How did you get to your current senior position?
Russell Hall, group head of talent acquisition – Al Tayer Group [RH]: Once I had decided that I wanted to move to an in-house role, I sought out mentors/advisors so that I could learn about the commercial aspects of the businesses I was recruiting for. While recruitment methods were and are evolving and those skills need to be nurtured and developed, it was and is the business side of the role that made recruitment exciting. The more knowledge you can acquire, the better you can perform your role and the more credible you will be when advising stakeholders on hiring decisions. I also sought out roles that would build on my existing skill set. To be a successful leader, you must learn how to manage, guide and develop your team, finding role models to help you. I found out whatever information I could on those I would be working for to ensure I was going to be in a position to learn and develop as a leader.
Hisham Chahine, HR manager – Gulf, India & Southwest Asia, Baker Hughes [HC]: I wanted to learn and grow so I thought I need to create an environment that would support my goals. I started by equipping myself with education. I completed my Bachelor’s and Master’s and then I completed some other courses and certifications in HR and leadership such as PHR from the Society of Human Resources Management and Leadership studies from Cornell University. I then entered the ERP business by working as an HR consultant implementing one of the HR ERP solutions to different organizations in the Middle East. I had other different HR roles in various companies before I joined my current company which gave me regional and global exposure that was my other goal. I have always appreciated people and cultural differences; therefore it was an opportunity for me to learn more about the alignment of global business with local management. My advice to all young HR professionals is to start by thinking what they want to achieve and then put a plan. In my opinion there are four main ingredients for continuous career growth: first, be clear about what you want to do; second, keep on learning until the last day of your life; third, be an active member in the organization you work for by contributing to its success; and fourth, give enough time to family who will be supporting you.
Reinette Farajallah, HR principal, Al Anmaa Company – a subsidiary of Astra Industrial Group [RF]: Difficult environments and challenges have made me stronger, more agile and a better leader. It's not necessarily about the particular steps I have taken, but rather taking every step with a positive attitude of humbleness and a willingness to learn.
Sangeeth Ibrahim, assistant vice-president – head of training & development & head of the SIB Academy, Sharjah Islamic Bank [SI]: Growing is all about adding value. I have always sought ways to contribute outside of my job description. I realized that the bank was looking at championing business excellence, so I took pains to learn and develop and was able to win major national and international awards for SIB. By working on an iconic project you get noticed and earn buy in. This helps with implementing appropriate learning and development projects. Overall, you need to find areas where you can become the most valuable player in the team and work towards that.
Jackie Makhoul-Winn, HR director, Credit Agricole [JMW]: I have always ensured I gained the knowledge needed to do my job, enhancing and improving my experience in all areas within HR, and becoming capable of doing and learning everything required in my field. I've also educated myself continually, both academically and through staying up to date with all the changes, improvements and issues related to HR and to my industry.
Kieran Mander, former head of HR, IKEA (Al Futtaim) [KM]: Retail has always been my passion and I started out on the shop floor. I got to know about the grass roots of a great retailer, at Tesco, while studying for my degree. I was 'talent spotted' for doing a good job as a trainee and joined the graduate programme – this gave me a great foundation and some core skills that I still revert to now. Doing a 'great job' in each of my roles has been important in gaining recognition and varied experience that can really add value to a business.
Whats the most important lesson youve learnt?
RH: Deliver what you promise and, if you can't, say so well in advance. Otherwise, you lose your credibility regardless of the level you are working at. Don’t be afraid to push back, provided you can support your rationale with facts. This will ensure that the relationship with your stakeholders is not a one-way street. Having said that, there are always times where tight deadlines need to be met, and accepting and meeting those challenges goes a long way to demonstrating your ability and commitment.
HC: Like any other field, HR keeps on changing. Our success is dependent not only on how we cope with change but also how we lead change. It is also important to understand the business and the culture of the organization we work for. HR is not a separate entity; it is a major wing to the core which is the business.
