An overview of the Excellence in Talent Management Seminar from Teneo

The last of the 3 conferences where I was a speaker took place in Dubai last week. The 2-day event was organised by Julien Salvi from Teneo and was a very interactive event, with excellent speakers and an audience who participated fully, including in using technology through to share live comments (with or without Twitter), ask questions to the speakers, rate the presentations and access the slides. A special thanks to Julien for giving me my first opportunity to chair one of the two days at the conference, it was an engaging experience !

In this post I will share some of the ideas that I found most striking during the 2 days.

Jennifer Cunningham from Adidas explained how her organisation is using a CRM, not an ATS (Applicant Tracking System), to target and engage Talent Pools (potential candidates for business critical roles or hard-to-fill positions). Recruitment worked with the Marketing team to learn how they engage with the customers, and adapted these techniques to candidate management, using targeted emails, dedicated web pages, events, access to specific information etc.

Their conversion rate on these Talent Pools is very high, the operation is a success and allows the recruitment team to fill those critical positions faster than with traditional recruitment techniques. How cool is that ?

Christopher McLaverty, formerly from BP, explained how companies focus, through the role of the Board and its HR Committee, on the following :

  • vacancies : key man risk and succession
  • assessment : can people really do what’s written on their CV ?
  • deployment : is talent in the right place ?
  • readiness : individual and team development plans
  • and the company portfolio : are there major business growth areas that have a talent gap ?

What struck me is the language. In the mind of the Board and Top Management, the 5 points above are about risk mitigation, not “fluffy HR stuff”. When HR learns to explain its programs in the language of business, adoption and support will come much more easily, as I have argued numerous times on this blog. So think about how you present your “big idea / big request” next time you go present something to the CEO !

Jeff Turner from Facebook talked about how their culture is influenced by the fact that even the CEO is from Gen Y. For example, one of the paradigm shifts is from “Excellence is defined by what I know and what I can do well” to “Excellence is defined by my strengths and what I produce”. This is a challenge to the traditional competency model, which is based mostly on past demonstration of mastery.

Similarly, the organisation does not focus on roles (ie title, hierarchy, level, compensation) but rather, emphasizes experiences (linked to strengths, learning and self-improvement). Consequently, their grading and titling structure is super simple. As Jeff said, “we don’t have a Sales guy, and a Senior sales guy, and a Super Senior Sales guy. We have one role, and it’s Sales guy, no matter your experience or tenure”.

It was a compelling example of how the culture is driven by the characteristics of the employee population… or is it the other way around ? Chicken and egg really ! Anyways, nice to see how the company culture permeates HR approaches including in the titling and grading system.

Daniel Dijkgraaf from Danone Baby Nutrition Middle East described how Danone is focused on the mid and long-term when it comes to talent management. For example, they want to be an Employer of Choice and win some awards in this space. So they go : “How do we develop our people ? How do we fill our talent pipeline from the bottom up ?” and create plans and programs to answer those questions.This is how the Middle East Academy was born.

It’s interesting to note that after a few years of economic turmoil, companies are starting to look at the mid-term again and try to be proactive in order to reach those mid-term goals, instead of being only centered on reactive plans spurred by unforeseen conditions in the market.

Hamad Eghdani from Emaar Hospitality delivered a brilliant and funny explanation of how Emaar Hospitality have identified that people are motivated by 5 main concepts : money – prestige – career – lifestyle – personal development. They have decided to focus on the last 4 ones, and write each job description with content and vocabulary that relates to one of the 4 roles of producer, improver, executor and thinker. The results ? They’re able to attract and retain UAE National graduates for salaries much lower than other Dubai organisations, because they focus on attracting people who will be the right fit for their culture.

Ruwam Wanigasekera from Du explained that Du allows UAE Nationals to apply to the Talent Development programs from one grade lower than expats. This is intended to give them opportunities to be exposed to stretching assignments and will hopefully help fill the gaps in mid-level National managers.

Employees who are selected to be part of the Talent Pool are assessed against performance criteria of the next level up during a one-day assessment centre and given personalised feedback and a report to help them focus their personal development. The program ties up with prestigious education organisations like Insead for them to also further their education.

