Are organizations really focused on learning and developing the talent pool that they have?

For any organization the competitive edge, in today’s business environment, comes down to the culture and the strategy it has. Culture is developed through the employees or talents an organization has and not through its products or services.

In the educational sector one would assume that this aspect of organizational development would be a given based on the premise that the core business of any educational institution is to develop talent that makes a significant impact in business. Yet, is this really taking place?

In the usual for-profit organizations, where profitability is the end objective of all activities, learning is often lost in the daily rush of what needs to get done. Just to clarify learning and training are two different things.  As a result of not having learning in focus organizations end up losing sight of developing its critical asset—people.

Do Islamic finance educational institutions have the same issue?

Having now spent over five years in this sector my opinion is that the Islamic finance educational institutions have the same malaise as their regular educational counterparts as well as their commercial industry counterparts. The malaise is one of continuing to do what has been done and keep hoping the results are different.

The Islamic finance industry now has a fair number of tech based education service providers in addition to the usual brick & mortar institutions. All of which have come about in the last decade and a half due to the growth of this industry. Yet none of these organizations are, as yet, able to showcase the employee learning benefit that is directly co-related to the institutions business. Whilst both education and professional training requirements, in the industry, has grown there still lacks a concise talent development plan based on learning development that comes through the job role. The 2015 report—
The Human Capital Challenge: Shaping the Future—by Simply Sharia
Human Capital
is an eye-opening read on this context.

Is it difficult to have learning-at-work in the educational institutions?

The environment, for educational institutions, has undergone drastic changes in the past six to eight years. Tech adoption has impacted on the behaviour and on the expectations of value in the educational sector. This directly impacts the business models employed by educational institutions and its service offerings that it puts out. On the former probably the existing business models aren’t, anymore, able to deliver to the demands of the environment today. On the latter the Islamic finance industry, as a whole including its ancillary services, of which the education sector is one, has yet to take on board these dynamics.

The net result is that there has been a lack of innovation, in developing and delivering education services that aid the industry in going forward and creating significant developments that in turn become the content input for learning, both at an educational level and in professional development.  This is not to be mistaken with the plethora of technical training programmes available for industry professionals and their educational counterparts. The lack of innovation has created a void in the learning development of professionals in developing innovative idea, services and process that directly have significant societal benefits.

Historically all it has created is employee turnover with the same people moving around within the organizations in the industry in a region. As employees leave one organization and go into another, unfortunately, their skills sets and cultural behaviour remains as it were.  They leave simply due to lack of recognition, adequate reward and self-development. Or they remain and start becoming a drag on the organizations efforts in moving forward.

As employees leave they seek re-employment, within the sector with the same skills and process management and leadership techniques. The recruiting organizations end up filling in their manpower requirement based on archaic functional job requirements and not based on aptitude, attitude and leadership competency which are based on their business strategy. End result is that the employee obtains a slightly higher trades salary and the organization fills in its headcount with the hope that the outputs would be obtained.

Alas in today’s environment is this a sustainable long-term solution?

Have the courage to disrupt the norm

The fear of attempting the new has to be harnessed and the only way to do so is to acknowledge it and collaborate with a win-win end benefit in mind. The commercial organizations of the industry and educational institutions have to combine in order to create a learning environment at both places with the single-minded objective of developing their respective talent pool. Without this they would soon find they are unable to attract quality employee talent.

Perhaps I am being harsh in my assessment.

In my end of the world, as I scan the region for examples of innovative, home-grown, talent focused strategic initiatives that clearly demonstrate a focused business continuity plan in play; I find significant examples in the core STEM sectors. Examples that create strong learning environments for employees and through which innovative initiatives are generated as services for the organizations customers.

But in the Islamic finance education sector there seems to be a bit of vacuum
where such developments are concerned.

Organizations that operate in the higher education and professional development sectors have a significant responsibility in developing and providing a learning environment that clearly aids its employees and customers to provide innovative approaches to their respective businesses.

