Only 10% of companies implement their major transformation programs on time and on budget – this alarming number is for the developed world, so one can only imagine the figure for the Middle East. The result is that businesses waste valuable resources and time trying to implement capital or transformational programs that ‘go south’. According to Robert Kaplan and David Norton, inventors of the balanced scorecard, the reasons why several corporations fail in executing their corporate strategy are linked to ‘vision’ barriers where only 5% of the workforces understand the strategy, ‘people’ barriers where only 25% of the managers have incentives linked to strategy, ‘management’ barriers where 85% of executive teams spend less than one hour per month discussing strategy, and ‘resource’ barriers where 60% of organisations don’t link budgets to strategy.
In the Middle East, barriers to successful implementation are much more pervasive. There are inherent common causes hindering the successful execution of large programs, be it a large scale infrastructure program or corporate-wide ERP implementation. Such barriers can be clustered into two groups: structural and process. It is often that companies’ organisational structures in the Middle East suffer from unclarified roles and outdated visions. Management methods are old style and not relevant to the modern environment. Service delivery is generally poor and fragmented. Skills are generally low and there is a big mismatch between skill, tasks, and quantities. When it comes to process, many Middle East corporations’ core processes are fragmented. There is no alignment between strategy, budget and performance leading to an inability to effectively manage performance. Resource management is input focused, disconnected from goals and insufficiently monitored. Human resource management is outdated, limited in scope and restrictive. Add to this, corporate IT is unplanned, fragmented and significantly underutilised.
Such major challenges require pragmatic leaders capable of successfully implementing a corporate strategic plan. He or she must have certain core competencies to overcome several of the above barriers. This leader should have a deep understanding of the business and ability to link several business aspects into one big picture. If he or she does not understand the aforementioned barriers preventing the corporation from achieving its strategic goals, then he or she should not be in the leadership role. The leader does not necessary have the answers to all of the above challenges, but at least should be able to build motivated teams and align the right resources to find the answers and chart a roadmap overcoming such challenges. He or she should be able to define near- and long-term performance outcomes and outputs. People skills are a must-have attribute of such leaders in order to convince company employees about the benefits of implementing major strategic initiatives on time and budget, and also to communicate the risks of not doing so. His or her ability to build a culture of trust between different management layers across the corporation would diffuse several pitfalls raised when introducing new work practice that may impact upon an employee’s daily operations, responsibilities and future. Integrity and leadership ethics are fundamental assets for any leader. It will empower the leader to establish the required level of transparency and fairness, hence gain long lasting loyalty among staff. Last but not least, becoming a role model by practicing what he or she preaches is the best way to motivate staff and get the best out of them; a common saying in the Middle East and elsewhere is ‘leaders who serve’.
Unfortunately, in the Middle East there is a limited supply of leaders with such profiles … and they don’t grow on trees either! Having said that, the road to building and developing potential leaders with the desired characteristics starts with a well structured succession planning and talent management process very early in a potential leader’s career. Effective succession management would help ensure that Middle East corporations continuously plan for and cultivate leaders who will drive success in the future. Such a continuous process will help in identifying critical leadership positions in the corporation and the competencies and experience criteria they require. It will build and cultivate a pipeline of high-potential talent from which to select new leadership. All this starts with an understanding of the competencies and skills currently available within the corporation. At the same time, existing employees should be prepared for future leadership roles while defining which criteria to use when promoting employees to leadership positions from within.
Many corporations in the Middle East struggle to implement truly effective succession and talent management plans. Some are challenged with a lack of process and rigor while others face more systemic issues that hinder the process. There is a need to design an integrated succession and talent management process that is fundamental for how a corporate entity needs to think about and approach succession management. The process should focus on being proactive in understanding succession risks and building for the future, ‘plan less and execute more’ by creating the right plans and then focus all efforts on execution. It should also tackle the barriers by identifying and addressing skill gaps, cultural issues, or dynamics that put the process and corporation at risk. Finally, make it a living process so that the corporation treats succession and talent management as a dynamic process in a continuously evolving eco-system.
Another approach is to send current and potential leaders to executive leadership capacity development programs delivered by top business schools. Several Ivy League universities have developed very profitable businesses offering executive programs and certificates focusing on core leadership competency development such as: strategy, innovation and creativity, negotiation skills, problem solving, strategic communication and marketing, ethics, and change management to list a few. While these programs are useful in highlighting the importance of these core competencies for leaders as well as providing an excellent open learning environment though interaction between leaders allowing a favourable sharing of experiences from different parts of the world and fields too. It has its limitation in providing an individual leader with his or her corporate specific skill sets that can be used to provide leadership support while executing the corporate strategy. In addition, the inability to tailor a program to the specific needs and challenges of business in the Middle East prevents the student – and employer – from truly benefiting from such expensive and time consuming programs.
The best way forward for Middle East corporations is to build leadership capacity by enhancing the effectiveness of their leaders at an individual level as early as possible in their career through a succession and talent management plan. It is also important to build a culture of leadership that engages and inspires employees at all levels.
A strong leadership culture brings leaders together to align around the corporate purpose and create a sense of community.
Mr Ayman Adhair is an entrepreneur and founder of Global Integrated Management Consulting, a specialised management and technology consulting firm based in Virginia, USA.
The firm also is establishing a branch office in London, UK. He has 20+ years of management and technology consulting, and international business development experience. Mr Adhair is a former Managing Director for KPMG Consulting, global audit and consulting firm, working with them in the USA, UK and MENA region. He has significant experience in implementing large scale transformation programs and integrated performance management systems in emerging markets. He is also recognised as a thought-leader in electronic government, specialised economic zones, services quality improvement and senior executive leadership capacity development. He led the design and implementation of large scale performance improvement programs in several countries including: USA, South Korea, Montenegro, Spain, Malaysia, Brunei, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, South Africa, Palestine, Jordan and Pakistan.