Top business challenges in the Middle East are digital-related — survey

Pulse Report on attitudes towards leadership development in the Middle East cite digital adoption and cybersecurity as major issues
David Wells
Apr 15, 2019

An international survey of businesspeople working across the Middle East reveals continuing concerns about the impact of the digital era on business.

According to the Pulse Report commissioned by Headspring, the executive development joint venture of the Financial Times and IE Business School, two-thirds of senior managers polled in the region place digital adoption and cybersecurity as their greatest challenges. In a similar survey conducted in 2017, just a quarter of the managers questioned placed these issues at the top of their list of concerns.

The Pulse Report is a study of management attitudes to leadership development and executive education. The Middle East edition is part of a wider international survey also covering Western Europe and Japan.

Gustaf Nordbäck, CEO of Headspring, says: ‘The Pulse Report takes stock of the shifting learning needs of businesses, reflecting the views of C-suite executives, senior business leaders, human resources executives, and learning and development leaders.

‘The report shines a spotlight on Middle East findings. In many respects, the business priorities and learning needs of the region are not dissimilar from the global position. Businesspeople are understandably preoccupied with digital issues the world over. However, alongside cybersecurity and digitalisation, our findings also show that the Middle East has not lost sight of the importance financial management.’

The greatest priorities for Middle Eastern business leaders when it comes to executive education needs are cultural change, creating a culture of innovation and adopting new technologies.

Key findings

The top business challenges in the Middle East in this latest survey, versus the previous report conducted in 2017, are (percentages of respondents placing the issues in their top five concerns):

  • Digital adoption: 66% (vs 23% in 2017)
  • Cybersecurity: 63% (vs 24% in 2017)
  • Financial management: 38% (vs 30% in 2017)

The report also considers how leadership development can have an influence in addressing these key business challenges. Asked about their attitudes to executive education as a business priority,  30% of Middle East respondents placed it in their top five issues to be addressed.

Arif Amiri, Chief Executive Officer of DIFC Authority, writing in the foreword to the report, says: ‘Executive education and professional development are fundamental for the development of successful business leaders to stay ahead of the curve. This is particularly critical in emerging markets as they continue to achieve scale and more sophistication.

‘This edition of the Pulse Report reflects the significant emphasis that regional companies put on upskilling and training their staff, with an impressive 78% of Middle Eastern business leaders agreeing that executive education is vital to achieving business goals.’

Talent management: growing skills

Although growing leaders is not noted as a top priority for Middle Eastern senior professionals, they do expect their executive education programmes to deliver results. Expected internal outcomes of such programmes include individuals gaining skills to lead and manage teams (54% of respondents citing it as a top concern) and improved employee engagement scores (62%).

With the future in mind, three in five Middle Eastern business leaders agree that new ways of thinking and problem solving are encouraged in their organisation (62%), highlighting how ready they are to thrive in an innovative landscape. In addition, 57% agree that they are well-prepared to adapt to new technologies.

Bassém Banna, Headspring’s Vice President of Corporate Partnerships for the Middle East, says: ‘The region is undergoing a significant economic transformation, changing from resource-dependent into a knowledge-based economy. With high numbers of the younger generation entering the workforce in the GCC, millennials will soon occupy senior leadership positions in government, and in private companies in many business sectors.’

Executive education as future-proofing

The greatest priorities for Middle Eastern business leaders when it comes to executive education needs are cultural change (59%), creating a culture of innovation (55%) and adopting new technologies (55%).

These, along with the issues of talent management and helping employees advance their careers in order to drive growth, are as pressing as ever, especially considering that 78% of Middle East business leaders agree that executive education is vital to achieving business goals.

David Wells

Writer and communications consultant