Progressing people

Written by
Changeboard Team

21 Oct 2013

21 Oct 2013 • by Changeboard Team

The challenge of retaining talent

Organizations across the globe face the constant challenge of finding and retaining the right talent while keeping costs down. Competition for talent is tough against a backdrop of economic uncertainty, the changing nature of work and the need for skilled workers to stimulate growth.

According to PWC’s 2013 global CEO survey, businesses in the Middle East are well aware of the need to build an infrastructure to source and retain top talent. Looking ahead, 69% of CEOs in the region see the scarcity of key skills as a potential threat to growth, while 88% anticipate making changes related to talent management in the next 12 months, and 81% plan to invest in their home market skill base.

But how can you address the challenge to increase talent capacity, minimize cost and remain leading-edge? Here are six companies keen to establish deep talent pools, promote from within and develop the competencies, capabilities and leadership skills of their workforces.

Aswaaq: matching values

High performers look for employers whose core values align with their own, says Adnan Al Aansari, HR manager at supermarket chain Aswaaq. The company promotes its values of customer service, innovation, creativity and social responsibility. “Brand recognition and reputation play a key role in attracting high performers and we aim to make our people brand ambassadors by motivating and engaging them,” he adds.

Aswaaq has a performance management program that encourages employees to aim beyond their capacities. Appraisals – carried out three times a year – are a major part of this. These involve development, goal-setting and two-way feedback so employees can set ambitious objectives without the fear of criticism, and appropriate training or development is given in response. Staff turnover has reduced from 43% in 2010 to 22% in 2012.

The organization’s employee development plan allows staff to complete a set module which covers training relevant to their role and qualifies them to apply for internal vacancies. First preference is given to applications from within.

Al Aansari continues: “We provide equal career opportunities for all employees and a well-defined career path is set for each person.”

Adnan Al AnsariAdnan Al Aansari, HR manager, Aswaaq

Adnan is responsible for the HR strategy across Aswaaq.



Exterran: robust recruitment

According to Nadia Hijazi, HR director – Eastern Hemisphere at Exterran, the company’s reputation, corporate culture, global presence and competitive pay structure mean many candidates approach them directly. She comments: “We involve senior managers in the interview process, train hiring managers to ensure good recruitment decisions are made and have robust hiring processes including online assessments.”

The manufacturer of natural gas compression products runs formal development programs covering technical and managerial skills, providing structured training to graduates over a period of 18-24 months. After this, employees are deployed to roles.

Personal development plans are mutually agreed by employee and manager for the upcoming 12 months. “Supervisors are trained in goal-setting and use this to align departmental and functional goals,” adds Hijazi.

“We offer education assistance, while mentoring and coaching are growing in popularity. Local HR works with managers to track training and development, and we conduct regular local training needs analysis.”

Hard-to-fill roles are identified to ensure there is a plan in place (internal development or replacement). By delivering training in-house the organization can assess employees’ ability to progress. A performance management program enables managers to highlight successful employees and propose them for progression, while hiring managers’ training includes demonstrating the cost of a bad hire. “When there’s a vacancy, HR works closely with the hiring manager to evaluate the role before recruiting. We don’t always hire ‘like for like’ if we can offer opportunities for development through job scope changes elsewhere in the team,” says Hijazi.

She continues: “In some cases it makes business sense to ‘buy talent’. We don’t have enough scale or we might be too ‘flat’ to develop successors for each role. In other cases, we only fill with internal talent.”

When recruiting, Hijazi says you should narrow your scope to target the ideal candidate. She advises ensuring recruiters are well trained in recruitment methods, and that you are honest about the role and progression opportunities. It’s also important to track early progress to ensure employees know what’s expected of them.

She believes regular corporate communication about your company’s results and future plans, via face-to-face meetings, video or email increases an employee’s investment and sense of belonging.

Finally, spend time helping people distinguish between training and ‘development’. Hijazi suggests asking: ‘Can you manage more complex projects now than at the beginning of the year?’, ‘Can you work more independently? and ‘Are you able to teach others?’.

NadiaNadia Hijazi, HR director – Eastern hemisphere, Exterran

Nadia is responsible for the overall HR strategy across the EH region.



Bayer: sharing aspirations

Chemical and pharmaceutical company Bayer has developed a global leadership development program adapted to local and regional needs. Potential future leaders are sent on courses worldwide and managers hold regular career development meetings with employees.

Objectives are based on four values: leadership, integrity, flexibility and efficiency. This is linked to a ‘development dialogue’ which helps the company focus on career development, strengths analysis, what growth opportunities exist through learning or cross-functional job activity and expectations from the employee and employer. “We encourage employees to share their aspirations – we listen, understand the journey and work towards meeting those expectations combined with company aspirations,” says Ingo Wilkes, head of HR. “Whether it’s through additional training, mentoring, assessing or coaching, we will continue to invest in making the best resources available to employees.” 

Wilkes feels this approach to talent management has enabled Bayer to build strong long-term work relationships and identify future leaders more easily.

