Interviewer: Tarek Refaat
“Initially my vision about Al7arefa was to establish an entity that is unique from a business and cultural perspective and is able to truly service the Freelancers and the clients not across Egypt only but across the Middle East and North Africa region as well” Nermine El Nemr
Brief Bio about the Interviewee:
Nermine El Nemr is the founder and CEO of Al7arefa an Egyptian Freelance Platform that works on connecting Freelancers with clients and the right business opportunities. And she has just recently went live with her platform.
1. HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: First of all, Nermine, thank you for taking the time to be with us and sharing with us your insights! So, let us begin, can you tell us a bit more about Nermine El Nemr?
I’m a very passionate person who’s always driven by her beliefs and her passion. I’m a graduate of Mass Media and have completed a diploma in Marketing in the AUC. And I’ve worked for 8 years in the field of marketing and PR in companies like FedEx, KidZania and a marketing research company called Marketeers. And then I worked for an NGO that is focused on empowering the ICT sector in Egypt. And then I decided to proceed with establishing Al7arefa and this was 2 years ago.
2. HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: Why Al7arefa? What made you choose to come up with such a platform, what is the story behind this?
There is actually a story behind Al7arefa, I was working full-time up until my last job when I quit, and my company offered me to work with them on a project basis. And I realized how much it suited me and because I liked to work more at night and arrange my own time at my own pace. And then I was searching more about freelancing. And then I started to observe the scene locally and in the Arab world and realized that despite the industry is there but I didn’t feel it’s where it can or should be, I saw on social media the demand was there , the need was there and the freelancers were there but something didn’t click. So I began to become more interested, and hence Al7arefa’s idea was born.
3. HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: Freelance websites are one of the principal areas of business today where many companies are moving more and more into the field. Why do you think it is so important?
Freelancing is a work-style that offers a lot of flexibility to the professionals and specially this arose more in our generation , the need for more freedom , we are a generation that doesn’t like to be necessarily bound to one place, we want to be able to travel , work when we want to. And I believe it is something that is growing in the Middle East region , and the need is there and opportunities are there.
4. HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: Could you share with us the vision of Al7arefa?
Initially my vision about Al7arefa was to establish an entity that is unique from a business and cultural perspective and is able to truly service the freelancers and the clients not across Egypt only but across the Middle East and North Africa region as well. And I believe we are capable of doing so. We also want to create an integrated community & Data center that is able to provide our users with all the knowledge and information they need across the various industries they work with. This is something I’ve faced a lot of challenges in finding the data and how in some times it wasn’t even available. So it is part of our vision to be able to provide the necessary information to all our users.
5. HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: Can you tell us what is unique about Al7arefa in the business?
Egypt didn’t have an operating platform that is able to conduct the client and freelancer matching, and conduct the payments and we managed to do so. And not only that we managed to build the largest community of clients and freelancers in Egypt that is also compatible with the market, industries and culture. We also studied the market and are working on addressing the Freelancing business’s weaknesses which we have found not only on the local scale but also on the regional scale as well. And that also came from the fact that we worked closely for 1 year before having our online platform up and running and this has brought us close both to our clients and freelancers to understand not only their business needs but also their life needs and managing the relationship between both. It’s not about just matchmaking portfolios because anyone can do that today, but we want to be involved in managing and maintaining the relationships between the freelancers and the clients.
6. HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: What are the challenges you faced until you were able to build Al7arefa?
Challenges are actually my favorite part! Actually because no one has asked us this question before. We deal with a huge diversity of people , full time workers who freelance on the side, full time freelancers, Entrepreneurs, corporates, small business , CEOs , Managers, Directors, Employees, HR personnel , and each one of those is unique in their way of communication , their needs, their expectations and how they want things done. And this is why we spent a lot of time on the operational sides of the business with a lot of focus to understand all this and be able to run the business effectively. And this is why we focused on the operational aspect which came with many challenges whether they are cultural or business. And after having done so for a long period of time. Only now have we started to focus on our marketing to be able to send the correct messages we want our various clients and users to find , and use. A lot of people were not convinced of me going through that experience saying it would need millions to work , but I think there has always been this voice which guided me and was always reassuring me that I’m going to make it!
7. HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: So the world now is split between entrepreneurs, corporate employees, Freelancers, you are somewhere between the two worlds of freelancers and entrepreneurs, can you tell how did this combination affect your thoughts and vision for Al7arefa?
I believe having worked for companies and then having done so much research and that gave me a large level of exposure and the world of startups has changed me completely and added so much to my character.
8. HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: Did you get criticized for deciding to go on with such a project with all its complications? Encouraged?
