We are already seeing the effects of these programs. Annual employee turnover has dropped from 40 percent to 10.4 percent, which offers obvious savings. We’ll see further savings when we can replace the majority of our expatriate managers with locals.
JULFAR: Or look at Nigeria. West African markets are among the most competitive in the world for telecom operators today. As we try to differentiate our product and service offerings in an increasingly crowded market, we need people who can respond rapidly and nimbly to changes in the market environment.
But many highly qualified West African professionals would prefer to live and work in Europe, the U.S., or Asia. It is a constant challenge to attract those with the necessary skills — who are often recruited elsewhere — to stay in the country.
So we are doing a few things. One is to grow the pool of people with the technical skills we need by partnering with engineering institutions and telecom vendors to develop learning programs, and by creating graduate development programs for entry-level hires to make up for the gaps in the existing education systems.
Another is giving our employees room to grow in the organization. We want to make sure that the people who have the right technical skills also have leadership ability, so we have put in place leadership development programs for middle and top management. This builds their people and business skills and also loops them into our global network of talent.
Finally, many employers in West Africa’s cash-driven economies focus mostly on salaries in developing compensation packages. We were able to differentiate ourselves by offering both monetary and nonmonetary rewards — housing, cars, phone bill subsidies for employees’ families, and education allowances — to meet employees’ needs.
S+B: As you have grown from a local to a regional to a global company, how have you maintained a consistent culture and talent management strategy?
AL SAWALEH: Our preferred profile for talent is changing. We look for people who can embrace Etisalat’s values and also be extremely mobile — understanding the norms and cultures in different countries. This is one of our screening criteria for talent. It allows leaders to move across the group and work effectively in each market while still upholding Etisalat’s corporate culture.
We design our programs for high-potential employees the same way. We have a group-level program, which develops managers who can work in any of our operating companies, as well as specialized leadership programs for each operating company to meet its unique needs. But these programs are carefully designed to monitor progress using similar metrics. So at the end of the day, we are comparing oranges to oranges across the company.
We have tough standards for measurement, and we see people work very hard in order to achieve them. They are the pillars of our success. Our people are really dedicated, and we must take care of them in return.
- David Tusa is a partner with Booz & Company in Dubai. He specializes in operational improvement and emerging market strategies for the telecommunications industry.
- Melissa Master Cavanaugh is senior director for thought leadership at TIAA-CREF and former senior editor for Booz & Company in the Middle East.