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How Diversity Challenges Impact Learning & Development

ATD2016 RosettaStone Guest Blogging Series web 300x222This is a story about a fast growing Saudi FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) distribution and logistics services company that had a vision to double the business in five years. It was not easy, but they eventually did it through a number of strategies. They diversified their clients, portfolio, geographies, and even their people!

This FMCG company, Abudawood Group, started in Saudi Arabia back in the early 60s and expanded its business in the new millennium to five new markets in the Middle East—in just four years, ending up with 30 different nationalities, formally communicating business in four different languages, and with an infinite number of subcultures and individual differences.

The Abudawood Learning & Development team experience

Because the company has grown and expanded its business, through either acquiring existing businesses or starting their own from scratch, the result was the same. There are five new organizations that needed to come up to speed and be at par in terms of knowledge, skills, and expertise with the mother company in Saudi Arabia. Enter the role of the Corporate Learning & Development (CLD) team to achieve the goal of not just bringing all new markets to be at par, but also to prepare the Saudi organization for the future challenges and dynamic changes anticipated in the market place.

The challenges and solutions

The challenge of the Learning & Development team became “how might we provide our people with gold standard learning experiences that are active, deep, and unified in order to ensure consistency and quality across all six markets, despite the newly added big diversity?”

We decided to stop highlighting the differences and just started thinking of “what do we all have in common?”

We are all human beings. Humans who are passionate and competent once stimulated correctly.

Since maintaining a gold standard was an important goal for the CLD team to ensure learning deployment happens right in all locations—go for the gold was the learning theme which meant learn to go for the gold standard performance—we realized that standardization does not equal over control. On the contrary, you get the best out of the people by first losing control to let them innovate, try new things, and then take this outcome and turn it into the gold standard itself. Then don’t stop there, but allow for ongoing iterations of continuous improvement of the learning content and the delivery.

A pool of multicultural facilitators was selected to include employees from across all six markets, based on a set of criteria, but most importantly, based on their passion about training delivery and learning in general. And hence, in just a few months we multiplied our Learning & Development capacity by at least four times, to be able to achieve our challenging goals, and did it by mainly turning passionate employees into top quality facilitators through a fun and engaging process. A process that got these facilitators to achieve the needed deep impact and change of mind-set with all kind of participants who came into interaction with them.

The program key components were:

  • (1) A set of “raising the interest” selection criteria for the internal employees, who are truly keen and passionate about becoming internal facilitators for the company learning programs and workshops
  • (2) An engaging fun process of qualifying them with the needed set of skills, knowledge, and most importantly mind-set change, to become mind-set changers themselves
  • (3) A gamified engagement program for facilitators across all six markets to engage them and recognize their extra efforts

So what was the outcome?

  • (1) Unified motivating learning experiences
  • (2) A pool of internal cultural ambassadors for the Learning & Development team empowered and equipped with the same designs, skills, and attitudes
  • (3) Engaging diversified learning events in different markets with the same spirit and techniques

What is next?

Moving from a learning Culture into a Coaching Culture is the next phase to promote the one-to-one coaching approach as a way to empower the workplace coaching mind-set and as an extension to the workshop classroom learning activities and environment.

About the author

Bahaa Hussein, Abudawood Group, ATD2016Bahaa Hussein is an 86’ alumnus of AUC majoring in business administration and minoring in political science. Bahaa began his career 28 years ago with Procter & Gamble Egypt (P&G) as a van salesman; or as he puts it, “roaming the streets of Cairo selling soap”.

Bahaa managed to move from his sales position and fight his way up until he became one of the key managers for P&G in the Arabian Peninsula, heading the sales operation in Saudi Arabia. Known for his ambitious character and high emphasis on business ethics, Bahaa was recruited to help expand Abudawood Group, a strategic P&G business partner in the Middle East and Pakistan. He personally managed the launch of Abudawood in the Yemen and Iraq markets. Bahaa recalls the time he had to drive in a bulletproof vest across the Jordan border to make it to Baghdad the first time. He says, “I am not sure what I was doing then, but I loved it”.

Today, Bahaa has shifted his career to human resources. He passed the certified professional in learning and performance rigorous process in 2010, being one of top 1700 certified Learning & Development professionals worldwide, and was the first Egyptian to get this esteemed certification. As the head of Learning and Development at Abudawood group, Bahaa hopes to continue with the same passion he had when he first started as a van salesman back in 1986—not to sell soap like he once used to, but to create future leaders and professional performers in his organization as well across the whole region business environment.