn’t matter. The kind of abuse doesn’t matter as well. Women just need to know what they can do for themselves to feel safe, protected and free of the acts that cross their personal autonomy. I highly value each person’s autonomy and rights, and nobody should abuse either women or men. The reality is – it happens. Let’s not focus on the act itself, but on protection and prevention of those acts. Most of the focus should be on helping victims of such violence. I would like every woman that feels endangered to know who to ask for help, where to find shelter, and that her life will not end if she escapes the abuse. She can simply feel safe, start her life over again with no shame, stigma nor sad memories.
3-HR Revolution Middle-East: What kind of recommendation do you provide to HR managers in Egypt to protect the rights of women?
Marta Sikora: I am with protecting the rights of all employees, and I believe women and men are different, but equal. The balance in the working environment can be provided if all employees just feel appreciated, heard and understood, regardless of gender. It’s very helpful that the managerial staff understands the differences in approaching women and men, knows about psychological differences and how to communicate effectively with both groups. The best recommendation I can give to any of the HR managers is simply to acknowledge a person for the good job he/she has done. The results of such appreciation might be surprising for some of them.
4-HR Revolution Middle-East: From your coaching experience in Egypt, what are the psychological and external boundaries that block Egyptians from success?
Marta Sikora: The surprising fact is that across the countries I found the same kind of psychological and external limitations during my coaching sessions. Lack of self-confidence, confusion about the career path, disturbance in relationships with others, fear of rejection and fear of failure, feeling “stuck”, lack of support, negative thinking – to name the most common. As for the external boundaries, in Egypt, I definitely hear about the economical status, no clear future opportunities for young people and the vision of better career options abroad.
Those are reported to me as “blocks” to success.
I see it a bit differently. I can find only one real reason that stops Egyptians from achieving success. They need a leader to encourage and inspire them to unleash their full potential, nothing more. I have seen it happening during my coaching or workshops – I give the students a tool, no answers, no guidelines, just a simple tool. They take it, use it according to their own needs and discover a totally new talent that was already there inside of them, but covered up with layers of fear, uncertainty and confusion.
5-HR Revolution Middle-East: You have worked as a Pharmacy Manager in Poland and an Executive Manager in an Aesthetic Medicine Clinic in Egypt. What is the difference between managing Polish and Egyptian employees?
Marta Sikora: I have to admit I needed to change my approach towards management when I started working in Egypt. That is the effect of differences in traditions, customs and mentality of Polish and Egyptian people. It is natural that each nation has its own attributes. Learning and noticing those differences, as well as understanding and being eager to deal with employees here in Egypt, allow me to find the golden mean. I didn’t lose my “European way of thinking”, but I became much more flexible for sure. I always appreciated that all employees need to understand the rules and their importance, to embrace and practice them in day-to-day work. They felt in control of the situation, enjoyed it, because the responsibility was in their hands. After a while they started not only to follow my advice and way of working, but also put more and more useful rules to apply by themselves, just so work goes smoothly! That’s what I believe rules and procedures are made for, to simplify our daily duties.
6-HR Revolution Middle-East: As a manager in this field, what are the qualifications you search for before hiring any sort of employee?
Marta Sikora: I look for personality rather than qualifications. The best employees I had were surprisingly the ones that had no previous experience! They were the most eager to learn and eager to apply the knowledge. They were the most interested to make their work flawless and they always asked for feedback to improve their performance on a daily basis. Maybe I just love to teach and share the best practices with young people and I enjoy their enthusiasm? Our cooperation was always bringing me lots of satisfaction and great results for our clinic and patients.
Honesty and trust are a priority as well. The worst mistake or the most uncomfortable situation inside of the team or between the employee and the client can be solved quickly and positively, only if there is trust and honesty between the manager and every employee. We all learn from our mistakes and they are a natural part of our work. So there is no need to make it hard on each other.
I have to add one more thing – clear communication and stated expectations, from both sides, are as well crucial. Those qualities assure no misunderstandings.
7-HR Revolution Middle-East: Before you came to live in Egypt you previously worked as a pharmacist in Poland. What is the difference between pharmacy in Poland and pharmacy in Egypt?
Marta Sikora: I’ve worked in Poland in many different pharmacies. As for Egypt, I had a chance to practice in one of the pharmacies during my student’s exchange in 2008. From the perspective of a pharmacist, working in a community pharmacy diminishes the role of a professional pharmacist and diminishes the chances of gaining knowledge. In both countries, I’d rather go for clinical pharmacy or industrial pharmacy – both of those specialties were of my own interest back in Poland.
8-HR Revolution Middle-East: What sort of advice would you give to Polish students who seek to have a successful career in pharmacy?
