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Sat 18 Nov 2006 08:00 PM

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The human resources challenge

In order to succeed, a company must take care of its most precious commodity - its employees. Alex Andarakis explains.

In a recent issue of Arabian Business (October 29-November 4), I wrote about the challenge of change management. That essay focused on the importance of fully understanding the DNA of a company before embarking upon any reform programme. Now, I’d like to move on to a discussion of an equally essential component of corporate leadership: Human resources.

When addressing any new business challenge, the first task facing any leader is to decide how best to manage the three most important resources in any organisation: Time, money and people. Coming up with a strategy, then, requires deciding upon the right balance among all three – keeping in mind, of course, the demands made on those these elements across the organisation.

A successful strategy starts with an overarching structure and identifies its key “human” components, including roles and responsibilities, key initiatives and activities to be undertaken, as well as an assessment of the organisation’s current skills and competencies. Once this is done, the leader of the organisation will have a better understanding of the quality of that strategy’s “fit” with the current or proposed business structure.

The second stage of a great business strategy requires identification and articulation of how to gain “sustainability” for the strategy. Here again, we have to list the key components involving people, including the quality of consumer insight, product and process innovation, training and development, as well as communication and continuous learning within the organisation.

A winning strategy is embedded between the firm’s structure and its model for sustainability. This is then accompanied by a constant review of the external ecosystem, including advances in technology, political, economic and regulatory issues, cultural and legal constraints, as well as consumer and customer habits, attitudes and trading-term evolution. A great business strategy, however, does not put process before people. But while just about everyone claims that people are the most important asset in any business, not everyone backs up those words with actions. And that’s a huge, and often hugely costly, mistake. Why? Because people write business strategy, people manage the production process, people develop brand personality and communication, people sell brands, people account for the sales and profitability gained through enterprise, and it is people who buy brands and concepts.

To bring out the best from our human resources, then, we need to understand the four key pillars of any individual’s life: Professional, personal, familial and social. It’s very rare to find anyone who manages to find the right balance among all four pillars of their life; many organisational leaders, for instance, neglect one or two pillars and focus on the strength of the others.

Well-balanced people manage to have at least three strong pillars, allowing them the motivation, strength, and passion to be successful in business. However, in both developed and developing countries, we see the increasing social problems caused by neglect of the personal and familial pillars, with the resultant impact on employee satisfaction, absenteeism, health and, ultimately, business results.

Identifying a healthy work/life balance objective is clearly important – both for individual employees and the company’s bottom line. With millions of dollars being invested in brand health programmes, preventive maintenance of fixed assets and vehicles, as well as corporate social responsibility programmes, we need to step back and make the same kind of investment in employee responsibility programmes. Just as we want to ensure the strongest return on investment for our money, we need to ensure sustainability, fine tuning and maximum output and passion from our people.

Happily, this is now the trend. There is now an increase in corporate initiatives, such as team building and team incentive programmes, which include a mix of personal and family involvement. At Aujan Industries, where the Executive Committee and I lead a team of diverse nationalities, genders, religions, ages, social status, cultures and incomes, this process is invaluable. It allows people to connect as people, sharing hopes and fears, connecting them by their passion for growth, learning and success. Sharing a common dream leads the team to work well together, to face great pressure together and, most of all, to succeed together.

People are a precious resource. Their talent needs to be recognized, unleashed and constantly improved. Our responsibility as business leaders is to be sure that, when it comes to our employees, our fine words are matched by real deeds.

Alex Andarakis is CEO of drinks giant Aujan