Is the Islamic Economy for People?

It’s amazing how little we actually focus on ‘people’ in business in spite of the fact that it is people who make everything happen. An organisation exists because of its staff, partners, customers and other stakeholders, i.e. people. The value proposition of any organisation and any industry, for that matter, is totally dependent on the people involved.

Globally behaviour of people, across countries and across socio-economic strata has changed vastly. Impacted by financial crises and the rapid proliferation and use of social media, people are now interacting more and more as interest-based communities.

Where does the ‘Islamic economy’ fit in among all this?

Given the high growth in the Halal & Islamic finance industries the Islamic economy has come into the spotlight with Dubai’s announcement of re-inventing itself as an ‘Islamic economic center’.

This is great news for a variety of reasons:

  1. Business growth opportunities for corporates and entrepreneurs.
  2. The seven pillar strategy of UAE provides strong growth impetus to additional industries in the Halal sector.
  3. Increasing job opportunities which will then impact on increasing consumption.
  4. Increased requirements of up-skilling of industry professionals.

For organizations to capitalise on the opportunity a very tightly focused strategic approach needs to be there.

The driving force for the Islamic economy is the Islamic financial services & Halal. These would be in pole position whilst the powerhouse that would provide the fuel to these two sectors would have to be the education sector.

As one takes an overview across these two industries one notes that the approach to strategic development still appears to be using the classical method of having a ‘USP’ – unique selling proposition – i.e. developing strategy from a product perspective.

Not that this is wrong.

But given the massive behavioural changes that occurred in the last decade, not acknowledging the impact of those changes in business strategy is akin to ignoring reality.

For organisations, to be successful in establishing a robust Islamic economy, a very clear focus and emphasis on developing business strategies based on understanding their people who are involved in the business eco-system, has to come about.

There are two key points here:

  1. Robust economy: This means ensuring sustainability of each organisation’ earnings so that the organisation stays in existence and industry growth is maintained.
  2. Understanding People: Business is run by people – the organisations’ staff – for people – customers, vendors, partners. Without acknowledging and understanding what motivates people, business strategies would be way off mark.

Why is there a need to focus on people?

A focus on people has to be taken on board as the behaviour of the people impacts very heavily on an organisations’ ability to perform well.

Here’s how:

  1. Culture:
    With business growth opportunities shifting towards Asia and Africa, organisations are now faced with understanding what the new consumer behaviours is like in these new markets. Within such vast markets the end consumers’ behavioral patterns differ across and within countries. Simultaneously, organisations have had to look at on-boarding knowledge workers and millenials in their work-force in order to manage this growth. Knowledge workers and millenials have different behaviours based on age, experience and environmental background.
    So today the need of the hour for organisations is to take on board how these diverse behaviours from people connected to their business are affecting their performance and acceptance of their brands. Internally, these behaviours impact the work culture within an organisation. This culture, in turn, manifests externally, and focuses on the way relationships are built with the external stakeholders.
  2. Leadership & Engagement
    The people or staff of an organisation are the physical manifestation of that organisation. The behaviours the staff display are, in essence, a representation of the organisation’s culture and values. This brings to fore an emphasis, for the organisation, on its leadership and employee engagement.

    Increasingly, the demand on leadership is becoming one of creating influence and social buy-in or, in other words, developing engagement based on aligning personal values and mission (of an employee) with that of the organisation.
    Leading to having, as far as possible, engaged and happy employees in order to ensure the organisational brand is delivering authentic value.
  3. Involvement
    Engagement leads to having the employees at the center of the overall brand experience. This focus involves understanding the organisational culture prevailing, discussing change areas if needed, fine-tuning desired behaviour and communicating it to the employees in a manner that brings about acceptance. Active involvement of employees becomes critical as without this the brand vision and brand delivery cannot be achieved.

Going forward what can the organizations involved in the Islamic economy do?

Focusing on people means re-calibrating how business strategy is approached. Instead of a product-centric approach, one has to move into a people-centric or behaviour oriented approach that fits the environment.

Here’s how:

  1. Develop business strategy from a perspective of the purpose you are in business for and how that purpose fits the environment. This process will entail understanding the people, impacted upon by the business, and their needs. This entails understanding cultural behaviour of all the stakeholders and developing the strategy based on that understanding.
  2. Develop the organisations’ leadership & management strategies to fit the business strategy. This means have the right people in the right functions.
  3. Lastly undertake activities, as initiatives, which clearly show the organisations’ understanding of the cultural behavioural nuances of its stakeholder.

Organizations that do focus on such an approach will be the ones sustainable in the long run and with strong brand loyalty.

 

(This post was first published in Investvine in Apr 2014)

Why good leaders make you feel safe

 A brilliant talk by Simon Sinek on how trust is grown, by a leader, by making employees feel secure.

