Sharoq Almalki, Chief Human Capital Officer, Commercial Bank of Qatar, believes that finding and retaining the best candidates is a continual challenge and must be tackled with a varied approach.
“In some cases we need a readymade solution, someone who can take on the job from day one,” she says about the challenge of finding the right talent when justifying the need to recruit externally. “The financial sector is a small and competitive market and so it is often difficult to recruit experienced Qatari candidates who have been exposed to similar challenges. Our competitors are well known and limited in number, so we can look to our competitors to find Qataris for these positions but even then a shortage of experienced Qataris makes us opt for expats.”
Almalki feels that Qatar’s oil and gas sector has now matured with experienced Qataris who have been at the helm for over 20 years. By contrast the financial sector is still in its relative infancy with new recruits are being trained for managerial positions.
Commercial Bank is compensating hiring expats by taking in large numbers of new Qatari graduates each year through its Graduate Development Programme, which places heavy emphasis on training and gaining hands on experience through rotational placements.
“Commercial Bank recruits many Qatari graduates who have sufficient knowledge but who need time and training to develop the right skill sets,” says Almalki.
“The key challenge we face as an organisation is sourcing candidates who have the right balance of skills, knowledge and behaviour that fits our organisational culture. Local candidates may have a limited financial services perspective in some areas of the business, while expats who have not worked in the Gulf may struggle to integrate into the culture.”
Need for expats
Despite a preference for training Qatari graduates and external Qatari hires, there is still a large gap which can be filled only through hiring expats. Almalki explains: “The reality is that the Qatari working population is very small and we need expatriates to provide expertise in a large organisation such as Commercial Bank. Recruiting quality Qatari employees should also never be compromised, even when meeting our Qatarisation obligations.”
With a diverse set of employees, hiring people with interpersonal skills is vital, says Almalki.
“The global setting of multiple nationalities and different age groups who form the workforce, together with young and inexperienced nationals paired with mature and technically efficient expats, is a circumstance that is unique to the GCC countries. That’s why; hiring candidates with good ethical and interpersonal skills has become an imperative prerequisite. We need people to understand the culture of the country and act accordingly,” she says.
Almalki, with her passion for people and wide expertise across the oil and gas, government services and financial sectors, has developed an innovative idea, that when implemented, will make it easier for the workforce to work in harmony.
Almalki has used her expertise and insight into HR culture, supplemented by strong research findings through surveys conducted across different sectors, to author a book identifying the challenges that the Qatari community faces while working across cultures. This book will be published and made available to Qatari organisations as part of Commercial Bank’s CSR programme.
“There will be workshops as part of the book’s findings, explaining cultural gaps and showing how to tackle them in the workplace. For example, finding the easiest way for Qatari talent to mingle with non-Qatari talent and communicate, the challenge of working with Qataris and other nationalities, understanding their weaknesses, their working styles and ways to motivate and empower them,” she says.
Solving HR issues in Qatar regularly requires an understanding of both Qatari and Western cultures and Almalki uses the example of workplace policies. “Western expats are often comfortable in a workplace culture based on strict rules and policies as practiced in their home countries. The culture is different here since people are used to doing things a different way. Qatari society runs on social relations and human interactions.”
Almalki continues: “From a generation that didn’t have any policies in place, we have now changed into a generation that is making policies. Qatar is undergoing change, and this transformation takes a long time when it comes to perceptions or mindset change. It should also be done with utmost care so as not to destroy the fabric of the society,” maintains Almalki.
She advises that Qataris should be understood through their unique ethos: “Utilise their networking skills, their personal skills, and their strong family bonds.”
Being a Qatari HR leader with the intrinsic quality of empathising with employees from different cultures makes Almalki a true blue HR professional. One saying Almalki often quotes goes: “You (the employee) look after the company and I (HR) will look after you well.” This saying is taken very seriously by Commercial Bank’s HR team headed by Almalki.
Commercial Bank recently went through a remuneration restructuring exercise where both Qatari and non-Qatari salaries were reviewed on an intra-organisational level and with respect to global standards. After review, new benefits and policies were put in place and every employee’s pay scale was adjusted to reflect best practices, industrial standards and individual capabilities.
Almalki takes each case personally and if ever there was the situation of an employee coming to her with a complaint about reward or compensation, she feels she has failed them. “I make sure that I recognise the work put in by an employee, and even before he or she comes to me I make sure that they have been rewarded as per their capabilities.”
Healthcare is another important facet within HR that has not been given enough attention and this is something Almalki wants to change. “Healthcare is an important part of HR. Wellness, work-life balance, and mental health are all important issues that need to be addressed as we are, after all, human beings not machines,” she says.
“The Biggest Loser is a weight loss challenge that is being launched by Commercial Bank,” she mentions.
From detection of health issues such as free cancer screening, to advice and motivation, Almalki takes an interest in each and every employee that goes beyond the standard scope of HR.
“You cannot just do a job in HR; you have to love what you do, feel for people, understand them and work for their welfare,” Almalki adds.