Without accepting, acknowledging and acting on this responsibility an organization cannot expect to be successful and sustainable in the long run.

 

 

Behaviour Impacts the Choices You Make

Visual Courtesy: The GOODVIBE.CO
Visual Courtesy: The GOODVIBE.CO
Often leaders are in a tough situation and faced with tough choices.

A key role of a leader is to make decisions. In other words exercise their choice based on evaluating all the facts available to them and factoring in the impact of that choice on the long-term strategy. Whilst many are able to have that line-of-sight often times there is a knee-jerk reaction.

This reaction comes about from the individual leader’s behaviour.  A leader’s daily habit is formed through the behaviour expressed. Unknowingly many a leader displays leadership traits that set the cultural tone through behaviour. If the leader is in survival mode—fear & flight—then choice comes across in behaviour as one that ensures self-preservation. What that means is that there is indecisiveness and inordinate delays on critical decisions. On the other hand if the leader has strong engagement, both at the C level and operational levels, then choice exercised would be expressed as a best-case scenario based one.

As leaders how can we ensure our behaviour matches what we say?

As the saying goes—lead by example. There’s no better way than to set an example, by doing what you want others to do. What this means is that one has to get one’s hands dirty but getting into execution and influencing the desired output. This sends a very strong message to all in terms of culture and expected behaviour.

This is more so important in the Asian context where employees behave as they see their bosses do.

As leaders how can we get the engagement?

Getting employee engagement is hard. Not impossible but hard. You can’t make all the people happy all the time. You can make some people happy some of the time. So it is with getting employees to be engaged.

As a leader it’s critical to have an open door relationship with your operational leadership team and actually practice it. If the operational leadership team has to always make an appointment to discuss an issue or an idea, then it’s not open door. On the contrary, the message communicated is that the leader of the organization is not interested.

The impact of such behaviour affects choices greatly.

Lack of regular interaction and access to the C suite leadership coupled with lack of ownership within the C suite, of critical organizational initiatives, leads to:

  • Lack of morale
  • Lowering of trust (in the leadership)
  • Questioning the time, energy & effort (spent) on critical initiatives

Ending in the organization losing the operational leaders and losing its way.

Is your organization showing any of these?

If yes, it’s time to have a very open, no-holds barred, heart-to-heart chat with the concerned leaders and to put the facts on the table for the leadership to imbibe, evaluate and choose wisely for the long-term benefit of the organization.

 

What Happens When Leadership Dies

Visual Courtesy: www.pininterest.com
Visual Courtesy: http://www.pininterest.com

This post was sparked by an excellent article on this subject by an expert
Moyra Mackie who I respect tremendously for her insights into leadership development. In her recent article—Where leadership goes to die—Fear and (self-loathing)in the C-suite– Moyra deftly links data to the impact of leadership failures and how it can be avoided.

Her article made me think of the importance and impact leadership has on an organization’s purpose—its’ very reason for being in existence– and its attitude in pursuing and delivering that purpose.

Today if any organization is not seriously evaluating its leadership and the effectiveness of that leadership then it’s simply fooling itself.

Strategy is as good as its execution—goes the saying.

But in developing an effective strategy listening and leading from the front are two key elements that are instrumental in creating a positive or
can-do attitude. It’s this kind of attitude that galvanise people, providing them with a cause, a bigger purpose over and above the revenue targets and cost efficiency that delivers results and, more importantly, create stories that are shared  all through the organizations’ eco-system and adds hugely to its reputation.

Do leaders really understand what leadership actually is?

In the course of my career in various industry sectors across Asia, I have noticed how leaders fail in their understanding of leadership due to some of the issues highlighted by Ms. Mackie in her article. From an organizational perspective such failure results in critical leadership gaps which leaves them paralyzed or, worse still, broken in the long-run without any warning.

