Strategy&: Human capital high on Middle East agenda

09 April 2015 4 min. read

Middle Eastern firms can lure the best and brightest, if only they implement the right strategies, comment Strategy& senior advisors Joe Saddi, George Sarraf and James Thomas.

One of the greatest challenges facing the Middle East is also one of the most underappreciated: how to attract and retain human capital. This is a real impediment to the strategic plans of some Middle East countries, particularly those in the GCC. They are making the transition away from resource based economies to knowledge based industries, and those industries rely mainly on human capital.

Prominent among those industries are premium professional services firms. These firms, including our own, can make a major contribution in repatriating human capital. Their strong values, global connections and clear opportunities draw highly skilled and well educated emigrants back to the region — often to stay.

Beirut & Dubai

We do not underestimate the factors that make it challenging to repatriate the region’s human capital. The most obvious is the legitimate concern about political instability. Another discouraging factor is the incomplete nature of the business environment. Concerns about the quality of education, healthcare and other family-related matters do not help. Despite these shortcomings, talented individuals still consider moving to the region — on condition that they can operate in professional firms that provide them with an attractive value proposition.

Premium professional services firms, such as management consultancies, have been widely recognized as providing an attractive context to encourage people to return. This is not limited to ‘above the market’ financial compensation. Other important elements include a clear meritocracy-based career path, an exposure to solving strategic problems for clients, a culture that encourages entrepreneurship, the opportunity for continuous learning and development, the ability to receive close mentoring and strong brand recognition. Finally, by participating in a professional services firm, dedicated and talented people can realistically see themselves making a much needed contribution to the region’s economy.

Management Consulting

All these elements are a permanent part of the value proposition of these firms. The leaders of these companies know that high end professional services depend upon deep and constantly refreshed expertise. Consulting professionals build long term, productive relationships with business executives. They think innovatively about their clients’ most complex challenges. They must keep acquiring knowledge, sharpening their skills and sharing expertise with their colleagues.

We have found that job candidates place substantial weight on whether a potential employer’s expressed values fit with their own personal values. The questions they consistently ask are: Does the company encourage a ‘get up and go’ spirit? Will it listen to, and support, individuals’ long term growth? Are senior leaders committed to having top level staff coach their juniors and does the firm encourage apprenticeship? Are clients and their information treated with care and respect?

The connection to the client, the lifeblood of the business, depends upon trust. Organizations, whether private enterprises or governments, are sharing their most sensitive information with external advisors and service providers. The phrase ‘trusted advisor’ is not a slogan. It expresses what every client demands and every consultant must be if they want to have a sustainable advisory business. Clients want to know that they are dealing with people who do more than comply with ethical standards. They want advisors who incorporate ethics into how they operate. Strategy& integrates two sets of ethical codes into its work, those of the firm and of the PwC network of which we are a member. Other firms may also use more than one ethical code.

Joe Saddi, George Sarraf and James Thomas - Strategy&

This commitment to a clear set of corporate values is particularly important because talented staff are so mobile and, in our region, in short supply. More business people need to understand the importance of attracting talent; doing so successfully is critical to every company that hopes to thrive in the Middle East in the future.

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Joe Saddi is a senior partner and the chair of the Middle East business at Strategy&. George Sarraf is a partner with the firm and James Thomas is a principal with Strategy&. The article was posted by the authors in Executive Magazine, a Lebanon-based platform for executives and managers in the region.