Lean management from the ground up in the Middle East - McKinsey

Lean management from the ground up in the Middle East - McKinsey

89 Lean management from the ground up in the Middle East An interview with Suhail Bin Tarraf, CEO of Tanfeeth By incorporating lean-management princ...

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Lean management from the ground up in the Middle East An interview with Suhail Bin Tarraf, CEO of Tanfeeth

By incorporating lean-management principles from an early stage, a Gulf-based shared-services provider has increased employee engagement and effectiveness, even while growing rapidly.


The Lean Management Enterprise

A system for daily progress, meaningful purpose, and lasting value

Tanfeeth, whose name is Arabic for “get-

One basic concept that’s still developing is

ting the job done,” is a United Arab Emirates

the idea of a service-level promise—the bar is not

(UAE)–based shared-services provider and

yet set. For example, if you apply for a credit

a subsidiary of Emirates NBD, one of the Gulf

card and you know that getting the credit card

region’s largest banks. Tanfeeth has been

will take three days, that’s the promise. Then

growing rapidly by working with clients to drive

it’s possible to enhance it to become two days or

improvements in quality, efficiency, consis-

less. That whole concept does not exist in

tency, and cost of voice and data in business

this region.

functions such as call-center operations, collection services, finance and accounting, HR services, and banking operations.

We saw an opportunity there. In banking, for example, the products are quite similar these days; it’s the service that makes the difference.

Although Tanfeeth was founded only at

But what is service, and how do you measure it?

the beginning of 2009, it is already branching

We set up Tanfeeth to fill this gap. We help

out beyond its initial focus on supporting

our clients provide better and better service to

Emirates NBD to serve other organizations

their customers.

as well. McKinsey: You set out to make Tanfeeth lean CEO Suhail Bin Tarraf, having helped steer

right from the beginning—why did you do that?

the HR integration of the 2007 merger between Emirates Bank and National Bank of

Suhail Bin Tarraf: I’m always trying to make

Dubai, recognized an opportunity to build

things work better. Even in my HR days, an

a new organization based on lean-management

important goal was to find ways to bring our HR

principles. Through enhanced productivity,

philosophy closer to a business approach. At

cost management, professionalism, and employee

a visit to a lean-management program at a UK

engagement, Tanfeeth has already delivered

bank in 2009, I saw a way of working and

a net financial impact of 36 percent to the

managing that complemented my thinking and

parent company.

style. So I was already a natural believer. As we began building Tanfeeth, that experience

McKinsey spoke with Mr. Bin Tarraf at his office in Dubai.

confirmed for me that lean management is what Tanfeeth needs in order to fulfill its promises and compete differently in our market.

McKinsey: Let’s start at the beginning— how did you get the idea to create a service-

McKinsey: What did you find so appealing

excellence company?

about lean management?

Suhail Bin Tarraf: I was born and raised

Suhail Bin Tarraf: It helps explain important

in Dubai. Dubai is a very young place. You can

ideas to our people. Lean management gives

see all the skyscrapers, but I’ve found

us rigorous ways to design our processes and

that some business practices and manage-

management systems. Moreover, it all

ment systems have yet to catch up with

makes sense to our people and helps them

the infrastructure.

build their skills.

Lean management from the ground up in the Middle East


Suhail Bin Tarraf Suhail Bin Tarraf, CEO of Tanfeeth, has 11 years of experience in the United Arab Emirates’s banking sector, specializing in HR and organizational development. Before his appointment as CEO, he was Emirates NBD’s general manager of HR. This role included leading the HR integration process for more than 8,000 staff members during the merger of Emirates Bank and the National Bank of Dubai in 2007. Mr. Bin Tarraf holds a bachelor’s of business administration from the American University in Dubai and an MBA from the International University in UAE.

McKinsey: What are your objectives for lean

see how our process is just a step in making

management at Tanfeeth?

that customer’s goals happen. Equally important

Suhail Bin Tarraf: For me, success is quite

creates. Here your targets are so transparent that

is the transparency that lean management simple. Number one is for Tanfeeth to be the

your manager cannot question whether or

first-tier service provider in the region—

not you have delivered them. In fact, you can

one with robust management systems that are

question your managers if you don’t agree

hard for others to copy. We call our new

with their assessment.

way of management the “Tanfeeth Operating Model” (TOM).

It starts from my office. I keep a visual-

Number two is to become a talent institute. If we

current performance at a company-wide

management board—a large whiteboard showing overinvest in our talent for the future, we

level. So does everyone on our executive team.

will create sustainability and push Tanfeeth to the

Our boards are there for all to see.

next level of performance—and further. But none of this will work unless people embrace McKinsey: How is lean management helping

it. That’s the third thing about lean manage-

you to achieve that?

ment that’s so important—it’s not a project, it’s a culture. This is something we have worked

Suhail Bin Tarraf: It’s a mixture of things. It

hard to create, and it’s the reason for our success

helps us focus on our clients’ promises to

so far.

their customers. Superficially, a loan application may look like just the beginning of a process.

