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.

 

This Ramadan create your legacy

Ramadan Legacy

Finally it’s here!

In March I had written about a talented group of Muslims who had developed a RAP– Ramadan Action Plan. Read about it here.

Now the group has just launched a fabulous app– Ramadan Legacy app— the world’s first fully featured app for Ramadan that provides an excellent way of planning your Ramadan in the digital format. The app aims to enhance your experience of Ramadan through combining smart technology and beautiful design with spirituality and learning, all to help you organise your worship to make Ramadan easy and enjoyable.  It has launched on the Apple and Android App Store on Friday 12th June 2015.

“Ramadan Legacy is a tool that allows Muslims to create, track and build their Ramadan Legacy. Imagine in five years time looking back to see what you felt and achieved five years ago, in Ramadan. It combines smart technology and beautiful design with spirituality and learning, all to help you organise your worship to make Ramadan easy and enjoyable.”– Ramadan Legacy

Winds of change blowing on Islamic finance

A distinct trend emerging in the global Islamic finance industry is the rising number of professionals opting out of the corporate rat-race and entering entrepreneurship. 

The question is why?
  • Does this have a correlation with lack of talent development in the industry?
  • Or with the lack of Islamic finance being used by other industries?
  • Or a lack of professional standards where technical competencies are concerned?
  • Or a lack of vision within the industry?
  • Or the lack of convergence between Islamic finance & the Halal industry?
  • Or simply the lack of tangible progress?

Food for thought for  later as the global Islamic finance industry is, indeed, getting affected by all these issues and needs to address them quickly.

From the professional perspective, to get an insight into what’s driving professionals in the industry to trade-in a secure pay-check for the uncertainty and flux of entrepreneurship, I met up with Mr. Shakeeb Saqlain— CEO of IslamicBanker.com .

Here’s the interview published in Business & Finance April 2015 issue:

 

Is the Islamic Economy for People?

Image Courtesy: www.shutterstock.com
Image Courtesy: http://www.shutterstock.com

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)

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.