When she presented the results from her latest research report, Stacey Reynolds from 10Eighty highlighted that siloed organisations have barriers to mobility because managers are not rewarded to send talent to another region. She said it would be really useful to develop reward mechanisms that focus on talent management as much as the P&L, and I agree ! If Human Capital is really what makes a difference and gives a company its edge over its competitors, then managers, from the top to first line supervisors, need to be incentivised – but also punished – about how they manage and grow talent. For example, at BP you need to have your pipeline / succession in place in order to be promoted.

Jon Scott from EMIC described how RSA (formerly Royal Sun and Alliance) went from 48,000 employees to 17,000 in 18 months, and eventually emerged with engaged employees – once they passed the survivor syndrome. It was a compelling presentation, with a harsh start but interesting approaches really focused on the remaining employees. Because after the culling, “anybody who remained had to be a talent. So employees started to realise that their colleagues were good performers, and started to count on one another and expect performance from one another.” True… but what a long and painful road (though much needed) it was to get there !

For instance, at the beginning of their rescue plan, they asked each manager to rate their team from 1 (poor) to 10 (excellent). RSA executives then focused on the managers who had rated their teams as 5, 6 or 7 and decided to let go most of these managers. Why ? Because the middle of the scale is comfortable, and because these managers could not differentiate the high and the poor performers. They were not the kind of managers that the organisation needed to survive the turmoil it was facing: the company needed to be able to deliver the hard-to-hear messages about performance to its employees, as well as adult conversations about being given another, final chance to perform and fit in – or being helped out of the organisation.

Tiffany St James is a social media strategist with a focus on helping HR organisations. She shared a lot of useful insights, for example : in the UAE, there are 3.2 million people on Facebook (2.6 millions in Dubai and 500,000 in Abu Dhabi), 1 million people on LinkedIn, and 200,000 people on Twitter. The country is embracing social media really fast, and HR needs to be there too. She presented a number of tools offering new ways to attract and engage talent through social media and the social web, some of which are very specialised. An eye opener on the diversity of the offer !

She gave an example that stayed with me about a company in the UK. The recruitment team creates hashtags on Twitter for their recruitment campaigns, and organises 1-hour chats on Twitter about the job openings. They describe the role, what is required, and answer any questions from the people who are following the chat. This one hour reduces their subsequent workload significantly thanks to better self-profiling of potential candidates : the CVs they receive are more targeted towards the actual needs for the role, as people who don’t fit the profile, realise they are not a match, and tend to not send their resume at the end of the chat. Neat !

I’d also like to share a few quotes from the Emiratisation panel discussion which was chaired by the excellent AbdulMuttalib (Talib) Al Hashimi from Next Level : (check his blog here)

  • A 2011 Labour report highlighted that there were only 19,874 UAE Nationals out of 3,895,695 employees in the private sector in the UAE.Β  And 300,000 UAE Nationals are expected to enter the workforce in the coming 10 years.
  • EVP = Emirati Value Proposition πŸ™‚
  • “Social capital is very important to understand in this part of the world.”
  • “An Emirati needs to have a justification for why they work at Company X not Company Y, to discuss with their family and peers” : do Emiratis understand your competitive advantage, prestige and impact on the market ?
  • “I refuse to be a quota. I refuse to be in a [working] environment where there is no career growth. I want to prove myself” as a UAE National… so don’t hire just to fill your quotas. Give the Nationals a chance to prove their worth and you may be pleasantly surprised.

Please also check the #7tmUAE hashtag on Twitter to see, among others, the quotes I captured from the Women in Leadership panel discussion which was chaired by Bruncha Milaszweski a training, coaching and workforce development consultant.Β  Many challenges, but a sense of optimism because today, there are more opportunities than ever for women in the MEA workplace.

Finally, if you are interested on the topic that I delivered, my 2 posts on how C&B can support Emiratisation are listed towards the beginning of Emiratisation 101 on this very blog πŸ™‚

And with that, I am done with my (rather extensive) reporting on the HR conferences where I spoke in the past month, and you are up-to-date with the latest thinking from the GCC. Thanks for reading !

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Bashar J says

    As usual Sandrine, fantastic post … very very infromative

    • Sandrine says

      Thanks Bashar ! Reading a summary (even if long this one is) is not the same as attending : no networking, no interaction, no opportunity to react or ask questions… but at least you get an idea of the topics that were discussed :-). Glad you found it useful !

  2. Thank you Sandrine for the mention and great summary of the event. We are very happy also helped to make the event more interactive.

Speak Your Mind