Monday, November 28, 2016

Will tax-free salary be a thing of the past in Middle East?

Tax-free salary is one of the biggest attractions for expatriates to flock to the Gulf region. Over many decades now, the Middle East region has become the most-sought-after destination for expatriates. High income and abundant opportunities are prime reasons for expatriates to take up jobs in the Middle East, but tax-free salary is perhaps the biggest factor in drawing these expatriates to the Gulf region.
Why tax-free salary is such a big attraction for expatriates? Well, professionals get highly paid without having to pay taxes, which means they can save more and send home a lot (though spending home may not be the priority for all). No wonder, expatriates represent around 48.1% of the total population in GCC countries. The UAE has the biggest expatriate population in the Middle East (around 80%). Qatar has around 75% of expatriate population, while Kuwait has around 70% of expatriate population. Oman has around 45% of expatriate population, while Saudi Arabia has around 33% of expatriate population.
Of course, the sustained fall in crude oil prices has severely hit the economies of GCC countries, prompting them to scout for new avenues to mop up non oil-revenue for an economy heavily reliant on oil and gas. The continuance of tax-free salary in the Gulf region has come under the scanner, as there is an increasing feeling among the Gulf nations that imposing income tax on foreign workers would offer some relief to the Gulf economies, battered by the sustained low oil price environment.
Saudi Arabia were first off the blocks to talk about imposing income tax on foreign workers, causing jitters among the expatriate population. Earlier this year, the Saudi government stated that they were mulling imposing income tax on foreign workers only to clarify later that it was only a ‘proposal’ and no final decision has been taken on the same. Saudi-based consultant Talal Malik puts things in perspective. “The allure of Gulf countries for many expatriates is how much they can save, not spend, and how much they can remit back to their countries.” Much to the relief of the expatriate population, no other country has talked about introducing income tax for foreign workers.
It’s hard to say if GCC countries will look to impose income tax on foreign workers in future. But one thing is for sure – such a move will invite a backlash of the expatriate population. Rewind to 1980s when GCC countries wanted to impose income tax during the low oil price period, but had to back down after livid foreign workers, including military contractors went on strike, grounding air force planes. It is worth recalling that GCC nations have arrived at a consensus to impose value-added-tax (VAT) from January 2018 in order to augment their non-oil revenues. But the introduction of VAT is no guarantee that income-tax will not be imposed on foreigners.
The peril of slapping income tax is that foreign workers may just pack up and return to their native countries. Such a scenario can precipitate a labor crisis and why? Well, this is largely because foreigners are still required for certain jobs where the locals lack the requisite skills. Foreign workers take up a slew of menial and clerical jobs, as locals do not find them interesting and are reluctant to take them up.
Going forward, how the crude oil prices take shape will probably decide if tax-free salary turns into a ‘reality.

Companies jumping on analytics bandwagon to improve worker-manager relationship

Improving worker-manager relationship is always an ‘everyday challenge’ for corporate enterprises. It is a ‘given’ that the all-out focus of companies across the globe is to optimise productivity of employees and in facilitating the same firms are willing to walk the extra mile to bring about a certain ‘desired’ level of worker-manager relationship without any trust deficit. No wonder, corporate enterprises are fast jumping on the analytics bandwagon to skirt any worker-manager confrontations or unease as one may call it.
Companies see analytics tools as the way forward, as they help mitigate potential worker-manager trouble. Many firms are using an assessment tool called Predictive Index (PI) that generates a behavioural profile and provides an accurate depiction of an employee’s work preferences among others. So how does this predictive analytics works? Predictive analytics conducts a psychometric test of an employee to assess his natural behaviour. The results of such a test are assessed by trained analysts and provide an overview of an employee’s behaviour patterns along with his management and influencing skills.
Predictive analytics has helped bridge any gaps between workers and managers. According to a leading Indian newspaper, a senior manager of a company was feeling tremendous work stress. Nobody would have known the stress levels of this manager but the company could initiate timely corrective measures thanks to predictive analytics. Predictive Index analysis revealed that the manager was increasingly under stress after his reporting manager was recently changed.
Similarly, predictive analytics again came in handy at a manufacturing company, where PI analysis revealed that the morale of a team was very low. The company carried out a probe and found that the team had issues with their manager.
These two incidents clearly bring to the fore corrective measures initiated by companies with help of predictive analytics. Such measures, if taken at the right time, can not only help companies retain their employees but also ensure employee productivity is optimised.
The Predictive Strategy Group – a company that conducts such analysis for companies – summed up fittingly, terming the Predictive Index as a human blood test. “"Predictive Index is like a blood test -getting to know about a disease even before the symptoms have become visible to all," the Predictive Strategy Group’s co-founder Vinaya Bansal once famously said.
It is abundantly clear that Predictive Index analysis helps minimise damage in worker-manager relationships. Such analysis is not just limited to improving worker-manager relationships – it also helps companies to zero in on a right candidate as well as in offering promotion to an employee.
The importance of analytics tools will only increase going forward and companies are going to richly benefit from it in their pursuit of facilitating a vibrant work environment coupled with optimising productivity of employees.

