In late May, ChapmanCG co-hosted a fascinating session in Dubai with Chris Leonard, Head of Organisational Development, at Dar Group, the eighth largest engineering consultancy in the world. With significant projects in large-scale heavy engineering, Dar is one of few emerging market players in this industry with truly global capabilities – an appropriate backdrop for our discussion on driving global best practice in the Middle East. The session was attended by a number of HR leaders from both local businesses, which are increasingly operating in the international/global arena, as well as global multinationals aiming to drive global best practice and leverage their capabilities in the Middle East region.

The Middle East on the International Stage

There is a definite trend of increased internationalisation for some Middle East businesses, which of course means bigger competitors. Consolidation in the region is very active, which is leading to more competitive pricing. Many businesses are going through mergers and/or acquisitions, and as a result are becoming increasingly sophisticated, while building scale and diversification. Another effect is that some businesses, like Dar Group, are becoming much more connected across previously autonomous brands. Chris Leonard highlighted the importance of HR working closely with the executive team to drive this significant change, as the CEO is leading the way, while HR is seen very much as the tool to do the job.

Attracting High Potentials

High Potentials (HiPos) were discussed as an area of focus for businesses wishing to grow in this region. Given the reputation of the Middle East as primarily financially driven, it was interesting to note that businesses here are not always competing for employees using monetary rewards. Instead, they are increasingly looking to attract talent using very real career opportunities, broad and varied experiences and the possibility of learning and/or growth in the role. This is very much a dominant theme in Talent Acquisition in the current climate as businesses continue to mature in the region.

Diversifying and the Employee Value Proposition

It emerged from the session that many major businesses in the Middle East are now focusing on the regional-global dynamic. One significant organisation highlighted a focus on hiring a much broader demographic, as well as enhancing their Employee Value Proposition (EVP). This had been a huge journey for the organisation and meant that the company needed to frame and define the culture much more clearly. Determining the elements that differentiate the business from the competition, and maintaining a strong and on-going dialogue with employees had helped to drive the development of this new EVP. Lena Al Suhali, Global Talent Acquisition Manager at Bic, reinforced this point and stated that the ability to be nimble and to provide internal opportunities has proven to be a successful way for the business to drive engagement and develop talent through temporary learning opportunities, such as maternity leave replacements, short term international or local transfers, sometimes even creating multiple moves in sequence where the opportunity has arisen.

HR at Education Giant GEMS in the Middle East

Building on this discussion, we were delighted to welcome a further team of senior regional and functional HR Leaders to the table to drill down on how their roles in the Middle East are evolving in 2016. Hosted by Abdulhussain Tejani, VP, HR Operations and Fara Siddiqui, CHRO, at global education giant, GEMS, our debate touched upon the theme that ‘change is the only constant’ in this region where we experience consistent fluctuations in oil price, political instability and the advance of technology, against a backdrop of generally poor Labour Relations and human rights compliance. Agreeing that we hold little control over these external factors, the Middle East team members enjoyed focusing on the internal factors within their organisations that also contribute to this ever-moving wheel of change, but can be more easily influenced.

The Middle East Grows up

The HR Head for the Middle East, Africa, India and Southeast Asia at one of the major terminal companies reflected on the past seven years of living and working in the region. She spoke of the change in maturity of HR management teams here, the increased sophistication of HR delivery models (which were previously new to the market), the meeting of slowly improved diversity targets on age and gender, and a more developed ‘corporate’ approach to business in general. It was agreed that these are sure signs that this market has evolved significantly in terms of presence on the worldwide stage.

Reverse Mentoring and Age Diversity

Delving into the issue of age diversity, we discussed the value of housing multiple and simultaneous generations within one business. An HR Leader for Middle East & Africa at a global technology business commented on the effect of ‘reverse mentoring’ in her business. This typically takes place between the “millennial” employee population and the more mature/ experienced employees, where the millennials were invited to train some of the older, less tech-savvy individuals and bridge the IT knowledge-gap between the two age groups.

Where’s the Talent?

Continuing with the theme of internationalisation, future goals were commented upon with some degree of vigour and excitement. Specifically the HR Head (Middle East, Africa and India) for a major hotel chain talked of the 516,000 employees needed in the region before 2020. Dubai is the fourth most visited place globally, and it was agreed that work needs to be done with the Dubai government to secure the introduction of UAE part-time work visas, if this quota is to be met - particularly in the fields of Food & Beverage, Retail and Culinary. Many leaders commented on the untapped pool of part-time talent, which is under-utilised in the region at all levels. Trailing spouses with excellent professional training, academics and business ethics cannot currently secure part-time work unless sponsored by a spouse.

Conclusion

HR functions in the Middle East have grown in maturity and sophistication over the past decade, and there seems to be an ongoing zest for continued improvement within internal teams. There is also a recognition that change is simply ‘part of the furniture’ here, and one must buy into it if joining the region as an expat. It is very much in the hands of the individuals to embrace and drive development while the rest of the world watches.

Many thanks go to Dar Group and GEMS for hosting such positive and insightful meetings in this developing region. We look forward to calling this group together again later this year.