Omantel: Why engagement is everything

Written by
Karam Filfilan

22 Jun 2017

22 Jun 2017 • by Karam Filfilan

Dr Ghalib Al Hosni believes in his people. As vice president of HR at Omantel, he’s leading a revolution in how the function is perceived, operates and partners with the business, as the company moves into a period of rapid change.

Known as Omantel 3.0, this new strategy aims to move Oman’s biggest telecommunications company away from its current approach and turn it into a digital powerhouse that is an employer of choice in the Sultanate.

By combining the organisation’s core telecoms expertise with an expansion into IT solutions, Al Hosni says Omantel aims to become the leader in the national digital market. Doing so requires innovation and change. So how is Omantel getting its people into that mindset?

“In developing Omantel 3.0, we created a team of 25 people from different units across the company and across different levels – so employee level, team leaders and more senior executives from various departments came together to ensure we got a mixed flavour,” he explains.

“Crucially, this new strategy didn’t come from the CEO or from consultants. They helped by putting in place guidelines and giving direction, but we gave the core team the freedom to use their expertise to develop the strategy.”

One of the outcomes of this was the development of four new pillars underpinning Omantel’s strategy. The fact that these values were created by employees rather than the board was critical to gaining employee buy in – alongside the fact that Al Hosni welcomed both positive and negative feedback.

“After the strategy went live, we created staff ‘champions’ to test it. We brought on board people who were positive, but also those we knew would be more negative. Ensuring engagement is happening with our staff is critical. We wanted to hear from all our people,” he says.

Why engagement is all

With more than 2,600 employees and a rapidly changing industry, it’s no surprise that engagement is at the heart of Al Hosni’s HR strategy. The organisation won the 2015 MENA Excellence Award for Employee Engagement, a tangible reward for programmes such as Omantel Talent, which includes competitions in Quran recital, singing, writing poems and even shooting. Run over five months, employees are encouraged to involve their families and engage with one another outside of work.

Another initiative is the Omantel Olympics, aimed at promoting employee morale and encouraging a healthy lifestyle. Competitions include football, volleyball, cricket and chess, with employees again encouraged to bring families along to socialise, enhancing communication back at work.

Al Hosni recalls an employee approaching him after a recent event and telling him that he used to spend hours waiting for responses to emails but, having got to know colleagues in other departments during the Omantel Olympics, he now just picks up the phone and things get done.

However, Al Hosni doesn’t simply champion engagement at employee level. Members of the HR committee include representatives from the board and each of his HR departments – and even members of Omantel’s trade union.

“Not many companies do this, but we have nothing to hide,” he says. “If they’re quiet, I’ll call them and say ‘do you need any help?’ We want them to know we support them. Whatever they do, it’s going to either help or hurt the organisation. I want them to help us, as they’re part of the business.”

Business benefits

While the returns on employee satisfaction and value propositions are well-known in engagement strategies, Al Hosni is keen to point out the business benefits.

“Our revenue is really growing (Omantel reported 9% revenue growth in the first half of 2016). The number of staff complaints has been reduced and our attrition rate is at 2.5%,” he says.

“One area in which we have really grown is training opportunities. Five years ago, we trained 800 employees out of 2,600. Now, we have more than 6,000 opportunities and train almost 95% of staff.”

The growth in training comes from listening to employees and finding out their needs, with Al Hosni explaining that he “hardly ever says no” to training requests if he can be convinced of the benefits to employees and the business.

“The scope of training doesn’t come from us, it comes from the end users. They tell us what they want from the training and what they want to achieve,” he says.

This devolving of power and collaborative approach has changed Omantel’s image, with Al Hosni saying the telecommunications giant is now ‘an employer of choice’ among Omanis. The image of HR at the organisation has also evolved, with employees viewing the function as helpful and trustworthy, rather than simply process-driven.

This has been achieved through collaboration with partners from across the business: executives, employees and unions. Omantel’s HR committee has carried out ‘hundreds’ of interviews with staff over the past three years to find out what they wanted from HR. They have then used this feedback and looked into complaints.

However, Al Hosni believes there is still room for improvement as the business moves forward with its new strategy.

“A key focus for me is shifting the mindset of our employee relations team, both internally and externally. Take dealing with problems and complaints: I want to move them away from that concept towards one of counselling. I don’t want people to go to the employee relations team thinking they did something wrong. I want them to go there asking for help in their careers or personal life and trust that the team will help,” he argues.

And what about his evolution as a leader? As the first president of the Omani Society for Human Resource Management (OSHRM), how would Al Hosni like to be remembered?

“I want to be remembered as someone who has helped this organisation. I’ve been at Omantel since 1991, but I only officially took over this role in 2010.

“The changes we’ve implemented have had a huge impact both internally and externally. Now the government has involved Omantel in planning the country’s HR strategy for the next five years,” he smiles.

“I want our people to stay atOmantel because they love their jobs and understand how they can develop, not simply for job security.

“I believe the changes we have made have moved HR from being a service-driven function to a strategy driven one. Without HR strategy and engaging people, you will not be able to reach your goals.”