 

Here’s the synopsis of the TED talk:

What makes a great leader? Management theorist Simon Sinek suggests, it’s someone who makes their employees feel secure, who draws staffers into a circle of trust. But creating trust and safety — especially in an uneven economy — means taking on big responsibility.

 

The Ramadan Legacy Project

In business there are times when one comes across a brilliant idea and one is left wondering why didn’t I think of that!

A small talented group of young Muslims driven by their beliefs have developed a Ramadan Action Plan.  With a vision of creating innovative ways that Muslims can experience Islam this group has brought some very handy tools to the Muslim world. There ideas and enthusiasm keeps amazing me and I hope it’ll do the same for you.

 Ramadan Legacy.

Ramadan Legacy App

Guest Post by Osmaan Majid

 

Al Hasan Al-Basri said, “Son of Adam! You are nothing but a number of days, whenever each day passes then a part of you has gone.” The Ramadan Legacy project aims to capture those days.

Ramadan Legacy is a brand new smart phone app designed to take your Ramadan experience to the next level. It combines smart technology and beautiful design with spirituality and learning, all to help you organize your worship to make Ramadan easy and enjoyable.

As of 2015, the Ramadan Legacy team have created practical and simple tools that have been enjoyed and adored by over 10,000 people across the world. The headline product was last year’s Ramadan Action Plan – a 68 page printable planner which was distributed from Glasgow, to New York and Singapore.

This year, the vision is to create the world’s #1 Ramadan mobile experience.

Some of the features include:

  • A Legacy Board that captures and visually represents all of your worshiping activity which, in years down the line, you can look back to and see how you performed each Ramadan
  • A 30-day planner filled with daily ayaat, ahadith, Du’as, a checklist and more.
  • A journal which allows you to capture and share your daily thoughts
  • A live feed of app users sharing their Ramadan reflections from around the world
  • A knowledge library for your learning and inspiration
  • and more

The underlying theme of Ramadan Legacy is to not only provide an app, but an entire experience through a range of products that empower you to continue the Barakah of Ramadan throughout time.

You can support the legacy by participating in the crowdfunding campaign and donating at: www.launchgood.com/ramadanlegacy

 

Marketing today is all about people

The marketing function has undergone tremendous changes in the past decade. Today marketing involves technology, engagement and most importantly creating and delivering an authentic brand experience from the employees’ and consumers’ perspective. Brand value as an asset, in monetary terms , is now fully dependent on
this brand experience.

A Forbes article– Are today’s CMO’s tomorrow’s CEO’s?’ aptly shows how marketing heads have the best holistic picture of a business due to their concentration and clarity of understanding the end-benefit of touch-points and infrastructure requirements to deliver the required brand experience.

Does the Islamic Finance industry understand the huge potential that marketing brings to its business and brand?

This is the question I try to answer in my article– ‘Marketing Islamic Finance’– that was published in the Jan 2015 issue of the Islamic Finance Today, and I explore  how modern-day marketing can work for Islamic Finance, both across Islamic finance and non-Islamic finance markets.

 

In Walks Change…

In an organisation when there is a new leader at the top the first thing that walks in through the door is CHANGE.

Whilst change is often not visible physically it does permeate every nook and corner and has different levels of impact across the organisation.

With the new executive, in walks a different perspective to the organisational tasks. There’s trepidation, hope, expectation all on the outside. There’s nervousness with regards to the image communicated and a desire to make a unsaid power statement from the new member’s point of view.

The Impact is Colossal

From my personal experience in managing brands and businesses cross-industry and across geographical locations there are a few important do’s & don’ts.

Do’s:

  1. Settle in and understand the culture

Each organisation, like any communal group, has its own set of behaviour which creates the work culture. Getting to understand this is extremely important in knowing the functioning of the organisation. Does that mean you need to take all the time in the world? No. Depending on the executive’s emotional intelligence  some can get up to speed within a month whilst others can take much longer.

  1. Talk with rank and file

Get in and get to know the people across various functions and designations.  Being available and going ahead and introducing oneself and having a conversation enables one to know about the concerned person and helps in making observations. Often times, these first impressions are valid as they are the outcome of a one-to one interaction which enables our brains to size up and provide us a good, bad or ugly sort-of score card. Where the executive is a matured and well experienced one, such impressions are usually bang on in terms of character assessments.

  1. Share your thoughts with the team leaders

This is a critical one.  As soon as possible get the team leaders on board with your thought-process and work style. Why? Team leaders are the ones who will get your work done, through their teams, for you. Therefore, they need to be made to feel secure in terms of their functions and they need to feel comfortable with your thinking and work style. Nothing upsets existing team leaders more than a newbie to the organisation trying to show that he or she knows better!

  1. Be courteous

Sounds very simple but, and this is more applicable across Asia, at a senior level as a new entrant we often forget courtesy in our one-off interaction with rank and file. Nothing earns more bad wishes than having a new leader of the organisation not acknowledge or smile when someone crosses path.