Marta Sikora: The advice that I have applies to all students. It is to always go for the career that is interesting for you, that you are passionate about and will be attracted to everyday. When you wake up in the morning and don’t feel like going to work that means it’s not challenging you enough, it’s not stretching you enough and not exciting you enough. That’s what I felt one day about my work in a community pharmacy. After that, my private life took a turn and I moved to Egypt. If I had stayed in Poland, I would have most probably searched for managerial work in a pharmaceutical field.
9-HR Revolution Middle-East: In your personal opinion, what are your negative and positive comments regarding the pharmaceutical industry in Poland?
Marta Sikora: In my opinion, the industry offers a lot of different opportunities to pharmacists graduating from the medical university. It’s no longer only a community where pharmacy is the sole choice. You can follow the branch you find most interesting without limitations. I see clinical pharmacy as the most promising because it was for me a new level of putting into practice the extensive knowledge a pharmacy student gains during the years of studying.
10-HR Revolution Middle-East: From your life and work in Egypt, what is your critique of the working environment in Egypt and your suggested solutions?
Marta Sikora: That’s always the greatest question – not only to ask “what is not working?”, but to point out “what can we do to fix it?” I’ve worked with many Egyptians. I’ve interviewed hundreds of them. What was many times shocking to me was their attitude, saying, “I don’t believe that work means anything; I don’t believe my work matters; I don’t believe I can make any difference in the world”.
I always loved to have a job I enjoy, maybe that’s why I was always asking myself: “Do I love what I’m doing today? Do I feel like waking up in the morning? Does my work make me feel alive?”
A few times my answer was “No” – that’s when I made my career shift. I think each one of us has a purpose in life. People I have met during my lectures always agreed with that statement. The only problem occurs when we don’t know what that purpose is, and we do what others are telling us to. We need to start listening to our own opinions and follow our own choices, to find that purpose.
Just by meeting young Egyptian people during my sessions, I noticed how a broad spectrum of talents is found here. I wish all of them can be nourished and used – that’s more than enough to solve all the problems in the working environment.
11-HR Revolution Middle-East: Do success factors differ from one country to the other?
Marta Sikora: Success factors – no, but the attitude of people towards those factors – yes. I have found many Poles who did not believe that success is in their reach. I have found many Egyptians who did not care much if they were successful or not. But then I understood that success means something different from one person to another. The key to being successful is to first define: “What success means to me?” and then go for it, no matter what other people will be telling you.
I was considered a very successful pharmacist (one of the top in my university), a very successful executive manager (created from scratch 4 clinics in Egypt and abroad). However, for me success is the satisfaction I feel after hearing: “I didn’t trust your simple tools and the principles at the beginning. I didn’t believe something can change in me by attending your sessions. But now, after the whole course, I experience it in every moment of my life. You were right, I just need to be present, use the simple techniques and my life will be different”.
After you figure out the definition of success, put into action basic success principles and strategies I teach in my courses, coaching sessions and workshops, you will feel successful.
12-HR Revolution Middle-East: How did you brand your name as a trainer in Egypt and create your own audience? What are the strategies you used to help you achieve this?
Marta Sikora: Before I brand myself, I come up with the idea of who will I help, who will benefit the most from the shared knowledge, who is in need of my guidance in problems? I believe the next big thing in the business world is the shift from selling the product to serving people. I don’t think “what is my brand?” I ask “whom can I serve, where is the person that urgently needs my assistance?”
Of course I use all the success principles given by Jack Canfield in his training program that I was a part of and got certified from. Here are some of them:
- Ask, ask, ask – I ask constantly, I ask everybody, I ask for everything. We can only do so much alone, when we ask we have a bigger impact on society and our audience.
- Believe in yourself and reject rejection – I know how to deal with “no”, I know not everyone will be interested in my work and I accept that. I just say “next” and move forward.
- Visions, dreams, goals, affirmations, visualizations, meditation, prayer and other “brain stretching” techniques are extremely important as well.
- Overcome your fear – that’s one of the biggest strategies; fear of failure and fear of rejection stops most of the people from achieving what they dream of. I teach what Jack Canfield says, “Feel the fear and do it anyways!” Fear is a natural part of our life. It’s needed, but not to paralyze us, just to warn us. Small hint – imagine the worst thing that can happen – whenever I tell anyone I coach to do that and who is afraid of something, it always ends with, “Hey the worst thing ever is not that bad!” and they laugh out loud (GRINS).
The greatest strategy always, and in every industry you work is a very cliché sentence: “Be yourself”. Some people will like you, some won’t and that’s a good thing! We are over 7 billion people all over the world, there will always be someone there in need of you.
13-HR Revolution Middle-East: Why is Jack Canfield your favorite author? Why do you think he is so successful?