I was told so many things, that I was crazy , that I was bound to fail, that this is a waste of money, but my belief is what kept me strong, like I said, that voice inside of me kept me going and it still does.
9. HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: What do you think the challenges you face added to you?
I believe that the fact that challenges I faced were various tremendously added to my character, much more flexibility and understanding.
PATIENCE for one, when running a business you need to be extremely patient even if sometimes you want to scream from the top of your head. It made me a much more calculated person always taking the various aspects into consideration even in my personal life.
10. HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: Where do you see the future of freelance work and entrepreneurship in the coming future?
I think that the future of Freelance work and Entrepreneurship could not be brighter, it is a fact that despite the pandemic the world is facing, companies started to explore the options of Freelancers, remote workers and understanding the values of what services companies like Al7arefa provide, companies are now more understanding and receptive to these types of discussions. So I firmly believe we are at the steps of a lot of changes to come.
11. HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: Here at HR Revolution, we’ve wrote previously about how companies should build employee loyalty, could you share with us your insight on the topic?
I think this is a very important topic, and I’m actually quite happy you asked me such a questions, I’m enjoying the flow of questions as they’re quite non-traditional ones. So regarding employee loyalty, which is a very important point of discussion, I’ll speak from my own experience, at Al7arefa we’re a very small team, and when I was creating this team I asked myself a lot of questions about how I would like this team to look like, and I came up with a few key points for me. I want people who want to own their work , willing to learn, adapt and are flexible to do multiple tasks but most importantly have a passion towards what they’re doing, to feel this is their business as well, not just a part of it , or some execution arm, they need to feel this is where they belong. And I try my best to show them whenever the occasion arises through the client’s feedback or reactions we receive from the people we work with, it’s very important for me that they feel the impact of their work. I think for company loyalty any manager needs to understand what motivates his team members, some are after positions and titles and money, while some others could be after impact, I cannot say for others what to do, but at Al7arefa we are a team that wants to grow, build and leave an impact.
12. HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: KPIs, Scorecard are the keywords of the working market today, how do you set your own KPIs or Scorecards for your teams at Al7arefa is it the traditional way? More creative?
At Al7arefa our business model is very different since it’s focused on three market aspects (Clients, Freelancers and Jobs) and our teams are focused on driving them and each one element has it’s own procedures and tasks to achieve it’s goals and attached to it is the KPIs per procedure and per goal, but if we want to dig down to our most important ones, is the fact that we need to have sufficient jobs and sufficient freelancers to cover these jobs and vice versa.
13. HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: Do you run team review or personal reviews with your team? Do you have a different approach?
I don’t run reviews per say because the team is rather very small, but we do have discussions and if there’s something that needs guidance on a one to one basis , I do it
14. HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: Would you walk us through your regular day?
My regular day is full of various activities and it’s a like an emotional roller coaster, because I have to go through finances, managing the team, learning and developing my skills , keeping a close eye on the community I’m part of whether on the clients or freelancers, always asking the questions as to what’s needed to do more ? what is needed to grow more. As entrepreneur we face a lot of challenges and your project can just die in less than month. So there’s a lot of constant pressure but we are focused on growing and moving forward.
15. HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: How do you view the Egyptian Market? What are the main advantages and disadvantages?
While I know there is a lot of suffering in the market according to various thoughts and opinions but I for one see that the amount of potential and work that can be done is enormous, no just within Cairo or Alexandria but all across the governorates of Egypt, there skills in the millions which the youth possess and they need guidance and perhaps customized programs and initiatives to help them. And we are focused on promoting the Egyptian Youth’s Skills and capacities. And we could start working on the youth since they are in universities. Part of what I think is important is perhaps career coaching from a very young age, I’ve come across many people who did certain jobs for years and were never happy, that is a form of wasted energy in my opinion, so I believe career coaching could start at a much younger age. We still see people who are in their thirties and forties who have no idea about what they want to do! I believe the market is huge and has so much to offer. It just needs the right initiatives and application.
16. HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: What are the main lessons you learned in your career?
Never give up, always keep trying, challenges are just there to help you discover more about yourself.
17. HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: It’s been quite a pleasure having you with us; would you care to share your favorite quote that inspires you?
It’s never to too late! ?
18. HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: If there’s one advice that you would give to the youth, what would it be?
Persistence, keep following your dream, people will try to put you down not because they’re bad but because they don’t know any better. Try and try and try again, you will fail sometimes but you must learn and then you will succeed.
19. HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: We’ve come to the end of our interview, is there something else you would like to say or share?
I’d like to thank the team of Al7arefa for being my backbone that supports, the clients who have a put their trust in us, and the freelancers for whom we want to help provide the best service and support.