 

Don’ts:

  1. Walk in and shoot-from-the hip

What you were told by the board, or the recruitment consultant, or the HR of the organisation during your interviews should not be what you base your early days on. That’s close to committing executive suicide!  What you were told is the key points the organisation wants to achieve and for which they evaluated if you were the right person. That does not mean those points need to be delivered in your first 100 days.

  1. Point out what you consider mistakes

No one likes being told they were wrong. That’s just how we are as human beings. More so a group of executives whose laboured over their plans and activities.

  1. Change processes and functional responsibilities

There is a reason why the processes and functions are the way they are in the organisation. If you haven’t come from the same industry give yourself a bit of time to understand why certain processes exist as they do. Making a change as soon as you walk in is only going to earn you the displeasure of your team leaders.

  1. Don’t have half-day long meetings

This is connected with #3. If its knowledge of how a process works the way it works use #3 from the Do’s list. Talk to the team leaders and get a perspective. But calling an all-team meeting out of the blue for hours simply communicates an utter disregard for colleagues time and schedule.

 

That’s my list of do’s & don’ts that I’ve practiced across my career and been rewarded with developing some great teams who have delivered amazing results for the organisations.

I’d love to know your list of do’s & don’ts and how it’s helped you.

Manage Change Before It Manages You

Just as shifting city and home and moving to a new place has its initial period of anxiety, a change in business direction or in leadership in the organisation, brings about a period of anxiety, uncertainty and a plethora of questions within an organisation.

Change in any form is uncomfortable for us humans. We are creatures of habit and habit breeds its own sense of comfort and discomfort. Take for example our daily work day routine. If one of the items in our daily ‘routine’ goes out of whack, we get irritated and at times, are at a bit of a loss.

Business activities are managed by humans and thus when an organisation implements a change from what it had done; it brings about a fair bit of response. Some good, some not so good and some downright harmful to the business. The ‘enthusiasts’ (or early adopters) latch on to the big picture that the changed direction portrays and willingly start to move forward in the new direction. The ‘yes sir/no sir’ (followers) goes into a ‘wait and watch’ mode to try gauge which way is the wind blowing. Lastly comes the ‘resistant brigade’! A group who clings on desperately to yesteryears and falls back on the achievements of the past years.

Each of these three groups have an impact on the brand and its’ experience: 

1.   Enthusiasts: In their eagerness to contribute to the new, changed business direction, the enthusiasts rush into action without deeply evaluating the long-term benefit of the actions to the brand and the ability of the brand to deliver on the changed direction. Often more manpower and resources are taken up on these changed new actions if they are not evaluated for effectiveness. Enthusiasts often times end up working long hours alone leading to quick burnouts when operating at very high stress levels due to continuous delivery demands of the added new tasks.

2.  Followers: This group’s indecisiveness and inability to ask for clarity leads them to either do the work activity wrong or to take too long over it and thus deliver well after the timeline is past. In effect, making the task inefficient.

3. Resistant Brigade: Often the largest group, these try to push back through the “this is how it was done” process with the intention that if continuous resistance can be applied by using defunct processes and bureaucratic red-tape  then the enthusiasts would either burn their fire out or leave. All the resistance group succeeds in doing is wasting critical time and damaging the brand image through their inability to move forward.

 

How do we bring groups 2 & 3 around to see the positives in the new strategic direction or change that the organisation is undertaking:

  1. Transparency:  Line managers have to understand the change and explain, at length, how that change is beneficial and tie it back to the individual roles of staff and their function with regards to the effect it has on the brand’s identity.
  2. Top-down Leadership:  Senior management has to have in place, a support team selected from rank & file to ensure successful delivery of key projects that would aid in bringing the required change. This team should be empowered with the required authority in order to put in place new processes to enable change to take hold.
  3. HR in the Forefront: HR needs to be at the forefront in terms of providing senior management the right team, skills and competency wise, in order to help deliver required changes. Internal talent development becomes a priority for HR and is the starting point for staff performance evaluations.
  4. Deadline: An end target date for achievement of certain critical projects needs to be up in front. Critical projects that affect the brands’ reputation should be selected from the pool of projects that is in active stage and be project managed through specific project teams.

Following this 4 steps approach would enable an organisations’ leadership to bring about groups 2 & 3–followers & the resistance brigade— by having them involved in the critical projects, with each individual having a specific task aligned with their respective job-function.

What’s the benefit in doing this?

  1. Easier management of key projects to achieve success leading to revenue growth and establishing the desired brand reputation.
  2. Having in place a core team, a second line of command so to speak,  across critical functions upon whom senior management can depend to take the brand forward.
  3. Having in place efficient processes that aid in forward planning of daily work.

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 7,000 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.