HR & Organizational Development - Egypt

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Allan Hoving

During his long and successful career inside and outside Egypt, Medhat Al Madany, President of the Egyptian Human Resource Management Association, has acquired solid expertise in the fields of Organizational Management and Human Resources development.

In addition to his leadership roles in numerous Professional Associations, Medhat is the founder and CEO of ProMark Corporation Ltd., one of the leading firms in Egypt in the people industry. He is also on a two-year assignment with the Ministry of Trade and Industry Egypt, as the Executive Board Member of the Industrial Training Council. The following is an edited transcript of a podcast interview.

What is the current state of the Human Resources profession in Egypt?

The HR community has really been evolving here in a positive way over the past 15 to 18 years. Decision makers in various entities, whether mega private sector or multinational organizations, started to realize that they had to view HR differently and start empowering the individuals holding those positions. Those who were not from the function had to step down and leave it to those with experience.

As a result of this positive development, the Egyptian Human Resource Management Association was formed in 2000 by a group of people with a very clear vision of the importance of HR. We now have over 400 active members with various committees, and it is the official spokesentity for the HR profession in Egypt.

What are some of the major HR issues you deal with there?

The first issue that arose for HR in Egypt was, of course, the resistance from decision makers to move the holders of HR jobs forward. And the resistance was also at times from line managers in order to start looking at their people in a different way, to adhere to performance management, to setting objectives, to performance appraisal, to proper selection techniques -- that actually took some of them out of their comfort zones and empowering the organization, recommending and getting approval on competitive remuneration packages.

All those were challenges. Some of them were easily overcome, some were difficult to agree upon, and some we are still dealing with. In any financial crisis, business owners, decision makers will be looking at training budgets and other activities in the HR function that are intangible. And they will look at the bottom line and by their own prerogative start deviating from the fact that HR actually will increase the bottom line. So these are some of the challenges that we face and some of them we are continuing to face.

Many sound very familiar and similar to challenges HR professionals are facing everywhere. Are there any challenges unique to Egypt and the region and, if so, how you are approaching them?

In the recent financial crisis, the easiest thing for business owners and decision makers to do was to terminate and lay off people. And some of the HR professionals exerted a strenuous effort to drive away the decision that saving money means eliminating people or that reducing expenses means terminating people. Some of them succeed by determination and persistence in convincing the decision makers that such actions will not save money. Some of them convinced the decision makers that a time of crisis is the best time to be looking internally. And some of them actually were able to sell the notion that "every setback leads the way for a comeback." Some of them convinced the decision makers to build internally for the comeback externally. And we heard about specific examples through our association.

Are there any cultural perspectives or considerations that are uniquely different from what HR professionals in Europe or the U.S. are dealing with? Or are HR issues really the same the world over?

Well, it was said that in our part of the world we were emotionally managed. But when balance was applied to the emotional decisions, we were really able to drive people towards being very firm and very fair. As we were trying to reduce the emotional approaches by managing and deciding, we were able to use what our colleagues in the West were saying in a positive way. We were able to convince people to use the human qualities of their jobs rather than the authoritative power of their jobs.

You are delivering the keynote address at the HR & Organizational Development Week Conference, September 26-29 in Cairo. Can you give us a preview of your talk?

I will be focusing on the main theme of the event. I will be focusing on what we were not able to focus on before. One of the things that attracted our attention as a goal for the association is that this conference is really tackling things that were not tackled before. We are not going to be talking again – as hundreds of conferences do – about moving HR from operations to strategic, HR as a business partner– asall those topics have been exhausted. I will be trying to focus on the impact of the activity rather than the activity itself. Because we have been seeing lots of HR people who are focusing on the activity and not the impact of what they are trying to do. And there’s a big difference.

At the same time, I will be trying to speak about Egypt, and what it means to be hosting this conference. And within the Arab states, within the region, what are the certain challenges that we will be facing. Those are the topics that I have in mind today, and I may add others that emerge between now and then.