Case study: Qatar Cool "We'll do anything to avoid a bad hire"

How an innovative, Doha-based business introduced psychometric testing in a bid to put its values at the heart of recruitment

Critics often like to complain that HR doesn't understand the bottom line. For Hasan Imam, however, it couldn't be clearer. "I would rather spend 10 dollars on a good hire than lose a single dollar on a bad one," says the talent acquisition and retention manager at Qatar Cool, one of Doha's most innovative businesses and a flag-bearer for quality people management in Qatar.

"A bad hire is not only a cost, it's a cultural shock," he adds. "We're an organisation that believes in people development. If I get someone who can't absorb our culture, that creates a negativity around them that will affect others who are already part of the company. We want to avoid that."

It's a philosophy that has led Imam to thoroughly revamp the way the firm approaches recruitment, including the highly unusual introduction of psychometric testing into the process, and an emphasis on values and cultural fit alongside technical competence. That's entirely in keeping with a business that has grand ambitions. Formed 11 years ago, Qatar Cool is a pioneer in the science of 'district cooling' - where cooling units are powered by chilled water distributed from a central source rather than individually, leading to an increase in energy efficiency of around 40 per cent.

In Qatar Cool's case, this means three plants in the Doha region (including the world's largest district cooling site) serving an area including the man-made Pearl-Qatar island and much of the city's business district.

The organisation has around 200 employees but, as Imam puts it, "we're not a labour-intensive company, we're a machine-intensive company". That means every member of staff has an essential part to play in a growing and lucrative business, as his own job title suggests.

Everything the business does, says Imam, revolves around five key values: customer focus, commitment, common interest, safety and our people. Ensuring every employee buys into these ideas means they must be both visible and meaningful, he adds: "The people who work for us have been getting the message on values from their internal communications, assessments, staff meetings, even email signatures. New people see the values at every part of the recruitment process - the way the reception area looks, the way we talk in interviews, the way we structure the procedure. Mission and values are the starting point of induction, and it's made clear that's what they will be assessed on too."

And if you want to hire for values, you need to ensure the candidate grasps what you stand for and, crucially, that their own values and behaviours reflect this.

Qatar Cool's recruitment process breaks down into three parts: a technical interview conducted by a line manager; a behavioural interview, led most often by the HR team, focusing on personality and values; and an assessment of psychological and technical traits (which may be followed by a panel interview in the case of more senior hires).

It's the psychometric assessment, of course, that is most unusual in the context of a Qatari-owned business. For a lot of companies, says Imam, psychometrics are a "fad", but at Qatar Cool they are fundamental to recruitment decisions. The key is an internal benchmarking process that shows the psychometric profile of the existing employee base, to give an idea of what cultural fit might look like. And while issues flagged by the assessments are not an absolute bar on hiring an individual, they do give managers serious pause for thought and suggest a careful approach may be required.

The actual process, says Imam, has to be managed in the same way a doctor gives an injection, to ensure it isn't surprising or confusing. "You have to explain to people what you are doing... you tell them it's not about measuring intelligence and it's not a test of speed. It's a not a performance test. We just want to understand you better."

Crucially, such assessment has to be part of an holistic approach to values. And it helps if HR is an integral part of the business. "HR is everywhere in recruitment, performance, operations, communications," says Imam. "Our CEO wants to see HR as an enabler and strategic partner, not just an executioner of policy." Imam and the HR team worked with leaders when it came to defining values, and partner with line managers to understand what that means operationally. Job descriptions, he says, must cover capabilities and skillsets but also mindsets.

And with such an enlightened approach now understood throughout the firm, the next stage is to work more concertedly on development for high potentials, broaden the Qatarisation programme and think about growth. "For us, the challenge is how we balance cultures if we acquire companies," says Imam. "That really interests me: how do you ensure a seamless transition from one company to the other? How do you help them interact with each other?" Taking care of the bottom line certainly seems to have paid off.

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