While many might fear the notion of change, Gulf Bank’s AGM of Human Resources, Mohammad Abdullah is invigorated by the opportunities presented by it. His quest to foster positivity and development is contagious, and we instantly notice this upon meeting him at Gulf Bank’s HR offices. He seeks to inspire, and be inspired himself, through every facet of his work environment. This is highly visible throughout an awe-inspiring display of photography, also one of his passions, and the compelling sign proudly displayed on his bookshelf that reads, ‘Be the Change.’ With a wealth of expertise in managing people, improving work motivation and performance management in Kuwait and abroad, he’s taken on a positive role at Gulf Bank in fostering the Bank’s future vision for elevating the local Kuwaiti workforce to achieve growth and become the leaders of tomorrow. Instead of simply writing policies that breed change, he behaves in a way that instigates positivity. Mohammed sits down with the bazaar team to discuss Gulf Bank’s latest and greatest HR policies.
Can you tell us more about yourself and your role as AGM of Human Resources?
I completed my education in the UK and started my career in Kuwait’s oil sector working in Denmark, UK and back in Kuwait. This provided the opportunity to work in exciting industries such as aviation and to experience many functions including marketing and HR. I left the oil sector six years ago and moved to sales and business development with multinationals in manufacturing and automation. My engineering degree taught me the value of quality, my MBA helped me understand the significance of finance, marketing and logistics, and my years of work have taught me that the most important aspect by far, in any organization, is the people.
Upon joining the bank in May 2013, we’ve been going through a significant transformation in HR, initiated by our GM and across the bank as a whole. In my role as Assistant General Manager of Human Resources I head the Human Capital Management group, which includes Talent Acquisition (Recruitment), Talent Management (Learning & Development), and Business Partnering through which we interact with the business, as well as Workforce Planning.
How do you work with other departments in the bank in delivering a vision of transformational HR?
Our working values define the language we use to communicate and work with other departments. In order for an HR vision to be transformational, collaboration amongst the entire team is critical; it is all about understanding the business needs and collaborating to find innovative solutions to fulfill them.
In working with a collective vision of transformational HR, Recruitment is now centralized and is continuously being enhanced; our professional Business Partners speak a common language and apply a consistent methodology across the bank; Learning & Development is undergoing a major review to be more proactive with the business, and adding exciting offerings for both graduates and leaders.
What’s Gulf Bank’s current policy on Recruitment?
Our policy is to consistently attract and maintain the best talent.
What’s Gulf Bank’s vision for Recruitment?
We aim to create a center of excellence that refines our goals and policies of attracting and maintaining talent, as well as operating a more specific plan for Kuwaitization. With a current Kuwaitization rate of more than 80 percent Kuwaiti employees in junior positions, we aim to better represent Kuwaiti talent in middle and higher management. We have ambitious targets set for the next two years. We also continue to invest in the youth and focus on local events such as job and career fairs, as well as relevant international events. Our platinum sponsorship of the NUKS event in San Diego was a huge success. Such activities demonstrate how we are constantly reinventing Gulf Bank to become and remain an employer of choice for fresh graduates and experienced professionals.
How has Gulf Bank sustained a policy of Kuwaitization in 2013 compared to 2012, and what is the plan for 2014?
2013 has seen a similar trend to previous years, as Kuwaitization is a key aspect that defines and characterizes Gulf Bank. We are way above our required levels by the Central Bank for Junior positions, and this higher average brings us in line with Kuwaitization requirements overall. Our vision and goals for 2014, however, will see us elevating the policy of Kuwaitization to surpass the concept of ‘just numbers.’ We are no longer only looking at quotas as a driver; we want to elevate those numbers to qualitatively enhance our policy of Kuwaitization. We would like to see current and new employees rise up in management; we want to grow managers and leaders in the right place by ensuring our organization is built on meritocracy. For instance, experienced employees from the branches who are consistently excelling in their roles position would make ideal candidates for management positions at the head office. They understand our customers and our operations and this brings great value. We want to ensure that we build a foundation to allow a continuous flow of future leaders who today we hire, develop, mentor, nurture and promote.
What’s the Recruitment plan for 2014?
To achieve our vision, you will see Gulf Bank take on a more active role where local and international events are concerned. To our current and future employees at Gulf Bank, we want to maintain our standing as a great place to work. As a Kuwaiti bank, we aim to ‘Be the Change’ we want to see in our community.
What’s the importance of employee training?
Providing the tools for employees to do their job by working smarter. This has a huge impact on performance and productivity—and indeed on morale and job satisfaction. Being in an environment of continuous development also increases employee loyalty.
What are the fields in which employees undergo training and why?
Employees undergo training in all fields and areas of our business. Some training is technical, and is more specific to the job. Other times, however, it is more general. We cover a full mix of technical and behavioral development. We are proud to deliver many programs in-house, as well as sending our employees to reputable training providers, and in some cases, universities.
What is new for Talent Management in 2014?
We will have a new dedicated training center that will be inaugurated in January and we’re very excited to host our inductions and internal training sessions there. We are also working on a Kuwaiti graduate program, a development program that sees the mentorship of an employee from their point of induction to lead them toward a future management position. We’re also going to focus on a special program for MBA graduates to have a fast tracked career path toward management. There are more exciting things which we will announce during the latter part of 2014.
The Global Management Challenge was another exciting program that was introduced in the past few weeks and will continue well into 2014. Gulf Bank sponsored 12 teams in a very realistic business simulation exercise organized worldwide. Winners of the Kuwait competition will represent Kuwait internationally in the next phase. This has been a very exciting program not just for the many participants from across the bank, but also for us eagerly awaiting the results every quarter to see how our teams are doing.
BUSINESS PARTNERS AND WORKFORCE PLANNING
What’s the role of a Human Resources Business Partner?
Our Business Partners bring HR to the day-to-day business operation. They are strategic partners looking after everything to do with people. Each Business Partner is responsible for certain areas of the organization and they are engaged with the employees and management there on a daily basis. They coordinate all HR activities for their respective areas.
I think this is a really exciting role as you have to learn everything you can about HR from talent acquisition to policies to people management; while at the same time, an HR Business Partner needs to know their designated department’s functions and practices. If an HR Business Partner is looking after the Investment division, their engagement in that position is twofold, from an HR perspective and a business perspective. I enjoy the time I spend with the Business Partners because it keeps me in touch with the business and its people.
Our Business Partner function is a cohesive unit; they share their experiences regularly, they deal with issues together and come up with great strategies that suit the Bank’s different divisions.
Gulf Bank is one of the leading pioneers in the HR Business Partner concept in Kuwait. We also work with other organizations in Kuwait to share our knowledge and best practice methods with them.
What are Gulf Bank’s working values?
Trust, Empathy and Agility or TEA for short. Our vision as HR vision is to “Be the Change.”
How do you ensure that these working values are alive within the organization?
In order for this culture to thrive, we live our values the Gulf Bank way. Trust, Empathy and Agility are fundamental human values that are essential in maintaining healthy work relationships. When these working values are applied in our daily interactions within the organization, this leads to a truly ‘people centric’ work culture that drives success.
Communicating our working values is a comprehensive effort that utilizes extensive marketing tools, continuous behavioral workshops for all levels of employees, the leaders playing as role models and using TEA in all of their meetings and discussions with employees and vice versa. An employee feels more secure once they know they have a great leader they could trust. More importantly, we are looking to have champions from amongst the employees actively promoting and coaching TEA across the Bank with the support of HR.