The critical gaps are:

  1. Lack of strategic business understanding:

Arises from a self-denial behaviour, with regards to inability in understanding business purpose and needs beyond the P&L, and in enlisting necessary support. Resulting in creating a self-inflicted isolation and being dis-engaged.

  1. A survival not growth focus approach on projects:

Flowing from the isolated approach key projects are directed on a survival-mode manner i.e. cost-cutting and higher short-term profits at any cost and not from generating a planned effective growth in the long run.

  1. Lack of clarity and direction to the next level down:

A survival-mode approach results in the inability to engage, fruitfully, in explaining the long-term benefits and results in lack of direction.

  1. Inability to connect, from the heart, and engage rank and file:

Due to the inability in explaining the long-term benefits, stemming from a lack of understanding the strategic business purpose, such leaders are unable to be authentic and speak from the heart and lose out on engaging employees for the bigger purpose of the organization.

Whilst this may read depressingly it’s not a scenario that cannot be changed provided one is willing to make the change. Accept and acknowledging the help you, as a leader need. Be courageous to ask for that help from the team. This impact positively on the respect your team have for you and, in fact, builds respect as you are reaching out for their expertise and showing them the value you have for them.

Being vulnerable by asking for help will not reduce your leadership respect. On the contrary it will increase the same and have a positive rippling effect across the organization.

 

I’d love to know your story on leadership. Do share here.

Every moment of your business has a fresh beginning

Visual Courtesy: www.successimg.com
Visual Courtesy: http://www.successimg.com

Doing the same thing day in day out brings about routine. Whilst a routine is great in generating efficiency, the flip side is that it makes us lose lateral thinking or what I call joining the strategic dots.

From time to time it’s helpful to simply put a bit of emotional distance between the daily needs of the business and our functional role in order to get some
blue-sky thinking going.

What this does is that it helps generate the links in joining the dots between strategy and tactics to result.

As T.S; Elliot said,” Every moment is a fresh beginning”.

In our present day world of information overload, constant connectivity and erratic business and economic climate, the times can be quite overwhelming. More so the need to have some off or down-time to have clarity of thought and come back with a fresh beginning.

Whether we are running our own business or we are a corporate manager the commonality is ensuring success in our strategy and daily tactics in business.

In this process you need to continually review your operations strategically and refresh your business strategy.

Here’s 5 ways to give your business that fresh beginning.

  1. REVIEW: Undertake a simple review of how the business operations are performing against plans. Are the specific activities bringing the desired results or not?
  2. EXPLORE: The areas of operations that are not delivering results, look at process, strategy and tactics initiated. Is something missing? Would you do something differently? Explore other solutions that may not seem to be the norm, but probably could have significant impact in a longer term.
  3. NEGOTIATE: In any organization, often times, there is a conflict between the strategic direction and the necessary tactics required. Having reviewed and explored options that may be more effective, you would have to present a probable solution tactfully. You’d have to influence your senior team in order to ensure their compliance so as to be able to deliver on the solution.
  4. EXECUTE: A strategy is as good as its execution. Sometimes, the best plans fail due to bad execution.  So when executing a new solution, keep a close eye on the input and reactions and be adept and flexible enough to react and change as you and your team carry out the execution.
  5. WIN: Finally, get ready to win and enjoy the success that comes in. Throughout the process, it’s crucial that you keep a positive attitude that communicates confidence to your team and your clients/customers. Such positivity would rub off during negotiation and execution and bring you achievement of your targeted plans.

I’d be delighted to know how helpful you found this post for your work. Do share your comments and tips.

Does Islamic finance have an economic and societal value?

Visual Courtesy: www.quotes.lifehack.org
Visual Courtesy: http://www.quotes.lifehack.org

As the world reels from a continuous series of financial, economic, humanitarian and natural crisis’s, the world of Islamic finance is growing. In the past decade the various projected global industry growth figures show this industry sector to be going up, up and away. Yet if one were to co-relate this growth with social development a direct correlation is, as yet, hard to find.

