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Blog : Harnessing talent through culture and the freedom to act


Harnessing talent through culture and the freedom to act

Last month I was in Dubai to help launch our first international office, learnpurple UAE, and field a lot of media interviews. The UAE is a melting pot of labour. One example which comes to mind where the number of journalists I met from everywhere but the UAE - UK, USA, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.

With people drafted in from all over the world to work; it’s so important to get the ‘people stuff’ right in order to achieve business success and growth. Consequently I was answering lots of questions about how organisations can attract, develop, engage and retain the best talent and become great places to work. All of my answers started with our strong belief that the success of an organisation is closely related to its culture.

Culture is defined by the attitudes, beliefs and behaviours of all the people within it. Culture is intangible yet such a valuable asset. So how will you know it’s working for you? If people are:

  • Happy
  • Productive
  • Creative
  • Committed
  • Engaged

Then it’s likely the culture is strong and working for you. A strong distinctive and positive culture will enable you to become a talent magnet. So how can you get one?

Culture can’t be turned on and off. Like Champagne it must be created and nurtured over time, well kept, nourished, loved and enjoyed. In my view culture can be defined by four key components:

  1. Values, mission and vision
  2. Clarity of roles, responsibilities and accountabilities
  3. People’s attitudes and behaviours
  4. Clarity of strategy, shared goals and beliefs

In short it’s the ‘how we do things around here’.

Many fast growth businesses start out with a strong culture as defined by the entrepreneurial founders and then over time this becomes diluted; because culture doesn’t happen by osmosis. If you can define and articulate the four areas above, you’ll have made a start. The trick is to feed your culture and values daily by talking about them, walking the talk, measuring people by them.

Service is another hot topic in the UAE because not everyone knows how to get it right. There’s much emphasis on process, on standard operating procedures, and less on the emotional side. Of course some process is always required though this should never be to the detriment of the guest experience.

Take the driver who, when asked for some water on arrival from the airport by his passenger, went to great lengths to explain it was in his SOPs (standard operating procedures) to provide water but that he’d actually forgotten to bring any.

Or the poolside sign that ran through a list of the treats guests could expect (SOPs again) instead of making it a surprise and delighting the guest when someone came to clean your sunglasses or offer a fruit skewer (great irritation one day when someone forgot the scheduled ice lollies at 12pm).

The waterless driver was sorted out when the passenger suggested a swift stop off at a garage shop but the guest should never have known about the SOPs or that he’d forgotten.

” May I have some water?”

“Certainly Sir, I’ll pick some up for you at the next garage”.

Job done and so much better than repeated apologies and fear of the SOP malfunction; which the passenger found downright irritating.

The hard-nosed journalists questioned this shift from SOPs to a more emotional approach as unworkable in the Middle East because they draft in labour from all over the world. So what? These employees working thousands of miles from home are not children. They’re intelligent, they can make mistakes, they’re creative, and they think and feel and interact with others every day of their lives. Treating people like automatons makes them behave as such. It’s about behaving like an adult, using common sense and doing what the guest needs to feel great.

Properly trained, within a framework of non-negotiables and in a culture where there is freedom to act. This, we believe necessary, shift is easier said than done but it is perfectly possible and one of the reasons we chose to open an office in Dubai.

What do you think?

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