Marta Sikora: He perfected his tools, strategies and techniques over the period of 40 years of study and never-ending improvements. That’s what I admire about him. I read hundreds of books on personal development, but his “Success Principles” (that I teach now as well, after becoming a certified coach in that field directly from Jack’s company), are different for one simple reason. He has collected 67 universal success principles, has given real life examples of those principles and then he tells you how to put it into your own life! That’s the key! By using his teachings in my seminars and workshops I see it happening before my eyes. We discuss the principle, I show the participants how I applied it to my life and then they get an exercise, a tool or a strategy that they can use in their life starting from that moment on. And then they come to me or write an email to say how transformational it was for them! That’s what I think Jack’s advantage is over other trainers. Besides, he practices what he preaches. He teaches persistence and he gave the best example of it: When 144 publishers rejected his book, he didn’t give up. Thankfully he didn’t because the book that was rejected by so many publishers has sold over 500 million copy. Yes, you read right, over half a billion copies!
14-HR Revolution Middle-East: What’s your advice to Egyptian youth who seek a successful career?
Marta Sikora: Find what that successful career means to you, define it, search for the people who can help you get there, find a mentor, find a role model, find support in a form of a friend who will walk with you towards your dreams or a coach or a member of your family who believes in you and always encourages you to get up and follow your passion. Don’t let fear, obstacles or other people stop your journey to success. Treat them as lessons, learn about your mistakes, correct your course and move on. We have an internal GPS system, and it always works. It always tells us if we are moving in the right direction because when we do, we feel pure joy inside. When we feel distracted, bored, confused, stuck – that means we are off-course. We need to correct it and go back to the right path towards our goals and dreams.
And most importantly, compare yourself only to yourself, never to others. Be proud of yourself, even if others don’t see your success. Don’t wait for others to validate your dreams. You will succeed eventually and they will say you were one of those one-night success stories, while you know you went on a journey to achieve that success. That journey is an exciting road because with every meter of it, you become a new, better version of yourself.
HR Revolution Middle-East: Thank you so much Ms. Marta for your efforts to the Egyptian society and for this interview.
Interview with Keith F Watson -Online Tutor ICS Learn
“We feature our student success stories in our monthly Student Newsletter, as we know this inspires learners to keep going with their studies, as well as showing them how other students overcame the challenges they faced” Keith F Watson – ICS Learn
The Interviewee: Keith F Watson, LL.M, Chartered FCIPD, FCMI, FLPI, FITOL
Job Title: Owner 360 HR Solutions and Online Tutor ICS Learn
Keith’s qualifications include LL.M (Employment Law and Practice) and CIPD. A tutor since 2007, Keith worked in the financial services sector from 2006 in a variety of senior HR roles before setting up his consultancy in 2016. He’s actively involved with the CIPD in various capacities, including being a past branch chair, member of Council and a voluntary membership assessor. He is currently a member of the Professional Standards Panel (Chair) and a member of the Qualifications Advisory Group, as well as a member of the Employment Tribunal. Keith is also an Equality Act Assessor in the Sheriff Courts.
1-HR Revolution Middle East: The CIPD has become one of the most important certifications in the HR and the L&D field. Would you please explain to our readers the scientific value of the CIPD Certification, as well as its impact on the professional career progression in those fields?
ICS Learn: HR is an art underpinned by science, and the CIPD qualification benefits individuals and organisations by going beyond the technical aspects of people management and development.
Whilst the qualification requires a robust technical knowledge across a range of topics, the real strength lies in the requirement to adapt that knowledge to the business environment and become a critical thinker who can devise best-fit solutions.
There is no doubt that the increasing requirement by organisations for their HR teams to have CIPD qualifications is due to those already with these qualifications having demonstrated the effective application of their technical knowledge in the workplace, rather than taking answers from a book and trying to make them fit situations where they simply don’t work
2- HR Revolution Middle East: From your experience, what are the most recurring challenges do learners have in completing their CIPD studies? What recommendations would you give them to help facilitate their time management for study?
ICS Learn: One of the most reoccurring challenges is time management. New learners – especially those studying part-time – do sometimes underestimate the time commitment in undertaking a professional qualification. Whilst we generally recognise the time necessary for classroom attendance, be it in-person or virtually, we often forget about the additional time required for self-study, research, and assignments – all of which are critical to our success.
There are only 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, and even in lockdown, there are very few people claiming to have a lot of free time. Therefore, we must decide (ideally in advance) what activities we are going to put aside for the duration of our studies.
We all have different approaches to learning, so it’s important to free up the time when we’re going to be most effective, be that early in the morning, lunchtime, evening or later at night. Some people study better in short bursts, whereas others prefer to set aside a specific day at the weekend. There is no right or wrong way to study, it’s simply a question of when works best for you.
Another reoccurring challenge for students looking to complete their CIPD qualification is understanding the question set. Whilst it is never the intention of an examiner to confuse a student with a question, it does sometimes happen. For example, it’s often said that businesses working in English are divided by a common language and HR practice is no different. An SME, for instance, can be a “small medium enterprise” or a “subject matter expert”. To avoid confusion, the first step is to read the question not once, not twice but at least three times to understand what has been written. If there is the slightest doubt as to what is being asked, seek clarification from your tutor.
