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Interview with Paul Pelletier – Author of The Workplace Bullying Handbook & Others

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Interviewer: Mahmoud Mansi

Despite the wealth of data and reasons why organizations should take action to eliminate bullying, they rarely do. All too often, they have fostered, promoted, supported and, ultimately, protected the bully.

Paul Pelletier
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWEE

Paul is a ground breaking expert specializing in workplace respect, bullying, and conflict management. He is an internationally respected professional speaker and author of The Workplace Bullying Handbook. Paul uses his skills and experiences as a corporate lawyer and business leader in his work as a trainer in workplace respect management, conflict management and leadership. He is a regular presenter at global conferences and events. He is fluently trilingual and can offer keynotes and training in English, French and Spanish. He is represented by the National Speakers Bureau. Paul’s website: http://www.paulpelletierconsulting.com

THE INTERVIEW

1-HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: Paul, first we would love to thank you for writing this book, and other series of interesting books as well. In this unique interview we will be asking from the point of view of the victim, the bully & the workplace. Can you share with the readers the idea behind your book? What do you mean by bullying in general, and in the workplace in specifically?

Paul Pelletier:

Background for the book.

Bullying in the workplace is a significant global problem that, just like cancer or economics, ignores the borders of culture, nationality, gender, class, age, or other traditional distinction. It not only causes harm to those in the target zone of the bullies but also enormous negative impacts to the workplace culture, projects, programs, profits, and success of our organizations.

Luckily, there is an abundance of useful and readily available information, research, and tools for preventing, identifying, and addressing workplace bullying. However, many of us (including me) find this abundance of information overwhelming, particularly when we are stressed because we are dealing with a challenging person at work. We need an easy-to-read, practical handbook – a single resource that focuses exclusively on the lessons learned from experience and practical tips for where to begin when we are confronted with a potential bullying problem.

That is the inspiration for this book. By bringing together my personal experience, the experiences of hundreds of others that have been shared with me, and the most salient bits of research and information available, I hope that this handbook fills a much-needed void. The book is dedicated to enhancing awareness of workplace bullying and the range of diabolical impacts it creates for people and organizations. I also hope to empower those who face bullying directly – the victims coworkers, managers, and executives. Most of us lack the skills or information to objectively identify and appreciate the motivation behind workplace bullying. By providing useful and non-judgmental information, tips, and tools, everyone will be better able to not simply cope, but to take action to address our workplace bullies.

What is Workplace Bullying?

Workplace bullying is mistreatment, perpetrated by an employee, severe enough to compromise a targeted worker’s health, jeopardize her or his job and career, and strain relationships with coworkers. It is deliberate, repetitive, disrespectful behavior that is always for the bully’s benefit. A bully’s actions, on the other hand, are repetitive, intentional, and deviant. The disrespect is often planned. Those with power or influence around the bully are manipulated to ensure the bully’s planned attacks will appear to them as appropriate “performance management steps,” “getting the job done,” or “taking care of business.”

For those who appreciate a more concise definition, the Workplace Bullying Institute defines workplace bullying as:

“Repeated, health-harming mistreatment, verbal abuse, or conduct which is threatening, humiliating, intimidating, or sabotage that interferes with work, or some combination of the three.”

2- HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: We heard many success stories about people who were bullied and because of their bullying they turned out to become very successful people. Do you believe that bullying might have a positive impact with some people?

Paul Pelletier: On the surface, I may fall into the group of people you’re referencing. But there are no positive impacts that bullying has on people. Bullying can be as harmful in the workplace as it is in schools and other areas of society, causing the well-understood emotional and physical impacts, plus a long list of challenges for employees and their organizations. The statistics are sobering. Bullies are prevalent and the harm they cause has direct impacts on people, workplace harmony, and profits/success. If there is a bully operating in your midst, the impact on the team will be toxic, which inevitably has negative broader impacts for the organization. More sobering are the clear and irrefutable statistics – workplace bullying is costing businesses billions of dollars annually.

