Overview of the HR Congress Qatar 2012

Last week I attended the HR Congress Qatar organised by IQPC.

It was my first time in Doha and I really enjoyed the place. It is smaller than Dubai or Abu Dhabi but there is a very nice energy to it and the focus on culture is obvious in town – nice !

Now, the main lesson that I retain from the congress is that HR practices are more advanced in the UAE, and so is conference organisation (let’s just say there was nothing to compare to the Naseba HR Conference last March or IIRME C&B Forum last June, both in Dubai – but – no more comment on this topic…).

A main thread at the conference was qatarisation, which is a massive challenge given that the Nationals represent only 6% of the total population present in Qatar.

Robin Ullrich from QChem delivered a half-day qatarisation workshop, as well as a one-hour presentation, explaining what his company is doing to attract and grow Qataris. There was also a panel discussion with Najat ElMhady and Penny Barratt who have been working on the QUILL project (Qatar University Initiative on Lifelong Learning) as well as Mohammad Aklan from Qatar Foundation. Other presentations also included strong sections on the topic, and you can find the two blog posts I wrote about my presentation on emiratisation /nationalisation and Compensation and Benefits at my resource page on emiratisation.

The challenges and solutions proposed are very similar to the ones that companies adopt in the UAE : focus on learning, development opportunities through individual development plans (IDPs), mentoring, developmental secondments/assignments to partner companies including abroad, education sponsorships….

One idea I liked was to provide career counseling to the local youth. This would help them decide on what to study and educate them on fields they are currently not aware of  because there is no internship or integration with the work environment in the education system. This would help the young choose higher education fields that don’t limit their career choices too much. (Like in the UAE, most graduates come from arts and literature backgrounds, not so much from the science/engineering and business management fields that are required in companies).

Another topic which was discussed was the impact of demographics on the workforce. Mohammad Al-Mansour, an OD consultant working with Saudi Aramco, made a lively presentation on the characteristics of the various generations, including some factors that influenced them in the GCC. He also shared some ideas of innovative ways to manage the Millennials, which was quite useful given that 22% of the population in Qatar is aged 15 to 24, and half of the population is less than 34 years-old. For example, American Express set up a special division to manage the companies it acquires, where these entities remain pretty much the same as before the acquisition, maintaining the culture they had developed and which attracted young talent in the first place (because start-ups are usually more attractive to the younger workforce than to employees who have life engagements such as a family or house loan to reimburse).

A very interesting panel covered managing change, with real-life examples provided by panelists Buthaina Al Ansari from Qtel, Mohammad Al-Mansour, and Prakash Belakrishna from Burhan International Construction Company. Some of the salient points I noted include :

  • Many private businesses are family-owned, and they need education to understand the value of restructuring with the implementation of international governance practices because the founders worry about a perceived loss of power. It’s all about them needing to look at the long-term for their business, not just a short-term advantage. For example, the need for founders to send their children abroad for education so that the next generation can take things to the next level with a different way of working
  • The challenge of exiting low performing Qataris especially in view of the introduction of international competition. And the absolute importance to communicate throughout the change, because employees feel hopeless and insecure and they need to understand what is happening.
  • A cultural aspect linked to the introduction of change : when told to change a process, a GCC employee hears “You’ve been an idiot for many years, doing it wrong” and it is therefore imperative to get the buy-in of the employees if you want your initiative to be a success
  • KPIs and benchmarking have to be adapted to the local reality. For example, 7% employee turnover is considered healthy in international organisations, but if that happened in Saudi Aramco it would be too high an attrition because it’s the only company in the Oil & Gas industry in the country and it is therefore not possible to go to market to replace Saudis who may leave. That makes maintaining the 88% saudisation rate difficult.

There were 2 presentations on rewards-related topics.

Sharoq Al Malki from Qatar Museums Authority presented some general rules on developing reward schemes. She highlighted how an incentive is different from a reward, and also gave advice about mistakes done when designing rewards schemes, including something few people think about : neglecting to measure before you apply – because you need a reference point when you start implementing your KPIs. Sharoq also explained a new recognition scheme that was just launched at QMA, where employees get 10 Thank Yous per year in order to recognise other staff for going above and beyond expectation – and then a monthly “hero” is recognised monthly.

Finally, Duncan Micallef from Pepsico introduced the employee wellbeing initiatives at his organisation, and how this helps drive higher engagement in the company. Healthcare premiums rose 10 to 20% for 2012-2013 in the UAE, while a study demonstrated that 40% of all healthcare costs can be avoided by changing behaviours related to diet, smoking, stress and exercises. Combine that with the fact that every 1$ invested in health and wellness has the potential  to return 5 to 6 $ (Vielife, 2011), and you understand why wellness programs are used as a differentiator in the Employee Value Proposition at Pepsico. All employees have a work-life balance objective as part of their annual appraisal. Duncan advised us to remember to focus on branding, as this increases the perceived value of any rewards initiative.

Overall, there were some nuggets of insight throughout the congress, but most importantly, a shared feeling that HR has a major role to play in the development of the nation and that qatarisation and managing a workforce in a state of flux will continue to be some of the exciting challenges that lie ahead for organisations in view of not only the growth spurred by the World Cup 2022 but also of the Strategic Vision for Qatar’s future knowledge-based economy.

Related post:

Resource page on emiratisation and nationalisation


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