3- HR Revolution Middle East: To what extent do you believe that the body of knowledge of the CIPD Certifications can be applied to practical work in different countries?
ICS Learn: Whilst the legal aspects of the CIPD qualification are based on UK law, most CIPD qualifications are very general so that they can be applied internationally. Being that culture varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, the core elements of HR practice remain the same in that we help support organisations in achieving their objectives through good people management and development practices.
The breadth of learning is a distinct advantage in all jurisdictions, as is knowing about practice and regulations in other jurisdictions. Given that laws and regulations vary over time, being able to identify and apply relevant regulations in an assignment is a valuable skill to have regardless of whether the same regulations apply in the countries we support. I have often joked that if I was ever to become an employee again, I would wish my contract to be based on Indonesian law as in that jurisdiction employees must agree to their dismissal!
4- HR Revolution Middle East: As an Instructor, how did your journey with ICS start? What makes you most passionate about this role?
ICS Learn: I started my journey with ICS Learn more than 20 years ago as a CIPD student at which time, in addition to assignments, each module was tested by exam. Around 14 years ago, I received an email from one of my former ICS Learn tutors asking if I would be interested in attending an Advanced Employment Law workshop she was running as she was looking to retire from these workshops and she had been asked to look for a potential successor. Having literally that weekend just finished my dissertation for my master’s degree in Employment Law, for the first time in years I had a “free” weekend.
As I always enjoyed such workshops I readily agreed to attend. However, on arrival, I received a message that the tutor was unfortunately unable to attend and I was instead asked to run the workshop! Perhaps it was being thrown in at the deep end with no time to worry about anything, but the workshop was a great success with all the attendees passing their Employment Law exam a few months later and my having fully acquired the tutoring bug.
Over the years much has changed, and I have had the pleasure of running training sessions and workshops on a variety of CIPD and non-CIPD topics both virtually and in numerous countries including Singapore, India, Sudan, Nigeria, and of course in the Middle East both in UAE and KSA.
Whilst HR and the world has evolved, facilitating learning in others whilst learning from students and their personal workplace experiences is as inspiring and exciting today as it was 14 years ago.
5- HR Revolution Middle East: As a learner how did the CIPD qualification change your life?
ICS Learn: Without a doubt, gaining a CIPD qualification has been life-changing and has allowed me to have not only a successful career in HR within financial services but to successfully run my consultancy for the last 5 years. I must admit that being able to work internationally in so many different regions has been a distinct bonus and certainly embeds the learning that no matter what we do in HR there is always more than one way of doing it.
6- HR Revolution Middle East: What special tips would you share with professionals unable to choose the appropriate CIPD Certification Level for them? How does ICS Learn help learners in taking this step?
ICS Learn: Our advice would always be to chat to our CIPD Course Advisors, whether that be through our website, email, or on the phone. Their job is to talk through your experience, ambitions, and previous education to make sure that you choose the right CIPD course for you.
7- HR Revolution Middle East: What are the most common challenges CIPD students face? What pieces of advice do you have for them?
ICS Learn: As detailed in question 2, the most common challenge is time. We must be willing to accept that in taking on a new challenge we must set aside some of our current activities. Short term pain for long term gain!
8- HR Revolution Middle East: What should be the “competencies” of a CIPD student in order to excel and accomplish the degree?
ICS Learn: Self-discipline, commitment, curiosity, an open mindset, and of course an ability to understand and write in business English
9- HR Revolution Middle East: ICS Learn cares to publish students’ success stories with different certifications and how they got opportunities to progress substantially in their careers. How often do you refer to those stories to encourage reluctant learners to finish their studies?
ICS Learn: We feature our student success stories in our monthly Student Newsletter, as we know this inspires learners to keep going with their studies, as well as showing them how other students overcame the challenges they faced. It’s a great way for students to learn from each other!
Interview with Mr. Vijay Gandhi, Regional Director of Korn Ferry Digital
“2021 is here and there has been never a tipping point like this before for governments and organizations to transform how they work, engage the employees and service their clients. It is this mix of internal and external challenges that will also create opportunities for leaders to make a difference as we embark upon a new calendar year.” Mr. Vijay Gandhi
Interviewer: Mariham Magdy
Brief Biography about the Interviewee:
Mr. Vijay Gandhi has worked with human resource teams for over 20 years to provide them with tools, benchmarks, insights and data to help them design high level global HR frameworks and make decisions for local executive teams, remuneration committees and board of directors in public and privately owned companies across different sectors. He oversees the commercial activities of Reward & Benefits in KF Digital across Europe, Middle East and Africa.
