Dubai – City of Glass and Growth


I was fortunate enough to get a chance to visit Dubai this week.  If you’ve never been, it’s worth the flight over.  A beautiful city, built on twin pillars of opulence and arrogance.  Man made islands built from the endless supply of desert sand are home to top end resorts and amazing homes.  Buildings fly up seemingly overnight, made of glass and steel.  Fascinating architecture including building of all shapes, sizes and method, including one that when finished will include a full 90 degree twist from top to bottom.  I’m shocked they haven’t figured out how to make a building out of a moebius strip.  Not that I’ve seen anyway.

One of the highlights of the trip was the chance to meet Ron Thomas, CEO of Great Places to Work Institute Gulf.  (HT to Crystal Miller for setting it up.)  Ron and I had a lovely conversation, and my eyes were opened up to the world he lives in.  A few things I took away from the discussion…


HR Infrastructure – Dubai, as a city, is only really about 25 years old.  At the end of the Gulf War, many foreign trading companies in the region moved operations to Dubai, and growth started to skyrocket.  That means the power structure of these companies, which has been fairly static for a long time, is nearing the end of their time, and HR leadership roles are opening up more and more.

Opportunities – A western education goes a long way in Dubai.  Someone coming to the market, with the right introductions, can take a role here and fast forward their career by years.  There is very much an appetite for moving the entire business forward, and many of the things we are seeing as common practice (moving away from transactional focus, building on strategy, talent attraction and so forth) are in high demand.  A couple of interesting observations Ron shared with me were that in any given social interaction, 80-90% of the players are expatriates, and most of the children of high ranking leaders, especially those who are from the region, are born in the states.  There will soon be a viable population of workers who are born in the states, raised in the Gulf, and are very valued commodities in the business and political world.

Networking – The circles run deep and wide, and the art of forming connections is the key to business.  In an hour long meeting, you can expect to spend the first 45 minutes getting to know each other, then five or ten hammering out business.  Being open about what you are trying to accomplish goes a long way.  For those of us based in the states, it becomes critical to take the first step to establish ourselves in the region, usually at our own expense.  From there, you can build off of those connections and relationships.  There is a demand for knowledge in the region, but if we want the chance to share what we know, it is on us to take the leap.

Aside from being a great source of local knowledge and ambassador to the area, I think it worth noting that Ron is also a man who knows how to wear a suit.  (Ron, if you read this, I’ve got to know where you picked that number up.  Slick.)  I appreciate a snappy dresser, and Ron has clearly leveraged access to the quality available in the area.  Makes we wish I had time for shopping.  Maybe next time.

On the whole, a great trip.  There’s no substitute for travel when it comes to learning about the culture of another part of the world.  I hear travel rates get very reasonable in the summer months (no one wants to hang out in the desert when it is hot, apparently) so you may find a great chance to come visit if you try.  It’s absolutely worth the effort.

Carnal HR

HR is a funny business.  The phrase I heard quite a bit when I first joined was, “part pastor, part parent.”  And I suppose it was true in that situation.  Many of us have lived in the world of HR as authority figure, confidant and organizational conscience.  That job usually comes with being the compliance office and exclusions from “real business” talk.  You don’t see a lot of priests invited to the war room, do you?

We aspire to be more.  Words like partner, adviser or consultant are used, but they are intended to drive home the idea that we are part of the team, we are part of the action, and we are here to help.  We are fam-i-lee.  I got all my sisters and me.

In the last few years, I was fortunate enough to travel extensively outside the States, and found several cultures that really embraced this idea for everyone in the business, not just HR.  We are all in this together, regardless of the department.  The most striking experience was in Mexico.  The front entrance of the production facility featured a banner that was created during a family picnic.  All of the children were invited to put their handprints in paint on the banner and sign their names.  The banner read, “Be safe at work.  We’re waiting for you to come home.”  I still get chills thinking about it.  Fam-i-lee.

There is a term I learned on that trip.  Carnal.  No, not in the sense of being worldly or of impure thoughts or deeds.  That’s a whole different kind of post.  No, in Mexico carnal is used to denote someone who isn’t actually your brother (which would be “hermano” of course), but is the next best thing.  A brother in all but blood relations.  Like Pancho and Cisco up above, as close as you can get.  Your carnal is the brother you have chosen.  Fam-i-lee.  There it is again.

The goal of real HR partnership isn’t the pastor/parent role. It’s the carnal.  Or the carnala for the female HR pros.  Being there by your side, being the person you would call on when you need something.  A chosen companion.


So who’s your carnal?

World Travels: Crowdsourcing

Winding down the trip, starting to think about the common observations between places…


Reflections on Travel

One of the perks of my job is that I occasionally get to travel overseas to work with teams in other countries.  While we do process and document reviews, the real value is in seeing how those teams perceive our work, and what they really need to do their jobs.  In the last round, we learned that none of the “global employee discounts” really work.  We also found that the online home for HR information makes perfect sense to the people who built it, but very little to those for whom it was built.

A simple lesson, then, to take away.  It doesn’t matter how good your change management is.  It doesn’t matter how awesome your website looks.  It doesn’t matter that your project is really important to you.  What matters is what the customer thinks, and what they need.  In fact, there were several things they really needed that have already been developed and deployed.   They just didn’t know about them. Tragic.

Those become our quick response items.  We can help them with their everyday work, and really drive some value into the organization.  Then we can work on the more complex issues where we really need their help.  But piling onto their current workload isn’t the best way to make friends.

So the simple lessons upon reflection are these.

1) Ask, don’t tell.

2) Clarify, especially when dealing with a language barrier.

3) Do the work yourself when possible, but ask your user to validate.

4) Make it as simple as possible, and no simpler.   (HT: A. Einstein.  Smart dude, that guy.)

5) It doesn’t matter how much you want the answer to be choice A if the real answer is choice B.

6) Nothing beats face to face meetings with live system walk-throughs.

Simple lessons, and ones we should know.  But good to remind ourselves on occasion.

Finally, with respect to Paul Smith (master of blog music), here’s the song that I could not get out of my head for those two weeks.  I must have listened to it 50 times during the trip, and still it hung around.  Now its yours.

Globalizing Processes and Documents

We are near the end of a two week swing through France and the UK, reviewing processes and documents for regionalization.  There is no question this work needed to be done, and we have learned much.

The biggest learning, though, hasn’t been about the regional needs for process changes.  It has been about the number of changes and improvements to our prime documents that were identified just by reviewing the process with global teams.  They ask not only great questions, but different questions that the ones we get in the US.  And different from each other, as well.  Some are purely terminology (“hourly” vs. “blue collar” vs. “non-exempt”).  Some are technical (creating org charts in Visio from an Excel report).  Some are common sense (“Why would you do that?  It makes a lot more sense to do this instead.”)

None of these are Earth-shattering concepts or insights.  But many are new, despite months of review in the US.  There is really no substitute for getting the team around a table for a week.

Any great success stories from working through your global teams?

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