Cover Feature May: Hanan Nagi

Tell us about yourself and HNI.

I grew up in Cairo, Egypt and after finishing university I moved to Dubai. That was over 20 years ago! I started my career in administration and slowly moved to Human Resources where I discovered my true passion and that’s human development. While I worked, I also studied and eventually achieved my master’s degree in Human Resources, which is also CIPD level 7.

The highlight of my career was when I was recognised as a distinguished employee of Dubai and received an award from H.H sheikh Mohamed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

After almost 10 years of working in various sectors, government, semi-government and multinationals, I established HNI (Human Network International). Having been on the client side for a decade helped me to spot the opportunity in the market and focus on what was really needed, so HNI was created to be the bridge for that gap, to offer world-class interactive learning solutions that are customised to client’s needs, both in both Arabic and English, at affordable rates. HNI has been going strong for almost 12 years now, offering training and HR solutions both across the GCC region and now in USA and Europe.

You have recently expanded into Egypt, tell us more about your expansion plans for 2022.

As an Egyptian national, Egypt had always been on my mind, but the market is full of pioneers and well-established training companies. However, having recently grown our footprint in digital solutions such as Virtual Reality and Technology Intelligence, we felt it was about time to offer these services to the Egyptian market. And I’m happy to say that we’ve been warmly welcomed by some of the biggest organisations in Egypt, particularly in the banking, telecoms, and the oil and gas sectors.

What are the most popular training programs organisations are requesting right now post-pandemic?

Most organisations have realised that the competencies and skills required post-COVID are mainly soft skills, not just technology-related though that’s also in high demand, but the need to be agile, resilient, to be able to learn, and self-motivate. These skills have all proven to be vital in the face of uncertainty such as that we had to endure throughout COVID times.

Why is leadership in organisations more important now than ever?

No one enjoys ambiguity! People need to feel safe, secure and be reassured. CoVID and the consequences of the pandemic shook the foundations of that. Many of us looked to our leaders hoping for guidance and because leaders are also human, they needed to manage their own emotions, fears and doubts and be able to guide and lead their people throughout a crisis. Some did well but sadly some didn’t.

This has showed us that leadership development and emotional intelligence are not just nice-to-have subjects organisations invest in when they have training budget, but on the contrary, They’re core to the success of any team/company because we don’t know when the next situation or crisis will be. We have got to be ready and have the right people with the right skills in place.

What are the traits of a successful leader?

Self-awareness, empathy, humility, an innate need to grow their self and others around him/her, the ability to dream big and make those dreams come true through people who are willing to follow the leader because they want to, not because they have to… all these are very important traits in my opinion. But of course, there are more to count depending on what is expected of the leader.

Why do most leadership programmes fail and what makes your leadership programme unique?

There is “no one size fits all”. That’s why we always advise our clients to start with a thorough assessment to fully understand what those leaders really need and how does this fit with what is expected from them. Only then can a leadership development programme be tailored to bridge the gaps found in the assessment.

I am a big believer in coaching, it has been of huge impact for me personally, and I advocate it for all the leaders in HNI. We often see a need for this with our clients, to merge training with coaching, on-the-job assignments, shadowing, and so on into one coherent and integrated programme that realises the best outcomes.

Can you share a couple of successful case studies from your leadership training?

We worked with one of the biggest aviation companies in Saudi Arabia who were having challenges hiring top talents in their field, and wanted to improve their organic growth for employees to be promoted and become managers. Over three years and three different batches, HNI helped our client grow their internal talent pool such that internal candidates filled 94% of new managerial opportunities. The leadership development programme we co-created and delivered has now become a reference case and many of the organisations working in the same field have now started similar development programmes modelled on this one, but of course tailored to suit their specific needs.

Another example is for one of the biggest manufacturing companies in the world. They had their own leadership development programme which included technical elements focusing on health and safety. HNI was assigned to revamp the content, make all the technical modules more engaging and interactive, and create new behavioural skills modules. In addition, we included elements of coaching, work assignments, and we involved the line managers of the programme’s participants. It has been very successful and we are now running it for the fourth year in a row, training almost 2,000 potential leaders and high-performers across the company.

What are the differences between a leader and a manager?

Management is about outcomes. Managers use people, processes and tools to achieve the goals set by the organisation’s senior leadership, typically over a shorter time horizon of up to one year. Words often associated with management would be control, direction, supervision and instruction. Of course, the outcome that the manager may be asked to achieve could be developing their people, preparing for a forthcoming change in the organisation or external environment, so the focus on people development spans both the management and leadership functions, so it’s not always just about a financial or external outcome.

Leaders typically have a longer time horizon, of two, or three, or even more years. They work to align the organisation’s resources, including the people according to the strategy and direction set by senior leadership. Whether people believe in the vision and mission, and are willing to follow the leader on that journey, depends largely on the clarity of communication and messaging, and the qualities of the leaders entrusted with the role of leadership.

Where this becomes confusing for people, especially those working in environments where this is the case, are when the organisation explicitly or implicitly blurs the lines between management and leadership, expecting managers to lead or leaders to manage. Whether this can be achieved often depends on the expectations of this combined role, the support given to the people, and the culture of the organisation as a whole.

How can managers be more effective?

We talked before about post-COVID; the job of a manager in a modern workplace went through rapid evolution during the pandemic with many organisations adopting remote working, and the change in culture and expectations we’ve seen since. But it’s more than that, as the nature of work itself evolves, so do the demands placed on managers.

For example, it’s now more commonplace to help team members learn through experience and from their mistakes, which means creating an environment of psychological safety where they’re confident in taking risks knowing that the organisation as a whole, and their manager specifically, is supporting them. The manager has to provide more pro-active coaching, advice, guidance and support to the team members, and less supervision, oversight and control.

So just as work and the workplace is evolving, so are the demands placed on managers. It’s a journey not a destination.

How relevant are titles in today’s leadership environment?

Job titles can be important in certain organisational and national cultures but we’re seeing a shift towards the nature of the work, the challenge and opportunity in the role, and the role of the wider organisation in society being more important than factors such as title or remuneration.

This is even more evident with the new generations entering the workforce. Talent is now looking more for a healthy inspiring culture, with balance and agreeable corporate social responsibility, which is typically the natural result of good leadership. For example, I’ve seen top talent turning down roles with good titles and salaries if there is no commitment to continual personal development, or if the values of the organisation are perceived as being misaligned with those of the potential hire.

What is next for HNI?

We are expanding for a better geographical reach both across the GCC and wider internationally, but what we are really excited about are the changes in our digital tools and games and embracing the ever-increasing rise of technology-based learning. Building VR lounges, turning boring induction programmes into fun online based journeys, creating new mobile learning apps for our learners to enjoy during our in-personal and virtual courses; these are all areas of growth and investment for us which we are working on with our dedicated innovation and gamification team.

How can our readers find out more about your leadership programs?

To download a FREE copy of ‘How To Become An Emotionally Intelligent Manager’ CLICK HERE

Editor-In-Chief of Bizpreneur Middle East