I am writing this column on an airplane returning from a speaking tour in the Middle East, which included a world management forum in Tehran. While there, I learned there are a lot of misconceptions that we in the West have about the people, their passion for learning, their pursuit of success and their work attitudes.
Still, they are experiencing the same business issues as we are in North America with the diverse generations in the workforce, the recession — significantly compounded by imposed sanctions from other countries. Their economy and the dollar are the worst they have ever been.
So I asked a number of managers, what they are able to do? The responses were consistent.
They stated that even though budgets were the tightest they have ever been, their attitude is that now is the time to educate and train people, build strong business cultures and be prepared for when the economy does turn around.
Iran is fortunate in that they have a brilliant entrepreneur, Sepehr Tarverdian, owner of Hamayesh Farazan, to be the catalyst for this to happen.
For example, when it was announced we were conducting a two-day management education forum, over 800 managers had signed up within a month (we actually ended up with over 1,000 attendees). I find that locally, when the economy is tight, that is when businesses do just the opposite. They cut back on their training budgets.
The deal they have with staff is: we do the training over a Friday/Saturday or Sunday/Monday and the company provides a day and the employee gives up a day. Our session went over a Friday to Saturday.
On Saturday we were running late, so at 6:30 p.m. I said to the crowd, you must be tired and want to go home. There was a resounding reply from the audience: “No we are fine, please keep going.”
We did end shortly after that, but found that over 25 per cent stayed around another hour and half wanting to ask questions, learn more and have pictures taken.
In speaking with business owners in Tehran, I asked what some of their challenges were. A few said staff wanting to take (personal) time off to participate in education and training programs designed for self-improvement (often funded by the employees themselves), this causes some worker shortages.
Another challenge was that since the economy is so poor, business owners and senior executives want to spend more time on strategic development. This would mean leaving more responsibilities for the operations with their employees, which in turn will require even more training for staff to ensure they have a mindset to act more like they own the business. This was one of the reasons companies paid for their managers to come to our sessions.
Another area of focus is they want women to remain in the workforce longer and take on more senior roles in managing businesses. In Iran, women have outnumbered men in universities two to one for the last several years. It seems this would help with the shortage of skilled workers. However, when they graduate they are one-third less likely to to remain in the workforce as men, and even lower after they marry and have children.
In spite of this, women have transcended gender roles in job markets. For instance prior to 1979 there were no women publishers in Iran, but today there are about 500 who have created employment for many other female workers. In fact, many areas of specialization have formed their own associations such as women lawyers, female teachers and nurses groups
The strategy is working. One example was the appointment of Iran’s first female Vice President, Masoumeh Ebtekar. A more recent instance is Iran’s first female government minister since the Islamic Revolution and the third female government minister in Iranian history, Marzieh Vahid-Dastjerdi. Dastjerdi, who is a university professor and a former parliamentarian, is currently Iran's minister of health and medical education.
For all workers, education is seen as means of gaining more freedom. A university education is seen as a window to new opportunities. To them, any education and practical skills training not only means earning greater freedom and social respect, but is also a means of liberation and a path to independence. The people of Iran actively seek out opportunities for higher education and skills training. They were even kind enough to present me with an achievement award in recognition of the all research and training I have done in Iran over the last couple of years.
My question for managers this week: “What are you proactively doing to support and encourage your staff to pursue personal development programs which will prepare them for the business realities of the future?”
Joseph Sherren, CSP, HoF, Canada’s organizational effectiveness expert works with organizations to maximize the performance of their leaders. He has spoken in over 25 countries to over 4,000 audiences worldwide. He can be reached on the web at: www.gatewayleadership.com.