Targets of bullying face terrible impacts. Narrowing our impact discussion to the lives of targets is a sobering reality check. There are many researched and documented negative health impacts that can be attributed to bullying, including physical injuries and psychological injuries ranging from post-traumatic stress to heart disease.

The one group that mistakenly might feel that bullying has positively impacted them are organizations and their badly informed leaders. Despite the wealth of data and reasons why organizations should take action to eliminate bullying, they rarely do. All too often, they have fostered, promoted, supported and, ultimately, protected the bully. They do this for a variety of reasons, but one of the most common is that bullies are adept task masters that can “whip a unit into shape” or “get that project done.” Organizations ignore the means that bullies use to achieve the ends that matter most to them – the results. In effect, they know that people are being treated badly, but the short-term results trump the personal and workplace-culture harm that bullies cause. In blunt terms, the benefits outweigh the costs as seen from the eyes of organizational leaders.

Therein lies the biggest challenge we face to confront and eliminate workplace bullying – convincing our organizations and societies around the world that the problems, financial impact, and risks that bullies create are far more serious and long-term than any “positive” short-term results that a bully achieves.

3- HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: How does bullying usually occur? Is it mainly a group of people bullying one person on a specific aspect? Or is it done in different ways? How does this impact the work environment?

Paul Pelletier: Unlike schoolyard bullying, people in the workplace are not targeted because they are perceived as loners, outcasts, different, or weak. Most likely, they are targeted because of their abilities, likeability, or other positive characteristics that may have posed a threat to the bully. The perception of threat is entirely in his/her mind, but it’s what he/she feels and believes. I believe that the most innovative, hardworking, and talented employees are often perceived as threats because they are drawing attention, accolades, and people toward their work – likely away from the bully or his/her projects.

The Workplace Bullying Institute’s research findings from a 2000 study confirm that targets are usually veterans and the most highly skilled persons in the workgroup. Common attributes of targets often include the following:

• Targets are independent.

• Targets are more technically skilled than their bullies.

• They are the “go-to” veteran workers to whom new employees turn for guidance.

• Targets are better liked.

• They have more social skills and, quite likely, possess greater emotional intelligence.

• Colleagues, customers, and management appreciate the warmth that the targets bring to the workplace.

• Targets are ethical and honest.

• Targets are people with personalities founded on a nurturing and social orientation – a desire to help, heal, teach, develop, and nurture others.

Generally speaking, bullies most often target those underneath in the organizational hierarchy. This translates into a simple fact – the majority of bullies are bosses. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute 56% of bullies choose a subordinate as their target. This is why the situation is so difficult for the target. If they complain, the natural and often effective response from the bully is that the target is a poor performer and using the complaint as a tactic to deflect attention away from this problem.

Bullies take on colleagues about one third of the time. The bully perceives a coworker as competition, perhaps for a promotion. It’s the same game, just with a different person in the crosshairs.

Very rarely does a workplace bully “bully up,” taking on someone of higher rank. Instead, they apply their manipulative social skill, ensuring those above protect them.

4- HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: If you are an HR Director and you wish to conduct a culture audit on work bullying, what methodology would you use?

Paul Pelletier: As an organization’s chief “people persons,” human resource professionals have the potential for significant influence. They regularly advise the executives and have a unique perspective to share with them. They have a deep awareness about what’s going on with everyone working throughout the organization. In fact, HR professionals are often the only ones with a complete picture of the workplace culture. As a result, I believe they are a critical pivot point for change and that they wield persuasive power to help eliminate bullying.