McKinsey: How have you created your culture?

But to the customer it’s much more—it might be paying for a child’s tuition or buying a house.

Suhail Bin Tarraf: It took us around six months,

Lean management helps us, as well as our clients,

running two to three workshops a week with


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A system for daily progress, meaningful purpose, and lasting value

the leadership team, to come up with the vision,

way, more problems will be raised and

the mission, the five values, and the behaviors.

more improvements will be implemented by people closer to the work.

But it was worth it. Senior management knows it inside and out and believes in it. And the

“Respect” means more than just the basics

managers cannot say, “Oh, some consultant gave

of respecting time—arriving on time, leaving

it to us.” We created it ourselves. That itself

on time, focusing on the meeting you’re in,

shows, for lack of a better word, “belongingness”—

responding to your e-mails—or diversity, religion,

which is very important for any organization.

gender, and so on. It means developing your skills to their fullest potential and helping

McKinsey: Is belongingness one of your

colleagues develop theirs as well.

five values? “Integrity,” for us, means that what we say and Suhail Bin Tarraf: Not that exact word, but “one team” is, and that includes an element of belongingness. “Continuous improvement” is a value that we work

what we promise is what we deliver. If you promise something, you make sure that you deliver it. And, of course, “customer comes first.”

hard on, because our journey has just started

For example, this evening I have a meeting at

and it’s still evolving. The mind-set we’re trying to

8 o’clock with a client. We never say no!

instill is that it’s OK to make a mistake—that McKinsey: What does it mean to live up to those five values on a day-to-day basis?

This office—the CEO’s office— can be quite lonely if you let it be . . . I don’t want to be lonely, so I go out and spend time with our people where they work. If you visit people at their level, they’ll respect you.

Suhail Bin Tarraf: I spend 50 to 70 percent of my time on the floor, with floor walks every day. At first staff were uncomfortable, but now they smile and say hello and open a conversation. They tell me the issues they’re facing and ask for help when they need it. Recently, for example, in the call center, one of the agents said that the older agents were handling more calls than the new agents because they’re more experienced. This was something I’d already picked up on three weeks earlier, and so I was able to explain that we’re putting a training program in place. They hear from me directly that we’re working on things. I also do weekly town halls; during these, we have reward and recognition sessions, talent shows featuring employees, and Q&As where

Lean management from the ground up in the Middle East


people can ask me any question they want. This

ment to be free to walk the floors. I leave a lot of

is something that I am pretty sure never existed

tasks to the executive committee and make

here in the region before Tanfeeth.

sure our schedules are synchronized. Executivecommittee meetings always take place after

Finally, I have an “Ask Suhail” portal where

noon, because in the morning we are all taking

they can ask me any question and I’ll respond

care of the floors. That has to come first.

within 48 hours. This is all part of our structured root-cause Being open to this feedback is new for me. Before

problem-solving process, through which issues

I just assumed people were happy. But now

get raised to the executive-committee level.

I sit down and do “process confirmations” with

Most of our meetings then focus on resolving

agents and managers at every level—short

problems as a group, which is a much

one-to-one sessions where we talk about how the

better use of our time than the standard execu-

process is working and what their issues, pain

tive meeting.

points, and challenges are. McKinsey: It sounds as though you have had to This office—the CEO’s office—can be quite

change yourself as a leader, too.

lonely if you let it be. If you want to be lonely, it’s your call. I don’t want to be lonely, so I go out

Suhail Bin Tarraf: It feels like growing ten

and spend time with our people where they work.

years in one year. Once you accept that you need

If you visit people at their level, they’ll respect

to learn, you open up to new ideas, to feedback,

you. It’s an expectation we have set for all execu-

and to challenges.

tives. On every floor, every performance board has a place for the relevant executives to

I went back to basics—I realized that I had to be

sign it each time they visit. If we see too few

part of the call center, to sit in on the call, to

signatures, that is a problem we address quickly.

see the application and how it works. That shows everyone that problem solving is critical

McKinsey: What should the lean leader’s

throughout the company, from bottom to top.

priorities be? It’s important to go back to simple stuff. I believe Suhail Bin Tarraf: For me, the most important

everybody is responsible enough and smart

thing is the people who work here. It’s as

enough. No one person can do it alone, so we

simple as that. I’m a cost to them—they pay

empower our people. Believe in your people.

my salary.

