The ranks have swelled. The list of great places to work (GPTW) in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has grown by 50 percent this year, but the familiar faces are still all there. Now 15 strong, the companies most successful in building high-trust cultures with their employees in the UAE are once again led by information technology colossus Microsoft, with runner-up Marriott International, the global hospitality industry’s family business.
All of 2012’s 10 best companies are still recognized as great places and five new entrants have boosted the ranks, comprising the first appearance by a government agency and four local debuts by well-known multinationals. By spread of activity, information and communications technology is the strongest category, chased by logistics providers and fast moving consumer goods manufacturers.
For the full interactive list of the best places to work click here or on the table below
“It is consistency of the value proposition that we have for people to work here,” says Microsoft Gulf General Manager Samer Abu Ltaif, when Executive asks him about the secret behind the persistent showing of the company in the top of the UAE list. He is quick to add, however, that there is a “whole mix of things” that went into the source code for Microsoft’s employee engagement.
Making the grade
It could hardly be otherwise, given that the methodology employed by the Great Places To Work Institute is complex. It entails a survey of employee inputs on five clusters of issues and an evaluation of the corresponding management culture in the organization.
Measuring employees’ perceptions of the organization’s credibility, respect, fairness, pride and camaraderie, the survey goes by the name of Trust Index and contributes two thirds to an organization’s evaluation by GPTW. The score is then completed in the “culture audit” discussion with management. But as David Robert, the chief executive of GPTW Middle East tells Executive, he and his team will not even review the culture audit information if the Trust Index score of an organization is below 70.
The good grades start at 80, Robert says. “The organizations that are below 80 on their trust survey and get on the list do so primarily because their culture audit is very strong.”
What that means is that a company will not be likely to reach the coveted status of great place to work if it scores less than 80 percent of affirmative employee responses to questions/statements such as “people care about each other here” (camaraderie category), “people here are treated fairly regardless of their nationality” (fairness) and “management is competent at running the business” (credibility).
A question of questions
There are 58 questions in all that comprise the survey used in the GPTW evaluations wherever the Institute is active around the world. According to the scores in the 2013 Trust Index, the averages for all five categories have been diluted to some degree by the expansion of the GPTW list from 10 to 15 organizations. However, when viewing only the top 10, scores are very stable and fluctuations within categories are quite balanced with an upward tendency for the overall average.
On the somewhat touchy point of whether the methodology, which originates from a journalistic research endeavor in the United States in the mid 1980s, is universally valid and fully in step with current realities, Robert counters, “Our methodology is based on three core relationships in the workplace, and although these relationships may look different and manifest themselves differently in different countries, it is still the same relationship when you pull away some of that cultural stuff. Our methodology has worked for us for many years and has stood up in 45-plus countries.”
The view gets support from Noor Shawwa, a Dubai and Beirut-based business blogger with experience of managing research teams and a background in teaching management and entrepreneurship in Canada. “There are basics in managing people that I believe have applied for hundreds of years and will never change. Also, things like the importance of a transparent environment will never change,” he says.
Adding a caveat that ranking methodologies are generally afflicted by a tendency to undervalue or over-stress what companies do well — similar to some widely used educational scoring systems — Shawwa affirms that he sees lists such as GPTW as “applicable in the Middle East and applicable for showing gaps that exist in the Middle East.”
Mohammed Khalifa al-Hadari, Deputy CEO for Organizational & Supporting Services at the UAE Securities and Commodities Authority (SCA) — the public sector organization that acceded to the GPTW list this year — said “credibility” was the trust category he considers most meaningful to invest in and that the GPTW process allowed SCA management to gain insights into “numerous important things to focus on in the future to enhance our working environment and employee incentive and capacity building policies.”
In the case of Microsoft, the multiple factors that Abu Ltaif referred to as influences in their performance as an uber-great workplace in the UAE were the economic role that the company plays, the familial corporate environment, the employees’ freedom to realize their potentials, the company never being complacent with its achievements and the social responsibility that it assumes. And if the complexity of this ecosystem might obscure what the role of a decision maker in the UAE’s current top workplace is all about, Abu Ltaif sums it up in saying, “as general manager of Microsoft Gulf I am chartered to be, like, the chief people officer.”