RF: The easiest way to find recognition and respect is to give recognition and respect. Nothing more, nothing less.
SI: Grow beyond your organizational borders. If you can attract respect from outside, acceptance from within will happen automatically. Over time, strengths become over-exposed and familiarity breeds contempt. Having a steady flow of accolades from outside will help you reinvent yourself every day. People will look at you through the eyes of the outside world and this will help you to build up your brand. Also, use social media and be talked about.
JMW: Although financial rewards can play a big part in retaining staff, I have found that fairness and respect are the things employees appreciate most.
KM: Treat people as you would like to be treated. Having a moral compass is important, especially in HR. Understand your business and its unique priorities and personalities, then adapt your approach to these. Take any opportunity for self-development seriously and if your company doesn't offer opportunities for training, see what is available externally. Finally, get a mentor – I have a respected HR manager who I still bounce ideas off regularly.
Whats your advice to HR professionals?
RH: To be an effective recruitment or HR partner, you need to truly understand the business drivers. Volunteer to be involved in non-HR projects. Don’t get comfortable in your role – unless it is fundamentally changing or growing every two years, you might want to seek other opportunities. While I'm not advocating jumping ship too often if opportunities for growth and development slow down, you need to assess whether your current environment will allow you to continue your upward mobility.
HC: Trust that your job is critical to any organization. HR handles the most important assets in the organization: people. You also need to be aligned with business objectives. It’s not possible to be an active and successful HR professional without having business and financial acumen. Enjoy what you do. If we don’t enjoy our work, it is hard for us to influence other employees to enjoy their work. HR is evolving rapidly and it is critical that HR position holders move at the same pace.
RF: Be true to yourself. Find out what it is that unleashes passion in you and then pursue it. After years of studying human behavior, I am of the opinion that it is a sense of purpose and having faith and belief that sparks passion. Passion drives excellence, creativity, the acquiring and usage of knowledge as well as the will to make a difference in the work environment that you find yourself in.
SI: Ensure Google brings up your name by the time someone types in the first few letters of it. Spend at least an hour a day on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter – you should be a regular and prominent face in your domain. Also, tap into resources such as StumbleUpon, YouTube and Pinterest. Improve your interpersonal skills – if you motivate and inspire others, they will follow you – and never aspire to the 'tough boss' image. If you find ways to get into the hearts of your team members, they will support you with their heads, hearts and souls. Consider doing a PhD, which is definitely a career booster, and arm yourself with at least one new certification every year.
JMW: Learn, learn, learn. Always be up to date with everything that’s going on in the HR field, particularly in the industry you are in. Focus not only on your country but also regionally and globally.
KM: Have a clear vision of what you want to do and where you want to be – I’ve been lucky enough to work internationally while progressing my career. Recognise what motivates you and make sure you are able to play to your strengths. It's also important to stay resilient, as being an HR manager can be a lonely place.
group head of talent acquisition – Al Tayer Group
Russell is a senior talent acquisition professional. He has covered over 20 countries in multiple industries including software, telecoms, banking and retail.
HR manager – Gulf, India and Southwest Asia, Baker Hughes
Hisham delivers the people strategy in alignment with the business’ operational and strategic goals for seven countries.
HR principal, Al Anmaa Company – a subsidiary of Astra Industrial Group (AIG)
Reinette directs the development and implementation of the HR function roll-out by following a systematic approach.
assistant vice-president – head of training & development & head of the SIB Academy, Sharjah Islamic Bank
Sangeeth leads the learning & development interventions in SIB. He is also head of the business excellence team.
head of HR for UAE and Gulf Countries, Credit Agricole
Jackie has more than 15 years' experience in HR. She has an MBA from the University of Wales, is studying for a PhD in general management, and is a certified life coach and NLP practitioner.
former head of HR, Ikea (Al Futtaim)
Kieran is a senior HR manager with a proven track record in retail leadership. Operating at a strategic level in an international environment with experience in FMCG, fashion and home lifestyle.