Strategy&: Human capital high on Middle East agenda

09 April 2015

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.

Related news:
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- Strategy&: Private wealth in GCC doubles to 2.2 trillion
- Booz Allen Hamilton on Middle East expansion path

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.



Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

17 April 2019

Soft skills matter in the workplace just as much as technical expertise, writes Samantha Caine, Managing Director of Business Linked Teams.

For too long technical expertise has been seen as the marker of a strong candidate for development into a sales or leadership position. Sales and leadership candidates are tasked with demonstrating a diverse and wide-ranging set of technical skills, yet their aptitude in these technical skills or ‘hard skills’ cannot signify great leadership potential. This is why a healthy balance of soft skills and technical ability is required. 

So what exactly is the difference between technical skills and soft skills? In engineering, it’s crucial to demonstrate knowledge of physics as well as a strong grasp on mathematical equations. Yet, in any industry, it’s important for leaders to be able to interact with other people effectively with soft skills like communication, empathy and adaptability. 

Business Linked Team’s 2018 study into internal leadership development revealed that 69% of large organisations are prioritising the identification and development of future leaders from within the workforce. As more and more organisations begin to invest in sales or leadership development within their existing workforces, more focus needs to be placed on ensuring the right soft skills are in place. 

With those soft skills in place throughout the workforce, the business will benefit from a wider pool of potential leaders developing under their noses, and it should be the same where sales candidates are concerned. 

It’s not just about easier access to ideal candidates for these positions without the rigmarole of recruiting from outside of the organisation. The leadership development study also found that 89% of HR decision makers say succession planning has become a top priority. Those currently serving in leadership positions can’t lead forever and the same goes for those generating sales for the business.

Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

From people leaving for new opportunities or retirement, to people simply stepping aside to focus on other areas of the business, successful leaders and salespeople require experienced and capable successors that will be ready and able to confidently step into their shoes and pick up the mantle without the business experiencing any lapse in performance.

Soft skills make stronger candidates

When it comes to the soft skills required, a strong leader must be able to manage through clear communication and effective time management, coaching and goal setting. They must be able to demonstrate empathy and empower their teams to be successful, productive and fully engaged. And beyond simply giving direction, they must also be able to take direction from those above them and cascade the business strategy down through their teams. 

A strong sales candidate must possess the ability to communicate value to the customer, negotiate well and protect margin or the ability to increase the scope of a particular sales opportunity. 

With the relevant soft skills in place, the business will benefit from increased productivity, greater agility against changing market conditions and greater transparency. In turn, this will provide visibility on issues and inefficiencies while removing opportunity for miscommunication. All of this can transform the culture of a department, improving employee satisfaction and reducing staff turnover. 

Ultimately, developing leadership or sales candidates will require the business to strike the right balance between technical skills and soft skills, and this requires an effective and sustained learning journey.

A balanced learning journey

Facilitating and supporting the development of leadership and sales is best achieved by establishing training groups. By cultivating training groups, businesses are creating talent pools that will inspire and support each other on the learning journey. However, personal goals and learning objectives must be defined for each individual based on their own existing skillsets and the skills that each individual needs to develop. 

With the emergence of e-learning, businesses recognise the value of online-based learning activities, yet many make the mistake of opting for one-size-fits-all solutions which are solely focused on self-study. A development solution will only deliver true return on investment if it combines e-learning activities with group learning activities that provide opportunity for shared experiences and support.

A blended learning solution that combines self-study and face-to-face group learning activities will aid strong development of the talent pool through shared experiences. Through these shared experiences, those undergoing the training will organically develop a support network that supports the development of the group as much as it supports the development of each individual. 

The blended learning approach is supported by one of the seven principles of human learning that socially supported interactions aid the individual development of expertise, metacognitive skills, and formation of the learner’s sense of self. The strongest opportunities for development can be unlocked by blending workshops with online activities such as virtual sessions, peer coaching, self-study, online games and business simulations. But it’s crucial to provide a blend of one-to-one and group sessions too.

Beyond delivering a better learning outcome for the employee, the blended learning approach allows organisations to adapt their training quickly and easily to shifting business demands in an ever-changing landscape.