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What would be your advice to people just starting out in HR as a profession?

After they get some well-rounded experience seek out a role in a foreign country. This gives you a totally new perspective of the international workplace. The challenges with nationalization, new and different labor laws, expat dynamics in the workplace etc. It has been the most rewarding aspect of my working career.

Any specific areas in which they should focus?

My advice is that wherever you are in your career, think like a consultant. Do not fall into the trap of the HR Generalist. You must develop a consultancy mindset. By that I mean that you should be seen as a problem solver. Read and self-develop about key areas where the profession is headed such as analytics, employee engagement strategy beyond perks, change management theory etc. These are the new areas of focus.

What is an example of a company where you saw measurable change from your advice, wisdom or HR transformation?

Working with a Healthcare company that had brought in a new CEO who in turn brought in a new senior leadership team. We were brought in to look at syncing the new team as a cohesive unit as well as getting a snapshot of the culture and engagement. Our goal was to get everyone on the same page.

Our approach was to have an assessment done for the new team around a 360 approach with the team being the focal point. At the same time we did a culture audit of the entire organization to get a sense of the DNA of the organization.
With those findings, we were able to carve out a surgical approach not only to leadership development but team development as well.

The culture audit pointed out areas of concern that allowed us to develop initiatives and a change mindset in targeting a future state of a more inclusive and engaged organization.

Once the culture was defined we were able to craft a leadership style around the dynamics of the “new organization”
We designed milestones that allowed us to monitor this project over a 12- month period and possibly longer.

Are there any other case examples you would like to mention?

Another client also in Healthcare, was brought by another company. During the M&A pre-activity, there was no work done around defining the culture of the new entity. Their approach was that the acquired would “adopt” to their style. This did not happen and we were brought in to try and mesh both cultures. It was kind of like changing the tire as the car proceed down the freeway.

Our approach was to review engagement scores from both organizations and we noticed a vast difference. The acquirer had high scores and the acquired scores tended to be much lower.

We did focus group of both executive teams and again we came up with vast differences in opinions, and style. The acquired was more aggressive while the acquired was a deflated image of its former self.

These findings were presented to both teams and that is where the process began. We worked on team development, culture enhancements, communication plans and strategic outlook.
This project is a work in progress but it did open everyone’s eyes to what was festering underneath the surface.

About Ron Thomas

Ron Thomas is the managing director of Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. Ron is the former CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and CHRO of Al Raha Group, based in Riyadh. Ron was cited by CIPD as one of the top five HR thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia.

Ron’s prior roles include senior HR roles with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living. Ron’s board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinseyQuarterly Executive Online Panel, and HCI’s Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy. He holds certifications from HCI as Global Human Capital Strategist (GHCS), Master Human Capital Strategist (MHCS), and Strategic Workforce Planner (SWP). He is also a senior faculty member and representative of Human Capital Institute (HCI), covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

Ron’s work has been featured in the Wall St. Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management, and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India, and the Middle East.

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