Do learning and development strategies have a part in business strategy?

Visual Courtesy:
Visual Courtesy:

Whilst most organizations have learning and development units the question I’m raising is:
Are organizations really focused on learning and developing the talent pool that they have?

In today’s business environment the competitive edge, for an organization, comes from its culture and its talent. The latter is at the core of success
an organization can achieve.

In the usual commercial organizations, where profitability is the end objective of all activities, learning is often lost in the daily rush of what needs to get done. Resulting in the organization losing sight of developing its critical asset—people.

Without planned development of its people an organization cannot expect to be successful and sustainable in the long run.

What triggered this post is this article:

Continual Learners And Learning Organizations: A Two Way Street Or
A Dead End

It has four simple ideas which I find simple yet oft forgotten in the hustle and bustle of daily work.  

Being stimulated from this article, in this post, I’m taking a look at how the education and professional development sector approaches learning and development in their business strategy.

Is there a lack of focus on learning and development of talent in the higher education and professional development sector?

After all academic institutions, by their very nature, are meant to have an environment focused on learning and development.  If this is true it would mean that such institutions would put talent and their own knowledge thought leadership front and center of their business strategy.  

Or is it that the environment is only created for the students the institutions
cater for?

Looking around one sees the necessity of the academic institutions to operate more and more as commercial entities in order to ensure financial sustainability. That, however, does not absolve the institution from losing focus on its talent and in turn on learning and development. Such a loss of focus would be disastrous as its impacts on the reputation of the institution.

Reputation is a key driver of business continuity for any academic institution.

Such reputation is built through strategically identified initiatives all of which should tie back to a central learning and development focused strategy impacting on the people of the institution and their output. By having clearly identified quality benchmarks of the initiatives the institution can ensure business continuity and commercial sustainability.

A clear focus such as this will lead to the institution developing a competitive edge and become an institution of choice by potential students, the industry it serves as well as the academia.

By investing in its people and its knowledge base strategically, organizations involved in the education and professional development sectors,  can see the positive impact of specific activities in terms of reputation and bottom-line.



Culture gives the Competitive Edge

By: Shatha Al Maskiry and Joy Abdullah 
visual courtesy @carlarieger
visual courtesy @carlarieger

Culture– that all elusive and hard to describe organizational element that fuels how an organization performs– has had a lot written about itself. Yet there is no one-size-fits-all formula that can be applied, across board, for leaders to have the right cultural climate that results in increasing profitability for the organization.

Change in work culture has become a buzz word for many organizations in the Middle East today.  However the organizations are still challenged to effect change failing to appreciate that a written statement with a handful of glamorous values plastered on walls will not do the trick.

The major shortcoming is that change is greatly undermined in terms of the effort, time and investment required. Change is an organizational wide transformation and we have seen it fail because it is not mandated by leadership nor is it communicated through practice in a consistent manner. Diffusing change requires partnership with the workforce and the organizational values must be closely aligned with the strategy and growth plans. If leadership does not lead cultural change, then the mass would; and in most occasions, they would disintegrate it into a collection of varied sub-cultures that are misaligned. This results in a culture of crumbs.

The reasons why change initiatives, in the Middle East, have often failed is because middle management impede it, and fail to see why they must invest a significant amount of their time as change champions.  They fail to see the necessity of leveraging their interpersonal skills and eloquently communicate what is in it for the employees  in order to create a inspiring engine to make the employees the agents of change; as no real change can be realized without involving all stakeholders.

For industries and their organizations across Middle-East and ASEAN region, business is a colonial legacy brought about through the presence of the multi-national organizations. Independent businesses spawned by employees of these corporates operate with similar cultures as the owners were used to during their employment days.  The result of which is having businesses operating with yesterday’s tools and expecting a different result.  

Aren’t we expecting a bit too much?

The colonial legacy, of Middle-East and the ASEAN regions, passed on what is primarily a very individualistic cultural business style.

