Written by
Changeboard Team

Published
24 Nov 2013

Catching up with best practice

24 Nov 2013 • by Changeboard Team

Multiculturalism in the Middle East

The UAE alone is home to an estimated 200 nationalities – painting a typical portrait of multiculturalism in the Middle East. Such diversity presents both a great challenge and opportunity for business. As an HR professional, you must facilitate the appropriate people management practices to achieve competitive advantage and satisfy the career expectations of a largely transient and ex-pat workforce.

The profile of businesses in the region is mainly split into two main types: the many divisions or subsidiaries of multinationals which have access to internal HR resources, and local Arab-owned businesses that are still developing their HR practices. Each requires a different approach.

A preference for autocracy

The one common denominator is the cultural mix, which is typically dominated by nationalities from the sub-continent and Asia. Talent management and leadership processes are still evolving in the region and their lack of sophistication or presence is partly as a result of the attitudes, preferences and expectations of the workforce, which tends to prefer an autocratic style of management.

Interestingly, Boston Consulting Group’s 2008 report: ‘How to address HR challenges worldwide through 2015’ did not include the Middle East, while Hay Group’s ‘Lift Off-Unleashing Performance in the Middle East’ suggested that a coercive, command and control management style is indirectly encouraged by employees’ lack of desire for greater autonomy.

Implications for talent management and leadership

Using social engineering to manipulate the cultural mix is unlikely to work and could be counterproductive.

However, investing in talent management and leadership development over the long-term can be effective if you do the following:

  1. Continue to seek out best practice from around the globe and learn from other organizations about what works and what doesn’t.
  2. Get your recruitment process right – hire talented people with potential and develop them
  3. Develop a robust talent management process that can identify high potential employees based on strict objective quantitative and qualitative criteria-avoiding bias and subjectivity.
  4. Choose your managers and leaders carefully.
  5. Assess, develop, evaluate and educate your leaders.
  6. Develop a leadership model and know what an effective leader looks like.