What is your take on HR in the region?
HR, as a profession in the Middle East, is fragmented; you have big multinational organisations that are quite strong on HR with a mostly expat population, but local businesses often have a much lower level of professionalism in the function. We can see a massive appetite for a stronger HR function, with companies wanting to create more meaningful working environments to drive better use of talent. That’s at the very heart of what HR should be about.
There are good examples of HR in the region, but it’s all about raising the average and gaining recognition of HR as a profession, both at a local and government level.
What are the top HR trends?
The big challenges are around diversity, recruitment and retention. Importantly, it’s not just about getting a better balance between expats and nationals. It’s also about access to skills and new talent and every organisation is finding that difficult. Gender diversity is a big topic. At ASHRM’s conference it was exciting to hear big Saudi corporations talking about how much work they were doing to attract and progress female talent through the ranks.
Is there anything that surprised you?
One of the presentations that stuck in my mind was by Dr Khaled Biyari of Saudi Telecom Company (STC). He was talking about creating a more diverse culture and building engagement, and how this was helping customer service.
He believes in looking after your employees and matching your customers' diversity, and that if you get that right, the rest will follow. Doing so has made a massive difference to STC's corporate culture. That was as good a case study as I’ve seen anywhere, particularly in terms of the pace of change.
Which local organisations have impressed you?
As well as at STC, I also see great things going on at Saudi Arabia Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC) where they have a fantastic commitment to workforce development in the college they’ve created.
There’s a lot of energy in the Middle East and a real desire to recognise the local context and build solutions that are contextually right for this part of the world. It’s no longer about taking things that have been done for the past 50 years in the West and trying to replicate them. No region has all the answers and none ever will. There are innovations and examples of good practices in every part of the world, and the Middle East is no different. We can all learn from that.