Team talk

Is the financial crisis taking its toll on the morale of your IT team? Have pay rises been scrapped? Are people feeling the strain? NME finds out how CIOs are making the most of management skills to maintain motivation in tough times.

Tags: AswaaqLeo BurnettManagement skillsRoads and Transport AuthorityTrainingUnited Arab Emirates
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Team talk
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By  Julian Pletts Published  November 10, 2009 Network Middle East Logo

Alarming statistics recently surfaced in the media suggesting that over 90% of the workforce in the UAE want to start a brand new career and reinvent themselves. The research, carried out by Bayt.com correlates with a poll that it ran earlier this year that said more than half of employees in the UAE feel that their company has been using the financial crisis as an excuse to cut back on wages and benefits. Add this to the fact that a great deal of people were laid off in the Middle East at the start of the year, leaving a workload chasm that has had to be filled by those left, then it's clear there are some very stressed people in the Middle East workforce. And this comes at a time when people are expected to do more with less, which translates in IT terms to upping the efficiency, both of the IT team and systems.

So how have the region's technology leaders been getting the most out of their IT teams and ensuring that, even though it has been difficult and, in many cases, nigh-on impossible to raise pay, that the team morale has not been too dented?

Before we get into the soft skills of management and team leadership, it must be noted that a great deal of building a motivated and cohesive IT team comes in at the recruitment stage. Though many companies will have a hiring freeze in place today, it's likely that staff they have hired prior to the financial crisis impacting this region are being tested by the situation. Therefore, ill-considered appointments might be causing issues now that the heat is on and conversely, well-targeted appointments coping well with the extra pressure. A strong IT team starts at recruitment.

"I look for people who are switched on and hungry to learn and who want to move forward," said Bassem Aboukhater, regional IT director at advertising design giant Leo Burnett.

"How well you adapt in the environment and how good you are at people skills is the important thing, because some people can be really good at the technical stuff, but if they do not know how to talk to people and communicate their ideas, basically they can be going nowhere."

Aboukhater is clearly of the opinion that although technical qualifications and skills will be taken into account, the personality and soft skills of a potential newcomer to his outfit is just as important. And he is not alone in this point of view as most IT managers seem to value assessing this as an important part of the interview process.

Jassim Sajwani, who oversees IT at retail company Aswaaq as the director of IT and administration, has first-hand experience of putting together an IT team. The company has been on a rapid expansion path since it started operations in 2005 and he hired all of the ten members of the current Aswaaq IT team.

"My best advice is to understand the company requirement very well so that you can recruit the correct staff for exactly what the company requires and the systems you will be taking," explained Sajwani. As part of his recruitment strategy, Sajwani says he first decided the solutions to be implemented at the company, such as an Oracle ERP Suite, and then sought people with the appropriate background and certifications to work on those systems. This means people can be confident in their work and excel.

"If you end up recruiting someone who does not know the systems they will not be able to do it and then you will start blaming them for it and nobody will be happy. Do not entirely focus on their knowledge and experience, but also their people skills and personality are very important," he added.

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