Vijay has an MBA from Durham University (UK) and BBA in Finance & International Business from University of Wisconsin-Madison (USA). He joined Korn Ferry in 2001 in Dubai and has worked in EMEA and Asia region. In May 2018, he was honored with Forbes “Top 50 Indian Executives in Arab World”
1.HR Revolution Middle East: Mr. Vijay, welcome to HR Revolution Middle East Magazine. It’s a great pleasure to have the opportunity to make this interview with you.
As the Regional Director for Korn Ferry Digital, we are keen to learn from you more about KF Digital, how do Korn Ferry’s digital applications help organizations to transform or enhance their organizational strategy?
Through the Korn Ferry Digital platform, our clients gain direct access to our data, insights, analytics and digital solutions – enabling them to drive performance in their organizations in a scalable way through their people, using one enterprise-wide framework and language of talent. Our digital solutions cover the whole talent journey. So, whether it’s developing a new talent strategy or reward program, making informed decisions about hiring or developing talent from within the organization, getting the right people on board, or even collecting feedback on how engaged employees really are, right across the organization – Korn Ferry Digital provides the answers.
Our solutions serve as an integrated platform that gives clients direct access to the data, insights and analytics. Clients benefit from one enterprise-wide talent framework and language that helps drive organizational performance through people.
2- HR Revolution Middle East: To what extent can we trust the results of the digital assessments? How can organizations use the data that Korn Ferry collects to make intelligent hiring, reward, development decisions?
Mr. Vijay Gandhi:
Korn Ferry Digital is fueled by the most comprehensive and up-to-date people and organization databases. This data provides the DNA for our digital solutions, bringing a research-based foundation to underpin quality and consistency in your HR practices. Over 4 billion data points have been collected, including:
- Over 69 million assessment results
- 8 million employee engagement survey responses
- Rewards data for 20 million employees across 25,000 organizations and 130+ countries
We’ve pulled the data together into a comprehensive set of actionable and dynamic Success Profiles. Success Profiles define “what good looks like” and include data around three dimensions – the accountabilities of a role, the associated capabilities to perform these responsibilities, and the traits and drivers that are characteristic of a person who will thrive in this role.
Organizations have access to over 4,000 individual Success Profiles across 30,000 job titles – and we are continually updating and adding new profiles, so you get to leverage the latest thinking on emerging roles. The results are therefore based on deep insight and research.
3- HR Revolution Middle East: Mr. Vijay, we are eager to learn from you more about the success story behind honoring you as one of the Top 50 Indian Leaders in Arab World by Forbes Middle East in 2018 – Region’s greatest success stories as Regional Director at Korn Ferry Digital.
Mr. Vijay Gandhi:
I am a long-time resident of the Arab region, where my family roots go back 60 years, before the UAE federation was formed. Knowing the culture, people and dynamics of working in the Arab world has been natural as this has been home to our family where my kids are the 5th generation. For more than 20 years, I have worked closely with human resource teams in the Arab world to execute their talent strategy. A lot has changed in this period in HR function itself which was regarded as a payroll function few decades ago. Today, HR and People strategy are board room discussions where HR plays a strategic role in driving workforce performance.
In these positively growing and changing times, my focus was on leveraging tools, benchmarks, insights and data to design high-level global HR frameworks for senior executives in the region – helping them more effectively manage their talent. We have built successful client partnerships in the region which has made Korn Ferry as a go to organizational consulting firm.
4- HR Revolution Middle East: For over 20 years, you have overseen the activities of pay, talent, surveys and listening products across Europe, Middle East and Africa. What are the unique characteristics of the Middle East organizations especially in talent and pay management? How does we differ from other regions as Europe & Africa?
Mr. Vijay Gandhi:
Change is taking place rapidly in the world of work with any organizations taking unprecedented steps to remain relevant and connected to their people , their customers and society. In the Middle East we have seen many companies implement temporary pay-cuts. Diversified conglomerates have shifted their employees from one division to another to balance the demand and supply. There is no denial that the way we work is changing and organizations have had to prepare a blueprint for the unexpected. This year it’s coronavirus. Next time, and there will be a next time, it could be a natural calamity, a recession, talent flight or something else unforeseen.
- Redefining the nature of work: Even today most organizations in the Gulf region are measuring success or performance using the metric of attendance. There is a mismatch between modern, flexible ways of working and traditional ways of organizing and rewarding work. To close this gap, organizations need new approaches that fit today and can flex for the future. New and evolving technologies allow organizations to operate more effectively and more efficiently. They do this by preparing people to work more productively and by introducing virtual ways of doing things that previously required physical presence. Some organizations in the region have started tocreate “flexible teams” for specific projects, and then dismantling them once the project is complete.
- Moving towards a liquid workforce: HR laws in the Middle East region have undergone change in the last 3 years to allow for part-time employees, internships and with the spring of an independent freelance community offering specialized professional services which were rare to find few years ago. In the future, we will see more organizations tailoring their resource requirements to the needs of the labor market. Organizations will move towards a liquid workforce to capture the best talent regardless of source or nature of contract which may not be employed full-time.