Is there an anomaly?

Within the global Islamic finance industry the strain of growth is starting to tell on the business models in use as issues of talent, technology and socially responsible investments are now the topics of discussion in industry conferences. Couple this with the developments occurring in the mainstream finance industry where areas like social responsible investment, alternative currency  and crowdfunding are drawing the organizations to view the disruptions taking place and review their business strategies and models.

On ground, technology has empowered people to be able to seek intellectual, financial and managerial collaborations, generating entrepreneurship and a mushrooming of small businesses. The financial industry, as a whole, is looking at the way investment is changing and the way finance is being run.

Against such a backdrop Islamic finance is beginning to look isolated and bereft of a clearly defined economic and societal value.

Decades ago as Islamic finance came in, as an alternative financial system, organizations took the system for use within the regulatory environment that existed. Regulations changed over time to accommodate market sentiments and with those changes organizations seemed to focus on compliance and not on the purpose of their business.

Therein is the anomaly!

The global industry undertook Islamic finance activities based on their then business models and processes. Models that focused on shareholder return of dollar value as primary objective not social or community development and, thus, it was business-as-usual.

Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

The many financial, environmental, economic and sociopolitical crises, coupled with the advancement and adoption of technology, over the past 20 odd years has brought about seismic shifts in the common man’s buying behaviour. Trust in organizations has eroded given the many scandals. A clearly recorded increase on the dependency of word-of-mouth reference, with regards to engaging with organizations, has come about. Resulting in organizations needing to have specific competencies that simply weren’t in existence 20 years ago. Social media usage has resulted in organizations having to depict simply and authentically their business purpose.

Institutional business has come to the realization that it’s people who make the deals. People who want to work with credible, honest and trustworthy counterparts. Trust has come a full circle and is now at a premium. At the same time, Boards are driving organizations to be more socially responsible and to ensure that the eco-system where a concerned business operates benefits from the services of the organization.

This provides an ideal setting for Islamic finance which, inherently, has economic and societal benefit in-built in its ethical use. Let me clarify through an example—a conventional bank would evaluate various parameters when opening a new branch, in a remote area, including cost-recovery and present a cost-benefit analysis to its board when recommending opening a new branch. The decision would be based on the return its investment would earn and the period in which it would occur. Currently an Islamic bank or financial institution would be doing the same.

But therein is the opportunity!

For an Islamic financial institution the purpose of business is not profit but providing, ethical, financial service to the community. Profit is a secondary objective coming after the benefit to the community has been established. Thus an Islamic finance institution opening a new branch in a remote area should be driven by the societal responsibility of providing services in an area where no such service is available. This involves disrupting the current business models and thinking fresh on the purpose of an Islamic financial institutions business and developing strategy from it to generate required financial gains.

Such gains will encompass developing the eco-system in which the business operates bringing about economic and societal benefit that would not only benefit Muslims but the society at large and enable Islamic finance to show a tangible and distinctive value-benefit.

 

I’d be delighted to learn of your views on the opportunity that the global Islamic finance industry has and how organizations could capitalize on the same. Please feel free to share your observations.

 

 

Is your business getting TLC?

visual courtesy: www.marvelouswallpaper.com
visual courtesy: http://www.marvelouswallpaper.com

A year ago I had attended a talk by Prof Dave Ulrich, who is the Rensis Likert Professor at the Ross School of Business University of Michigan, which was hosted by AIF. The topic is close to my heart—how businesses can create their competitive advantage, in today’s environment, through talent. In his talk, Prof Ulrich highlighted the importance and changing function of human resource within an organisation.

Being involved in developing  a ‘cultural awakening’ project in my day-job it was fascinating to learn  about these three essential elements that organisations often overlook.

  1. Talent
  2. Leadership
  3. Culture

People are at the core of anything and everything organisations do in pursuit of their business. Yet we often overlook ‘talent’ coming from a product-centric point of view where business management is concerned. But it’s the process of identifying key talent and having their development at the forefront that enables an organisation to build a competitive edge.

