Dubai Student’s Dilemma

While working with a group of MBA students in Dubai this month one of the students, Mohammed, a 35 year old engineer from Bahrain, asked me for help with a problem he was facing at work. He had applied for promotion to a position which involved line management responsibilities. Mohammed’s company was apparently apprehensive about appointing him to this new role, not because he didn’t meet the requirements of the job, but because they didn’t want to lose him from his current position – he was working in a highly technical, high risk area of the business and there was no one else in the company who could do that job. Mohammed wanted some advice on how he could persuade his employers to release him from his current role. His approach to me triggered a number of thoughts. First, I sympathised with the sense of frustration Mohammed felt at effectively being too good at his job and too valuable in his current role to achieve promotion. How many employees with potential and ambition are simply not encouraged to put themselves forward for promotion because, to do so, would leave their employer with a recruitment problem? This tends to happen in areas where specialist, technical skills are scarce or where the wealth of knowledge and experience that one person has accumulated in a role is difficult to pass on and no thought has been given to succession or contingency planning. The implications here are clear. Companies that fail to ensure that skills and knowledge in an organisation are shared and communicated (even documented if necessary) are putting the organisation at risk. In addition, those companies that fail to encourage talented staff to develop and to take on new challenges are likely to lose their good people or, at the very least, their motivation and commitment to the company.

But I was also struck by Mohammed’s question to me for another reason. Here was a mature, experienced male with an engineering background who recognised that he needed some help and advice to overcome the problem he faced. He was being honest with me that he didn’t know what to do. Far too often I am dismayed at how unwilling some people are to ask for help and how many opportunities to get great advice and new ideas are passed up. The reasons are not clear – could it be because of pride or is it arrogance?. I have always found that, when facing a difficult business issue, there is normally someone around who is willing to help, give advice or offer a new perspective. Just ask! As for my advice to Mohammed – perhaps I’ll make that that the subject of a future blog!

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