- Splitting time and skills: A few global companies are making use of employees’ skills and motivation within the confines of a traditional role. They have developed a SharePoint platform where employees can give up to 20% of their time to projects outside of their core role. The 80/20 approach allows for flexibility without the contractual implications of making significant changes to roles and functions. The projects range from large, like supporting big corporate initiatives, to small, like moderating a series of workshops. These smaller projects may last just a few weeks and take up less than 20% of a person’s working time. Trainees, called ‘Start-up’ participants, also work according to the 80/20 principle. That means they follow a set rotation programme for four days of the week and meet on Fridays to work on joint projects.
- Rethinking Reward: Even after right-sizing in many Middle East companies, there has been a significant impact of grade/title inflation on performance. In the short-term it is important to preserve operating capacity in the event demand returns to normal sooner than expected by managing leaves and cutting pay for a limited time. In the medium-term, organizations will have to adjust individual performance incentives as conditions normalize and consider crisis-related spot awards where applicable. In the long-term, organizations will have to not only maintain awards for top-performers but also consider tying bonuses and incentives to crisis-related health and-safety metrics.
With no ‘rules of the game’, and such rapid evolution, it’s not surprising that many companies feel they don’t know where or how to start. They need fresh thinking and new approaches on a whole range of topics – including how to create a ‘new deal’ that works for their people.
5- HR Revolution Middle East: The digital transformation has changed totally the way businesses make decisions. Given that almost every organization has been forced into a new way of working, how can they navigate through a new normal?
Mr. Vijay Gandhi:
The positive new is that, apart from solving immediate effects of the crisis, we have seen a resilience to operate from home by employees and employers moving from “no flexible hours” to “you can work remotely if the job doesn’t require you to come to the office”.
Whilst it’s great to move to more flexibility, we may be going over the top to think that this will be the norm for all employee segments. Let me share some of the discussions with HR professionals in last few months in the region.
- Leadership matters and they want to be visible with the workforce. Ask any leader when do they have the most impact? It’s when they are spending time with their people to engage with them and enable them by listening to their concerns.
- There were aspects of our lives – work, family, friends – which were separate but now happening all in one physical space. The self-complexity theory shows that individuals become vulnerable to negative feelings when these social activities and goals aren’t differentiated.
- Certain roles in healthcare, manufacturing, hospitality sectors cannot work remotely, and fantastic efforts have been made to make the workplace safe.
- Sales and Business development were areas identified as most dependent on face-to-face meetings. According to Harvard Business research, in-person meetings were seen as most effective for:
- Negotiating important contracts (82%)
- Interviewing senior staff for key positions (81%)
- Understanding and listening to important customers (69%)
Although there are many reasons why video conferencing works well to stay connected in isolation and keep dispersed teams connected and aligned, latest research shows they wear on the psyche in complicated ways. Psychologists say a new phenomenon “video call fatigue” is emerging. It describes the feeling of being worn out by back-to-back virtual meetings and having to perform for the camera by over-scheduling ourselves.
So, whilst working from home since March 2020 was considered as a great move from being non-flexible to trusting people, it’s now time to rationalize our thinking. The answer lies somewhere in the middle by being flexible and not drifting like nomads too. We cannot take all home and it won’t be forever.
6- HR Revolution Middle East: How did all the twists and turns occurred in 2020 changed the traditional way organizations used to manage pay? Do you expect that businesses would return to the normal management of pay in 2021?
Mr. Vijay Gandhi:
Shifting to “people” priorities in 2021
2020 will be a fable for us to share with generations to come. It is a year which has revolutionized the way we work and adapt to uncertainty. A year which started with negativity around jobs and pay cuts. Life came to a stand-still. Organizations who have survived the pandemic have shown tremendous resilience and agility to adapt to tough times. As costs were taken out of the business in the first half of the year, we have seen higher productivity and the drive to restore profitability. It was also a year where there remained no doubt that that the most critical driver for any organization was its workforce.
2021 is here and there has been never a tipping point like this before for governments and organizations to transform how they work, engage the employees and service their clients. It is this mix of internal and external challenges that will also create opportunities for leaders to make a difference as we embark upon a new calendar year.
Transformation in business set-up and labour reforms were on top of the agenda in 2020. The Labour Reform Initiative (LRI) brought into action by MHRSD in Saudi under the National Transformation Program (NTP) has swung the focus back onto shared services and their significance in the Saudi business world. This initiative has not only set a strong precedent for the future of workers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) but also carved a structured model for businesses looking to hire personnel. Similarly, there were 2 landmark moves in United Arab Emirates (UAE)
- allowing foreign investors to own local companies without the need for an Emirati sponsor will open doors for more FDI and greater business opportunities.