Throughout the world, HR staff are helping business-savvy organizations take increasingly preventative steps to confront workplace bullying, reinforcing their ethical awareness and instilling confidence in employees and those who do business with them. It is far better to proactively and directly address the bullying than to permit spreading poison throughout the organization. There are a host of proactive and preventative measures that motivated HR staff and organizations can take. Some of the most practical, proactive tips are the following:

a) Establish or Revise Respectful Workplace and Ethics Policies

Create organizational codes of ethics and respectful workplace policies that clearly include anti-bullying policies, effective methods to report and investigate bad behavior, and make annual training for workplace ethics and respect mandatory.

b) Initiate Awareness Campaigns

As noted earlier, there remains a lack of awareness regarding workplace bullying. Many people lack the tools and knowledge to identify bullies and understand the situation once a bully has been identified. Thus, it is essential that everyone in the organization be provided with baseline information and a bully-awareness tool kit.

c) Invest in Training

Training, awareness, and education are critical to the success of such policies. Human resources must be on board and not feel unprepared. Each segment of the organization requires training adapted for the audience. Executives and leaders have different responsibilities and points of focus than do employees.

d) Walk the Walk

There is no replacement for authentic, engaged leadership and HR. Just like any important initiative, unless everyone witnesses sincere, meaningful, and consistent anti-bullying messages and behavior from the executives, the goal will never be reached. It may be cliché, but to eliminate bullying the change must come from and be led by example from the top. From the CEO and senior managers all the way down to lower-ranking staff, the message must be direct, consistent, and clear – there is zero tolerance for bullying.

e) Improve Performance Management Strategies

One of the most effective ways to improve organizational workplace culture is to include performance metrics for respectful behavior and attitude in performance plans for every employee. Give managers a tool to directly address bad behavior the moment it surfaces. By making the employees accountable for disrespectfulness, organizations increase the impact of their workplace respect policies.

g) Implement Fair Reporting Processes

Establish fair, effective, and safe methods to report alleged bullying: Bullying isn’t like other conflicts in the workplace. It requires specialized processes and methods for conflict resolution. First, an unbiased, safe, and user-friendly complaint-reporting process is essential. This works to everyone’s benefit and will ensure impartial, confidential, and trustworthy processes.

h) Establish Investigation Processes

Bullying investigations must be impartial, fair, and fulsome. In order for a staff to feel safe and have faith that their employer takes this issue seriously, it is essential that investigations are unbiased, confidential, free from political interference, and result in appropriate responses if allegations are proven. An impartial investigator should be engaged to conduct this sensitive work and be permitted to speak to anyone who may have witnessed the activity. Fair treatment for all alleged victims, bullies, and witnesses is needed to engender trust in the process.

i) Take all Bullying Reports Seriously

Take bullying claims seriously but tread carefully. Until there has been a thorough assessment of the complaint by unbiased and trained personnel, the organization and HR should remain neutral. The important point here is that organizations should respond immediately and professionally. While every report of bullying or bullying-type behavior should be taken seriously, whether they have merit is for the investigation process to determine. It is fair to say that some allegations will turn out to be situations that involve conflict between two competitive staff, or misunderstandings, or communication breakdowns. Regardless, the investigation will provide the organization with a neutral report that helps senior management address the problem, whatever it turns out to be.

j) Use Effective Conflict Resolution Strategies

Normal conflict resolution processes won’t work with bullies: It is naïve to think that you can reason with a bully. Holding a meeting with the bully to “hash out” management’s concerns will usually result in the bully defending their actions, using deceit, blame, and deflection as their primary means to convince management the problem lies with the target. In other words, there will be no progress, no accountability.

Furthermore, mediation is simply another opportunity for the bully to misbehave and instill fear in the target. This is an organizational problem that requires impactful decision-making authority, not a compromise-seeking session. Thus binding arbitration is normally the best process to use. Often, the organization will find it doesn’t get this far.

With all of these policies and processes in place, there is no guarantee that your organization won’t ever face a bullying situation. However, when it happens, the organization will be prepared to handle the challenges effectively, with due process.

5- HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: If after you conducted the audit you found out you have a high percentage of bullies & bullying in the organization, how would you suggest to resolve the issue & what would be the timeline?

