November Spotlight – Samie Al Ashrafi CEO Marmalade Fish Dubai

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

I was born and raised in the UAE and studied in the UK and the USA. My first job was at Walt Disney World in Orlando and I went on to enjoy a global career in Learning. I recently left the corporate world to form Marmalade Fish, a management and learning consultancy focused on organisational values and culture.

What made you found Marmalade Fish?

In the past, businesses have grown often at the expense of the communities they serve. Management styles digressed from traditional approaches and family values, to an era of charismatic leaders focused on self-interest. Organisational blind spots, coupled with the pressure to perform, resulted in good people letting some bad things happen.

It is time to redefine our understanding of ‘success’. Today’s leaders must learn from the past and recognise that sustainable growth isn’t possible without becoming a stakeholder in society. The world needs companies to be a force for good, giving people the existence they deserve; one of meaning, and of example. It will require us to rebuild institutions from the inside out and empower the people that drive them.

What do you do for companies?

At Marmalade Fish, we partner with leading global businesses to create high performance cultures underpinned by values, enabling employees to be at their best, more of the time. Our clients have engaged us in the fields of aviation, technology, financial services, and pharmaceuticals, to embed lasting transformative change in their organisations. As part of the culture change, we design and develop learning and coaching programmes to create the will for change and develop the critical skills the transformation requires. Our solutions are built on habits and practical tools/ techniques that people can apply straight away.

What is your philosophy?

We have a clear, meaningful and higher purpose to make work better, and our values underpin everything we do – to be authentic and progressive. At the heart of our work is understanding the strategic enablers that will transform your business. We then map and align activities to the enablers in order to create a commercial, outcome-based approach. Essentially, we are bringing values and culture to the front and centre of how you do business by embedding them across the employee lifecycle. The result is improved engagement, accountability, customer experience, innovation and, of course, financial performance.

Where can our readers find out more?

You can check us out at marmaladefish.com or follow us on Twitter and Instagram @marmaladefish.

November Spotlight: Bill Spindloe our regular CLO-me contributor.

1. Tell us about you, your experience and time in the Middle East.-
I first arrive here at the end of 1996. Obviously Dubai was a very different place geographically, but I don’t believe that there have been many great changes in how business is conducted. I think most organizations are perhaps a little more transparent in their processes than would have been 16 years ago, but in general many of the same facets of doing business are still the same. It’s still a very price conscious region, which to those who live in the US and Europe find hard to believe when they see the opulence of Dubai in the media. It’s also a place where people still like to take their time, and patience in business here is a necessity. Importantly it’s also a place where your physical presence and the relationship and trust you build is key to any kind of success in business.
2. How would you describe the culture of your business?
I think its healthier now than it ever has been. Human Resources, Learning and Talent Development still has some way to go, but there is a burgeoning HR/Learning Community. There are events dedicated to the industry the way there wasn’t 16 years ago, and I think there is a real thirst of knowledge. HR/Learning was the poor relation of many a business here, and for some it still is. This was seen an area where the employees were just passing through and nothing was terribly long term, and therefore the investment simply wasn’t there. Many people have of course been here now for a significant period of time and businesses now have realized that the old adage is true. Train them and they might leave you. Don’t train them and they might stay.
3. How easy is it for you to get direct access to the decision makers in your company?
When it comes to HR/Learning investment its tough. Who we invariably gain access to are the influencers, not necessarily the decision makers. It’s a constant struggle to get those at that level of decision making interested in capital investment where HR and Learning is concerned. It would be unfair to say this is across the board because it’s not, but in many cases you would stand way more chance of getting the key decision makers into a room to discuss the colour and price of the new office furniture rather than a performance management system.
4. What are your biggest challenges in the next 5 years?
People. Quite simply people. The business is growing, and that’s good, but to sustain the growth the quality and experience of new hires is going to be key. Dubai is still suffering from the 2008/9 crash. Many people left and have not returned, and many don’t want to leave their current positions due to some uncertainties in the job market and that’s understandable. Many companies are still announcing redundancies. We often find willing people who clearly have an abundance of enthusiasm, but as with many organizations, there is nothing like experience. Our area is also niche and finding the right people at the right time is challenging.

The other challenge is healthy, quality competition. Every business needs it, and we are no exception. Many of ours went to the wall in that 2008/9 period and without good competition clients really don’t have the choices that we would all like before making a buying decision, and that can hold things up or in some cases put the brakes on some initiatives from happening at all.

5. What are the skills and competencies that are needed in order to meet the regions talent requirements.
Where do I begin. There are a great many younger people in the job market right now than at any time I recall and I realize that experience is technically not a competence but it is material, and is lacking in many of the organizations we deal with. I also feel that the understanding of what constitutes management and leadership is also a key skill that is missing, and as a result this affects a great many aspects, not least succession planning. I think if you went and surveyed the organizations in the region most of them if they were being honest would tell you that the gaps in leadership are a key challenge. It’s a good place to be if you are an experienced leader looking out for a new opportunity however, as many organizations are being forced to engage more expensively externally than promote internally.

In the area of HR and Learning I feel that many also need to learn about how to communicate their needs to the business in a way that will secure investment both financially and from the C level. I feel that a great many HR and Learning people don’t know how to express the contribution they could and are making to the organization in a way that makes the business sit up and take notice. I always feel they need to stray away from talking about learning and talk about business impact instead.