x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Asking the right leading questions

The old idea of management versus rank and file has had its day. Now experts say companies seeking leaders should be looking at the social skills of candidates, and who can best communicate with employees.

What should you look for when hiring a new manager to join your company in the GCC? Most firms would look first at the candidate's experience in the field, whether finance or retail, and the technical knowledge that would make them suited for the job. But new research conducted in the region showed that the best managers were set apart not by their business abilities, but their social skills. A study conducted by the Kenexa Research Institute showed that regional workers say an effective manager is fair, engages employees' ideas, solves problems quickly and practises open, two-way communication.

Kuwait had the most effective managers in the region, with 62 per cent of employees giving their bosses high ratings on the Kenexa Manager Effective Index. Qatar and Bahrain were next, with 58 per cent of respondents rating their managers as effective. In Oman, 56 per cent rated their managers as top-notch, while in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, 55 per cent and 54 per cent gave their bosses a thumbs-up respectively.

"The level of scores on overall managerial effectiveness is very high and we should be really proud of that in the GCC," says Vernon Bryce, the managing partner at the Dubai-based human resources firm Kenexa Middle East. "The clever bit is constantly doing those right things: respecting, involving and solving problems in an open way. And I'm afraid some managers don't have those qualities. They shouldn't really be managers."

Globally, the countries with the highest manager ratings in Kenexa's survey were India (68 per cent), Brazil (61 per cent) and the US (60 per cent). The worldwide average was 60 per cent. The lowest ratings were in France, with just 41 per cent rating their managers as effective, and in Japan, where just 43 per cent thought their bosses were doing a good job. This was followed by Italy (44 per cent) and Spain (46 per cent).

Mr Bryce says that as economic centres such as China and Brazil continue to grow, it will be increasingly important for GCC companies to perform to the highest level possible to stay competitive. The key to motivating employees lies with the middle manager, Mr Bryce says. Not only can they boost performance, but a good boss can also help retain top talent. "It boosts productivity, people are likely to stay in their jobs longer and research shows employees innovate a lot more within these engaging, involving teams," he says.

Hossein Hassani, the regional divisional marketing manager for Chevrolet at General Motors Middle East, said gut instinct was also useful in the region. "One thing you have to deal with more here is somebody who can deal with ambiguity more," Mr Hassani says. "Most organisations today are data-driven organisations but we're in an area, in our industry in particular, where there is real dearth of data available to us.

"And we're talking about foundational data - sales, registration and so forth. When you're in North America, you have too much data and there you need a person who can get to the information quickly. Here, you need a person who is able to make decisions with not a lot of data at their disposal." Companies need to consider these so-called "soft qualities" more when making hiring decisions, says Mr Bryce.

"What we should be doing is recruiting the managers that cultivate respect, involvement and open problem solving," he says. "We're probably recruiting for technical skills, not actually recruiting for management skills." Mr Hassani says it may be more important to be able to adapt those management skills for each employee, rather than having a set number of tactics. "It really comes down to your own experience, how long you have been in an organisation, and it's your own interpersonal skills," he says. "I think everybody runs into people they really gel with and people they don't.

"So I'm not sure there is one sort of rule on how to cope with that. It all comes down to a person's ability to cope with those situations." aligaya@thenational.ae