How poor managers can cause serious reputational damage to a brand!

In a fiercely competitive marketplace, companies always have one goal in mind – how it can be ‘best heard’. Companies are increasingly ‘taking extra care’ to ensure they do not suffer any reputational damage, which can go a long way in them losing customers/clients.

It is crystal clear that managers play a ‘crucial’ role in ensuring companies does not suffer from serious reputational damage. It is an open secret that no brand wants anyone to talk ‘bad’ about a company as it can translate into negative word-of-mouth. But why then managers have a big role in ensuring a brand is not at risk of any reputational damage? Well, it is easy to understand that companies expect managers to run their day-to-day affairs. However, in pursuit of ‘driving the day-to-day operations managers at times, operate in such a way that it causes serious harm to the reputation of a company.

Every manager will be different but a common goal of all managers is to get the best out of their teams. The problem is that a lot of times, managers do exceed their brief (if not at all times) and resort to uncalled-for measures as they believe that those are the best ways to raise the performance of their underlings. Of course, the corporate world will have numerous instances of managers ill-treating their underlings. To put it bluntly, some managers are ‘more demanding than necessary’ and put extra pressure on their team members. They believe that this is the best recipe to scale up productivity. Many managers at times are known to act as ‘control freaks’ and want to carve out a dominating presence. No wonder, there is a saying in the corporate world that ‘people leave managers, not companies’.
Gallup survey on worker-manager relationships
A survey conducted by American research company Gallup, only reinforces the fragile worker-manager relationships. As per Gallup’s 2015 survey, 50% of employees (among the 7,200 adults surveyed) ‘leave their company to get away from their bosses’. This survey is a true reflection of how managers operate in the corporate world. It also throws light on the prevalent, undesired worker-manager relationships.
So why then managers cut a sorry picture in workplaces? Well, people get promotions into managerial roles not always because they are really ‘good at managing people’. More often people ascend the career ladder because of outstanding performance in their earlier position.
Coping with a bad manager
The Gallup survey on the worker-manager relationships brings a few things in focus. How does an employee cope with a bad manager? An underling rarely questions his manager or gets into an argument bout for the fear of either losing his job or getting a bad appraisal. On many occasions, these underlings silently put up with ‘whatever these so-called bad managers throw at them’. They seemingly resign to their fate. Quitting the job to ‘escape a bad manager’ seems the only realistic option for these underlings. More importantly, these bunch of employees turn disgruntled and ‘generously badmouth’ the company in front of all and sundry when they leave the company.
What is significant here is that these employees probably have ‘nothing against the company’. They end up castigating the company purely based on their bad experience with their managers – something brands are looking to take cognisance of. It is only bad managers, who ruin the reputation of a company – it is their modus operandi that drives employees to exit the firm. It is seldom that managers across the globe face ramifications for poor treatment of their underlings.
Of course, there are companies that keep a close watch on how managers conduct themselves. They grill employees when they want to put in their papers. The objective is to know if these employees are quitting due to personal issues or better prospects or because of having to deal with bad managers, who brutalise them. But the percentage of such companies is far too small.
Managers are judged on results they achieve
Supervisors rate managers often on the results they achieve and not how well they treat the people below them. For example, if managers do not achieve the desired results but treat their underlings well, it is of no help to them in the long run, in terms of securing a promotion.
The bottom-line is that companies must look to put a mechanism in place so that their reputation is not besmirched due to the unbecoming behaviour of managers. They hire managers to ‘ensure smooth running of the day-to-day operations of a company and not ruin them’.

