Panning for gold

Operators can benefit from taking a more strategic approach when searching for talent, explains Richard Guest

Tags: Economic crisisEconomic recoveryIngram and PartnersUnited Arab Emirates
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Panning for gold
By  Richard Guest Published  August 13, 2009

The growth of the Middle East's leading telcos in recent years has taken them from being regional players to international players, thus entering them in the global ‘war for talent'. With their ongoing expansion into new markets, the scale and complexity of their operations has increased significantly resulting in a need for world class senior executives with international experience, ideally encompassing prior emerging markets exposure at a group level.

The operators' dynamic growth, appetite and ability to invest has positioned them as organisations with the potential to offer exponential career growth for executives currently with operators in more sedate developed markets. Coupled with the retracting markets in Europe and North America due to the economic crisis it would seem that a hitherto unseen opportunity to acquire talent exists.

Despite the opportunity arising from this, a number of the region's leading groups are not furnishing their boardrooms with the top tier talent they could. This is not a result of external conditions such as undesirable locations or weak remuneration packages, the region is no longer deemed a hardship posting and the tax free packages on offer are competitive in a global marketplace. It is a challenge emanating from within.

Companies continue to be reactive rather than proactive in their approach to talent acquisition with responsibility for hiring, even at C-suite grades, often being delegated to human resources departments that have historically been tactical and removed from strategic decision making.

The economic crisis has only heightened this tendency because of the supposed availability of international ‘talent' on the market. This has seemingly given a misguided legitimacy to the practice of reactive talent acquisition.

If the operators are to acquire the world class leaders that will greatly benefit them in the long-term they must stop hopefully panning for gold and begin mining for diamonds. The more deliberate and strategic process of targeting top performers requires investment and an understanding that it will take time, but the gems unearthed are entirely worth it.

Various factors such as the speed of growth, the establishment of group leadership structures, M&A activity and business optimisation initiatives across diverse cultures has led to a large volume of requirements for senior managers, however the overriding deliverable for those recruiting has become speed. But this focus on haste over strategically targeting world class talent could be detrimental in the long-term.

One recruitment manager inadvertently highlighted this recently when stating that despite being responsible for recruiting dozens of senior executives across the group, including C-suite appointments, his overriding KPI was to have filled every vacancy 45 days from instruction by the hiring manager. A ‘one size fits all' reactive approach precludes thorough searches.

For those operators that are employing a targeted approach there are further factors to consider in positioning themselves as employers of choice. When looking to cherry pick high calibre leaders who are motivated, highly valued and well rewarded in their current positions, it is paramount to perfect the courtship process and present a robust value proposition to all potential hires.

The leading regional operators offer good professional growth and career development opportunities, however certain concerns pose recurring questions. Queries that often arise when discussing opportunities in the region relate to autonomy of decision making and perceived career limiting ‘glass ceilings' for non Arabs. Locally dominated hierarchies are prevalent in many parts of the world, but progressive executives, the high calibre leaders of tomorrow, want to know that they will be able to drive the change and initiatives they are being hired to lead without undue hindrances.

These leaders of tomorrow will play a vital role in enabling the region's telecoms giants to realise their stated ambitions to become global leaders in the next decade. The intriguing professional challenges arising from the continued growth and ambition of these groups coupled with the stagnation of other markets offers a not-to- be-missed opportunity to entice truly top tier global talent. To achieve this they must invest in a strategic, proactive approach rather than resorting to building for the future using the sediment that is coming to the surface as a result of the recent storm. Instead it is time to target and acquire the hitherto embedded cornerstones of their global competitors.

Richard Guest is principal at executive search firm Ingram & Partners.

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