Paul Pelletier: HR is often mistakenly used as the bullying complaint office and expected to handle audits, complaints, investigations, and conflict resolution. My point is that HR shouldn’t be conducting any audits or investigations. Simply put, HR staff aren’t prepared for properly trained to do this work or to deal with bullies. This isn’t their fault but that of your organization. Many executives fail to appreciate that bullying situations are highly complex and require bullying experts in order for the situations to be effectively resolved. HR lacks training in counseling, psychology, and the power dynamic-laden conflict-resolution process, all of which are needed to manage bullying situations Further, HR isn’t appropriately placed to ensure that complaints processes are fair, unbiased, and free from influence.

Despite these potential hurdles, if HR can provide solid reasons to implement change and frame their arguments using words and approaches that executives relate to, I believe there are many opportunities for positive change. Employers are slowly becoming more informed of the many negative work culture and organizational costs associated with bullying. By demonstrating many examples of quantifiable impacts that affect organizational success, innovation, employee engagement, and the bottom line, human resources personnel can make a difference.

There are tools and information available to HR personnel that could make an impact. I recommend an anti-bullying action plan that focuses on an approach unique to HR and on ensuring the people in the organization are paramount. It also incorporates the need to articulate impactful arguments that quantify the cost of a bully in your workplace. HR’s job is to provide executives with irrefutable data that inspires them to act.

Specifically, an HR action plan focuses on the following:

• To become well informed about bullying;

• To convince executives to invest in anti-bullying training, policies, and processes;

• To improve organizational awareness;

• To develop methods to quantify the costs of bullying in your organization;

• To ensure HR doesn’t become the bullying complaint in-take and resolution office; and

• To take action within your sphere of control and influence to prevent, effectively manage, and eliminate bullying.

Human resources personnel can play a major role in leading the effort to eliminate workplace bullying. By focusing on the business reasons to eliminate bullying, I believe change will happen. If the only way that CEOs and Presidents will respond to bullying is by being fed the business case for eliminating it, then HR can provide them with the diet of numbers and statistics that will motivate action. You can prove what bullying actually costs if you need to.

6- HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: Is there a way to spot a bully during the recruitment process?

Paul Pelletier: Unfortunately, workplace bullies are often hard to clearly identify, particularly in a recruitment process. They are usually highly skilled, articulate and smart. They may also be socially manipulative and adept at charming those they deem will serve their career path well. They know how to play the game and impress. One thing to look for is that bullies are usually focused on achieving results, regardless of means, ethics, or fairness. Sadly, it is often those results that senior managers are impressed with and focus on. I would advise recruiters to take note of this. Listen to your intuition – if you feel uncomfortable or a flag is raised, don’t ignore it. The reference process may be of some help if recruiters have flagged any concerns. Don’t be afraid to ask direct questions from references.

7- HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: What would an employee who is bullied should do first, then second, then last, in order to stop the bullying?

Paul Pelletier: This question is too hard to answer as so much depends on the situation and many factors that impact what the best action plan might be. The best response I have is to read the section of my book for action plans for those who are targets of bullies.

8- HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: If you are working towards creating awareness among bullies to convince them to stop bullying, what approach is best used?

Paul Pelletier: In the case of less severe forms of disrespect (i.e., being interrupted at a meeting, an inappropriate remark, a breach of a boundary, etc.), by taking fair and direct action, when it’s appropriate, we not only stop the bad behavior but also lay the groundwork for the possibility of rebuilding the relationship so that we can move past the regrettable offense. This is also possible for many daily workplace conflicts.

Unfortunately, bullying is a behavior that falls at the extreme end of the disrespect spectrum. Like harassment, discrimination, and workplace violence, our intervention goal will likely not include the chance to rebuild a relationship. Our main goal is to take action that effectively stops the behavior.

One of the most common questions I’m asked is, “When should I take action against a bully?” My consistent response to this question is that we stand the best chance of stopping bullying in its tracks if we take action as soon as possible and when it is appropriate – preferably, quickly after the first time the disrespectful behavior occurs.