- allowing professionals to reside and work in Dubai residency rule was a big boon for professionals in workplaces where they are delivering or leading teams remotely.
The road ahead for employees working in this region looks bright as these reforms would strengthen labour competencies, enrich the work environment, and put together an inviting job market. The flexibility will help employers in 2021 to drive innovations, provide access to more talent, drive performance and results regardless of where the team is located in the region.
Leaders will have to go beyond showing interest in the development of everyone and be empathetic towards employees who survived the crisis with them in 2020. In fact, the ‘Global Workplace Study 2020’ by ADP Research Institute shows that employees are approximately 13 times more likely to be resilient when more workplace disruption occurs. Empathy was shown by employees in many ways e.g. working from home in different circumstances or taking a pay cut to help companies save further job cuts.
Technology innovation is here to stay
Organizations in both the public and private sectors had to make a change in the way they work and move to digitization. Another conundrum we are presently facing is the real-estate impacts of employees desiring greater work-life flexibility. It’s unlikely that office spaces will disappear overnight, but rather a greater integration of virtual and in-person work is right around the corner. The recent decision by Dubai Government to work-from-home comes at the back of flexible working hours announced in April 2020. Workplace flexibility works best when implemented to address both the organization’s need to for a leaner workforce and employees’ need for work/life support.
The social element of your workplace has likely taken on a much different look in 2021. You may have employees in a social distance-friendly environment, employees working from home, or a mix of both. Organizations will have to find ways to encourage them to stay connected while being physically disconnected. Even before the pandemic COVID-19 had entered our vocabulary, burnout, stress and anxiety were significant issues in the workplace, and society generally. Once we throw the mental health impact into the mix, and work-related stress is likely to reach staggering levels. Going into 2021, leaders must promote the mental wellbeing and invest into benefits which will bring people together in a different way.
7- HR Revolution Middle East: What final tips would you give to business leaders at the beginning of 2021 with all the apprehensions and fears they have for the new wave of covid-19?
Mr. Vijay Gandhi:
Technology will continue to dominate the workplace and improve efficiencies. However, the most valuable services in the marketplace will always be done better by humans. In an era defined by crisis, where emotional intelligence, compassion, resilience, and morality may prove more important than ever before, the future of work is human. If business is about humans, the future of work must be too.
One thing to look forward to in 2021 from job and career perspective is slow change. Disruption has already happened. However, more often and less discussed are the small changes occurring each day that eventually add up to huge impacts. The present moment is worthy of your attention.
Interview with Meiraj Hussain, Head of Corporate Support & Group HR at Al Masaood
Interviewer: Mariham Magdy
“An open and progressive business organizational culture is described as having a healthy work environment where employees feel valued and are recognized as fundamental to the success of an organization” Meiraj Hussain
Brief Biography about the Interviewee:
Meiraj Hussain, Head of Corporate Support and Group HR
Meiraj Hussain joined Al Masaood as Group Head of Human Resources in 2017, bringing over 20 years of professional experience as HR Leader across multiple industries such as Automotive, FMCG, Manufacturing, IT, Services, Real Estate, and Trading. Prior to joining Al Masaood, Meiraj has managed the Human Resources function in both multinational corporations and family-owned businesses across UK, Europe, and the Middle East.
In his current role, Meiraj places great emphasis on talent management, employee-experience, high-performance culture, and leadership excellence development. He is an advocate of building a progressive work culture where trust is the backbone of relationships and creating a workplace wherein employee empowerment and engagement plays a crucial role. Meiraj strongly believes in the digitization of systems and processes, thus, leading to better business results. Moreover, Meiraj has played an extensive role in the Emiratization initiative with the Ministry of Human Resources & Emiratization (MoHRE) to ensure top-tier UAE Nationals are recruited and retained within Al Masaood, consequently resulting Al Masaood to become a proud Platinum Partner with MoHRE.
HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: Meiraj welcome to HR Revolution Middle East, we are so happy to make this interview with you. You have extensive experience in different industries such as automotive, FMCG, manufacturing, IT, services, real estate, and trading in both multinational corporations and family-owned businesses across the UK, Europe, and the Middle East. How does HRM differ according to the industry, and also according to the business type (multinational corporations and family-owned businesses)?
Meiraj Hussain: Across industries, Human Resources Management (HRM) is a critical part of business operations that focuses on unleashing the people’s best potentials and building a work culture where employees can truly flourish. From process improvement and employee experience enhancement to talent management and performance, HR professionals, as a success partner and enabler, play a diverse role in any organization regardless of business type.
The difference, however, lies in organizational culture. While multinationals have robust policies and processes in place, local family-owned companies are often more agile and faster in implementing the best practices.
HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: Meiraj, I loved so much this statement in your bio: “He is an advocate of building progressive work culture.” How can we build a “progressive work culture?” What advice would you share with other HR professionals about that?
