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How Managers Create High-Performance Cultures

How Managers Create High-Performance Cultures

by Ehssan Abdallah and Ashish Ahluwalia

Companies throughout the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region are struggling to grow in a highly unstable economic climate. Over the past five years, many have undertaken aggressive acquisition and expansion plans. They are placing a keen focus on whether they are capable of creating the kind of high-performing and engaging cultures primed for driving continuous growth.

The best managers reinforce how and why each person's contribution is fundamental to the team's success.

A good number of these businesses are launching initiatives aimed at selecting, retaining, and engaging managers -- and ultimately, engaging the employees in those managers' workgroups. That's because increasing engagement can help companies improve performance across a host of key business outcomes, from reducing absenteeism and turnover to increasing productivity and profitability. Managers play a crucial role in creating these improvements, regardless of a company's industry or geographic location. Here, the manager's role becomes even more central to creating high-performance cultures as companies increase in size, market share, and global presence.

To investigate the state of manager effectiveness in the GCC region, Gallup studied 3,477 managers from companies in the oil and gas, banking and finance, property development, tourism, automotive, and telecommunications sectors. For the purpose of this study, a GCC manager was defined as a person responsible for directing at least one subordinate. The results show that the best managers in the GCC region create a high-performing culture by setting clear expectations, distinctly defining employees' roles, creating a trusting environment, and encouraging employees' growth and development.

Setting clear expectations and defining employees' roles

A key finding of the study is that too many managers in the GCC region do not consistently clarify what they expect from their employees. They struggle to set specific goals and objectives and don't clearly define employees' roles. This makes it difficult to empower employees and create a robust, performance-based organizational culture, and the result is a decrease in employee productivity.

In contrast, the best managers in the region:

  • Clearly explain team members' roles and help them understand how their responsibilities connect to other team members' roles and to stakeholder needs.
  • Align their team's performance objectives to departmental goals and the company strategy.
  • Provide agile and customized communication to employees using formal agreements and informal or less structured check-ins, as needed, to realign and modify expectations.
  • Reinforce how and why each person's contribution is fundamental to the team's success and ultimately to the organization's sustainability.

Creating a trusting environment and encouraging employees' development

Many managers in the region find it difficult to encourage their employees' growth and development. Companies in the GCC region have neglected this critical principle in the past despite its ties to continuous individual and organizational improvement. Many businesses are reluctant to invest in their employees' growth and development because they are concerned that workers will leave and take those skills to another company -- a common feature found across most expatriate-labor-dominated economies. Yet Gallup's research shows that performance -- and employee retention -- improve when companies demonstrate that they care about employees' growth.

The study found that the best managers in the region actively:

  • Create a culture of continuous learning. They share knowledge and provide employees with learning experiences relevant to success in their role.
  • Break down trust barriers. The biggest challenge to developing employees is not a lack of financial support but a lack of trust among employees. This lack of trust creates internal barriers that prohibit employees from developing in their roles. As a result, managers must constantly strive to build trust and remove barriers to enable employees to grow -- and to promote continuous organizational improvement.
  • Foster dialogue about talents and strengths. Manager-employee discussions provide a platform for growth beyond formal training programs. They support employees' development objectives and foster dialogue about employees' talents and strengths, areas where they may need additional support or training, and how the gap between talent and training could be bridged.
  • Encourage mentoring. A strong approach to mentoring was also a common feature in driving the positive developmental growth of each associate on a team. While there is no one best method for providing mentoring, the best GCC managers understand the capabilities and needs of their team members and help link them with suitable partners in the organization based on reciprocal responsibilities.

Building cultures of excellence

Over the past five years, many companies in the GCC region have pursued a strategy of "growth through acquisition," and the resulting changes may have initially outstripped companies' ability to integrate differing organizational cultures. Managers are in a unique position to help businesses and employees overcome cultural challenges.

Businesses are acknowledging that managers are the decisive factor in winning the hearts and minds of employees. Gaining commitment and inspiring effort from employees is becoming both more difficult and more necessary because workers can easily move to new opportunities as the global demand for talented employees remains strong.

The best managers in the GCC region succeed by creating a culture that promotes outstanding performance by setting clear targets, expectations, and objectives while encouraging employees to grow and develop in a trusting environment. The best employees in the region will want to join and stay with these teams. If leaders want managers who inspire top performance, they must give those managers the support they need so they -- and their company -- can flourish.

A version of this article originally appeared in The Gulf.

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