Valuing Good HR

Despite the vital role it can play in contributing to a company’s growth and development, human resource management still seems underappreciated in Jordan’s corporate culture.

 By Jane Hosking

Generous maternity and paternity leave, an endless supply of free gourmet food, and the ability to bring your pet to work. These are just a few of the perks of working for Google. Some believe the mega successful tech giant can teach many companies in Jordan a thing or two about the importance of quality human resource management.

“My assessment is that HR in Jordan is at a version 1.0 level in comparison to the world, which is moving towards HR 4.0,” said Vishal Choudhary, vice president of HR at IT outsourcing company Aspire. And he said the problem isn’t limited to Jordan, but is part of a wider regional deficit. “HR is still considered to be a secondary function here.”

Choudhary also believes that the definition of HR is often far narrower than what it should be. “The administrative and personnel aspects of the role can be so time consuming that HR managers often don’t have time to concentrate on other HR functions,” he said, noting that it is these other functions which should be the main focus of the role.

It’s a view shared by Mohammad al-Ta’mari, president of the Jordanian Human Resources Management Association (JHRMA). “Some employers believe HR consists only of handling medical insurance, social security, contracts, terminations, or payroll,” he said.

But while Rasha Barakat, director of human resources at Zain, agrees there’s still a lot of work to be done, she believes matters are heading in the right direction. “There are different initiatives that are being implemented to make sure there is a focus on HR in the region,” she said, adding that there were a lot of talented HR managers in Jordan and the field has a lot of potential.

Reevaluating HR

So other than administration and personnel, what exactly should an HR manager be doing? According to Choudhary, organizational development, which includes organizational culture, employee engagement, and talent management should be the main focus of an HR manager.

Barakat similarly believes that an HR manager should have a very active role in encouraging both organizational and personal development. “HR needs to open up the right communication channels in an organization. It needs to be a strong entity that people can engage with, and it needs to invest in career development opportunities for employees,” she said, adding that it is these things that create a healthy company culture, enabling people to perform.

According to Barakat, a company should neither focus purely on employees nor on business. “You need to strike the right balance between both,” she said, explaining that HR managers need to continuously talk to the top managers of their company to understand where the organization is heading, while also understanding employees to help them deliver.

In order to carry out these functions of organizational development, al-Ta’mari said an HR manager must be active in relaying the value of their role to the workforce. “It’s the role of an HR manager to advertise what they are doing inside the organization,” he said. He added that in order to do this effectively, HR managers must have a clear idea about what they do themselves. “As HR managers, if we want to develop the profession we need to know the functions of HR,” he noted.

Without implementing the right HR practices in a company, Barakat believes it won’t be in the best position to grow. “People are the most important aspect of any organization. They are the competitive advantage and they are the drivers of the business,” she said. “If your HR policies are fair and consistent, and if your people are well taken care of then automatically these people will be more engaged,” she said.

At Aspire, Choudhary is very focused on implementing HR practices that enhance business performance. He uses a sophisticated tracking and reward system to measure employee performance and to help people be more motivated. The company also has its own phone application to encourage positive interactions between employees. For example, everyone in the company gets points for sending or receiving thank you notes, which then make up 10 percent of their performance appraisal.

“This is how you build a culture of recognition and appreciation,” said Choudhary, who doesn’t believe in leaving employee behavior to chance. “Everything is target-based in the company; everyone’s role and tasks,” he said. This, he insists, allows employees to monitor themselves and improve their performance.

Despite the evident need for active HR executives in companies, Barakat said their work is often underappreciated by top management, something she believes needs to change. “They should engage them in the decision-making processes and ensure that they have a voice on the top management team,” she said. For this to happen, al-Ta’mari said HR executives need to make this clear to their managers. “It is HR’s responsibility to clarify their roles and convince their employers that they deserve a seat at the table beside the upper management staff,” he said.

Lack of education

According to al-Ta’mari, one of the main reasons that HR is not a thriving field of management in Jordan is because of the lack of education in this field. He said that while there are many studies of business management in the Kingdom, there is no bachelors or masters degree that focuses specifically on HR management. “The universities here advertise that they have HR management, but we have gone through the curriculum and it’s business management,” he explained.

The lack of education and professional development opportunities in HR is one of the reasons that al-Ta’mari founded JHRMA back in 2010. The association, which has now reached approximately 250 members, conducts trainings, seminars, and workshops that bring HR managers together to learn more about their field and to share their experiences.

This year, al-Ta’mari hopes the association will be transformed into a union, putting it on the path to engage more people in the HR profession. He’s optimistic about the future of HR in Jordan in the years ahead. “We’re on the right track and we are better than a lot of countries in the region. But we do need to improve,” he said.