Salma Hajjaj is general manager HR at Gulf Bank in Kuwait, where she manages the organisation’s HR, facilities and PR functions. In this Q&A, she talks to Karam Filfilan about her passion for motivating the next generation of GCC workers and why we need to stop stereotyping our youth.
What motivates young GCC workers?
What they want and what they think they want are two completely different things. I believe we should focus on encouraging them to think deeper about what they really want, rather than what they expect they should want.
This generation is highly educated with high aspirations. They have a lot of distractions with social media and technology, so come in with high expectations but very short attention spans. What we need to do as leaders is ensure we spend one-on-one time to make them understand their own aspirations. We should ask them ‘what do you want to be, what do you want to achieve?’
This one-on-one coaching is so important because young people think life is mapped out for them. They need to study to graduate, then they need to graduate to get a job, then find a job to work in a bank, then stay at the bank until they retire at a relatively young age.
Because of this expectation, very few think beyond this and have the aspiration to become a CEO or senior person.
Our experience in interviews is that when you ask youngsters ‘where do you see yourself in five years?’ more often than not, the answer is ‘I will be a manager’.
That’s fine, but then you ask them ‘a manager doing what?’ and frequently the answer is, ‘well, whatever a manager does’.
For me, being a manager in itself is not a goal. You want to be a manager doing something you enjoy and creating value. You can be successful and do what you are good at, but don’t have to be a manager. You don’t have to have the title of a manager to successfully manage people either, but so many young people want the prestige. It’s about getting them to think outside the box on what they want to achieve when they’re older.
Do young people lack self-analytical skills?
They’ve just never been taught. GCC youth live in tightlyknit, family-focused groups, so tend to lack social skills with strangers. Socialising is very much limited to the immediate family, so when you bring people into the workplace, where they have to socialise with people from all walks of life, backgrounds and nationalities, they need to learn how to be a bit more socially astute. This is where coaching and one-onone mentoring can help, as each person has their own mindset.
What initiatives does Gulf Bank have to deal with these?
We are working on increasing our Kuwaitisation at the bank. We focus this at entry level, where we take on only fresh, young graduates. What we’d like to focus on, moving forward, is to grow the management team with the right number of locals, in order to have that balance between nationals and non-nationals.
To help achieve this goal, we have launched our graduate development programme, which is geared towards those who’ve been with Gulf Bank for between one and three years. It’s a nine-month programme in which we’re aiming to create what we call the holistic banker.
We’ve selected 20 graduates with the aim of taking them through all aspects of banking. Within the programme we have a three-day residential focused on personal development, looking at growing your own potential and learning how to manage people, being creative, finding your style of leadership and being innovative. We hope this segment will allow individuals to reflect on how they could become senior leaders in the future.
Once they graduate from the programme, attendees will intern with international banks for two weeks before immersing themselves into different areas of our bank. Through this programme we have also raised awareness of areas of the bank that they wouldn’t normally be interested in, particularly in the back office. Through this education we’ve widened their horizons and opened the door for them to consider areas that are usually hard to fill with locals.
A second initiative is our mentoring programme. Several of our top management have been assigned a graduate mentee to develop through monthly meetings and development programmes. We monitor growth through feedback, but I have to say it’s one of the most successful things we’ve done because it gives our graduates exposure to senior people. They learn what it takes to become a leader and believe that they could become leaders themselves.
What skills do young people bring to the workplace?
Their social networking skills are incredible. It’s a new market and terminology for business – and young people are at the cutting edge of it. They are very active on social media and can become influencers in their own right. This is the way the world is going and something we as a retail bank must tap into. They are the best people to tell us what is out there.
Our young people are also very highly educated. College degrees per capita are comparatively very high in the GCC, so we have the education, facilities and academic strength, but what we need to do is prepare young people for the corporate world.
What advice would you give to peers in HR?
Stop stereotyping. There is this image that young people are all the same. They’re not. They’re individuals with different mindsets that need to be tapped into. They all have strengths, but the only way you’ll get through to these is by spending time with them.
Leaders in general need to give up more time to spend with youngsters and become role models. There’s nothing greater than someone walking away saying that you’re their idol. Think about your legacy: it’s not about what you do, it’s about how you make someone feel.