Going forward, we could see a trend of brands keeping a ‘strict watch’ on how managers operate, as they strive to protect their reputation against damage inflicted by poor working ways of managers.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Creating positive word-of-mouth is the way forward for brands

Brands desire to carve out an unblemished reputation in a highly competitive market environment: No matter how successful a company is, there is one thing that it invariably never tires of focusing on –‘making the right noises’ in the marketplace’. Indeed, brands irrespective of whether they are passing through a highly profitable run or a ‘not so happening time’ business-wise, are keen to know what their existing or prospective customers/clients – are saying about them in public domain. The fiercely competitive nature of the market prompts firms to leave nothing to chance. The cut-throat competition across diverse sectors has made it ‘mandatory’ for brands to consistently devise ways and means to inculcate a ‘feel-good feeling’ about the products and services they offer.

However, one has to understand that positive word-of-mouth does not happen overnight. It is built on years of how a firm carries out its day-to-day operations. In a market replete with intense competition, brands find it exceedingly tough to win new clients/customers. The market demands necessitate a brand to offer a ‘product or service differentiator’, and every brand leaves no stone unturned to attain that. No positive word-of-mouth can be created sans a vibrant work culture – brands are increasingly conscious about facilitating a positive work atmosphere, where employees contribute to the growth of the company as ‘members of the family’ and not as ‘employees’.

One has to realize that positive word-of-mouth probably did not have so much significance say ten, twenty years back. But in the current market scenario, it has emerged as a powerful tool for brands to achieve future growth. Like building a brand takes years of toil, similarly ensuring an untarnished brand reputation is far from being a piece of cake.

Employees joining and leaving an organization is a regular phenomenon. According to a US-based survey, brands are fast realizing the importance of what their existing and former employees are saying about them in public domain, which can go a long way in building or destroying a brand. Gone are those days when positive word-of-mouth was not given any importance but not anymore. It’s an all-out war out there – where every brand is pushing and shoving to garner every slice of the business.

A recent data released by social media software company Lithium showed how positive word-of-mouth is working wonders for brands, especially through various social media platforms. The data showed more than 50% purchase decisions are triggered by positive word-of-mouth, which only underpins the importance of brands having a positive market presence. It accentuates on how the ‘massive reach of word-of-mouth’ acts as a catalyst in swaying customers towards a particular brand.

Digital business solutions provider Huzzah Media carried out a survey, which revealed that positive word-of-mouth had a big say in generating revenues for corporate enterprises. The survey brought to the fore one thing – positive word-of-mouth will be instrumental in how business is done in the future.

It’s pretty clear that positive word-of-mouth is poised to be the biggest tool for brands going forward – even conventional ways of marketing a product/service through brochures, newspaper advertisements, workshops, seminars, roadshows will even struggle to compete with the ‘sheer power of positive word-of-mouth’. Negative word-of-mouth is the last thing brands want and companies are increasingly doing everything they can to be heard in the ‘right manner in the marketplace’. For sure, positive word-of-mouth is set for a long haul something no brand can ill-afford to ignore.

Will Automation turn out to be a serious worry for Indian IT industry?

Automation is one thing that sets tongues wagging in the Indian information and technology (IT) industry – the big question that is asked: How much deeper will ‘automation’ penetrate the country’s lucrative IT industry? Well, the $160 billion Indian IT industry has witnessed ‘effective’ implementation of automation, which has paved the way for companies to not just scale up productivity but also to remain cost-efficient. A market replete with cut-throat competition, Indian IT companies are feeling the ‘pressure’ to protect their margins and are increasingly using automation platforms to improve their profitability.

