Regional Remits - Wandering Stars

Expanding workforces in the Middle East increasingly call for pan-regional HR teams, says Simon Stephens. How does this impact on the profile of regional HR Directors and Managers?

With more organisations escalating their Middle East activities from cross-border trading to actually setting up camp in new markets, it’s increasingly the case that HR needs more senior local representation on the ground. What does direct and dotted-line cross-border reporting mean for HR professionals managing those teams from regional hubs?

Operational and HR Managers in the region’s energy sector are well-versed in the challenges of managing from afar, given the traditionally mobile nature of workforces at operators and contractors alike. Those in other sectors are now focusing more purposefully on identifying the characteristics and skill sets required for successful remote management.

*Identifying Readiness: assessing commitment *

When I’m tasked with finding senior HR candidates to take on roles with regional responsibility - from two or three Gulf states to pan-MEA remits - my instinct is to especially scrutinise the ability and motivation of those who might be worth considering:

  • The buck stops with me...
    Is responsibility for setting up regional HR teams from scratch daunting or exciting? What challenges might be anticipated? How might they be resolved?

  • Sleeves rolled up...
    Small HR teams (and stand-alone HR managers) may have no hierarchy to rely on: how hands-on might regional HR Managers or Directors need to be on their travels? Are they up for it?

  • Making the most of it...
    Schedules dictating only two or three days in different locations mean there’s no spare time for roving HR professionals; what if evenings or weekends are likely to be needed given differing working weeks? How ready are they to live out of a suitcase?

  • Ongoing problems...
    Teams managed from a distance may throw up nasty surprises; how might workloads and direct reports in central HR teams be impacted if roving directors have to take off at short notice to manage a crisis?

  • Trusting and letting go…
    Remote supervision isn’t for micro-managers; what evidence can candidates provide that they’re able to delegate with confidence?

*Regional contractors: deploying interim expertise *

For many global organisations, hiring interim HR professionals has become a strategic option to manage costs or acquire highly specific skills (unavailable or in scarce supply amongst permanent staff) for finite projects with challenging goals. One of the many advantages - especially for more senior roles - is that interims are unburdened by internal political or cultural factors. They simply get on with the job in hand, knowing the impression they make and the degree to which they deliver the goods will impact on their marketability when seeking their next assignment.

Interim HR professionals with regional experience are increasingly sought-after for roles in the Middle East, such as harmonising HR systems after takeovers (or to strengthen joint ventures), or to support the set-up of offices in new markets. Coaching or mentoring native-born citizens as part of Saudisation, Qatarisation or Emiratisation initiatives - freeing up regular HR resources - have also been deemed appropriate projects for parachuting in short-term professionals.