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Sky's the limit says Al Banna.

Byline: SOMAN BABY

AHMED Al Banna has always been a people person, but the one-time senior Labour Ministry official is relishing his new role as chief people officer at Gulf Air.

The 50-year-old joined the airline in October last year as vice president-human resources (HR), but was given his new designation in May.

He has been charged with overhauling the corporate culture at Bahrain's national carrier, helping raise the standard of its 5,039 staff - in turn raising the quality of services to its passengers.

As part of that Gulf Air has allocated BD3.2 million for training and designated 2009 as the Year of Employee Development.

But Mr Al Banna says an automated staff survey indicates the mood is improving at the airline, where morale dropped 19 months ago following talk of layoffs and cost cutting.

He said the airline was about to embark on an Employee Engagement Survey in the first quarter of next year, in co-ordination with 80 major companies.

"We shall send out specially designed questionnaires and conduct the survey in a very transparent way," said Mr Al Banna.

"The results of the survey will help improve the engagement level of employees at different companies in the Kingdom."

He said Gulf Air was proud that its own workforce was 41 per cent Bahraini, with the majority of expatriate workers in cabin crew jobs.

"We have 1,144 expatriate female cabin crew and 350 Bahraini cabin crew - mainly male staff," he said.

"Gulf Air employs 3,490 people at its headquarters in Muharraq, including the airport and the engineering department, and 49pc of them are Bahrainis.

"Looking at the complexity of the airline business, such a high level of Bahrainisation is extremely encouraging."

Mr Al Banna is a former Labour Ministry Assistant Under-Secretary for Training and Planning, with 20 years human resources experience in the private sector.

The father-of-four hopes his experience will benefit the airline as it tries to compete on an international playing field.

"I am committed to changing the corporate culture at our prestigious national carrier," he said.

"The Gulf Air board and executive management have drawn up a long-term plan to make it one of the best international airlines."

Mr Al Banna said the airline's ultimate objective was to be recognised globally for its practices and corporate culture.

"We currently operate to 42 stations in 30 countries," he said.

"As a true international airline, we manage employees of 91 different nationalities.

"We have already started running soft skills training courses for our Bahraini staff, with special focus on customer services and employee engagement."

He said the airline had also designed a Leadership Competency Model and assessment/development process for executive management.

"We are specially focusing on a talent management programme," added Mr Al Banna.

"As part of a performance management system, a total of 2,105 employees with 10 years' service and more were honoured in four batches with long-service awards.

"We understand that the dedicated service of our staff should be recognised in order to enhance the staff morale.

"We want to give the message that they are an important part and an asset to the company."

Ten "distinguished employees" every month are also taking home BD100 a month and certificates as a reward for their efforts.

In addition to this, an annual cash award of BD500 each is being presented to 10 most distinguished employees in December every year.

"We also honour our employees for their creative suggestions," said Mr Al Banna.

"Under the Fikreti (My Idea) programme, employees who present cost-saving ideas receive 10pc of the total savings if their ideas are implemented."

Mr Al Banna also said the human resources department at Gulf Air had been converted into a Staff Service Centre.

"The department has several desks like banking counters to deal with the staff queries," he said.

"We have trained several frontline HR employees in customer service skills."

Gulf Air has established a formal communication forum with Gulf Air Union officials, at both CPO and CEO levels.

"Through this dialogue, we have been successful in improving the relationship between the management and the union," said Mr Al Banna.

"The union is now preparing to elect a new committee by early 2009."

However, Mr Al Banna said the notion that the union should always be in conflict with the management was wrong.

"It is high time that the mindset of such people is changed," he said.

"We look forward to working very closely with the union for the welfare of the staff and the progress of the company.

However, the airline is not only keen on improving the quality of its employees' working conditions.

It has also established a sports committee to improve their health as well.

"Our teams have been active in various sports and games, including football, volleyball and basketball," he added. "Such activities have helped enhance recreational projects and team spirit of our staff."

Mr Al Banna, however, admitted 2009 would be a challenging year for the company.

"We shall continue building trust and confidence in our staff," he added.

"By developing KPI (Key Performance Indicator), we shall focus on training, employee development and leadership."

Mr Al Banna previously worked for companies including Bapco, Bahrain Airport Services (BAS), Gulf Aluminium Rolling Mills Company (Garmco) and Arab Insurance Group (ARIG) before joining the government.

A world-renowned training leader, he was president of the Bahrain Society for Training and Development (BSTD) for several years.

He was also the first Gulf national to be elected president of the Asia Regional Training and Development Organisations (ARTDO).

Mr Al Banna is also a board member of the International Federation of Training and Development Organisations (IFTDO) and the Labour Fund (Tamkeen).

soman@gdn.com.bh

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Publication:Gulf Daily News (Manama, Bahrain)
Date:Dec 22, 2008
Words:966
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