Nermine it’s been indeed quite the pleasure in having you with us as part of this interview!
Interview with Mustafa Naisah, Mustafa Naisah, People Learning & Growth Partner
“We need to tap into the mind-set and enhance it by changing the story we tell ourselves each morning and in every situation, and that requires some training and practice. Once we acquire that positive, proactive, and growth mind-set, it will flawlessly reflect on our behaviors, and eventually the results we get.” Mustafa Naisah
Interviewer: Mariham Magdy
Brief Biography About the Interviewee:
Mustafa Naisah, People Learning & Growth Partner (CRP, ORSC, CVT, ADTTAL, MBA).
Mustafa has extensive experience in the GCC region since 2005 working with Pay TV and Telecom organizations such as Arab Radio and Television (ART), Pehla, FirstNet, ShowTime, and du Telecom, to help them deliver on their brand promise and achieve their commercial aspiration through people and culture development. His last role at du Telecom as a Sr. Manager People Learning & Growth for the Enterprise Business & ICT for 14 years was invaluable one as he assisted in shifting from conventional training methodologies to a more agile and digital one, with many key achievements such as launching Marketing, Sales and Service, and ICT Academies, applying ROI methodologies and enhancing overall business results.
1. HR Revolution Middle East: Welcome to HR Revolution Middle East Magazine. It’s our pleasure to make this interview with you.
“Changing behaviors to deliver stunning business results” what a catchy introduction to your respectable profile. How can we change people’s behaviors?
Mustafa Naisah: Pleasure is mine to be interviewed by HR Revolution Middle East Magazine. I hope I can provide your readers with few tips that they find practical and actionable
I believe that, if we want to change the results we achieve as individuals or as a business, we need to change the behaviors we demonstrate. However, these behaviors stem from the feelings, which can’t be easily changed, unless we work on the deeper cause of the feelings, and that is The Mind-Set.
The mindset is the reason why we feel the way we do, and therefore, act –behave- the way we do, thus, get the results that are always linked to how we behave.
We need to tap into the mind-set and enhance it by changing the story we tell ourselves each morning and in every situation, and that requires some training and practice. Once we acquire that positive, proactive, and growth mind-set, it will flawlessly reflect on our behaviors, and eventually the results we get.
2- HR Revolution Middle East: How does people behaviors shape organizations?
Mustafa Naisah: Individual behavior, group behaviors, and organizational system correlate together to form the shape of the organization, however, each one has its impacts
Most of organizations nowadays have competitors that offer the same products or services. The main differentiator to why customers will choose one over the other is the authenticity in the way they are being served. This service is delivered through people, thus the formula is simple: Happy employees = Happy customers.
Having the right products or services, knowledge, skills, processes, and abilities is critical, however, to stand out of the crowd, the multiplier for that is the mindset.
The key to success for most organizations is how they motivate and empower their employees to demonstrate 3 behaviors: Empathy, taking ownership, and creating a culture of feedback and coaching.
If we manage to create the right mind-set and improve these 3 behaviors, the results is guaranteed and the organization will have the desired culture and shape, and shape. Ultimately, it’s all about how we treat our internal and external customers, however, customer service is not a department. It’s an attitude.
3- HR Revolution Middle East: As a Certified ROI Professional, how does the ROI Methodology inspire leaders to plan for preparing people reactions towards new projects? To what extent do you believe that this critical factor can impact the success or failure of any project?
Mustafa Naisah: This is indeed an excellent question. See, all organizations would require an answer to the question: why will I invest my time, money, and resources in this project or initiative? What’s in it for me (WIIFM)? And it’s absolutely a justifiable question. A lot of organizations now understand that ROI is a since and an art. Unlike a few years ago when the assumption was ROI is merely applicable when purchasing a new machine, or asset, or deploying a new system. Organizations now prefer to measure all the 5 levels of the evaluations, and the 5th one (ROI) is applied to strategic initiatives as a standard practice nowadays.
You can’t improve what you can’t measure. ROI actually can be greatly predictive as well, and to a high extent of accuracy, thanks to its scientific methodologies and isolation techniques. Moreover, it can measure not only the return on investment (ROI) but also the return on emotions (ROE) for a short term and a long term and it provides that to a very wide array of projects, investments, and programs that many people are not aware that it can be measured. Doing so gives the organization a good predictive indicator whether to proceed or not, and later on, whether to continue or not. Moreover it justifies the money that was spent as the results are measured and analysed.
4-HR Revolution Middle East: As a lecturer to MBA Students, what specific value do you believe the MBA offers to professionals in today’s business world? At what age do you advise professionals to complete their MBA Degrees?
