Q&A: Suhail Bin Tarraf: "Most company culture is phony"

Author: Criselda Diala-McBride | Date: 02 Dec 2015

Millennial employees value sincerity in the workplace, says the chief executive officer of Tanfeeth

Suhail Bin Tarraf - ProfileEmployees in their twenties are teeming with energy, enthusiasm and new ideas. When properly harnessed, these qualities can help drive an organisation forward. But in a competitive job market like the UAE, young professionals are highly sought after, and companies like Tanfeeth – the region’s largest business process outsourcer (BPO), owned by Emirates NBD – have to find ways to retain top young talent in the face of fierce competition.
 
CEO Suhail Bin Tarraf says the average age of Tanfeeth employees is 28, and keeping hold of this energetic, passionate and vibrant workforce involves understanding their career perspectives, which often comes down to more than a handsome pay cheque.

What are the benefits and challenges of a young workforce?
A young workforce allows an organisation to mould, mentor and leverage its employees to be high performers and future leaders, which is why we primarily hire passionate students, graduates and entry-level professionals who are looking for a compelling career path.
 
But one of the greatest challenges we face is competing against talent poachers with deeper pockets. Since Tanfeeth is a BPO, founded on a lean operation model to reduce costs and improve efficiency, our compensation standard is lower than other private and public organisations. We try to solve retention challenges by competing on value rather than cost. By investing and engaging with our employees, we create a unified purpose and meaning between them and the organisation.
 
How do you motivate and manage employees in their twenties?
We take the time to understand our workforce. The modern workplace has evolved and compared with Generation X, millennial employees have different wants and needs. Young professionals today are no longer completely swayed by salary or big bonuses; they are more motivated by jobs that have purpose, challenges, growth opportunities and good corporate culture.
 
We empower decision-making to avoid bottlenecks. We also share power – encouraging cross-functional teamwork and leadership, while also fostering innovation and bright ideas. We provide incentives for proactive and above-standard work, and we recognise top performers. But we also we work hard with low-performing staff to ensure they are getting the support they need to improve, as well as develop their skills and overall output.
 
Our people are motivated because we invest in them. About 2.5 per cent of our operating budget goes on learning and development, an amount that will never be cut and will only increase in the future. We have talent models and career mapping that guides growth and presents opportunities for promotions and advancement. This is in addition to our extensive learning and development training programmes, in-house certification programmes and our own learning system, the Tanfeeth University. To date, there is a 90 per cent internal hire rate for managerial positions.
 
How can company culture help drive efficiency within a huge organisation of young professionals?
Many companies approach culture the wrong way – through phony sentiment or preachy intention. We know that culture comes down to what people do, and it is sustained by how your employees interact, behave and engage with one another.
 
Since culture has a major impact on business success, we have aligned our hiring practices with our corporate ethos. At Tanfeeth, we believe the right fit will always trump right performance. We hire candidates who will actively “walk the talk” of our organisation’s culture, especially those we place on our senior leadership tier. We prefer candidates who have the personality and passion we are looking for rather than a perfect CV.
 
People are the key to “baking” a culture into an organization. Once this is achieved, the drive toward efficiency with high business impact will happen organically.