This opinion piece is based on a conversation between Mr. Emad Al-Ablani, Head of Group Human Resources at NBK, and Mr. Ohanes Makdissian, Ms. Jamila Al Dakny and Mr. Shashi Shankar Ghosh from KPMG in Kuwait.



During our conversation with Mr. Emad Al-Ablani, Head of Group Human Resources at the National Bank of Kuwait (NBK), we discovered a common underlying theme in most of the people-related activities in the organization.

Upon further exploration, we found that effective listening lies at the heart of all the HR strategies in NBK. 

Over the recent years, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the HR function at NBK has changed drastically. It has played the role of a strategic partner and adopted its roles and responsibilities based on each departments’ requirements. 

Mr. Al-Ablani was very excited to answer our questions about employee feedback and how he defines HR strategy.

"Customer centricity is one of the pillars that drives the solution, the planning and the initiative. For me, if you have happy employees, then you can ensure that you will have happy customers. You can take that approach and embed it in any service line that we offer,” he said. 

“Let us take talent management as an example. We put the internal customer, the employee, in the middle of our solutions. When we design a development plan, we do not draft it based on our thinking or the direct managers’ thinking — we include the employee themself because we need their buy-in, responsibility and accountability to help us help them achieve the plan,” Mr. Al-Ablani added. 

Mr. Al-Ablani told us, “Most of our services are developed around the employees. We listen carefully to our employees’ inputs through different channels, some of which are formal channels, i.e., surveys that we conduct every two years and our campaign called Employee Engagement/Experience Survey ‘Your Voice Matters.’ The responses are anonymous and we use the results to find out where the gap is and improve the environment/culture there. If there are any, let us say showstoppers, we go for the business and facilitate the solution from within. We show them where the gap is, their results, and then we conduct workshops/focus groups for them, and they come up with the solution(s)."

What we found interesting in the entire conversation was how NBK makes conscious efforts to implement the survey findings. Employee engagement surveys are not another tick-box activity in their book. Mr. Al-Ablani gave us multiple instances to prove this point. 

He mentioned how, during the COVID-19 pandemic, few parents asked for flexible working hours as their kids were starting E-learning modules at school, which was a new experience for both parents and their children. Within 72 hours of receiving the feedback, NBK implemented a policy that allowed employees to spend two hours with their kids any time during the day. Apart from this, Mr. Emad outlined many examples depicting how employee feedback helped create a new policy at NBK or improved an existing policy. 

The most interesting revelation for us was when Mr. Emad told us about the 300,000 KD (approx. USD 1,000,000) investment NBK made to ensure equal benefits for men and women in their organization.

"We have policies that treat everybody equally from a benefits perspective. Based on the various town halls, employee engagements and surveys, we managed to put our female colleagues on par with their male counterparts. It is a huge cost but, in the end, we would like to add to the equality. The HR function convinced the Management. The cost of the whole thing is not less than 300,000 KD or 1,000,000 USD approx."

In our quest to explore the HR Pathfinders in Kuwait, we thoroughly enjoyed this conversation and it shattered the myths around how most of the HR decisions are made in the boardrooms. The HR Pathfinders are reaching out and speaking to the employees and putting effective listening in their favor. 



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