Insights from Inji Abdoun, Head of Corporate Human Resources, EFG Hermes Middle East


In the most basic, theoretical terms, Talent Management (TM) is an integration of all the various initiatives, programs and processes that contribute to the development and retention of employees. As this new strategic imperative takes centre stage in all the major organisations in the developed world serving as their armour in the war for talent, it is just about seeping into the fabric of corporations in the Middle East. In a part of the world where people management functions have barely made the transition from “personnel” to “human resources“, talent management is slowly pushing to the surface as a small, albeit growing, group of organisations explore this new approach. Inji Abdoun, Head of Corporate Human Resources, EFG Hermes Middle East, discusses the do’s and don’t’s of talent management and the necessary communication between HR and senior management.

You can ask numerous HR or business professionals to define talent and talent management (TM), and you will get just as many different definitions. While some see it as synonymous with performance management, others will use it to describe their recruitment practices, and yet others may refer to it as their workforce planning. The widespread definition that most believe accurately describes this new concept sees TM as the framework that brings together all of the above; everything from workforce planning, to recruitment, to leadership development and last but not least, performance management. As such, TM is a rich and robust, multi-faceted strategic approach to human capital management, that, unfortunately, is still very single-faceted in the Middle East.

In a part of the world that is in desperate need for a more formalised methodology in handling its human capital, talent management is still in its infancy and fighting for its rightful place on the agenda of senior management. But, looking at where the region is positioned from a business perspective, you would think that TM would be easily recognised as a strategic priority, and make for an easy sell to senior management. But as with many things in the human resources domain, it will take a bit more time for HR to break through the proverbial glass ceiling with talent management strategies in the region’s local organisations. Why? Well, for starters, making any progress in the talent management domain would require serious reflection about what talent and talent management mean to an organisation and why it needs it. It is not something an organisation can copy and paste from best practice repertoires. Without this crucial self-analysis, it is almost impossible to move further and implement TM strategies. It also involves significant, continuous involvement from senior management, who, for obvious reasons, focus their attention on the more obvious money-making strategies for their organisations. The sooner they realise that a proper talent management approach can turn into their most profitable strategy, the better for their sustainability.

I believe that there is an abundance of talent in the Middle East, be it local home-grown talent, imported talent, or returning-local talent. The problem lies not in the shortage of talent, but in how organisations approach and handle it. In the middle of a so-called war for talent, the real success lies in retaining and growing the talent you poach; it does not end with bringing those key individuals on board. One of the biggest mistakes organisations tend to make is to simply forget about a new hire once they are on the job. Career development and talent management tends to just “happen” to a select few by sheer coincidence or luck without structure or basis. Performance, which is a cornerstone for any talent management initiative, is at best reviewed once a year, if at all, and its only apparent value seems to be in determining so-called promotions, salary increases and bonuses. Those who receive a less than desirable rating and the subsequent financial reward (or lack thereof) are rarely given any guidance or practical steps they need to follow to improve. But, in all fairness, it is not entirely the line manager’s fault; this would be something that both line manager and HR have to collaborate on in order to ensure the employee is given the tools and a fair chance to increase his or her performance. Often, line managers are not accustomed to tag-teaming with HR; the relationship can be a stilted one where HR helps in recruitment, and later, if/when an employee does not perform, in – laying him or her off . What happens in the middle is not something managers have been encouraged to work on with HR let alone work on it at all, which can lead to dissatisfaction on both sides. But problems do not only occur with under-performers: What about all the top performers who are left to fend for themselves? Sure, they are doing a good job and are getting more money for it, but that is mostly not enough. A top performing ambitious individual will also expect proper career development and promotion opportunities that provide more than just a different title and benefits. Some people, or actually most out there, really do want more than money; they want to see themselves develop and grow, and want exposure to new experiences and challenges. Unless an organisation is willing to do the ground- work to provide that in a consistent manner, it will lose talented people, and may even find it difficult to bring in new ones. This is not to say that there are no career development opportunities and that ambitious individuals do not find challenges; but it is not something that organisations can afford to continue to do sporadically, or individually. If organisations in the region expect to continue to compete with the rest of the world and win the war for talent, this haphazard approach to human capital management needs to change.

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Identifying that an organisation needs to formalise how it manages talent is only a tiny pre-step in a lengthy process, but one that should be broken down into bite-sized pieces for maximum commitment and impact. Although introduction and implementation should be in phases, a full-scale plan needs to be developed, to ensure that all the various components and phases along the way complement each other and contribute to the ultimate aim of attracting, promoting, and retaining internal talent. Regardless of the complexity or simplicity of an organisation, this is no easy feat, and any head of HR that believes he or she can champion it on his or her own is in for a rough awakening. HR professionals take great pride in “owning” human capital initiatives in their firm, and fight a daily battle towards building their credibility without having to hide behind senior management. However, the introduction and implementation of talent management as a concept and a way of management cannot be purely a HR-owned human capital initiative. Unless talent management is owned and fully supported by senior management, there is no hope for it to develop its true potential. With time, a well-constructed talent management program should become an intrinsic part of an organisation’s overall strategy and without high-level commitment it will be nothing but another HR program. The true measure of a successful talent management program is how integrated it becomes with strategy, business planning and an organisation’s overall approach to human capital management.

In an economy such as today’s, organisations may be reluctant to introduce new programs that could cost a lot of money, which most feel should be allocated differently. While a full-fledged talent management program will require financial investment at various stages and in various areas, changing the mindset costs nothing more than a deviation from the traditional approach to human capital management and a genuine belief and interest in the potential rewards of adopting the new approach. Acknowledging that you have a talent pool, taking the time to identify it, and nurture it costs more in time and commitment than it does in actual monetary spend, and yet the ROI in can be infinite. What other investment opportunity can claim that?

Tharawat Magazine, Issue 6, 2010