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June 26, 2017

Emerging technologies, disruptive operating models, innovative practices and processes, and legal regulations make business transformation critical to survival for banking organizations. Such change is comparatively easy to achieve when employees understand the need for it. In the Middle East, perceptions about customs and culture lead to conclusions that it is difficult to enable change in traditional organizations. If you are from outside the Middle East and have taken the role of a change manager in the region, especially at a public sector bank, you might feel like you will have a challenge when managing critical transformation projects which require the organization and employees to quickly adapt to the new business environment and minimize loss of revenue and reputation.

To succeed, it is important to identify common misconceptions that might be hindering you, and then create a plan to drive and manage the change project. It might seem like a daunting project or an insurmountable task, but once you understand the fundamentals of the cultural norms in the region, youll find it much easier to achieve transformation.

Common Misconceptions

Communicating about business transformation should be done in Arabic: Organizations often assume that business in the Middle East can only be communicated in Arabic. This leads to lack of clarity in conveying business direction and strategies. But this is a myth. Many people living and working in the Middle East are educated in western countries and can comfortably communicate in English. You will find that government officials and native commercial establishments are fluent in English too.

Engaging with and ensuring the support of the bank’s leadership is difficult:
Chances of a projects success increase when employees know that senior leaders are involved in it. Change managers need to work together and jointly present updates on key milestones of the project, periodically. This keeps the top management engaged and helps get their feedback.

Regulation restricts innovation and impedes creativity:
Managers assume that the scope of communications to implement a change project is limited, dictated by strict Middle Eastern laws. The reality is companies can use creatively crafted ways to implement the change, and to engage employees across the organization. Social media provides an additional outlet for interaction.

Three Steps to Manage Organizational Change

  1. Set up a clear change agenda and plan:
    An approval from the leadership is key to managing change in the hierarchical Middle Eastern culture. While private sectors have adopted western management principles and employed foreign nationals, the public sector remains traditional. Organize a workshop and present an outcome-based plan to secure the support and buy-in of the leadership.
  2. Identify change champions and establish a support structure to broadcast change:
    Organizational change projects in Middle Eastern public banks might lose momentum because of a perceived loss of leadership support, or gradual lack of interest or recognition. To counter this, banks need to identify employees who are willing to champion the change. Further, you can assist these change champions by explaining the benefits in terms of peer merits and opportunities to build influence within the banking organization. Set up a support and reporting structure with the leadership. This ensures continued participation in change activities without the fear of taking any independent action that overrides the hierarchy.
  3. Identify and map the circle of control and the circle of influence:
    In Middle Eastern banks, the circle of control is a lot larger for leaders, and the circle of influence for change champions is based on their bonds with peers. Mapping and identifying these circles will help change champions derive leadership support. It will also help them influence employees through focused communications and training activities to spread awareness and positivity.

Companies with a clear plan and a clear communication strategy can get a step closer to successfully implementing change projects.

Bharat Kumar Sarvepalli is a Business Change Consultant working with the Consultancy and Enterprise Solutions unit at Tata Consultancy Services. He has a double MBA from the National University of Singapore and a Bachelor's degree in Electronics and Communication from Anna University, India. He is recognized by the APMG, an international examination institute, as a Change Practitioner. He has experience working with global banking, insurance, and public sector organizations in the United Kingdom, North America, Asia Pacific, India, and Middle East. His areas of change expertise include stakeholder management, change assessments, process design, communication, and training.


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