Mustafa Naisah: I personally believe one should not rush to the MBA unless he knows clearly why they are heading for it. With the many MB specializations, one should go for the relevant and applicable specialisation. Otherwise it may not add the same value. New graduates should spend the first two or three years deciding what is it that they really want to do. During these years they may change jobs at a very low cost. Once they have the clarity on what they’ll be doing, it is the right time to go for the MBA (or other qualifications such as CIPD in case of HR Professionals) as it will be more relevant and it will relate to things they are already doing or seeing in the real-world environment.
5- HR Revolution Middle East: What are the most common challenges do People Managers face in order to maintain a positive organizational culture? What special tips would you share with HR professionals about this?
Mustafa Naisah: Silence and sense of indifference by employees. That’s is the most poisonous item to the culture, and that can be from both sides, manager to subordinates and vice versa. However, managers are responsible and accountable for not eliminating this culture killer.
Imagine a culture where the company mission, vision, values, and promise are not communicated clearly and instilled in the employees. That is silence. The reason # 1 for employee engagement and performance is having a clear sense of their MEANING. Imagine if that wasn’t nurtured in them.
Imagine when a company is going through a restructure or change initiatives and employees are sitting worried, confused, hearing rumors, and not knowing what’s going on, due to the silence. Can you see the impact on the employee productivity?
Imagine a company that doesn’t talk to its employees unless something goes wrong. A super-achiever or even an on-target achiever that doesn’t hear an appreciation or encouragement, or an underachiever that doesn’t receive constructive feedback, personal development plan, and proper coaching, just to realize when it’s too late that he has not been doing well.
For the above and many more reasons, I regard silence as the biggest challenge and companies that want to maintain a positive and healthy culture must have strategies to switch to a culture where communication, feedbacks, and coaching are daily practices.
6– HR Revolution Middle East: How can organizations quantify the ROI of having positive leadership styles in the workplace?
Mustafa Naisah: This is a controversial question and not an easy one to answer in fact. Jack Philips & Patricia Pulliam published an interesting book named “Measuring Leadership Development” where he linked the positive leadership style with the organizational performance, then quantified that into Impact on Business and ROI. In short, many companies claim that they care about their leadership, but few only show the commitment to that philosophy. Many companies promote employees to become managers based on technical performance, but unless they invest in their development, and equip them with the sophisticated competencies and skills, both hard and soft, with a deep sense of when to offer help and directions and when to hold back. Leaders are most effective when they drive team performance, that means engaging, inspiring, and coaching, doing fewer tasks themselves, and spend more time helping others achieve better results.
Investing in positive leadership development pays-off in many ways. Trust, engagement, retention and reduced turnover, productivity and performance, in addition to many other things that can’t be measured in numbers. Engaged employees are more likely to work 140% for their best boss, and thus the overall company performance improves.
7- HR Revolution Middle East: What final piece of advice would you share with HR professionals world-wide to develop special competencies that can help them excel in todays’ business challenges?
Mustafa Naisah: My advice to HR professionals is to comprehend their business very well, engage and partner with them, and add value to them. Widen your skills and network and stay updated with best practices and industry trends. Be a game changer without essentially trying to apply every new trend or practice that are seen as the “topic of the hour”. What works for others may not necessarily work for your organization. Focus on the desired outcome. Finally, Communicate, communicate communicate…
Interview with Keith F Watson -Online Tutor ICS Learn
“We feature our student success stories in our monthly Student Newsletter, as we know this inspires learners to keep going with their studies, as well as showing them how other students overcame the challenges they faced” Keith F Watson – ICS Learn
The Interviewee: Keith F Watson, LL.M, Chartered FCIPD, FCMI, FLPI, FITOL
Job Title: Owner 360 HR Solutions and Online Tutor ICS Learn
Keith’s qualifications include LL.M (Employment Law and Practice) and CIPD. A tutor since 2007, Keith worked in the financial services sector from 2006 in a variety of senior HR roles before setting up his consultancy in 2016. He’s actively involved with the CIPD in various capacities, including being a past branch chair, member of Council and a voluntary membership assessor. He is currently a member of the Professional Standards Panel (Chair) and a member of the Qualifications Advisory Group, as well as a member of the Employment Tribunal. Keith is also an Equality Act Assessor in the Sheriff Courts.
1-HR Revolution Middle East: The CIPD has become one of the most important certifications in the HR and the L&D field. Would you please explain to our readers the scientific value of the CIPD Certification, as well as its impact on the professional career progression in those fields?
ICS Learn: HR is an art underpinned by science, and the CIPD qualification benefits individuals and organisations by going beyond the technical aspects of people management and development.