Meiraj Hussain: An open and progressive business organizational culture is described as having a healthy work environment where employees feel valued and are recognized as fundamental to the success of an organization. All workers have so much to offer and contribute, but, oftentimes, they are constrained by internal dynamics, poor leadership, and weak policies designed to create “carbon copies” instead of celebrating and unleashing individual ideas and potentials. Another equally important feature of progressive work culture is employee engagement. As humans, we can easily lose our motivation, which translates to poor performance and low productivity in the workplace. In such a case, HR professionals can steer the employees back to the path of motivation and engagement by taking quick and corrective actions that effectively address employee sentiments and issues.
HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: Digital disruption is one of the most important challenges facing organizations nowadays. To what extent shall organizations shift to the digitization of work processes? How would this lead to better business results? What considerations shall they take in this transformation process?
Meiraj Hussain: At this age and time, digitalization is considered a business enabler. It is for this reason that businesses should consider transforming through automation their time-consuming and mundane processes. By freeing their employees from doing repetitive tasks, they can shift their attention to business-critical tasks such as in the areas enhancing customer experience and driving revenue. For the HR department, the staff can focus their time on core areas of performance, leadership, employee development and people support.
HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: Employee engagement is always an important topic among HR leaders worldwide. Would you share with us how Al Masaood can use its strategy as a tool to empower the employees and engage them in its success journey?
Meiraj Hussain: Communication is the backbone of employee empowerment and engagement. As such, we consider it important to know the sentiments of our employees so that the management can act and address them accordingly. We measure employee sentiments through surveys regularly conducted at the business unit and corporate support levels. Additionally, through the joint efforts of the HR department and the Marketing and Communications office, Al Masaood’s strategy, organizational viewpoints and milestones, and challenges are communicated to the employees across departments to provide clarity about their role and impact on the organization’s success under the guidance of their respective managers and leaders.
HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: Meiraj, you played an extensive role in the Emiratization initiative of the Ministry of Human Resources & Emiratization (MOHRE). Can you walk us through the Emiratization initiatives Al Masaood has recently taken?
Meiraj Hussain: In response to the directives of the country’s wise leaders and as per the decision of its Board of Directors, Al Masaood has fully expressed its strong support for the Emiratization initiative. More and more Emiratis continue to join our employees of different nationalities. Al Masaood’s Emiratisation program comprises four main pillars: the Internship program, the Functional Training program, the Scholarship Program, and Job opportunities; which all aim to enhance the skills of university students, fresh graduates, and experienced Emiratis, and equip them with the required competencies across business units and corporate support departments. Our Emiratization journey has begun two years ago, starting with offering UAE nationals internship opportunities and training programs. We have also ramped up our recruitment drives in universities as well as formed partnerships with vocational institutes such as Abu Dhabi Vocational Education and Training Institute (ADVETI) to advance the employment of Emirati youth. The UAE Government’s measure to close the salary gap between the public and private sectors is a major boost to our Emiratization efforts as well. In recognition of the intensified Emiratization initiatives across the Al Masaood Group, we have achieved the Platinum Partner status given by the MoHRE. Rest assured that we will continue to recruit local talents, invest in their skills development, and provide them with opportunities for growth in a progressive and fast-paced work environment.
HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: Meiraj, you wrote a series of very interesting articles, posted on your LinkedIn profile. One of the controversial articles you wrote is “The Inglorious 6 – HR Types to Avoid.” What made you write this article? What important traits shall HR professionals have, on the contrary, from your point of view?
Meiraj Hussain: “The Inglorious- 6” article went viral and I received comments and feedback from global HR thought leaders. The article uses humor to identify some of the common pitfalls HR leaders should avoid.
HR, as a profession, is going through an identity crisis and, unfortunately, many professionals may not make it through in the course of this transformation. HR is an art and it’s understood through practice; HR is learned through doing and mentorship. Further, there is an unclaimed territory in organizations that other corporate support functions are not addressing. This territory can be claimed by HR.
But the biggest enemy facing HR today is mediocrity. It could be mediocrity of people, leadership or processes, which, in turn, leads to the mediocrity of performance and business results. Leaders need to determine the high standards that their respective organizations should adhere to for them to compete successfully in their markets. This is because consumers are now less and less forgiving of companies that deliver average value in terms of experience and engagement.
HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine: Finally, what should be the focus of HR initiatives in organizations nowadays?
Meiraj Hussain: HR initiatives should be in sync with the company’s overall growth strategy. Once this is clear, the implementation plan can be developed. The initiatives can cover talent and leadership; training and development; processes and technology; performance; culture; and talent acquisition and management, among others. The major consideration in executing these initiatives is to identify how they support the leadership in its efforts to attain the vision of the organization. It is important to note as well that HR acts as the voice of reason with leaders. It should be able to challenge management decisions and resolve conflict for the good of all. Moreover, HR is the voice against the hidden enemy of mediocrity.
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