Catch up on the Human Assets Middle East Summit 2012

I was honoured to be one of the speakers at Naseba’s 7th Annual Human Assets Expansion – Middle East Summit.

The conference turned out to be one of the best I have ever, attended in the region. The speakers were knowledgeable and entertaining, the audience was very active and engaged, there was enough time for networking but no empty moments, and the venue (the Habtoor Grand in Dubai) and organisation were spotless.

The first day of the conference was a traditional one, with presentations from a range of speakers coming both from the corporate world and the consulting arena. The second day introduced more interaction in the form of panel discussions, an interactive think tank that I co-chaired with Martin Jalili, Chairman of the Dubai HR Forum, and some roundtables.

Here are some random facts and thoughts that I collected during the 2 days. I will focus more deeply on the information and ideas that would be relevant to Compensation & Benefits managers

David Jones, Chief Consulting Officer, MENA region for Aon Hewitt, chaired the conference.

He introduced us to some of the results of Qudurat, their research that surveys engagement and motivation characteristics of the local national workforce in the region. They are currently running their second survey, so please contact them if you are interested for your organisation to participate, or simply click through if you want to download the results of the first Qudarat round.

David shared with us some insights and numbers, for example, there is only a 20% average female participation in the workforce in the Middle East, and six million jobs were created in the GCC in the past 10 years.

Monique Rittaca-Herena, CHRO, AMEA region for Pepsico, engaged us on a presentation about why we should remain optimistic despite the on-going economic challenges.

The region she oversees is massive, and 50% of the revenue comes from outside the USA at Pepsico. She shared information about their “Tamouh” (“ambition”) youth program in Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan, as well as a number of other initiatives that her company undertakes in order to recruit more local nationals in their countries of operations. I liked that their talent brand or EVP is called “Possibilities”, a great name for a great campaign.

Marc Roos, Head of Workforce Planning for RasGas in Qatar, then delivered a compelling speech about the intricacies of managing an employee base with multiple nationalities and keeping them all happy.

He shared some numbers from 2008  :

  • KSA : 50% foreigners (72% in public sector) – 8.5 million total workforce
  • Kuwait: 83% foreigners (86% in public sector) – 2million total workforce
  • Bahrain : 77% foreigners (29% in public sector) – 0.6 million total workforce. Did I make a mistake in my note taking here? If anyone knows, please let me know in the comments and I will correct.
  • Oman : 74% foreigners (47% in public sector) – 1.2 million total workforce
  • Qatar : 94% foreigners (88% in public sector) – 1.3 million total workforce
  • UAE : 85% foreigners – 3 million total workforce

Because of the existence of NOCs (No Objection Certificates) and other systems which restrict the moves of expats within the country if they leave their current employer, many expats are aware of compensation and benefits pakagesin other GCC countries. This creates competition across the region, not just the country where your operations are based. Marc shared the example of a massive Oil & Gas project in Australia which has had massive impact for O&G operations across all Asia (as Australia is closer to South East Asia than the GCC, has maybe less of a time zone difference, yes there is a bit of tax but workers can easily take their family with them to Australia, and they have the prospect of potentially applying for citizenship).

He then pondered on C&B implications of having such a diverse talent pool in the GCC :

  • Do we lead or lag ?
  • Attraction : compare with home
  • Retention : compare with colleagues
  • Nationals : do you need a different story ?

Jane Horan, from the Horan Group, then proceeded to let us understand why all HR professionals need to be savvy.

… politically savvy, that is. She deconstructed the perception of “office politics” as a negative thing, and explained why in HR we need to be more politically savvy, in a positive way. For instance, she explained how the timing of an exit interview will impact the response you get : immediate : “I leave for the money”, 3 months after “I left because of management, 6 months after “I left because of office politics”. Her presentation contained both research and practical examples, and made us all think different about being politically savvy.

Her top 3 tips to get ahead in your HR career :

  1. Understand power : who has influence ? how are decisions made here ?
  2. Manage perceptions : get your personal branding in order.
  3. Gain visibility for credibility : don’t just deliver, talk about what you do.

Edward Matti, Managing Partner at CCM Consultancy, delivered a very energetic presentation on learning organisations.