Whilst the qualification requires a robust technical knowledge across a range of topics, the real strength lies in the requirement to adapt that knowledge to the business environment and become a critical thinker who can devise best-fit solutions.
There is no doubt that the increasing requirement by organisations for their HR teams to have CIPD qualifications is due to those already with these qualifications having demonstrated the effective application of their technical knowledge in the workplace, rather than taking answers from a book and trying to make them fit situations where they simply don’t work
2- HR Revolution Middle East: From your experience, what are the most recurring challenges do learners have in completing their CIPD studies? What recommendations would you give them to help facilitate their time management for study?
ICS Learn: One of the most reoccurring challenges is time management. New learners – especially those studying part-time – do sometimes underestimate the time commitment in undertaking a professional qualification. Whilst we generally recognise the time necessary for classroom attendance, be it in-person or virtually, we often forget about the additional time required for self-study, research, and assignments – all of which are critical to our success.
There are only 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, and even in lockdown, there are very few people claiming to have a lot of free time. Therefore, we must decide (ideally in advance) what activities we are going to put aside for the duration of our studies.
We all have different approaches to learning, so it’s important to free up the time when we’re going to be most effective, be that early in the morning, lunchtime, evening or later at night. Some people study better in short bursts, whereas others prefer to set aside a specific day at the weekend. There is no right or wrong way to study, it’s simply a question of when works best for you.
Another reoccurring challenge for students looking to complete their CIPD qualification is understanding the question set. Whilst it is never the intention of an examiner to confuse a student with a question, it does sometimes happen. For example, it’s often said that businesses working in English are divided by a common language and HR practice is no different. An SME, for instance, can be a “small medium enterprise” or a “subject matter expert”. To avoid confusion, the first step is to read the question not once, not twice but at least three times to understand what has been written. If there is the slightest doubt as to what is being asked, seek clarification from your tutor.
3- HR Revolution Middle East: To what extent do you believe that the body of knowledge of the CIPD Certifications can be applied to practical work in different countries?
ICS Learn: Whilst the legal aspects of the CIPD qualification are based on UK law, most CIPD qualifications are very general so that they can be applied internationally. Being that culture varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, the core elements of HR practice remain the same in that we help support organisations in achieving their objectives through good people management and development practices.
The breadth of learning is a distinct advantage in all jurisdictions, as is knowing about practice and regulations in other jurisdictions. Given that laws and regulations vary over time, being able to identify and apply relevant regulations in an assignment is a valuable skill to have regardless of whether the same regulations apply in the countries we support. I have often joked that if I was ever to become an employee again, I would wish my contract to be based on Indonesian law as in that jurisdiction employees must agree to their dismissal!
4- HR Revolution Middle East: As an Instructor, how did your journey with ICS start? What makes you most passionate about this role?
ICS Learn: I started my journey with ICS Learn more than 20 years ago as a CIPD student at which time, in addition to assignments, each module was tested by exam. Around 14 years ago, I received an email from one of my former ICS Learn tutors asking if I would be interested in attending an Advanced Employment Law workshop she was running as she was looking to retire from these workshops and she had been asked to look for a potential successor. Having literally that weekend just finished my dissertation for my master’s degree in Employment Law, for the first time in years I had a “free” weekend.
As I always enjoyed such workshops I readily agreed to attend. However, on arrival, I received a message that the tutor was unfortunately unable to attend and I was instead asked to run the workshop! Perhaps it was being thrown in at the deep end with no time to worry about anything, but the workshop was a great success with all the attendees passing their Employment Law exam a few months later and my having fully acquired the tutoring bug.
Over the years much has changed, and I have had the pleasure of running training sessions and workshops on a variety of CIPD and non-CIPD topics both virtually and in numerous countries including Singapore, India, Sudan, Nigeria, and of course in the Middle East both in UAE and KSA.
Whilst HR and the world has evolved, facilitating learning in others whilst learning from students and their personal workplace experiences is as inspiring and exciting today as it was 14 years ago.
5- HR Revolution Middle East: As a learner how did the CIPD qualification change your life?
ICS Learn: Without a doubt, gaining a CIPD qualification has been life-changing and has allowed me to have not only a successful career in HR within financial services but to successfully run my consultancy for the last 5 years. I must admit that being able to work internationally in so many different regions has been a distinct bonus and certainly embeds the learning that no matter what we do in HR there is always more than one way of doing it.
6- HR Revolution Middle East: What special tips would you share with professionals unable to choose the appropriate CIPD Certification Level for them? How does ICS Learn help learners in taking this step?
ICS Learn: Our advice would always be to chat to our CIPD Course Advisors, whether that be through our website, email, or on the phone. Their job is to talk through your experience, ambitions, and previous education to make sure that you choose the right CIPD course for you.