Whereas the social culture, of both regions, are more community oriented with rigid hierarchy based on age. In the Middle East, it is also based on a diverse spectrum of factors because of imported talent of various nationalities from various fields and cultures.  

Into this enters behavioural changes which people have had due to the global financial crisis of 2008 and rising adoption of technology. Social media, for one, has made the world a much smaller place and has led to the rise of self-interest based communities. Word-of-mouth referral has become a norm for success and failure of a business.  Yet across businesses in these two regions we are yet to see a concerted focus on culture and its resultant impact on business strategy.

Asia today is the economic growth center for the world.  Along with the twin economic tigers—China & India— the Islamic economy, centered out of Middle-East with its hub in Dubai, is adding to the economic growth and impacting across industries.

The Middle East economies have also put a concerted effort in attempting to diversify away from petro dollars. This is a major challenge that cannot be overcome unless there is emphasis and focus on a new type work culture.

A culture that is highly transformational in nature with a set of values that engages and builds bridges for and with the employees in order to mould a
mind-set that is agile enough to serve the current challenges of the new economy with a special focus on productivity and innovation.

This impact is felt by thousands of businesses, corporate and SMEs involved in generating this economic growth and, in turn, by the consumers in these regions. All of this has a direct impact on the culture that employee, entrepreneurs, leaders and their businesses display today.

Globally we are seeing how established industries are being disrupted by new businesses based on the culture they identify and put in place. The one common denominator for success across these organizations is the culture that they create to drive sustainability of their operations.

 Can we achieve new results with old methods?

With 4 generations—Baby Boomers, Gen X & Y and Millennials all in the workforce now– and each generation having very distinct behaviours, developed through socio-cultural and  educational conditioning, can we expect an organization to have engaged employees who are all on the same page with regards to organizational goals and its linkage to them individually?

There are several cultural gaps in Middle East and ASEAN organizations; hierarchy still exists, lack of flat communication, leadership always runs short of time or spend too much time fire-fighting, and there is a general theme where lack of trust and confidence in each other has become the norm until proven otherwise.

Although diversity is part of what compliments a cultural change, it has been a challenge at several organizations where diverse interpretations of events affect everyone very differently.

We need to look at new scenarios, perhaps disruptive ones, and benefits of the same to each generation, to create a culture that allows for a common purpose to be shared across these generations of people in the workplace. It all boils down to giving the people the value they deserve in developing the business.

How can we create new scenarios that actually work in creating an impactful culture?

  1. Respect: Senior leadership behaviour, in organizations, should communicate equal respect for male and female colleagues.
  2. Voice: Move away from the ‘master & slave’ attitude towards a more open ‘partnering’ attitude which provides an environment for employees to voice thoughts and ideas.
  3. Conversations: Create more opportunities for face-to-face in person, or through technology, interactions or conversations where issues successes and failures are openly discussed for its learnings and not to point blame. The more an organization talks, informally on work, the more engaged the employees get. This creates accountability as people want to do their work so that it helps their colleague.
  4. Trust: Create trust through the conversations, by bringing diverse people and skill-sets together on key business projects, and taking their point of view and making them accountable in delivering the agreed goals for the business.
  5. Passion: Recognise the ones with passion for the business and praise them for their initiatives and drive.
  6. Creating Culture: Culture is created either consciously or unconsciously. It exists. We know of it and actually do something to make that culture behave in a manner that is beneficial to the business or not is what defines success today. One may question and ask—how do I create culture as I am not in a position of authority to do so — the answer is that you can create culture in your unit, department, and work section if you consciously decide to do so.

The collective experience and behaviors of the employee is what sums up the organizational culture.

Culture is just like personality and leadership must create the goals, strategies, experiences, interactions, and rewards from the values it preaches in a consistent manner as every experience is a piece of the bigger puzzle. History forms pieces of the puzzle just like language, events, stories and work practices also shape the desired culture. Impactful change is about giving and taking and it can be achieved through formal strategy, systems, and measures with ownership.

