The HR operations of a healthcare system steeped in tradition have been updated by making the global local.
As is the case with many who work in healthcare, Wael Lutfi CPHR is part of a family with a long history in the sector. Two of his brothers and six of his aunts and uncles are physicians. But the vice-president and program manager HR at CIG Capital Advisors didn’t begin his HR career with any intention of joining his kin.
Lutfi spent 16 years in financial institutions before joining healthcare. “When I was studying global human resources at Eastern Michigan University, my professor recognised that I had international experience and exposure, so they introduced me to the project team at Henry Ford Healthcare System,” says Lutfi.
Henry Ford employs over 25,000 workers and is one of the largest healthcare systems in the US. And while that country’s healthcare system is mostly known for the decades-long political battle that surrounds it, it’s still one of the world’s most advanced.
When Lutfi was offered the position of vice-president HR and program manager of a new Henry Ford affiliated venture – the development of Aldara Hospital in Saudi Arabia – he saw the chance to bring the highest levels of expertise to a place that was lagging behind. The work he did was impressive enough to become the basis for his AHRI certification case study via the Senior Leaders Pathway.
When Lutfi first signed on at Aldara, he noticed that the HR practices were basic and they hadn’t brought in best practice ideas from overseas.
“The ideas were very old school when I came on board, and all about the local perspective,” says Lutfi. “They talked about things like ‘personnel’, but they didn’t understand new HR methodologies and functions such as KPIs, performance management, and learning and development. Their understanding of employee management revolved around leave, benefits and compensation. That’s it.”
It all made him think of a theory he learned at Michigan: ‘glocalisation’. A portmanteau of globalisation and localisation, glocalisation is about achieving the best fit for your organisation between what works well around the world and what’s possible where you are.
“You cannot stay in a small bubble and flourish in your business. You need to understand other cultural backgrounds,” says Lutfi. “You need to have a robust exposure to others and understand them in order to get the best from your employees and yourself.”
And so Lutfi modeled Aldara’s system on the one used at Henry Ford. But he modified the very American system so it was in harmony with Saudi culture, requirements and labour laws.
Before Aldara, Saudi Arabia had few quality healthcare providers. “Most Saudi patients used to travel to overseas for treatment,” says Lutfi.
“But why should they have to do that, leave their family and pay so much money to seek treatment elsewhere?”
The goal for Lutfi and the executive management team was to replace the philosophy of ‘healthcare’ with hospitality, quality and human care. They tackled this with three projects – the development of the hospital building, its workforce and its governing body.
They began with the carefully considered design of the hospital. Aldara was decked out with state-of-the-art facilities and up-to-date technology and equipment.
“It now looks like a hotel, not a hospital,” says Lutfi. “You don’t have that hospital smell when you enter. The lobby has gift shops, cafes, restaurants and clothing stores. It improves the experience for families and patients.”
For the attraction and selection of Aldara’s physicians, Lutfi and the executive medical team knew that many would need to have Western training. So most new recruits had experience in North America, Australia or Europe.
Aldara’s new employees were onboarded via a ‘white gloves’ process, which began after candidates accepted a job offer.
Two HR professionals were tasked with welcoming the employees aboard, with each business unit assigned an onboarding specialist. The recruits were given guidance in authenticating documentation and support for obtaining the appropriate healthcare license.
The onboarding process also involved immersion in the Saudi Arabian way of life.
International recruits were taken on a tour of the city, and given a pack with detailed information about the schools, shopping malls, hotels and markets in the vicinity, along with a list of do’s and don’ts, and some key Arabic words. One week after arriving in the country, their onboarding specialist contacted them to see how they were getting on.
The selection of healthcare experts for the executive management team was also made with a culture of diversity and glocalisation in mind.
“When you see most of the hospitals in Saudi Arabia, there is usually just a local and regional workforce,” says Lutfi.
“But when you diversify and augment your professional Saudi team with the expertise of westerners, you have a system with a model that has been around for over 100 years, with the best available clinical operating services, policies, procedures and selection of candidates.”
After a six-year development and rollout process, the building and equipment is ready, the expert team has been selected and onboarded, and the final stages of construction are underway. Lutfi is now ready for a new journey, with a move to Australia later this year.
The concept of glocalisation doesn’t have to be limited to organisations; it can also inform personal career decisions. Case in point: if you’re moving to a new country, it’s smart to make sure your global experience will be recognised locally.
For Lutfi, the reason for choosing HR certification with AHRI wasn’t just about glocalising his expertise. He is a strong believer in lifelong learning and development, and attaining HR certification via the Senior Leaders Pathway allowed him to practise what he preaches.
“It adds much more satisfaction to my work, having acquired that knowledge and expertise. I also think it helps when it comes to being nominated for senior HR positions – you really stand out in a crowd as an HR expert.”
This article was originally published in the October 2018 edition of HRM magazine.