“This has led to us focusing on training and developing these employees sooner, so they’re driven and want a long career with us,” he says.

Bayer also conducts ‘personal conferences’ to discuss future talent and potential, which lead to a corresponding development and succession plan. Upcoming vacancies are posted on a global job portal.

Wilkes believes a robust recruitment process is the key to attracting external talent, including high quality and transparent assessments. When it comes to people development, he has this advice: “Don’t be shy of challenging company management – good managers are strong people developers who focus on more than just operational matters. Look for a combination of both, which fits your company culture, to create a healthy workforce with a talent pipeline that will see your business grow.”


Ingo WilkesIngo Wilkes, head of HR – Middle East, Bayer

Ingo manages an HR team of 12 in a country group of 17 countries with 800 employees.


ARC International: holding on to expertise

One of the challenges at tableware manufacturer Arc International is to recognize and retain ‘experts’ who create technological innovations in design and manufacturing, explains director of talent and development, Anne Tice. This has resulted in an expert program that capitalizes on and rewards them for sustained knowledge sharing. Experts participate in a ‘train the trainer’ workshop, in which they study knowledge transfer and how adults learn. Internal career growth, certifications and a retention bonus also feature.

Another component is a global career management process, starting with an annual performance interview, local talent review and an annual career committee process.

This is held for each function at group level for all key talent (including experts, high potentials and key people), where global talent mobility, succession, performance, development and career paths are discussed.

“Our employee development tools include an inventory which maps out an individual’s personality and provides details of preferences and typical behaviour at work,” says Tice. “We also use 360-degree feedback which becomes part of the career committee information.

“We offer a ‘glass magic’ training seminar for managers to gain insight into the full glass process. We have functional competencies which provide a framework to build development plans and technical expertise.”

An international employee’s induction process includes a visit to the head office in France. This provides technical knowledge on the glass processes and research facilities, access to senior management, internal networking opportunities and insight into company family values.

To measure the impact of these initiatives, Arc surveys employees annually. Tice explains: “A sample of our managers across the Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific were 2.7 times more satisfied with training than at the same time last year.”

Anne TiceAnne Tice, director of talent & development – Middle East, Asia & Africa, ARC International

Anne has lived in the UK, Canada and has been in Dubai since 2000.



Clifford Chance: global relationships

At law firm Clifford Chance, individual performance and development opportunities are at the heart of regular discussions around career plans and the strategic objectives of each practice area.

Shona Sibbald, head of HR, says: “We offer the chance to work on some of the most exciting cases in the market, competitive remuneration, a defined career path and investment in individual development.

“By building local and global relationships with recruitment service providers we can get that message out into the market and access a large, diverse talent pool.”

The organization has a business and technical skills framework which provides the basis for career development and a platform for employees to maximize their growth potential. The global Academy (charged with career planning and training and development) designs programs such as inductions for lawyers transitioning to senior associates, a future leaders scheme, and partnering with business schools such as Said and Insead.

“Individual development, regardless of long-term career aspirations, matters to everyone,” says Sibbald. “Our latest employee survey suggested that 90% of staff in the Middle East believe they have enough training and development opportunities. People also want regular and more informal feedback, which is something we’re working on.”


ShonaShona Sibbald, head of HR, Middle East, Clifford Chance

Shona is responsible for HR in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh and Doha.




Marriott: focus on Africa

“While we don’t actively promote our ‘best places to work’ awards, they attract a high caliber of candidates,” says Gary Dodds, VP Human Resources – Middle East & Africa at Marriott International.

He explains: “We offer many training initiatives to staff worldwide, including the Voyage Global Leadership Development Program for graduates. This is designed to encourage graduates to join a 12 to 24-month period of tailored training at one of our properties and choose a specialism. We had 4,500 candidates a year for 80 places.

“We’re now launching the ME&A program, hiring local nationals across all 42 hotels. We had 3,200 candidates for 50 jobs across the region and shortlisted 300 graduates – now we’re in the process of making 50 offers, 80% of which are to nationals of Middle East or African countries.”

Marriott is focused on growth in the ME&A region – with extensive development in African countries we have recently launched into – and, two years ahead of each hotel opening, up to 25 people are brought to the Gulf for training.

“We took 17 ladies from the Akilah Women’s Institute in Rwanda last year to train in our hotels in the Gulf, and another 30 Rwandan nationals will be recruited in the next few months,” he says.

One of Marriott’s main challenges is meeting the goal of having a 10% Emirati workforce in the UAE. The organization is working closely with universities, institutions, government bodies and schools to reach out to more local talent.

Through training sessions and workshops related to culture and interpersonal skills, the aims to prepare UAE nationals to excel. “We look forward to building the future of the UAE hospitality sector with the expertise of Marriott International and the passion of local talent,” he concludes.


Gary DoddsGary Dodds, VP human resources – Middle East & Africa, Marriott International

Gary has 32 years’ experience in HR within the hospitality sector, working around the globe.