January 2017 Spotlight, Working in Saudi – Colin Johannsen

1)   You have worked in the Saudi Arabian market for a number of years, are the challenges in the Saudi market similar to the UAE?

The Saudi market faces a number of similar challenges to the UAE, but also has some major differences. The population of Saudi is over 30 million with Saudi nationals accounting for 67% of the population, so the challenges of Saudization are greater in raw numbers that what we face in the UAE & Emiratization.

The push by Government to have more Saudi Nationals in all forms of employment and lessen the reliance on Expats presents challenges in the training and development area.

Most of my work is coaching and mentoring Saudi Nationals across a range of industries and sectors. Specifically my work centres around developing the leadership capabilities of the individual and collectively leadership necessary to move the organisation forward in a challenging and ever changing economy and the world.

2)     How has the Saudi market changed over the years you have been working there?

I have seen a number of changes over the years.

Economically – The biggest change has been to the economy itself, with the falling oil prices since the highs of 2014, the Government of the Kingdom have responded to this challenge by initiating the Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, with three main aims of developing a Vibrant Society, a Thriving Economy and an Ambitious Nation.

Within the Vision 2030, is the National Transformation Programme 2020, designed to identify initiative that will take the country forward, this includes all sectors of the economy, government, private and NGOs. It is not only developing the initiative but also creating the knowledge base, developing the governance models and the performance management systems to ensure the effective execution of the initiatives.

Society – When I first started coaching and mentoring in the Kingdom, my client base was almost exclusively Saudi National men, over the years I have witnessed a considerable growth in the number of Saudi Women on the development programmes I am involved with. Many of the organisations I work with have dramatically increased the number of women in senior management roles; in fact many organisations have women in senior C Suite role including the CEO. This is recognition of the latent talent pool that exists within the society and the tremendous contribution that women can bring to an organisation.

3)   What do you believe to be the Number 1 priority for Saudi Arabian businesses in 2017?

In line with the Vision 2030 and within that the National Transformation Programme 2020, the key priority for all organisations in 2017 will be Transformation. Organisations large & small, Government & private sector need to assess what is their core purpose and mission and develop the capacity and capabilities of meeting those goals in a changing economy and a changing world.

This will require a fundamental revisit of the way they operate, the empowerment of people in the organisation to not only take responsibility for new initiative but will also hold the accountable for the effective execution of these initiative and programmes.

Transformation of purpose, thinking, operating and the traditional hierarchical nature of Saudi organisations will be critical to success of all entities in 2017 and beyond.

2017 will be a challenging year for the country but one filled with opportunities for those organisations will to participate and drive the transformation needed. It will also present a fantastic opportunity for individuals willing to take the step up and be active participants in the transformation. The risks may be there for the individual but the rewards and learning & development are tremendous.


4)     What are the skills and competencies that you would need to train in order to meet the region’s talent requirements?

The areas that will contribute the most to the development of the region over the next few years will be;

  • Leadership
  • Innovation
  • People management skills
  • Motivation
  • Performance management
  • The ability to execute, with the authority & accountability for results

5)     How do you see the future for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia??

The challenges are certainly present and will be for the foreseeable future, but the initiatives taken by the government in the Vision 2030 and the clearly apparent desire from all sectors of the economy to participate in the transformation process, I believe, point to an exciting future ahead.

The opportunities are there for the next generation of leaders to take a step up in their organisations and be the leaders of the transformation. I believe the future to be an exciting one and one that I hope that I can continue to contribute in my own small way.