UAE businesses urged to create vision


By Neil Parmar

Change or fall behind – that is the message from experts to business leaders who are being urged to rethink the way they manage their companies.

Abu DhabiThe recent unrest in many parts of the Mena region has added to the challenges faced by bosses already working hard to recover from the global downturn.

But as companies prepare new strategies, whether to boost sales or curb staff turnover, how do they ensure they are moving in the right direction?

Figures show 53 per cent of business leaders from the UAE believe creating a strong vision should be a management team’s top priority in planning, according to a recent survey conducted by IIR Middle East, which stages conferences and exhibitions in the region.

The survey of 250 business leaders across an array of industries also found the best hedges against business risk in the post-financial crisis era are progressive management strategies.

Ensuring these strategies are effective, however, is another matter, and boils down to how well employees actually carry out a vision, say commentators.

“In the UAE we’re seeing a transition, with a lot of state-owned enterprises being privatised and therefore being more accountable for their performance,” said Dr Robert Kaplan, a professor at Harvard Business School who spoke at a recent forum on business strategy and management in Dubai.

“Even those that are still operating under the auspices of the Government are being held much more accountable for performance.”

While there are different programmes to measure performance, experts say the follow-up is most important. Fifty-two per cent of the business leaders surveyed by IIR agreed companies should adopt more flexible strategies with more emphasis on execution.

Dr David Norton, who also spoke at the forum and is the director of the US consultancy Palladium, said that about 20 years ago, before many performance-tracking programmes were created, 90 per cent of companies that had specific strategies failed to execute them.

“Everybody has a strategy,” said Dr Norton. “Everybody needs a process to manage it.” For the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority (Adwea), which is owned by the Government, this process has included ensuring its subsidiary companies are fully aligned with the Abu Dhabi Vision 2030 plan.

Adwea used to ask the companies beneath it to provide a report on their own strategies.

Then it would consolidate all of those plans into a single one. Now, the organisation starts from the top by asking government officials what they want to see and provides a unified vision and more guidance to its subsidiaries.

Installing such transforming processes in large institutions can be a monumental task.

“We spent a lot of time trying to design the systems [for] the implementation and execution of our strategy,” says Mohamed Guidoum, the senior analyst for the planning and development department at Adwea.

“It will take us a long time, especially for the management, to adopt and own this philosophy of management, and it will take us a long time to change the culture.”