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The Future of HR in the Middle East

An interview with experts on the current state and future of human resources in the MENA region

 

The Fleming. team sits down with Ebrahim Noray (Head - Human Resources | Meeras, UAE),  Othman Al-Haddi (Chief HR Officer | Binladin Holding Company, KSA) and the winner of the GCC HR Leadership Award 2017 - Ali Khaled Alhashmi (Senior Vice President & Head of Human Resource & Centre of Excellence | Union National Bank, UAE) to discuss:

• What are the positive and negative impacts of Robotic Process Automation on the workplace of the future?
• How can nationalization contribute to sustainable growth?
• How prepared are companies for generation Z employees? What will companies have to change to get the most out of this new generation of employees?
• What should the leadership vision be for the organization of the future?
• How do you foresee innovation and transformation in employee engagement in the GCC region?
• How will workforce and work culture transform with the introduction of AI in HR processes and practice?

  • Ebrahim Noray
  • Head - Human Resources
  • Meeras, UAE

What are the positive and negative impacts of Robotic Process Automation on the workplace of the future?

Positives – Systematic approach, efficiencies of speed and accuracy

Negatives – As HR professionals, we pride ourselves on a humanistic approach to delivering business objectives. This includes culture, change and an overall people strategy in order to complete set objectives. Automating or digitizing all processes will potentially mean the loss of the human element of what we do.

Yes, there are always efficiencies to be had in the organization; however, we use digital platforms in order to galvanize the strategy we as HR professionals set in order to keep our work as efficient as it can be.

How can nationalization contribute to sustainable growth?

The future of any country’s employment sustainability is based upon its own nationals being employed, not just in key roles but all roles that fit the level of the individual. What is great about the UAE is that the country sees this as a platform of change and reform whereby nationals are well educated, with some even being educated abroad and being enlisted/recruited in companies where they can grow. This step and this system will allow us to nurture and grow the future talent for the region along while providing the region with a solid pipeline of talent.

How prepared are companies for generation Z employees? What will companies have to change to get the most out of this new generation of employees

Generation Z was born in the smartphone era, meaning that most of what they learn out of school is from tutorials on YouTube. Companies need to acknowledge this and revise the way they approach this particular generation by providing them the tools to self-learn and develop. Furthermore, their entrepreneurial spirit also needs to be harnessed in a means where they are given the opportunity to express their autonomous nature.

What should the leadership vision be for the organization of the future?

The leadership vision for the future should consist of a working culture that covers Creativity, Flexibility, Innovation and Balance.

Creativity – Allowing your employees to create and perform while driving a culture of accepting ideas in various forums through your organization

Flexibility – With times that are changing and moving away from a traditional approach, our employees – especially the more experienced among us – need to be flexible and adaptable to change.

Innovation – Always look for better ways of completing your tasks; look at innovation to drive a culture of high performance. Our employees who will be recruited over the next ten years will be shaping Dubai, so choose the right talent for the right jobs. The new batch of generation Z and millennials have been born into a culture of major technological advancement, so as an organization, we need to be ready to manage the expectations of the employee along with getting the best out of them to complete business objectives.

Balance – I am firm believer in employees having a work-life balance and I believe more can be done in this area to keep Gen Z entertained and connected to work.

How do you foresee innovation and transformation in employee engagement in the GCC region?

I believe, as mentioned above, that there needs to be more done from the employers’ standpoint as far as how to keep people connected to work. One area is work-life balance and allowing the opportunity for self-development through regulated trainings which are posted online.

How will workforce and work culture transform with the introduction of AI in HR processes and practice?

This all depends on how it is managed. If you keep to all of what I have mentioned above, than AI will be the glue that can make us, our employees and our organizations more efficient. However, never lose who we are as HR professionals and why we are in these roles.

  • Othman Al-Haddi
  • Chief HR Officer
  • Binladin Holding Company, Saudi Arabia

What are the positive and negative impacts of Robotic Process Automation on the workplace of the future?

a) The positives are enormous: Robots are cost effective, have higher precision & speed, never get tired, can work 24/7 in all environments, are 100% predictable, come in different sizes and shapes to fit any work location, are reliable and can processes a huge amount of data without errors while incurring limited liability on employers.

b) The negatives are: they may increase the unemployment rate, they can’t deal with unexpected situations; they can’t improve the work done, as they follow pre-defined programming; they never think or initiate; they can never handle tasks requiring human traits such as empathy, creativity, etc; and they still need humans to oversee their work and ensure that things get done the right way.

How can nationalization contribute to sustainable growth?

