The Five Principles of Emiratization
An overview on how systems impact Emiratization programs across the UAE
The five principles offered in this article aim to provide the reader with a framework to facilitate and simplify understanding of the multifaceted dimensions linked to Emiratization. It is based on a systems perspective, serving as the platform upon which workers carry out their daily jobs, acquire and share knowledge, while Emiratization proceeds apace.
Organizations and their business contexts vary tremendously across the UAE, causing each to contain its own unique DNA and organizational body language. The reader, therefore, needs to interpret the five principles and the writer’s accompanying analyses through the lens of his or her own experience with Emiratization.
The overarching purpose of this article is to stimulate thought, spark debate, and encourage further research into this highly complex, always controversial, and fascinating process.
Principle One: “The Main Barriers are Found at the Systems Level
When systems are faulty and misaligned during Emiratization, workers do not wait for senior management or HR departments to manage the process. Instead, they manage it themselves by default, often by cooking up home-grown solutions for self-protection and the protection of their departments. As a result, the fires or problems associated with Emiratization are temporarily extinguished. In certain instances, workers may add fuel to the flames at the expense of the organization and its Emiratization program.
Line managers recommending transfers of their poor performers to low-value-added departments of the business, or sending them on external training courses with little relevance to their actual jobs, are just a few examples of easy non-system solutions that end up proving detrimental to the individual and the organization.
What then is the web of systems serving as either facilitators or barriers to a company’s efforts at Emiratization? Of systems external to the company, the most critical are the country’s educational systems. These serve as knowledge and skill incubators for future job seekers and the world of work. At the school level, the ability of policy-makers and educators to establish an effective skill-formation system in line with the skill needs of the private and public sector helps determine the quality of the pool of job seekers available to HR departments for recruitment.
Other system-related factors external to the organization include the country’s demographics, per-capita incomes, and unemployment rates. These knock upon other country-wide systems, most notably government labor laws. When population rates and unemployment rates rise, governments commonly respond by formulating and imposing upon the private sector various labor laws, of which employment quotas are the most well known.
It is obvious that Senior Management and HR practitioners in the private sector have no leverage on systems external to the organization. They can only respond and deal creatively with these outside systems by scanning and understanding their context as the first step toward formulating and carrying out their own Emiratization strategy. This brings us then to the next Emiratization principle, which covers the organization’s internal systems. We start with the key mover of an organization’s HR cycle – the recruitment and selection system.
Principle Two: “One HR System Element Impacts Another”
As the gateway into the company, the recruitment and selection system serves as a major lever to support its Emiratization drive. Indeed, like colliding billiard balls haphazardly shot out from the center, a company’s selection system, when ineffective and misaligned, in turn, causes a detrimental knock-on impact on managing the other vital HR systems – training, career development, management practices, causing all in turn to miss the mark on achieving their intended aims.
A simple truth about workers’ potential competencies – the combination of skills, knowledge, and attitudes linked to a targeted job, is that they are mostly formed and ready for further development upon their joining the company. Capable nationals recruited without work experience and skills will soon acquire these for entry-level posts provided they also possess the right values, work ethics, and inner talents matched to the targeted job. Training, work placements, and mentoring supply the sunlight, water, and nourishment for the smooth and continuous skill growth of junior staff. They cannot substitute, however, for the high-quality seeds and healthy saplings brought into the company initially through a well-structured and properly-administered selection system linked to a well-designed Emiratization strategy framework.
Over time, a faulty recruitment system impacts negatively on the company’s management practices and succession planning, since both require a large pool of capable job candidates. Employees placed in managerial positions before their time, or with limited capabilities, respond by shrinking their jobs and sub-contracting their jobs onto experienced subordinates to achieve department objectives. They also tend to neglect talented and ambitious Emirati subordinates, since these workers are perceived as threats to the manager and his or her job.
Amazingly, the same managers may encourage non-talented national staff to join their departments as a further means of preserving job security. Like a drowning swimmer pushing his rescuer underwater to stay afloat, weak managers push their company’s Emiratization efforts down under as a means of self-preservation. In these cases, the manager’s nationality is of little relevance to this faulty dynamic, since a person’s job security tends to trump the patriotic feelings and social obligations we associate with Emiratization.
Principle Three: “Faulty Systems Shape Faulty Behaviors”
If recruitment and selection is about placing the right neuron in the right neuron space, then knowledge management and its sister discipline, performance management, is about getting those same neurons to fire off and diffuse knowledge freely and happily across the company brain for peak business performance.
Most knowledge shared of any value is given by consent only. Most knowledge acquired of any value is the result of hard work and struggle. Both types of knowledge transactions, knowledge sharing and knowledge acquisition, need dynamic leadership and healthy company cultures to promote the right worker behaviors for rapid skill uptake lying at the heart of successful Emiratization.