The so-called ‘artificial intelligence’ based platforms are changing the way IT firms manage their day-to-day affairs. Wipro became the first Indian IT services firm to launch an artificial intelligence platform – Holmes – last year. TCS launched its artificial intelligence platform – Ignio – while Infosys rolled out its artificial intelligence platform – Mano. The objective of IT firms is to achieve non-linear growth – growing revenue at a much faster pace than the number of employees. Thus increasing both revenue per employee and profitability.

The effective use of automation is seen as a ‘big disruptive threat’ to the Indian IT industry’s pyramid model, where companies generate revenue in a linear manner by adding employees. And as the current trend suggests, non-linear growth will be the main focus area of IT companies.

The use of automation platforms has been yielding positive results for IT companies. The industry added 200,000 employees in FY16 as compared to 230,000 in FY15. This is an ample indication that automation is beginning to replace jobs that were earlier done by humans. It also tells something about the future. The industry expects to add around 200,000 employees for FY17 – precisely the same number of employees added in FY 16.

According to a report released by Centrum Broking, the country’s top five IT companies have substantially reduced their hiring in 2015 by ‘aggressively walking the automation path’. The report further revealed that the combined net additions of employees of IT behemoths like TCS, Infosys, Wipro, HCL Technologies and Cognizant during the October-December period stood at 28,182, down 38 per cent from the year-ago period.

There is no denying the fact that automating tasks previously done by engineers has caused jitters among the Indian IT workforce. The general line of thought is that automation will kill jobs done by humans. The Indian IT industry is expected to witness a dynamic shift over the next five to seven years. If experts are to be believed, the rapid adoption of artificial intelligence platforms will create higher demand for up-skilled engineers in niche areas. Industry watchers believe the need for up-skilled engineers will result in a steady decrease in demand for entry-level or lower-level engineers for tasks such as coding, back office maintenance and applications testing.
On the other hand…

According to Malcolm Frank, executive vice-president of strategy and marketing at IT bellwether Cognizant, automation is yet unlikely to derail the traditional manpower-linked model of the IT sector, whose employee base touched 3.7 million in FY16. “To say that a significant portion of the industry will be automated, I think that’s more theory than reality. I can tell you this, it’s not gonna happen in the next three years,” he had said during an interview on the sidelines of the Nasscom India Leadership Forum in Mumbai.

One also has to understand that automation simply does not mean ‘sacking people and rendering them out of job’. The adoption of automation not only throws an opportunity for companies to optimize talent (within the organization) but also enables them to drive more innovation and to increase revenue per employee.

Automation is clearly the way forward for the Indian IT industry – the IT workforce will need to diversify beyond their ‘core skills’ and add new and ‘industry relevant’ skill sets.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Interview: My best is yet to come: Ajay Jayaram

