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

Visual Courtesy: http://pt.slideshare.net/
Visual Courtesy: http://pt.slideshare.net/

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.

 

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.

Why You Should Undertake a Brand Risk Analysis

As brand marketing professionals we delve into the structural issues of developing a brand and often invest heavily in the brand building process but do not take into account the associated risks or undertake a Brand Risk Analysis on those risks .

As the importance of brand for an organisation has grown over the years, the risks too, have proportionately grown.

The global financial crisis triggered major socio- economic changes and issues of transparency and trust along with growth of social media usage, have been catalysts in moving brand risk to center stage and in the limelight.

Brand risk management should be identified, measured and managed within the enterprise risk management framework of an organisation.

Given that brand risk is multifaceted—strategic, operational, financial, regulatory and are often managed by organisations in individual silos or through departmental based planning– being able to get a true picture of potential brand risk is poor.

Brand risk evaluation and planning doesn’t deserve such silo based approach but a much more strategic and integrated approach.

Let’s start with “What is brand risk?”

Under traditional risk management, which is originally the domain of the finance department, brand risk has no definition. It comes across as an output from other identified risk areas such as lawsuits or adverse regulatory decisions or supply chain issues.

In layman terms we can define brand risk as threats to the brand equity or threats to the brand differentiators that make consumers choose one product or service over the other. Thus brand risk can be defined as anything that threatens:
1. The sustainability of current and future demand for a company’s product or service
2. The company’s commercial freedom

The key internal areas where brand risk is, usually, generated are:
1. Poor manufacturing quality
2. Poor customer service (brought about by dissatisfied or not-in-sync with the brand philosophy employees)

External areas are:

  1. Behaviour by consumers—boycotting the products or services of the company due to change in perception brought about either by a change in the brand differentiator communication or experience OR due to changing social values
  2. Retail space capturing, buying out of stocks, removing stocks on display etc tactics by competition
  3. Political or community opposition to the brand to do business within a geographical region which limits its ability to develop.

The value of approaching brand risk, in a comprehensive manner, by looking at the brand all round from the point of view of answering the question— “what can affect the sustainability of the brand?”– provides a useful framework for risk analysis.

Such an analysis can aid in corporate planning for business growth as well as in being a measurement for brand equity as a value.

Changing Islamic Finance

 

The growth of the global Islamic finance industry has created the need to review and implement change in a few key areas. One of these is the much debated topic of availability of competent talent and jobs for these talents.

Today the industry is in critical need of connecting the dots between itself, academia and students to ensure its long-term sustainability. There is a dire need for globally accepted professional standards that enables development of competent talent keeping the relevancy that industry needs along with strategic talent development and career planning within organisation of the industries.

I had the pleasure to interview two luminaries of the global industry–Mr. Daud Vicary Abdullah, President & CEO of INCEIF- The Global University of Islamic Finance–and Mr. Richard Thomas–Chief Representative of Gatehouse Bank in Kuala Lumpur– to get an understanding of how this can be addressed by academia and industry.

 

This article was first published in the Islamic Finance Today April 2015 issue.