In your own words: a call for the recognition of the Rewards profession in the Middle East

Advice for your C&B CareerA few months ago I wrote a report on Trends in Compensation & Benefits in the GCC for informa Middle East (free download).

In the survey that was at the basis of the report, Rewards managers were asked about the challenges they face.

A massive cry out came from the ranks, centered on 2 main ideas :

  1. We need more recognition of the role of C&B, and education of management to help us move away from a traditionally administrative role,
  2. We struggle to get buy-in from management to abandon its mentality of cost control and only applying the bare minimum required by law or “best practice”.

Here is what our peers said about their challenges :

Challenge 1 – Recognition of our value-add

  • “The lack of understanding of other Management team (non HR) or Board members on how C&B works in the short term and the impact of any programme in the long term”
  • “Lack of recognition of the importance of C&B function – often seen as just being “payroll and administration”, without professional recognition”
  • “The lack of knowledge and experience in this area among senior management in non-multinational organisations”
  • “Education in effective C&B – the senior management particularly in public sector is not educated about C&B and still perceive C&B to be an operational aspect of HR.”
  • “The main challenge is probably managing change and convincing decision-makers of its very need.”
  • “Buy-in from the management and employees is difficult due to traditional policies and strict rules. Trying new approaches becomes difficult in this scenario.”

Challenge 2 – Best practice and cost control are not the solution to everything

  • “Getting senior managers to think out of the box and not just settle for best practice…”
  • “Resistance to new ideas, archaic thinking etc.”
  • “Across KSA, very few companies have professional HR thinking : the majority are stuck with routine daily governmental challenges of residency and visas changing laws.”
  • “A lot of companies are still run by families, which are still not open to Total Rewards. At the most, they will just comply with the existing labour law which is very limited in terms of C&B.”
  • “It is very difficult to convince management about the value of offering improved C&B to employees. They seem to be hung up on cost control.”
  • “Cost and change management of thinking to move towards total rewards and employee engagement.”

To sum it up, “Middle Eastern companies are used to YES persons and C&B specialists need to be aware not to be used as implementers. Instead, they need to be looked at as people with insight and knowledge that may be used to improve the company’s overall performance”.

Advice for Compensation & Benefits professionals

One of the respondents included some advice in order to get that recognition, and help their organisation : “There is high growth and the need for business leaders to take decisions very quickly means there is the possibility of getting things wrong. The C&B specialist has to anticipate this and have the data and recommended solutions ready to ensure that the business can be guided to make the right call most of the time”.

Wise words indeed !

In a blog post  called The new quantitative era : creating successful business change with analytics, James Taylor comments on what matters to build credibility for data – and the advice could have been written for Compensation professionals :

“It’s not about the math”, it’s about the relationships.

Key new skills then for analytics people :

  • Tell a story with your analytics – the business has to understand what it is telling them
  • Stand firm when necessary – have the courage to stick to what the data tells you
  • Help frame the decision – begin with the decision in mind and make sure the alternatives, the outcomes are well defined
  • Fix it – don’t just identify problems but think about how to actually fix it and then fix it !

In fact, I shared a real-life example of how that advice applies for a Total Rewards professional in 4 skills to master for influential Compensation & Benefits. Go check it out 🙂

Based on my experience, further recommendations would include :

  • Approaching communication in an appropriate way to greatly improve chances of getting buy-in for your projects : every word matters in C&B, so be careful to explain the jargon while remaining true to meaning.
  • Develop your storytelling skills.
  • Avoid giving answers that are based on technique only.
  • Visual skills are also important, and a good graph is worth a thousand words.

Growing your persuasion skills and going beyond the “technical expert” culture of the Rewards profession will go a long way to increase the influence and reach of the function within any organisation.

Want to help our profession get the recognition it deserves ? Please share your advice in the comments below !

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Takes me back to the dark days in the UK when reward was regarded as an administrative cost control mechanism. Understanding the mentality and culture in the Middle East, the challenges do not surprise me. Only iteration, persuasion and results over time, will change that mindset. It even seems to call for some form of collectivism and sharing of good practice amongst forward-looking employers to spread the word. There is no easy route.

    • I agree Evan, knowledge-sharing is one the of the best things Rewards professionals can do collectively to try and improve how our function is perceived. And of course, lots of things at the individual level such as the ones you mention (iteration, persuasion and results over time), alongside with continuous learning, innovation, and some risk-taking from time to time.
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting !

  2. Nadim Ahmed says

    This is hard for me to digest that even C&B is looked upon as an administrative function in the Middle East. I believed C&B could be easily quantified or made tangible across the organization’s business strategy. I am working towards my certification in C&B but more importantly also need to work towards showcasing the value addition of Total reward.

Speak Your Mind