Indian men’s shuttler Ajay Jayaram is enjoying a good run – the 29-year-old Mumbai broke into the top-20 recently for the first time ever following semifinal appearances at the US Open and Canadian Open. Jayaram – currently ranked 19 in the world – spoke about his game and much more in an exclusive interview.
Q. How does it feel to break into the top-20 - your career best singles ranking so far?
It definitely feels great to break into the top 20 again. However, the hope, this time, is to go further by maintaining a consistent level of performance.
Q. You had two semifinal finishes at the US Open and Canadian Open. In hindsight with a bit of luck, you could have won both these titles. Your thoughts?
True. I have mixed feelings about both those performances. I did play some good matches to reach the last 4 stage in both tournaments. However, I can't be happy about my performance in both the semifinals I played. I struggled a bit with my shoulder in Canada when I was up against Lee Hyun-il which made it hard for me to give my best.
I thought I had a much better chance in US where I played against the young Japanese, Kanta Tsuneyama. But I never really found any rhythm and the match slipped away before I could settle down. Disappointing end to an otherwise good tournament, but lots to learn.
Q. There weIre many Indians in the fray - Praneeth, Pranoy, Guru and Anand among others. How satisfying is it to make it to the semis of US Open?
Winning matches and making it to the semis or finals of a tournament always feels good irrespective of whether there are Indians or not. Also, considering the number of Indian men's singles players who are currently in the top 50 and 100 in the world, and a rising number of juniors who are always eager to do well and make a mark, most tournaments would feature a good number of Indians. And this is always great because you're bound to see more encouraging performances as has been observed in the recent past.
Q. Do you think at 29 you are playing best badminton of your career?
I guess and, more importantly, I hope my best is yet to come
Q. What are the positives you think has helped you to up your performance and rankings?
My performances in the past few months prior to this circuit had dipped owing to lack of training. So I decided to skip the Australia and Indonesia Open and get some weeks of good quality training. I'm glad that it has showed positive results. I still believe, however, that a lot more work needs to be done.
Q. Every player looks to improve - what will be your improvement areas?
My fitness has risen over the past month and that's something I will have to maintain. Apart from that I believe adding a bit more of variation in my strokes and varying the general pace of rallies from time to time will help me immensely
Q. How has been your experience of playing against the singles' top players. What does it take to beat them?
It's always great to play against the top players. You learn a lot each time. For that matter, you learn something from every good match you play, win or lose. What sets the top few apart is, I guess, their confidence and ability to perform at a constant level match after match. Another very important aspect I believe is how well you manage to stay injury free.
Q. What are the learnings you had from playing in the PBL?
PBL was different in the sense that you had an added element of pressure of your team depending on you. So learning to handle that was something I could take out of that.
Q. What goals have you set for yourself for the future?
I am currently enjoying training and playing/competing at this level. That is a very important thing for me. I think something as basic, but immensely difficult as giving your best and playing at a consistent level in every match, every tournament is something I want to focus on. Last year I finished with a silver in a Super Series event. So hoping to do one better and emerge with a win.

Rio Olympics 2016: Narsingh Yadav doping issue unfortunate for Indian wrestling, says Sushil Kumar’s coach and former great Satpal Singh

Controversies just refuse to die away when it comes to Indian wrestling. India’s 74-kg freestyle grappler Narsingh Yadav’s being testing positive for a banned substance has hurt Indian wrestling in a big way – the official confirmation by the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) has thrown a cloud of uncertainty over who will represent India in the 74-kg category at the Rio Olympics.
Indian wrestling has been rocked earlier by the so-called ‘Sushil Kumar vs Narsingh Yadav’ fiasco, as to who will play for the country in the freestyle 74-kg category after the latter had sealed the Olympic berth winning a bronze medal at the 2015 World Championships in the USA.
Former wrestling great and Sushil Kumar’s coach Satpal Singh says the whole development is ill-timed. “It’s unfortunate that Indian wrestling has to face such a situation where a player is tested positive with just ten days to go for the Olympics,” he says.
The former wrestling great believes the image of the sport has surely taken a beating. “There is no doubt that Indian wrestling is on a high and everyone is expecting medals from our grapplers. But the reputation of Indian wrestling has taken a pounding because of this latest development,” he observes.
Narsingh had said that he is ‘innocent’ and that the whole testing positive thing is nothing but a conspiracy. Satpal puts forth his views on the same. “Look, NADA has caught him using a banned substance and how can it be a conspiracy. India wants its wrestlers to do well in the Olympics and it is not fair for Narsingh to say it is a conspiracy.
“I have nothing against Narsingh but this whole thing was uncalled for,” he quips.
Now with Narsingh being handed provisional suspension and virtually ruled out of next month's Olympics, it remains to be whether Sushil can replace him in Rio. Insiders say there may be no Indian representation in the 74kg category in Rio Games because the date of entry of the athletes is over.
“It is for the WFI to decide on whom to send for Rio. I can’t comment on it – all I’m saying is the country should not miss out on an opportunity to send a representation in 74-kg,” he adds.