The process of developing talent, within an organisation, impacts upon the leadership’ and the ‘culture’ of an organisation.

Leaders of organisations, if they are truly interested in the long-haul, have to selflessly put the development of their people first and foremost.  

Leaders create leaders not followers.

Employees followed by the external stakeholders or,  people who make up the environment in which the business functions’, have to be the priority in terms of strategic decisions the business makes.
There are two critical steps for this:

  1. Leaders in the organisation (not just the CEO) have to have clarity in the
    purpose of the business. They should be able to join-the-dots strategically and provide strong direction to their teams.
  2. Leaders need to have empathy and be able to display that empathy.

In essence what these two critical steps do is to evaluate the leaders themselves first as leaders need to have high emotional intelligence and strong communication skills to engage with all ranks of employees.

The displayed leadership styles lead to a, often non-articulated, creation of the organisational culture.

As humans we are wired for social acceptance and decades of environmental practice in the ‘command & control’ style of management has left us with the behaviour of adopting what we see our leaders do. But there is light at the end of the tunnel as more and more organisations, globally, are waking up to a new reality—people are asking for empowerment & recognition.

Where organisational culture is concerned there is a lot going on with regards to employee engagement. In a nut-shell employees, or the people who are the face of the organisation, are asking to be heard, to feel their suggestions are valuable to the organisation so that they feel they are of value.

If we now put TLC together it’s easy to see how powerful a strategic advantage for organisations it is.

Focusing on talent development leads to ensuring having the right competencies & commitment in place to generate healthy performance for the organisation.
In order to get to this stage good, authentic leadership is absolutely critical.
The leadership coupled with the right people in the right roles contributing positively creates a culture of empowerment, accountability and most importantly innovation, where employees feel they can contribute new ideas and not be afraid of failure.

Did you like this post? Do share your thoughts and comments.

If Culture Drives Strategy Who Drives Culture?

visual courtesy: www.quoteshunter.com
visual courtesy: http://www.quoteshunter.com

Organizations oft forget that at the core of their existence are people. Employees, customers, partners each in their own way define an organization. The common denominator is People. The behaviour people display through their individual understanding, acceptance and ownership of organizational values reflects the culture of that organization.

This creates a brand experience which impacts profitability and sustainability.

Amongst the stakeholders of a brand employees are the single most important group. Yet, often, when we are developing a brand experience we fail to recognize and incorporate the culture that’s in play.

A critical ingredient in developing a desired brand experience is to ensure there is clear empowerment of individuals. An organization where the employee feels empowered to contribute ideas inspires employees to strive for delivering to the best of his/her abilities and results in engagement.

This engagement leads to specific behaviour that is aligned with the organisational values and manifests as the work culture. Strong teamwork is visible. Positivity is visibly felt and success of individual activities occurs.

Activating a culture creation plan is not easy. It takes time, persistence, consistency, support of the Board and most importantly clarity of business goals, functional roles and individual development.

 CULTURE IMPACTS BUSINESS

As individuals our names give us part of our identity. So also with brands who have their names and logos. But that’s half the job done. Our personality and behaviour, with our name, provides the full experience of ourselves when we interact with another person. Together this makes for our complete identity. Similarly brands, through employees and their behaviour coupled with organisational processes, create specific experiences for a brand stakeholder that lead to having a complete identity of a brand.

Where brands are concerned the specific experience a stakeholder goes through is purely dependent on two factors:

  1. Employee behaviour
  2. Organisational processes

The impact of behaviour and service quality, in terms of process, creates either a positive or negative perception of the brand in the stakeholders’ mind and affects the buying decision and ultimately impacts on the bottom-line of the business.

WHERE DO WE START?

Leadership!

Developing an effective corporate culture is not an external effort. It is purely an internal exercise that needs as much attention and planning for effective implementation, as the regular functions of an organisation.

