November Spotlight on Paula Jane Cox

Tell us about you, your experience and time in the Middle East.

My career started in a sales / commercial background, predominately in Magazine Publishing. I tripped into ‘’Sales training’’ back in 1999 by helping a friend with a training company, I was instantly hooked! Over the last twenty plus years I have been a freelance L&D entity, evolving into Leadership Training and specializing at a more strategic level, relishing the opportunity to ‘’fix challenging people issues’’ in organizations, globally.

I have remained hands on in owning, buying, and selling businesses along the way, which I believe keeps it live and real.

I have lived in many places around the globe, but I landed in the UAE almost thirteen years ago with a degree in Theology fresh in my mind. I instantly became a ‘Culture Vulture’ and became involved very quickly in Emiratization and Strategies at Government level.

The diversity in opportunities in the GCC has kept me hooked, from training the MOI in ‘Human Rights’, assisting Dubai’s Executive office re-strategizing the 2030 Dubai plan and proudly take local fresh graduates and helping launch them into their place of work amongst many things.

Whilst I describe myself as a ‘People Developer’ and still consult globally, this region gives me my most desirable work.

How would you describe the culture of your business?

I am completely focused on keeping things straightforward, and aligning all I do with a clear strategy, this means I can remain relevant and results focused. A culture of staying people focused keeps things real for me.

How easy is it for you to get direct access to the decision makers in your Companies here?

My network is my miracle, and it definitely is a ‘who knows who’ region, this works on a positive note, but can also be a challenge to convince a set mindset of decision makers being stuck with the comfort of who they know! To date, I am exceptionally lucky to have enough workflow via word of mouth.

With a positive portrayal, I do think that we all still have a long way to go in this region with local business intelligence for their people. Many organizations have low or academic only mindsets for their HR departments and have yet to evolve into more people focus. I am a passionate campaigner for L&D to be on every board in every company and to work alongside HR, not beneath. The two roles are very specialized.

What are your biggest challenges in the next 5 years?

Transferring into a more online environment! 21 years of flying the world globally for work has come to an abrupt stop! So, we need to transfer unconsciously competent skills into a more structured environment. This is a huge challenge for me, as I use a huge amount of my criteria for success, by judging who is in the room instantly! My ability to do this is capped being online/virtual. My whole focus on ‘’people’’ is harder to decipher instantly. The positive side that I find exciting however, to this is that organizations now need to shift focus on performance rather than attendance

What are the skills and competencies that you would need to train to meet the regions talent requirements?

‘Understanding the challenges’ is a common statement, but in this region is essential. Knowledge, research and understanding what organizations are facing here is critical. Any assumptions are deadly dangerous. I train many Emiratis and locals in the GCC, whilst I am imparting knowledge, if I do not appreciate and understand their positioning and background, the struggle is real.

One of the many things I say to anyone arriving here, working with locals, is, read the Quran! How can you gain any gravitas standing in front of a group of people without knowing anything about them? Also, being informed of cultural diversity, in the real sense, is critical. Here the vast mix of cultures instantly means that peoples motivators and drivers are hugely different.

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