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Investing In Your People Understanding your team, and investing in your team is the most effective step you can take towards success.

By Orkhan Mustafayev

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"Understanding people is not a waste of time." These were the words of a young Mark Zuckerberg, when asked why he studied psychology alongside computer science at Harvard University. He's right- as a CEO, understanding your team, and investing in your team is the most effective step you can take towards success.

At Ideal Concept Holding, our company's biggest asset isn't something you can put your hands on; it isn't our buildings, our equipment, our data, or technology. It's our people, our human capital. How we manage our team, how we motivate them, that's what drives our success. After all, without talented employees, a business isn't anything more than an idea, a thought, a dream. But it's not just about hiring the best people. You need to retain them. So, how can you do that? Obviously, financial incentives will draw people into your workforce. Bonuses and profit shares can keep them interested, but headhunters can always come along with a better package. To really create loyalty, you need to involve your employees across all areas of your business.

We've learned that you need to listen, and your team needs to feel heard, and the most effective style of management is democratic and compassionate. At my first job, I never felt able to talk to my line manager. I couldn't ask for advice or help. I was allocated a desk, a computer, and a phone, and told to get calling. There were no attempts to involve me in the company, or to motivate me. And yet I was dealing directly with clients. Why should they trust me, when my own company treated me like a drone? In our company, we make sure our employees share our vision. We involve our staff in a variety of different strategy meetings, and encourage them to express their thoughts. Sometimes, we involve them in discussions about projects outside their normal roles. This has two benefits. First, these brainstorming sessions often throw up fantastic, unexpected ideas. Secondly, it shows our employees we care about their views. That we really need them, and that we value their contribution.

Everyone wants to feel valued by their boss, but millennials in particular demand the freedom to express themselves. So why not create a forum for those ideas, and harness that enthusiasm? We involve our people in all our plans- from writing pitches, to setting KPIs and molding customer relationships. As we engage our employees at every level of the decision-making process, they believe wholeheartedly in our projects, and this translates into better relationships with our partners and clients. Communication within our company is not curtailed. A former CEO at one of our construction firms had a sticker saying, "Please knock" on his office door. When he left, I walked straight down the corridor and ripped it off. We have nearly 700 employees, and I want all of them to feel free to talk to me. I don't hide away behind executive assistants, my mobile number is not a secret, and my office is right next to reception. I see everyone arrive and leave. I overhear snippets of gossip, and keep my finger on the pulse of my company. All my employees can see I'm in the office, and in control.

After all, a CEO still needs to lead. KPIs need to be met, and if they're not, people need to learn from their mistakes. A compassionate CEO guides and advises- encouraging his/ her employees to acknowledge their shortcomings, and find their own solutions. We consider all our failures useful, and we build on our successes. Overcoming problems is what stimulates us.

One of my first projects was the Sea Breeze Beach Club on The Beach at JBR. Our company created, designed, and delivered the concept to Meraas. We had to grow fast -I was only 23 at the timeand I hired around 100 people from around the world. As my company expanded, I feared losing touch with my carefully recruited colleagues. I worried I would not know how to keep them motivated. But I took inspiration from the executives at Google and Facebook, who have abandoned an autocratic style of management, and work alongside their teams. I realized it was possible to mold the culture of my organization, even as we expand towards 1200 staff by 2020.

You need to also ensure your employees remain interested in your company. We've created a program to maintain our team's enthusiasm- we invest in their education, training, and social development. Our construction workers sometimes need short-term loans, or advances on their salariesboth of which we're happy to provide. We create loyalty by treating everyone as an individual. Extra-curricular events are another essential tool in buildings relationships between departments. We organize picnics, and trips to restaurants around key religious festivals. It's all about trying to make our people comfortable within the group. Friendships can be as binding as the promise of pay rises.

Human capital can also be hired, and as a consequence, we always invest in the best advice. Lawyers, accountants, architects, tax experts- if we employ a consultant, we go to the top. That way, my team can learn from the best in the industry, develop their careers, and everyone benefitsnot least my company. If your people are still learning and progressing, it motivates them to work harder. Motivated people are happy- and ultimately, who doesn't want to work with a happy team?

Related: Harnessing Human Capital In The Middle East

Orkhan Mustafayev

President of Ideal Concept Holding

Orkhan Mustafayev is the President of Ideal Concept Holding, a group of companies in construction, retail, advertising and fast-moving consumer goods. The group operates in the UAE, Azerbaijan, the Balkans, Turkey and China, employing 500-700 staff.
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