7- HR Revolution Middle East: What are the most common challenges CIPD students face? What pieces of advice do you have for them?
ICS Learn: As detailed in question 2, the most common challenge is time. We must be willing to accept that in taking on a new challenge we must set aside some of our current activities. Short term pain for long term gain!
8- HR Revolution Middle East: What should be the “competencies” of a CIPD student in order to excel and accomplish the degree?
ICS Learn: Self-discipline, commitment, curiosity, an open mindset, and of course an ability to understand and write in business English
9- HR Revolution Middle East: ICS Learn cares to publish students’ success stories with different certifications and how they got opportunities to progress substantially in their careers. How often do you refer to those stories to encourage reluctant learners to finish their studies?
ICS Learn: We feature our student success stories in our monthly Student Newsletter, as we know this inspires learners to keep going with their studies, as well as showing them how other students overcame the challenges they faced. It’s a great way for students to learn from each other!
Interview with Mr. Vijay Gandhi, Regional Director of Korn Ferry Digital
“2021 is here and there has been never a tipping point like this before for governments and organizations to transform how they work, engage the employees and service their clients. It is this mix of internal and external challenges that will also create opportunities for leaders to make a difference as we embark upon a new calendar year.” Mr. Vijay Gandhi
Interviewer: Mariham Magdy
Brief Biography about the Interviewee:
Mr. Vijay Gandhi has worked with human resource teams for over 20 years to provide them with tools, benchmarks, insights and data to help them design high level global HR frameworks and make decisions for local executive teams, remuneration committees and board of directors in public and privately owned companies across different sectors. He oversees the commercial activities of Reward & Benefits in KF Digital across Europe, Middle East and Africa.
Vijay has an MBA from Durham University (UK) and BBA in Finance & International Business from University of Wisconsin-Madison (USA). He joined Korn Ferry in 2001 in Dubai and has worked in EMEA and Asia region. In May 2018, he was honored with Forbes “Top 50 Indian Executives in Arab World”
1.HR Revolution Middle East: Mr. Vijay, welcome to HR Revolution Middle East Magazine. It’s a great pleasure to have the opportunity to make this interview with you.
As the Regional Director for Korn Ferry Digital, we are keen to learn from you more about KF Digital, how do Korn Ferry’s digital applications help organizations to transform or enhance their organizational strategy?
Through the Korn Ferry Digital platform, our clients gain direct access to our data, insights, analytics and digital solutions – enabling them to drive performance in their organizations in a scalable way through their people, using one enterprise-wide framework and language of talent. Our digital solutions cover the whole talent journey. So, whether it’s developing a new talent strategy or reward program, making informed decisions about hiring or developing talent from within the organization, getting the right people on board, or even collecting feedback on how engaged employees really are, right across the organization – Korn Ferry Digital provides the answers.
Our solutions serve as an integrated platform that gives clients direct access to the data, insights and analytics. Clients benefit from one enterprise-wide talent framework and language that helps drive organizational performance through people.
2- HR Revolution Middle East: To what extent can we trust the results of the digital assessments? How can organizations use the data that Korn Ferry collects to make intelligent hiring, reward, development decisions?
Mr. Vijay Gandhi:
Korn Ferry Digital is fueled by the most comprehensive and up-to-date people and organization databases. This data provides the DNA for our digital solutions, bringing a research-based foundation to underpin quality and consistency in your HR practices. Over 4 billion data points have been collected, including:
- Over 69 million assessment results
- 8 million employee engagement survey responses
- Rewards data for 20 million employees across 25,000 organizations and 130+ countries
We’ve pulled the data together into a comprehensive set of actionable and dynamic Success Profiles. Success Profiles define “what good looks like” and include data around three dimensions – the accountabilities of a role, the associated capabilities to perform these responsibilities, and the traits and drivers that are characteristic of a person who will thrive in this role.
Organizations have access to over 4,000 individual Success Profiles across 30,000 job titles – and we are continually updating and adding new profiles, so you get to leverage the latest thinking on emerging roles. The results are therefore based on deep insight and research.
3- HR Revolution Middle East: Mr. Vijay, we are eager to learn from you more about the success story behind honoring you as one of the Top 50 Indian Leaders in Arab World by Forbes Middle East in 2018 – Region’s greatest success stories as Regional Director at Korn Ferry Digital.
Mr. Vijay Gandhi:
I am a long-time resident of the Arab region, where my family roots go back 60 years, before the UAE federation was formed. Knowing the culture, people and dynamics of working in the Arab world has been natural as this has been home to our family where my kids are the 5th generation. For more than 20 years, I have worked closely with human resource teams in the Arab world to execute their talent strategy. A lot has changed in this period in HR function itself which was regarded as a payroll function few decades ago. Today, HR and People strategy are board room discussions where HR plays a strategic role in driving workforce performance.
