How a Saudi research centre is building culture

Written by
Mohammed Al Shehri

31 Jan 2018

31 Jan 2018 • by Mohammed Al Shehri


KAPSARC is home to 120 full-time employees, with more than 40 visiting researchers and 22 different nationalities. Of our employees, around 70% are researchers. We have a low percentage of Saudis working in research (around 20%) as the research field is not well established in Saudi Arabia, so it can be a struggle to find suitable nationals.

One of the reasons for this is that universities here don’t have a solid curriculum that provides graduates with the right skills. We see many Saudi graduates lacking the basic skills in conducting research, so we are increasingly adopting our own education programmes in partnership with external universities.

Conversely, our operations department is approximately 75% Saudi. Even these roles are becoming more competitive for the right the talent, as the pool of nationals with the right skills and qualifications becomes smaller.

What we have learned is that it is difficult to find common ground when comparing people from different backgrounds. It’s hard to have a single solid assessment across cultures to find a perfect candidate.

Developing staff

Alongside our academy and mentoring programmes, we encourage employees to take part in continuing skills development. We encourage self-learning, with employees empowered to sign up to any e-learning course they like. We want to embed a learning culture that encourages employees to take responsibility for their learning.

Last year, our focus was on building management capabilities, as we believe you have to build this first before engaging the rest of your employees. We invested in new assessment tools and introduced 360 degree feedback for senior leaders.

We also focus on engagement in our community. With 22 nationalities on one campus, it’s important for people here to have activities for themselves and their families to keep them happy.

Future of work

In a wider sense, business in Saudi Arabia is changing. Some of the things we used to think we needed in organisations no longer apply. An example is job descriptions; nowadays, a job briefing is not enough.

This also applies to business agility. There is no need for HR to address everything through endless policies; modern business in Saudi Arabia is all about speed. For example, teams now communicate best through Slack and WhatsApp, rather than email. The new generation prefers these channels and sees email as a formal communication platform. They work best when comfortable, so informality is more important than ever in business. Twenty years ago, it was all about shirts and ties. Now, jeans and t-shirts are fine. Things are changing.