The leadership of an organisation needs to provide clarity of its business and the brand experience it wants stakeholders to have. This then needs alignment between organisational and departmental goals and desired behaviour of employees.

Changing behaviour is very difficult.

Work habits are part of our individual cultural make-up that we carry with us when we walk into a job. Affecting change requires having a consistent engagement program through which employees clearly feel and get a feeling of pride and value.

Four Steps to Developing an Employee Engagement Program:

  1. Identify the platform on which the culture would be based. The ethics and social norms it would want to promote and foster among all its stakeholders. Based on this ethical platform determine the values that the brand should stand for.
  2. Inform and internalize these values to the employees by clearly linking them to their work functions and relating back as to how not projecting the same affects the brand and in turn affects the bottom-line. Provide as much clarity to employees here to show the impact on revenue.
  3. Get the employees involved. Get employees to write down, in their own words, how they would project the values in terms of their behaviour.
  4. Ensure measurement. A measurable, performance indicator has to be in place which should be clearly explained to the employee and ensured that comprehension is there.

KEEPING THE MOMENTUM

Having initiated the program, keeping momentum is extremely important. A structured internal communications program, aimed at regularly highlighting organizational achievements and the responsible team or employee who achieved it will aid the program significantly.

What this does is:

  1. It informs the organisation as to who’s championing specific activities.
  2. It creates peer acknowledgement for the high performers.
  3. It motivates the competitive spirit within divisions to do their bit and get their names on the communication roster.

As a team employees move in one planned direction in delivering the desired brand experience. This benefits the brand as all stakeholders receive a very positive brand experience. In turn this strengthens the brand relationship with the stakeholder and leads to increasing revenue.

WHY WE DO NOT DO THIS?

Across Asia corporate cultures are still largely governed by the ‘command-and-control’ leadership practices that actually alienate employees.  Instead of people being the key focal point for a brand in developing its relationships, the focus is on profits through higher sales & lower costs.

Gunning for increasing profits, year on year, is not wrong. Any business needs to be profitable. That’s why it’s in business. But the strategy to profitability needs to take into account the community and society the business operates in. Without a clear benefit to both any business would not be sustainable in the long-term.

As managers we veer away from undertaking new approaches because we are conditioned to be risk-minimisers & profit-maximisers through years of doing it.

Here’s the catch—as a business leader if you do not put your people first and focus on what benefits them, how can you get them to give a positive brand experience to the stakeholders who matter to you and who pay the revenue the business generates?

 WHAT’S THE SOLUTION?

Get involvement.

Involvement is the critical element. Intuitively we all understand what involvement is and how powerful a force it can be. When we are told to do something, we do it and then tend to forget about it. But when we are involved in something, we tend to be possessive and own it on an emotive level. 

When emotions come into play passion emerges and enables for a strong, positive experience to take place. This leads to developing trust. As trust grows, relationships strengthen and repeat usage and referrals occur.

The question to ask—is there involvement?

Involvement requires that a strong group process, where meetings and interactions take on a deeper meaning, be in place. A deeper meaning where one focuses more on authentic and honest conversations that emanate from appreciating and valuing the people on the team and not letting personal biases and egos come in the way.

Once a strong group process is in place it leads to strong relationships within individuals for implementing the planned activities. As each individual owns the activity ensuring quality deliverables in terms of content and channel is not hard. As a result of this each interaction of the brand goes to become more personal, emotive and honest. Together it leads to having a positive brand experience.

WHAT’S THE BENEFIT?

By taking the pains of involving & engaging employees and defining the culture, organisations can build up a very strong competitive advantage that results on both a strong brand identity as well as a healthy bottom line.

A positive and enriching brand experience is the output of having involved and engaged employees. Such experiences become the differentiator for a business vis-à-vis its competitor and leads to increased business through referrals and re-purchase thus impacting positively on the bottom line.