Culture change requires changing behaviors and breaking old habits and this is realized through collaboration, training and coaching. In order to continuously reinforce a strong and successful culture change it has to be modeled, taught, repeated, recognized, and rewarded. The end result should be shared values and productive behaviors to create a healthy and harmonious environment.



About the co-author: Shatha Al Maskiry is a country managing director of Protiviti in Oman. She has 18 years of experience spanning across various consulting roles from process re-engineering, talent risk management, and digital transformation. She is also a certified coach and active in social services especially in coaching youth and students.


The relationships you build provide the organization with strength


Last week I was catching up with my eldest son and a couple of his friends all of whom are millennials. One of them asked me –
how can we contribute, to the organization, as employees outside our functional roles. This post is a result of that chat.

For an organization success is measured by differing metrics depending on the nature of business and industry. One common thread is the fact that employees make all the difference between success and failure due to the extent of their engagement and involvement with the organizational goals.

Whilst employee engagement is the responsibility of organizational leaders, employees, too, have an individual responsibility in developing healthy relationships with their co-workers.

Whilst an organization may have product or service advantages, innovative patents and technology in use, at the end of the day the strength of any organization is in the relationship its employees have within themselves.

It’s the people who make all the difference.

Developing strong and rewarding inter-personal relationships come about from the way we are socially conditioned to make friends, network and influence, communicate and give value to each other. This is where communities and groups emerge from.

So as an employee how do you go about creating beneficial relationships?

  1. Interact: Use the official events, such as team building sessions, training, sports, employee parties and community services, to reach out and connect with employees from other divisions. In large organisations one of the key issues is that people don’t know who does what in which divisions. So provide your fellow colleagues a-face- to- a- function so that they know they can reach you when they have the need.
  2. Volunteer: Step up and volunteer for projects that are not in your functional area. These project teams, usually, are set up to deliver key goals for the organization and is a great way to:
    — Get yourself to interact with the organizational leaders and show       additional initiative that goes into your annual performance.
    — Helps you identify possible mentors and work functions that you may want to move into in order to grow within the organization.
  3. Talk: In any group meetings there are always issues being discussed. Put aside your fears of looking stupid, in front of your bosses and peers, and speak up. Make sure you understand the context, of the issue at hand, and then put forth your suggestion.
    On a personal level, when you see a fellow colleague from a different unit at any time of the work day, stop for moment and ask how he or she is and how their families are.  Share a minute or two connecting on common personal areas.  Be careful when you do this. Do it meaningfully and not in passing.
  1. Help: If another colleague, either from your own unit or otherwise requests for information or assistance, help them. Not only would you be earning respect and gratitude of your colleague but you’ll be communicating to the leaders that the interest of the organization is what matters to you.



I’d be happy to know if this post is useful to you.  Do share your views on ways in which you have nurtured  internal relationships for the benefit of the readers.

Leadership Justice League style

DC Comics has just rolled out the Justice League Part One trailer at the Comic Con and you can view the trailer below and get the details of key characters here:

To me this superhero team movie has some very interesting leadership cues that’s quite relevant to the business environment today. Here are my top 4 cues:

  1. Leadership Vision: One man–Bruce Wayne– recognizes the threat and identifies the resources (meta-humans) that would be required.  Is it his 20 years + crime fighting experience or sheer intuition? Either way this is vision or the foresight to see what’s coming in the future. In the business world the CEOs are meant to show this skill.
  2. Communication: Note how Bruce W goes about searching and communicating the purpose (of negating the potential threat) in recruiting the team he feels can do the job. In the business world having such clarity of thought aids leadership in touching the hearts (along with the mind) of their potential  and existing employees.
  3. The Team— Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, Cyborg, Aquaman, Flash (as starters)– each with a unique superhuman skill come together for a common cause.
    Sound familiar?
    In the business world every organizations has a purpose.  No it’s not making-profit! It’s a bit more than that. It’s got several terms–Social Responsibility; Community Outreach; Engagement etc. Whatever be the term, the purpose of any organization (should be) is to provide value in its offering to people in order to make their lives better.