And have fun!

My one piece of advice to lean leaders would

McKinsey: What was the biggest challenge

be to use the “day in the life of,” or DILO, exercise,

you faced?

where you go through and record everything that you do for a day. That’s what gave me the

Suhail Bin Tarraf: I underestimated the need

time to go to the floor. I used to get stuck in

for HR capacity. There were HR issues on

a lot of meetings, but now I choose my meetings

the floor, such as poor punctuality and low levels

so that I can keep my 50 to 70 percent commit-

of staff engagement, which were taking up a


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A system for daily progress, meaningful purpose, and lasting value

lot of the floor managers’ time. Some of

by the performance gains and proud of their

the floor managers did not yet have the people

ability to deliver on promises to customers. They

skills to handle this effectively. We came

feel more connected to the way we achieve

up with the idea of introducing “line HR” on

these outcomes: the sense of community that

the floors.

arises with the daily huddles, weekly problemsolving sessions, and town halls. Agents

McKinsey: How does line HR work?

shift gears and think, “Yes, this is a better way of working . . . this is change we want.”

Suhail Bin Tarraf: For every 200 or so employees, we dedicate a line-HR professional

The last three months are when we see a big

who works with the local operations team to

increase in the number of improvement

monitor the group’s pulse. That individual helps

ideas coming from the floor. They can sense

reinforce our organizational values while also

their empowerment; they feel encouraged

ensuring that any HR issues that employees raise

to question things.

get addressed. It’s a structure that allows us to make our talent, evaluation, reward, and recognition practices all work in an unbiased way.

McKinsey: In building a lean institution, you traveled the world and picked top senior talent from a wide range of organizations and

McKinsey: You’ve touched on performance

cultures. How did you bring them together

management. What else can you share with us

around a single lean-management culture?

about that? Suhail Bin Tarraf: All of them came with their Suhail Bin Tarraf: Transparency is essential.

experiences, and all of them wanted to implement

Robust performance management helps

their own ideas. What turned them on to

managers systematically develop their teams’

lean management was a visit to a US bank. Most

capabilities and at the same time meet

of them saw the benefit of lean management

budgetary and performance goals. That’s what

and embraced it that day. From then on, they

success is for us.

didn’t need pushing anymore; they started to preach the concepts themselves.

McKinsey: You’re rapidly expanding into new areas. How do you manage that process?

McKinsey: I know that part of your aim as a talent institute is to help Emirati development

Suhail Bin Tarraf: Our approach is to break

by creating opportunities and building skills.

a nine-month transition into three phases of

How are you doing that?

three months each. Suhail Bin Tarraf: I want to develop Emiratis The first three months for a floor is chaotic.

and all talented individuals in this region—

We introduce TOM and redesign the processes.

we do not differentiate between Emirati and

The agents are totally confused.

non-Emirati. An Emirati goes through the same regular training as everyone else. He

The next three months are the harvest, when you

or she is competing with expatriates who

start seeing the fruits, the crop. The staff is amazed

have world-class talent.

Lean management from the ground up in the Middle East

There’s a huge gap between new hires who are

McKinsey: What would you do differently if

expats and those who are UAE nationals. Expats

you had to start all over again?


typically have four or five years’ experience, while a national will be a fresh graduate. Our job is to shrink that gap.

Suhail Bin Tarraf: I always think about that. I would not rush the process as much as we did. We went from 200 people to 2,000 people in

We use a graded approach that monitors their

less than 18 months, and the sheer volume

progress on a quarterly basis. We allot a

that we had to handle in the transformation

buddy to them and enroll them in our mentor

was unbelievable.

program, where high-potential employees get to mentor two or three people over a period

Second, I would spend more time and effort to

of nine months. But again, this applies to

make sure the team embraces the culture so that

nationals and expats alike.

it becomes one team and takes care of itself.

McKinsey: Is your selection process

Last, I’d build in the line-HR element earlier so

different, too?

that it’s integrated with the operation.

Suhail Bin Tarraf: As we do for all our

McKinsey: What would you say to somebody

employees, we think hard about what type of

thinking about trying lean management?

Emiratis to source. Are they hungry for change? Are they ready to challenge the status

Suhail Bin Tarraf: If we hadn’t gone with a

quo? In addition to talent, do they have fire

management system based on lean principles, in

in the belly?

the very best case, it would have taken us many years to get to where we are now. With lean

We also think about how to develop them.

management we have a rocket booster on our

We want them to add value to the organization

backs. It provided us with a system and structure

rather than to be a cost. We’re starting

for accelerating our journey.

to send them abroad to understand different cultures, so they move out of their fishbowl and see another fishbowl. We want to train them to become our leaders of the future.

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