In these positively growing and changing times, my focus was on leveraging tools, benchmarks, insights and data to design high-level global HR frameworks for senior executives in the region – helping them more effectively manage their talent. We have built successful client partnerships in the region which has made Korn Ferry as a go to organizational consulting firm.
4- HR Revolution Middle East: For over 20 years, you have overseen the activities of pay, talent, surveys and listening products across Europe, Middle East and Africa. What are the unique characteristics of the Middle East organizations especially in talent and pay management? How does we differ from other regions as Europe & Africa?
Mr. Vijay Gandhi:
Change is taking place rapidly in the world of work with any organizations taking unprecedented steps to remain relevant and connected to their people , their customers and society. In the Middle East we have seen many companies implement temporary pay-cuts. Diversified conglomerates have shifted their employees from one division to another to balance the demand and supply. There is no denial that the way we work is changing and organizations have had to prepare a blueprint for the unexpected. This year it’s coronavirus. Next time, and there will be a next time, it could be a natural calamity, a recession, talent flight or something else unforeseen.
- Redefining the nature of work: Even today most organizations in the Gulf region are measuring success or performance using the metric of attendance. There is a mismatch between modern, flexible ways of working and traditional ways of organizing and rewarding work. To close this gap, organizations need new approaches that fit today and can flex for the future. New and evolving technologies allow organizations to operate more effectively and more efficiently. They do this by preparing people to work more productively and by introducing virtual ways of doing things that previously required physical presence. Some organizations in the region have started tocreate “flexible teams” for specific projects, and then dismantling them once the project is complete.
- Moving towards a liquid workforce: HR laws in the Middle East region have undergone change in the last 3 years to allow for part-time employees, internships and with the spring of an independent freelance community offering specialized professional services which were rare to find few years ago. In the future, we will see more organizations tailoring their resource requirements to the needs of the labor market. Organizations will move towards a liquid workforce to capture the best talent regardless of source or nature of contract which may not be employed full-time.
- Splitting time and skills: A few global companies are making use of employees’ skills and motivation within the confines of a traditional role. They have developed a SharePoint platform where employees can give up to 20% of their time to projects outside of their core role. The 80/20 approach allows for flexibility without the contractual implications of making significant changes to roles and functions. The projects range from large, like supporting big corporate initiatives, to small, like moderating a series of workshops. These smaller projects may last just a few weeks and take up less than 20% of a person’s working time. Trainees, called ‘Start-up’ participants, also work according to the 80/20 principle. That means they follow a set rotation programme for four days of the week and meet on Fridays to work on joint projects.
- Rethinking Reward: Even after right-sizing in many Middle East companies, there has been a significant impact of grade/title inflation on performance. In the short-term it is important to preserve operating capacity in the event demand returns to normal sooner than expected by managing leaves and cutting pay for a limited time. In the medium-term, organizations will have to adjust individual performance incentives as conditions normalize and consider crisis-related spot awards where applicable. In the long-term, organizations will have to not only maintain awards for top-performers but also consider tying bonuses and incentives to crisis-related health and-safety metrics.
With no ‘rules of the game’, and such rapid evolution, it’s not surprising that many companies feel they don’t know where or how to start. They need fresh thinking and new approaches on a whole range of topics – including how to create a ‘new deal’ that works for their people.
5- HR Revolution Middle East: The digital transformation has changed totally the way businesses make decisions. Given that almost every organization has been forced into a new way of working, how can they navigate through a new normal?
Mr. Vijay Gandhi:
The positive new is that, apart from solving immediate effects of the crisis, we have seen a resilience to operate from home by employees and employers moving from “no flexible hours” to “you can work remotely if the job doesn’t require you to come to the office”.
Whilst it’s great to move to more flexibility, we may be going over the top to think that this will be the norm for all employee segments. Let me share some of the discussions with HR professionals in last few months in the region.
- Leadership matters and they want to be visible with the workforce. Ask any leader when do they have the most impact? It’s when they are spending time with their people to engage with them and enable them by listening to their concerns.
- There were aspects of our lives – work, family, friends – which were separate but now happening all in one physical space. The self-complexity theory shows that individuals become vulnerable to negative feelings when these social activities and goals aren’t differentiated.
- Certain roles in healthcare, manufacturing, hospitality sectors cannot work remotely, and fantastic efforts have been made to make the workplace safe.