Often such purpose and the dollar value target gets interchanged!

Thus the goal becomes a numerical item devoid of any emotions attached to it. And this impacts how the organization engages with their team. Instead of creating teams based on whose skills are best suited to the purpose, we often end up selecting teams based on who is best suited to bring in the numbers.

4. Purpose— In the movie each of the superheroes have a key purpose with regards to using their superpowers to aid the team in saving the world. In the business world this is often where the gap occurs!  Purpose and value is often not communicated with clarity.

We get so much entertainment from our superhero characters and whilst the kids look to emulate them, as matured and responsible adults, can we looks at taking the excellent leadership cues our heroes show to us into our daily lives?



Leadership provides stamina and energy to an organization to be sustainable

visual courtesy
visual courtesy


We all know the three key ingredients that go into making a healthy organization:

  1. Cash Flow—Liquidity is the life blood of any business. Having the necessary cash flow enables a business to invest and grow.
  2. Employee Engagement—Motivation leads to productivity & efficiency. Employees represent the  brand and their behaviour impacts on the output and on the business revenue and reputation. Employees are the heart of any business.
  3. Leadership— Leadership provides purpose and strategic clarity of vision of the business.

Whilst cash flow is the blood and employees are the heart, leadership acts as the vitamin for any business to give it the much-needed energy, immunity and growth.

As a business owner or a corporate executive we give  lot of attention to the first ingredient—Cash Flow. Yet we neglect the other two– employee engagement & leadership— and oft take these for granted. 

Without giving these two important areas the due attention they deserve how do we expect our businesses to be healthy?

  1. Make Leadership priority number 1.  The core of a healthy business starts with leadership. Providing the right leadership aids in getting the employees engaged and involved with the purpose of the organization.
  2. Employee engagement occurs when the employee sees a clearly defined benefit– Provide clarity of role and alignment of the functional role to the purpose of the organization. Thereby recognizing and appreciating the employee and aiding in developing effective engagement. 

Engaged employees are more productive and deliver a far better customer-experience. This results in a high cash flow for the business through sales, repeat sales and higher customer satisfaction.

So looking to grow your business?

The starting point is to study is not the new market opportunity or the pricing or the cost-benefit analysis. The first place is to look at the leadership of the organisation and evaluate if the leadership is:

  1. Being effective
  2. Having strategic clarity

These two factors are critical.

Leadership is the link to having engaged employees.

In any organisation you need to have engaged employees to generate growth and sustainability. Without the employees being engaged a business simply exists up until a point where the cash flow is severely affected resulting in the closure of the business.

The way to get employees engaged is to ensure that the leader is able to clearly articulate and align organisational goals with direct benefits that impact the employees. Answering the ‘what’s in it for me?’ question brings about an empathetic connect between the employee and the leader. That aids in motivating the employee to perform.

This is why leadership is vitamin for an organisation!

Leadership is the, all-pervasive and all-encompassing, element that provides a business with the required stamina and energy to be a sustainable brand.

Getting started on Working-Out-Loud

It’s been an amazing couple of weeks since I joined a ‘working out loud’ circle set up by Moyra Mackie . Insights like ‘getting stuck is good’ and recognizing the ‘tension between money and meaning’ were like revelations.

Here Moyra’s post on our experience so far

Reflections on Working Out Loud:
Getting Started


“It’s as if we’re teenage boys who want to ask a girl for a dance.  There are no guarantees she’ll say “yes” but we won’t know unless we try…”

So began our check in on Week Two in my Working Out Loud Circle.

It seems that we might not have been teens at the school disco this past couple of weeks, but we’ve certainly been dancing with our inner critic to the tunes of vulnerability and risk.

For those of you who are not familiar with the concept, a Working Out Loud Circle is a guided, structured process developed by John Stepper. It’s a peer support group of four or five people which meets for an hour a week for 12 weeks to address these questions:

  • What am I trying to do?
  • Who is related to my goal?
  • How can I contribute to them to deepen our relationships?

Continue reading here…