Interview with Dr. Adbullah Al Homeadan, Vice President Human Capital, Saudi Telecom Company

As part of our continuing series to gain insight from and challenge the pre-eminent Human Capital & Resources practitioners within the Gulf, today our Middle East Director Tauqeer Iqbal met with Dr. Abdullah Al Homeadan, the Vice President for Human Capital and Organizational Excellence with a true regional heavyweight: Saudi Telecom Company (“STC”).

Dr. Al Homeadan joins such other luminaries as Dr. Khaled bin Abdulaziz Al Ghoneim and the senior management team at STC. STC is the largest integral Telecommunications Group in the Middle East. With revenues exceeding 56 bn SAR and assets of more than 111 bn SAR for the year ending 2011 STC is a large organisation by any measure.

Being industry leaders in a technology field that changes at a breath-taking rate, it is heartening to see that STC declare in their Company Strategy to “Invest in People Capital” as one of their 6 principle strategies.

Being with STC for over 8 years, Dr. Al Homeadan is testament to a widely recognized successful employee retention culture at STC in a region in which retention of key people presents itself as such a high priority.

Obtaining his Doctorate at Florida Atlantic University in 1996 we have in the course of this interview asked Dr. Al Homeadan to draw upon his powers of analysis and his years of experience to put into context some of the pressing issues facing senior HR professionals today.

Tauqeer Iqbal: Thank you for meeting with us today Dr. Al Homeadan. I want to ask you about several key aspects within HC/HR and its value to STC. The first issue I want to address with you is the strategic competence of HC at STC - how do you go about developing strategy?

Abdullah Al Homeadan: It’s my pleasure. I would say that a HC/HR strategy is never completely rational - it is after all about people and their reaction to their environment. People at all different levels from the CEO, to mid-management, to very junior staff - they all have to absorb processes and information to make better decisions. I think of HC/HR from an evolutionary perspective and I believe that this means STC has to learn and adapt to ensure it’s long term success.

Tauqeer Iqbal: As the leader of the HC function how do you then go about adding value to STC or indeed any organization?

Abdullah Al Homeadan: (Smiling) This is the key question my colleagues on the Board look to! Whether you talk about creating values, optimising values, or preserving values - what is clear is that you need to manage what you have at any given point in time. One needs to recognise the values and culture of your organisation and clearly define your objectives. In terms of creating values this then becomes about the promulgation of a value set that is new to the organisation. But being mindful of evolution as a necessary process to deliver objectives the values that one seeks to create must not be so divorced from the existing culture so as to make their delivery impossible. Also, when one considers optimising and preserving cultural values one must first be aware of their existence and their importance to current success and desired outcomes. In this way as VP HC I am there not just to make sense of strategic changes but also to making sense to other executive teams: in a way to be glue for the cultural identity of STC; but also to be the conduit for every component of the business.

Tauqeer Iqbal: In HC/HR at the moment the major buzz-word is “Talent”. Whether it be within the context of Talent Management, Talent Acquisition or Talent Retention the concepts always seem to pre-suppose that “Talent” itself is a clearly defined concept. What do you understand by the term “Talent”?

Abdullah Al Homeadan: Talent is what you make out of it! Let me explain: any definition of Talent has to have a strategic inheritance in the sense that you need a focus point for where you are now and a clear goal of where you need to be. I think that you need to have a clear goal and strategy and only then can you define it. All of that stems from type of talent in addition to industry, market and mode of the organization. Regarding type, it might be worth highlighting that the critical talent, including those in the pipe line for critical positions and jobs, needs to be the primary focus of talent management. As for the market and industry, the variation is great. Gulf markets face a shortage of highly qualified talented individuals who are highly specialized in the telecoms business, be it product development, marketing, sales, technical aspects , etc… finally the mode of the organization determines the type of talent needed. Mode is usually translated in the strategic directions of the organization.

Tauqeer Iqbal: Thank you for that answer. Very interesting. In terms of Talent Management what are the strategic implications of driving talent management processes forward?

Abdullah Al Homeadan: I believe this can come from a cultural; HC planning; or, competitive perspective. How does this then all fit together? How do you adopt and implement this? It is at the stage that once you have defined talent only then can you implement the complete road map to where you need to be. There then follow strategic dimensions of talent management: one needs to define entry criteria for the talent; to then define how it is different from performance management; to then define the decision process for entering into talent management (entry criteria). In all of this the strategy adopted needs to have a degree of permanence. The talent management scheme itself needs to be transparent to all those with a stake in it: there needs to be developmental paths and succession plans; a development focus; and crucially, support within the organisation and risk management. One then needs systemic supports for talent management: this can be distinguished from performance management which has a rather more narrow focus tending to concentrate on the high fliers - I believe that talent management is more inclusive. Finally, you need to consider what technology do we have to facilitate and measure these processes. Perhaps the ultimate question for members of Senior Management then is who is accountable for losing or failing to develop talent as one would expect?

Tauqeer Iqbal: I want to pick up one theme in that answer. Accountability necessarily looks to Performance Management. In many organisations that we work with Performance Management is nothing more than the measure of employee performance set against established criteria. Isn’t it more accurate to talk of Performance Measurement rather than Performance Management?

Abdullah Al Homeadan: (laughing) Well we at STC are trying to add value - we take a balanced approach to performance. Our top priority is to encourage performance: we want to align our objectives with incentives for our staff. We have and continue to place more focus on self assessments; rewarding top performers; and working on tackling poor performance. In terms of employee engagement our focus has been to dig deeper and find out what disengages people. It is clear to me that what has not worked is just measuring the extent to which employees and either engaged or disengaged and then doing nothing about it. As part of the way in which we have evolved we now focus on internal processes and being reactive about the data and information that we pick up from staff right across our Organisation. Competencies are never constant. There is no final state in telecom companies. Therefore, we need to make profound change in our competencies as we evolve. The only constant variable is team spirit.

Tauqeer Iqbal: Again thank you for that answer. Finally, and I promise you this is not a trick question I want to ask you about Talent Acquisition. How does Talent Acquisition differ from recruitment?

Abdullah Al Homeadan: Talent Acquisition is most certainly wider in its scope. We increasingly use Assessment Centres to bring together a more balanced approach to the Talent Acquisition process. One needs to understand problem solving skills; identify leadership candidates; and look at the cultural background of Talent. All of this is a positive move away from a box ticking exercise of a Candidate meeting arbitrary criteria.

Tauqeer Iqbal: Dr. Al Homeadan thank you for your time and your valuable insights.

Abdullah Al Homeadan: It was my pleasure.