This opinion piece is based on a conversation between Ms. Najlaa Al-Sager from the National Bank of Kuwait and Ohanes Makidissian, Jamila Al Dakny, and Shashi S Ghosh from KPMG in Kuwait.



Is talent management an art or science? Can HR functions quantify the effectiveness of their employee value propositions (EVP)? Is there a direct link between employee loyalty and career progression?

When we met Ms. Najlaa Al-Sager, Head of Talent Management at NBK, we explored the answers to such hard-hitting questions. Ms. Al-Sager leads a team that focuses entirely on talent management, catering to a massive talent pool of over 6000 people, spread across 15 countries and 150 branches and subsidiaries. 

“We always say that NBK offers endless opportunities,” said Ms. Al-Sager as she took us through NBK’s journey to add more insight into talent management.

“Historically, there was a huge challenge to understand what talent meant to NBK. To fix this Achilles heel, we took on a project in 2019 and did more research to understand the gaps in the process. The result was our very own talent development matrix. Currently, we have a process with different factors that we look at in terms of capabilities, technical abilities, leadership exposure, risk of leaving, qualifications, and any talent programs the candidate enrolled for. We compile everything together with psychometric and various capability assessments that help us validate if the person is the right appointed successor, or if there are any hidden gems that we are not looking at."

“On the flip side, it also helps us understand if this person is someone for whom we have done everything that we could, and it is time to stop,” she explained. While it was clear that there is some scientific method to the entire process, Ms. Al-Sager emphasized how the human factor is always involved in it too.

“Often, I sit with various talents to understand their career aspirations and have an open discussion around our ability to retain the talent.”

The entire process of evaluating employees in a matrix has been very exciting, and we have already completed this exercise on about 60 top Level 1 and Level 2 talents in the NBK. The CEOs were very involved with us as they understand the value it brings to the table. The HR function goes through the career plan of every individual once a year, giving accountability to our Business Heads as well, especially in terms of giving the talent the correct exposure on apt projects, cross-functional assignments, or even international exposure because we have those channels. Eventually, it gives us a very targeted development plan for the individual,” she added.

When it came to EVP, Ms. Al-Sager combined EVP with the company’s purpose, core values and principles. She referred to NBK’s accelerated learning program as one of the core pillars and mentioned that every new employee understands that the firm will invest in them to support their overall growth.

NBK has developed multiple talent management programs for every level of an employee’s career, such as the NBK Academy to attract bright-eyed freshers, Highflyers for individuals in supervisory and middle-management roles, and the more recent NBK RISE program which aims to aid in the development of executives. Each program assists in the growth of the talent pool which, in turn, increases employee loyalty and adds to the EVP.

After a series of questions, we arrived at the conclusion that when it comes to deciding whether talent management is an art or science, the answer is simple. HR pathfinders such as Ms. Al-Sager use science to their advantage but, while there is a system in place that is data-oriented, they often go beyond the data to have a personal connection and understand the aspirations of an employee. That is an art.



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