Nationalization is a strategic choice, and one vital for companies’ sustainability in the GCC region; and that can be explained in 2 dimensions:

a) External: Legal requirements are dramatically increasing and in some GCC countries it can be threatening to the existence of the businesses if not addressed. Also, it is a social responsibility where the communities in which we work are expecting corporations to contribute to their prosperity through job creation (among other things). Delivering on the first point ensures compliance with authorities and avoids the risk of being shut down/fined, etc., while delivering on the second point is important for company image and its acceptance (goods & services) among consumers/clients. We have witnessed companies being boycotted for not being keen on hiring nationals!

b) Internal: National employees will be the best representation of our consumer/client needs, culture, norms and ambitions. Increasing nationalization among the workforce will ensure we are ahead of the game and will help in building the right platforms for sustainable growth in key functions such as marketing, customer service, sales, etc.

How prepared are companies for generation Z employees? What will companies have to change to get the most out of this new generation of employees

Generation Z was born in the smartphone era, meaning that most of what they learn out of school is from tutorials on YouTube. Companies need to acknowledge this and revise the way they approach this particular generation by providing them the tools to self-learn and develop. Furthermore, their entrepreneurial spirit also needs to be harnessed in a means where they are given the opportunity to express their autonomous nature.

How will workforce and work culture transform with the introduction of AI in HR processes and practice?

I believe the change technology brings is massive. For example, AI will not only change how we do things, but how we will affect how we identify ourselves as employees, and our role; it will re-shape a whole new culture and will re-define values, standards and priorities. The HR function needs to be the most prepared for this transformation by being more “human” than ever. It has to capitalize on those skills machines can never have such as empathy, emotional intelligence, caring, critical thinking, complex problem solving, influencing, initiative, curiosity, imagination, innovation, creativity and talent management. At the same time, thoroughly understanding what technology can offer will act as a step change for the performance of the HR department and increase its strategic contribution to the business mission. It can be “enslaved” to do the most demanding tasks that require speed, precision, huge data analytics, heavy labor, etc. Failing to do so (moving to human skills) may cause HR professionals’ jobs to be replaced by robots and AI will be a better choice for decision makers!

  • Ali Khaled Alhashmi
  • Senior Vice President – HR & Organization Development
  • Union National Bank, United Arab Emirates

What are the positive and negative impacts of Robotic Process Automation on the workplace of the future?

Robotic Process Automation is already starting to have an impact on the workplace, though it is likely that in the future this impact will be more noticeable. One of the positive impacts of Robotic Process Automation at work is the fact that greater accuracy can be achieved when using these systems. Robots do not get ill or tired, and when programmed accurately, they do not make mistakes. Another positive benefit of this technology is that it can be used to gain so much more from data. When artificial intelligence of this type is put to work in an automated way to process big data, insights that humans may not have been capable of picking up can be identified. This is likely to lead to more effective decision making in the working environment. Yet another positive impact of Robotic Process Automation is that it is anticipated to lead to more interesting roles in some cases.

The negative impacts of Robotic Process Automation in the workforce include the fact that some jobs will likely be made obsolete. These jobs will most likely be the more menial tasks that robots and automation can be programmed to deliver at a much more accurate level than humans are capable of. Another negative impact of this type of technology in the future workplace, which is already being seen to some extent, is that of a perceived degradation of customer service. The use of chatbots and other artificial intelligence can be more efficient, but some people just prefer the human touch.

How will workforce and work culture transform with the introduction of AI in HR processes and practice?

The introduction of AI into HR processes and practice is likely to lead to workforce and work culture transformation. A study by McKinsey showed that in the future, differentiation is likely to be achieved by organizations that effectively blend humans with automation such as that which is made possible with AI.

The future of the workplace and work culture when AI is absorbed within it is in likelihood going to be one where AI does a lot more of the manual work, and humans add a greater level of value. Automation will be used to process repetitive tasks, but what people will offer will increasingly be based around adding that human touch. AI knows what is right based on programmed rules, but people will add to this by bringing human perspectives of what is right based on assessing aspects of the situation that a robot is just not able to consider. As a result, it is likely that the workforce will be more efficient and productive in the future, with Robotic Process Automation programmed to deal with dull, lower value tasks, and people examining what can be done to be better and to stand out, and to achieve competitive advantage. In HR specifically, this will likely mean taking an even more strategic approach. It may also lead to the development of a more “can-do” culture, as people look for ways to demonstrate their value within the human resources team and to the organization in general.

Any transformation of workforce and work culture is likely to be met with some resistance. This is common when people are faced with change. A well-planned and effectively communicated change management process will be helpful in overcoming these types of challenges, so that the most can be made from the introduction of AI into HR processes and practice.

How can the importance of the procurement function be improved as a critical part of a business plan?

The key question that procurement leaders should ask themselves: Is our procurement function aligned with the overall corporate strategy and business plans? If not then you are not a critical part of the organization. To be a critical part of the business you have to contribute to the vision and success of your organization. Procurement becomes a critical part of the organization when it becomes an added-value function; value add is not just about savings and cutting cost-procurement value add is a complete service offering that improves the business and influences stakeholders.