This lively session centered on practical examples and discussions of how to encourage learning and growth in your organisation in order to foster the change you need to adapt and remain competitive. There were talks about why people resist training, because change is associated with loss (we did a fun exercise to visualise this), and how we need to think about a training environment that will lead trainees to their stretch zone not into panic.

Another tip was to think about how we introduce training to employees, because the “We’ve done your performance appraisal and we (HR/management) have determined that you need this training and need to upskill because you have deficiencies” is, in essence, not compelling at all for employees. Edward also covered how we should set not SMART, but SMARTER goals : Exciting and Rewarding as well.

Steve Halligan of The Core Group covered HR as a business partner and how we can avoid being perceived as a busybody.

The main issue, beyond the very low number of graduates from top schools who choose to work in HR, is about HR’s self-perception of being there to “help” – and not being focused enough on what directly affects our understanding of the business.

He included some advice to help HR establish its credibility with the business :

  1. Beware of averages (with you head in the oven and your feet in the fridge, you are not “comfortable on average”)
  2. Understand the difference between cause & effect and correlation (events may be linked but one does not necessarily lead to the other)
  3. Mine your data (don’t take things at face value).

Very good advice that applies even more to Compensation professionals….

Steve then lead a panel discussion on how HR can secure a seat at the executive table.

Jill Nealon, SVP HR  together with Ibrahim Al Amiri, Head of Terminal Three at Dubai Airport, and Karim AliDina HR Director for Gulf and Near East at GlaxoSmithKline presented their best practices and gave advice on how to be recognised by the business.

The next panel discussion was moderated by Hermoine Macura, a professional journalist.

She grilled Jeremy Caird, VP HR MENA for DHL, Gareth Powell, Head of HR at First Gulf Bank and Abdallah Musaad Al-Slaim, Director HR Operations at BAE Systems on sharing their points of view on how to best manage talent in the region. We were also presented with DHL’s MENA Talent program,and BAE’s Mustaqfal program.

I then addressed how and why managers should be placed at the centre of the performance management system in order to bring the organisation to its best performance.

Here are the slides if you are interested :

Abdulhussain Tejani, Head of Leadership and OD EEMEA for Merck, Sharp & Dohme concluded the day by discussing plateaued employees.

After identifying 3 types of plateaux, he covered how being plateaued translates in terms of daily activities and feelings at work for these employees, and made a strong point about how continuing to engage and motivate them brings a lot of value to the organisation – including a compelling video about customer service at a supermarket.

On the second day, Diaa Mohamed, VP HR Emerging Markets at HP, covered some descriptions of bad managers, and how to deal with them.

The winners of the Human Assets Awards, which were presented the evening before, then shared the best practices that led them to win in their specific category.

Glen Saldanka, Head of HR Operations & Employee Relations at Dubai Airport (Employer of the Year), Monique Ritacca-Herena, CHRO EMEA at Pepsico (Best Talent Management Strategy), SurourAl Samerai, GM HR for Gulf Bank (HR professional of the Year), and Suhaila Al Nowakhda, General Manager HR Bahrain at Batelco (Best Performance Management Strategy) also shared some tips on how to prepare submission to the awards :

  • If you have the statistics, you can provide the proof of your achievements and demonstrate your progress,
  • Benchmark yourself to identify where you think you might have a leading practice,
  • Tell the story… not just a collection of facts
  • And assign 2 or 3 people to prepare the submission.

So get ready for participation next year !

I then joined Martin Jalili, Chairman of the Dubai HR Forum to lead an interactive think tank where we encouraged the audience to exchange on their current and desired non-monetary rewards.

The discussion went well, with each table presenting what they felt were the most unusual or “best” rewards offered in their organisation.

We concluded the day with a big roundtable covering positive office politics and how some “political” soft skills become more important for promotion as we get up the career ladder, then leadership styles and succession planning and talent management practices.

Phew !  As you can see, that was quite intensive ! I am glad I attended, I met some great people, learned a lot and look forward to presenting again next year.


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  1. […] A new voice to me, but one I now subscribe to is Sardine Bardot who’s blog Compensation Insider hails from Abu Dhabi !!  How cool is that for global HR ??  Great read from her with her summary from the Middle East Human Asset Summit. […]

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