- Sales and Business development were areas identified as most dependent on face-to-face meetings. According to Harvard Business research, in-person meetings were seen as most effective for:
- Negotiating important contracts (82%)
- Interviewing senior staff for key positions (81%)
- Understanding and listening to important customers (69%)
Although there are many reasons why video conferencing works well to stay connected in isolation and keep dispersed teams connected and aligned, latest research shows they wear on the psyche in complicated ways. Psychologists say a new phenomenon “video call fatigue” is emerging. It describes the feeling of being worn out by back-to-back virtual meetings and having to perform for the camera by over-scheduling ourselves.
So, whilst working from home since March 2020 was considered as a great move from being non-flexible to trusting people, it’s now time to rationalize our thinking. The answer lies somewhere in the middle by being flexible and not drifting like nomads too. We cannot take all home and it won’t be forever.
6- HR Revolution Middle East: How did all the twists and turns occurred in 2020 changed the traditional way organizations used to manage pay? Do you expect that businesses would return to the normal management of pay in 2021?
Mr. Vijay Gandhi:
Shifting to “people” priorities in 2021
2020 will be a fable for us to share with generations to come. It is a year which has revolutionized the way we work and adapt to uncertainty. A year which started with negativity around jobs and pay cuts. Life came to a stand-still. Organizations who have survived the pandemic have shown tremendous resilience and agility to adapt to tough times. As costs were taken out of the business in the first half of the year, we have seen higher productivity and the drive to restore profitability. It was also a year where there remained no doubt that that the most critical driver for any organization was its workforce.
2021 is here and there has been never a tipping point like this before for governments and organizations to transform how they work, engage the employees and service their clients. It is this mix of internal and external challenges that will also create opportunities for leaders to make a difference as we embark upon a new calendar year.
Transformation in business set-up and labour reforms were on top of the agenda in 2020. The Labour Reform Initiative (LRI) brought into action by MHRSD in Saudi under the National Transformation Program (NTP) has swung the focus back onto shared services and their significance in the Saudi business world. This initiative has not only set a strong precedent for the future of workers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) but also carved a structured model for businesses looking to hire personnel. Similarly, there were 2 landmark moves in United Arab Emirates (UAE)
- allowing foreign investors to own local companies without the need for an Emirati sponsor will open doors for more FDI and greater business opportunities.
- allowing professionals to reside and work in Dubai residency rule was a big boon for professionals in workplaces where they are delivering or leading teams remotely.
The road ahead for employees working in this region looks bright as these reforms would strengthen labour competencies, enrich the work environment, and put together an inviting job market. The flexibility will help employers in 2021 to drive innovations, provide access to more talent, drive performance and results regardless of where the team is located in the region.
Leaders will have to go beyond showing interest in the development of everyone and be empathetic towards employees who survived the crisis with them in 2020. In fact, the ‘Global Workplace Study 2020’ by ADP Research Institute shows that employees are approximately 13 times more likely to be resilient when more workplace disruption occurs. Empathy was shown by employees in many ways e.g. working from home in different circumstances or taking a pay cut to help companies save further job cuts.
Technology innovation is here to stay
Organizations in both the public and private sectors had to make a change in the way they work and move to digitization. Another conundrum we are presently facing is the real-estate impacts of employees desiring greater work-life flexibility. It’s unlikely that office spaces will disappear overnight, but rather a greater integration of virtual and in-person work is right around the corner. The recent decision by Dubai Government to work-from-home comes at the back of flexible working hours announced in April 2020. Workplace flexibility works best when implemented to address both the organization’s need to for a leaner workforce and employees’ need for work/life support.
The social element of your workplace has likely taken on a much different look in 2021. You may have employees in a social distance-friendly environment, employees working from home, or a mix of both. Organizations will have to find ways to encourage them to stay connected while being physically disconnected. Even before the pandemic COVID-19 had entered our vocabulary, burnout, stress and anxiety were significant issues in the workplace, and society generally. Once we throw the mental health impact into the mix, and work-related stress is likely to reach staggering levels. Going into 2021, leaders must promote the mental wellbeing and invest into benefits which will bring people together in a different way.
7- HR Revolution Middle East: What final tips would you give to business leaders at the beginning of 2021 with all the apprehensions and fears they have for the new wave of covid-19?
Mr. Vijay Gandhi:
Technology will continue to dominate the workplace and improve efficiencies. However, the most valuable services in the marketplace will always be done better by humans. In an era defined by crisis, where emotional intelligence, compassion, resilience, and morality may prove more important than ever before, the future of work is human. If business is about humans, the future of work must be too.
One thing to look forward to in 2021 from job and career perspective is slow change. Disruption has already happened. However, more often and less discussed are the small changes occurring each day that eventually add up to huge impacts. The present moment is worthy of your attention.
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