However, I only recommend you take direct action if you are comfortable and it’s appropriate. In using the word “comfortable,” I’m not suggesting that you are only ready to address bad behavior if you relish and enjoy these fierce conversations. No sane person would ever feel that way. Instead “comfortable” and “appropriate” are used as an important reminder that there may be instances when you aren’t in the proper place to take unilateral action or the circumstances aren’t suitable for you to even try. For example, if the offender is a person with a high level of power and is known to abuse such authority, it may be best to consider a multilayered action plan that engages others to assist. Alternatively, you may be dealing with a very well-known workplace bully that is entrenched and supported by the senior management.

The inevitable follow-up question is “How do I take that very first action?” There is no simple answer to give, so my best response is that “it depends” – on the circumstances, on your organizational policies, on your communication skills, on the people involved, on your place/role in the organization, and on many other relevant factors. Each fact pattern requires careful assessment to determine what exactly to do and say and whether you need the help of others.

I address the “how to” take action question in detail in The Workplace Bullying Handbook.

9- HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: Speaking of awareness campaigns, many campaigns rely on negative images and communication that grab the empathy of those who already believe in the cause, yet further detaches the bully from society. Do you think these campaigns actually “bully the bullies”?

Paul Pelletier: I believe that we must call out bullying openly and honestly. You can’t sugarcoat the truth. I firmly believe it is fair to refer to bullying as workplace terrorism. This isn’t a negative image to bully the bullies – it’s honest and defensible. Bullies don’t care about awareness campaigns because they believe they are impervious to attack.

It takes a while to grasp that bullies rarely have much, if any, capacity to care or feel compassion for others. From the many stories I’ve been told, it is fair to say that they are usually consumed by their egos. They are driven, at all costs, to prove themselves and disprove those around them to ensure they are in the limelight. They need recognition and are constantly on the promotion track. They are control freaks and don’t see any other perspective but their own. They hide their deep-rooted inadequacy in a shield and image of impenetrable power and ruthless wielding of authority.

The second something goes wrong, they are pointing the finger at others, blaming them as the root cause of the problem. From “fake news” to outright lies, I’ve heard countless tactics that bullies have used to deflect issues or problems away from them. All of which to say, I don’t feel that awareness campaigns should be designed to do anything but provide facts and inspire people to take action to stop bullying.

10- HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: As a spouse, a family member or a friend, how can I help my concerned person if he/she is being bullied at work?

Paul Pelletier: As I’ve discussed, bullying causes significant physical and mental health impacts. All of us can support a victim by being compassionate, empathetic and listening. Remember that you are neither a counselor nor a trained HR staff member. Consider what the victim is trying to manage and how you might provide emotional support or other compassionate assistance. Sometimes just listening is enough. Help the target reason things out and make sound decisions given the realities of their workplace. Encourage the victim to get professional help from unbiased professionals who bring many tools and skills to provide guidance and support.

11- HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: Since you are PMP certified and have also published a couple of books with the PMI, we consider this book as a complicated project. From a project management perspective, how did you pre-plan all this? Can you also share with us some of the challenges “project creep” you faced and how did you overcome them?

Paul Pelletier: Both books were complex projects and, like all projects, scope and schedule challenges were constantly needing review. The more research I did, the more I realized there was more than one book to write. That’s why I wrote two different books covering two totally different aspects of workplace bullying – the first being a business book focusing on the many business reasons to inspire leaders to take action to stop bullying; and the second being a practical handbook designed to assist anyone in their efforts to confront bullying.

Once I knew I had two books to write, I was able to focus on a project plan for each book, with timelines, deliverables and milestones. Being highly organized and managing my time was critical to success. I also picked a great editor very early in the process and she was integral to maintaining my priorities and focus.

The Workplace Bullying Handbook. This is a link to both books on my website. Each book has hyperlinks to amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com if anyone wants to buy one (in kindle or hardcover).

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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