Developing future leaders still a concern in Middle East

Author: Criselda Diala-McBride | Date: 26 Oct 2016

Willis Towers Watson’s latest report underscores the challenges regional employers face in attracting and retaining top talent

Many organisations in the Middle East are still struggling to identify critical positions within their organisation and retain high performers – which are key ingredients in developing a leadership pipeline, according to Willis Towers Watson’s latest report.

Findings from the 2016 Talent Management & Rewards indicate that, while 40 per cent of employers in the region have reported increased hiring activity, 76 per cent of respondents continue to face problems attracting top-performing talent. Around two-thirds (63 per cent) said they are finding it challenging to retain high-potential employees.

To address this, Elie Georgiou Botaris, Middle East practice lead for talent management and organisation alignment at Willis Towers Watson, believes that regional organisations must first determine the core roles they need to secure business continuity.

“Once they have established what they want their future leader to look like, [they should] set a benchmark and assess potential hires and existing employees against that [standard] to make sure they have the right competencies for their organisation,” he said.

This approach is particularly important for the GCC region’s nationalisation campaign, Botaris added.

“The current succession management framework has not been successful in identifying future national leaders,” he said. “Historically, [senior leaders] nominate people they like to be managers, but that shouldn’t be the case. You need to be scientific in choosing the right skills. There must be a thorough screening process to make sure that you are sifting [through] your talent pool, so you end up with the crème de la crème.”

Quoting the results of the Global Workforce Studies, Marjola Rintjema, lead consultant for communication and change management at Willis Towers Watson, added that there is a much higher percentage of employees in the Middle East (35 per cent) who are very critical about their senior management’s ability to develop future leaders, compared with the rest of the world (27 per cent).

“Assessment tools [that allow organisations to develop questionnaires, tests and metrics] really help in defining the skills your organisation specifically needs for future success; in hiring the right talent; and in developing the right segment of your employee population,” she said. “This is something that's starting to [take off] in the region, as organisations [become increasingly aware].”

Effective talent management has become even more important in today’s volatile economic environment due to low oil prices and reduced government spending, Rintjema added.
“Companies are currently under pressure. They only have one budget to spend, so they want to make sure that they get the best return on their investment,” she said. “Our recommendation is to focus on leadership and management development, which has a huge impact on employee engagement. The other is to emphasise performance management.”

Rintjema said pay-for-performance is essential in increasing individual performance and in cultivating a high-performance culture.

“Be very specific about the kind of talent you really need because you cannot do everything for everyone when your [budget is tight]. Make sure your management development plans and rewards package are geared towards attracting, retaining and engaging those people,” she said.

Botaris agreed, and added that communication is key. “It's not enough to have a good programme in place. You have to communicate this openly with your employees so they know why some are paid more than others. It creates a competitive effect and employees strive to be better performers.”