We all know from our own work experiences that organizational culture is a hard nut to crack. Yet organizations are open systems subject to change with the right leadership and effective HR systems. The combined actions of managers and HR systems express the organization’s true core values (not espoused values), which radiate out and slice through company departments. Employees pick up and interpret these value-laden messages, which in turn, help shape their responses or behaviors – faulty or otherwise, toward the company’s location program.
What are examples of wrong messages that stiffen worker resistance to Emiratization? For expatriate workers no message is the wrong message. When HR departments fail to make their localization plans semi-transparent to their expatriate staff, black holes of information are formed, causing them to reach negative conclusions about the company’s intentions. They often respond by freezing large pools of their tacit knowledge as a means of self- defense; hence, the common refrain we often hear from national staff about expats hoarding knowledge.
For young Emirati nationals, the faulty systems leading to faulty behaviors often stem from poorly-executed performance management systems. Moreover, poorly-run induction programs (to manage expectations), and weak training systems (to nurture learning) may quickly kill off the new joiner’s initial enthusiasm for skill uptake. Wobbly performance management systems distributing company rewards indiscriminately, without regard to a worker’s merit or contribution to the business, send out wrong messages, namely, “our company rewards you for being not doing.”
A company’s weak appraisal system worsens situations by not providing junior staff with timely and accurate feedback to support self-improvement. In such cases, people may target capable young nationals as lacking healthy ambition and work ethics. The root cause of their poor work performance, however, is usually found in misaligned and poorly-executed company systems lying deeply entrenched and hidden from view. Somehow, with their combined impact, they have let down the two key stakeholders whose symbiotic working relationships are vital to keep nationalization moving apace – senior staff and junior national staff.
Principle Four: “A Multi-sided Problem Demands Multiple Solutions”
In Emiratization, a multi-sided problem demands multiple solutions. Like a boat with many leaks, mending one, two, or three leaks may slow the sinking, and even keeps the boat (that is, the business) chugging along – although at a much slower speed than its potential speed. This same principle holds true with Emiratization programs and people’s efforts to plug the problems with low-leverage and non-systematic solutions. One, two, and even three good solutions may bring about improvements, but if they are not connected with the company’s system architecture, their final impact on Emiratization will be minor and short term.
What are typical examples of such company solutions? Purchasing excess amounts of technology, computer systems and otherwise, without researching carefully how these technologies will precisely benefit knowledge workers and the company’s Emiratization program; sending the company’s under-performers on three or four external training courses each year without pinpointing the relevance of these courses to their actual work and benefit to the business; hiring extra trainers or HR staff to lessen department staff’s heavy work load, without utilizing these people’s skills to build up large reserves of structural knowledge in the form of policy manuals, training curricula, training materials, as well as helping to restructure and fine-tune department systems; Establishing Emiratization best practices and policy transfers through benchmarking without first considering the levels of borrowing and the settings in which such transfers are to take place between the host and the receiver.
Since every organization contains an archaeology (life-cycle history) as well as an architecture (systems structure), high-quality solutions to Emiratization need to address the big picture and take the long view, as further explained in the next system principle.
Principle Five: “The Outcomes of any Strategy Take Time to Appear”
In his seminal book on systems thinking, The Fifth Discipline, the author Peter Senge makes the salient point that while we learn best from experience, we never directly experience the consequences of many of our most important decisions (Senge, 1994). During Emiratization, many of the most critical decisions organizations make have system-wide consequences that stretch over years and decades. Decisions to hire, train, and promote the right people into leadership positions, for instance, have consequences for organizational strategy and company culture for years.
Different companies experience Emiratization in different ways resulting in different outcomes over time. Organization factors such as economic sector, company size, geographical positioning, production technology, product types and customer bases, determine the human- assets contribution to the company. Contrary to Digital Age wisdom, some companies, even today, still remain enveloped under business ozone layers of sorts. They, therefore, enjoy partial immunity from potential bankruptcy and dissolution of the business.
These companies may weather Emiratization over the short and mid-term whether or not they manage their human-resource systems and human assets effectively. Other company businesses are highly sensitive to the abrupt changes of work force profiles based on worker nationality, a key point government policy makers must take into account when deciding which economic sectors and which job designations are subjected to employment quotas.
The central paradox about Emiratization is that as companies refer to the criterion of nationality as the central basis for selecting, training, and replacement of workers, the business does not ask us, “What is your nationality?” Rather, it whispers in our ears day in and day out, “run me properly … run me properly… run me properly.”
When companies do reach milestones with their Emiratization programs such as national percentage quotas, senior management should count such achievements as causes for further vigilance, increased caution, and proactive responses – as much as for well- deserved celebration, since such milestones may or may not accurately reflect a successful nationalization program. That is, the appearance of stylish houses may or may not reflect the strong system foundations upon which all sturdy edifices are built.