Meet Jasim Al Ali, Director of Customer at the Abu Dhabi Department of Transport and Winner of the “Best Director-Customer Services Category Award” at the 2015 Abu Dhabi Awards for Excellence in Government Performance
By Imogen Lillywhite
After more than six years working for the Abu Dhabi Government, high-flying Jasim Al Ali was rewarded with the Honorable Individual Excellence in Government Performance award, customer service category. We talked to him about his experiences, his goals for the future and his interests outside the workplace:
Jasim Al Ali, the director of the customer care division of Abu Dhabi’s Department of Transport, is clearly a man with ambition. Having graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in the USA with a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology, he returned to the UAE to work for telecommunications company Etisalat which gave him more opportunities to travel, taking up positions in Pakistan and the Ivory Coast, West Africa, working as a project manager and quality expert. In addition, he found time to study for and complete his Masters Degree in Quality Management at the University of Wollongong in Dubai.
In 2008, he moved to the DoT, working first as the director of the organisational development division and, for the past three years, of the customer care division. He describesorganisational development as his passion, but, he took up the opportunity to lead a revamp of the customer services division, to account for changes that were happening within the Abu Dhabi Government and help raise performance levels. He received his award along with other winners at a ceremony in November, watched by more than 1,000 government employee colleagues.
“The Abu Dhabi excellence awards is the highest award in the Abu Dhabi government, and there are three categories – entities, employees and projects. It’s for those who excel in their work and add a lot of value to Abu Dhabi government,” he explains.
“In the individual category they have selected 10 employees out of all the government employees to be given that award.”
When you consider that it is estimated that there are 150,000 people employed by the Abu Dhabi Government, including Etihad and Adnoc employees, you start to realise what a huge achievement it is to be selected as one of the winners.
Regarding this prestigious award, Jasim goes on to say: “Out of all the government and some semi-government organisations, they short list 100 people, and from those 100 people, 10 are selected. These 10 people are all from different fields, so one managerial, one executive, one in the technical field and others. From that, I was selected from the individual employees and I was selected as the best employee at the customer service manager level.”
He is understandably proud of what his achievement, “It was really amazing to win this because I have been working for it for the past two years, so I was trying to do my best and meet all the criteria for this award.” “They evaluate you based on seven criteria – leadership and motivation, planning and organisation, qualifications and personal development, team work, innovation, performance management and finally results and achievement” Jasim explains with a smile on his face.
Speaking about his style of leadership and philosophy on excellence he cites leading by example as a major factor, saying: “I believe excellence has to come from the top person in the organisation. The top person has to select and develop the leadership team to have an excellent leadership style. Then, it will be like a snowball effect, then things will change and there will be a great impact on the culture of the organisation.
Many organisations see changes throughout the period when a new CEO or MD is installed, he tells us, based on their individual philosophy -“It is much easier for excellence managers to implement or help in the change process if the top person and the leadership buy into this philosophy and they understand it. The top person has to lead by example.”
An issue that plagues numerous organisations, is the mistake of bringing in a good, competent excellence manager in with the aim of winning an award, he explains. “They think with having the right excellence team, they are guaranteed to win the award. They don’t realise that excellence starts from the top. It has to be embedded within the system and the HR policy, within the customer service strategy – Not just in one team, but across the organisation.”
When we asked Jasim what he thinks marked him out as a potential award winner, he cites his contribution to the community (Jasim has founded two community groups, ‘Yolo Emirates’ & ‘Abu Dhabi Walkers) as a deciding factor. “I established the first walking club in the UAE, which is now the largest. That has impacted a lot on the community in Abu Dhabi because we have so many people who walk with us. Their health has improved and in turn their lifestyle has improved. A lot of people came to me saying they wanted to walk to lose weight, and they have.”
The club’s membership is diverse, he explains that some members are making huge strides in changing their lifestyles, losing up to 30kg, while others join for a short time to achieve a fitness target. Some even join on a social basis or for networking purposes.
He describes Yolo Emirates, based on the acronym YOLO – you only live once – as the first Emirati adventure team. Founded a year ago to encourage Emiratis to have interests outside the UAE. Adventures so far have included trips to Vietnam and Scotland, with plans underway to take on an ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro – the world’s fourth highest mountain, the highest peak in Africa and a notoriously tough climb. Impressive!
“The team started with two people and now we have 17 people. The purpose of establishing this team is for people to experience travels where you experience nature, doing something that is going to add to their personality, to get away from the five star hotel and luxury travel experience and see a different side to the world” he tells us, when quizzed on how much Yolo Emirates has grown.
Jasim says that each Yolo-Emirates trip has three goals- “first, to do some physical activity, second, to socialise with local people, third, to experience nature”. The initiative has been a success, with members’ families taking an interest in the adventures themselves and asking to join future expeditions.
It is fairly clear he approaches his work with the same tenacity and passion that he has for his extra-curricular activities, and he has high hopes for the future of customer service, not just in the Department of Transport, but also in the Abu Dhabi Government in general. One of his ambitions is to help make customer services Internet and app-based to make them more convenient for the customer. Jasim explains that, “the other direction we need to go in is that we need to go to the customer rather than have the customer to come to us. In other words, we need to reach out, we need small service centres in malls, in communities, schools and universities – kiosks in convenient places”. “Within that, I would say a marker of success is for us to be having fewer customers come to us, not more” he adds.
Of the UAE and customer service he also says: “We see now that companies, in the UAE and all over the world, are very proud of their big customer service centres, saying it’s the best because it’s five star hotel-style or coffee shop-style. We should not be saying that anymore, we should instead be having the best app or the best service, we should not be making the customer come to us.” And his words ring true as this process is already actually well under way within the DoT, with 70 per cent of the department’s services already automated.
Another challenge for the future, he says, is for government organisations to integrate their services, to save customers time. For example, families who have a new baby should be able to go to just one place to get their child’s birth registered, and people opening new businesses should be able to get all the necessary approvals in just one place is one of his notions.“If we achieve that, it will have a great impact on Abu Dhabi as a city and as an emirate. One of the positive impacts of that will be for people to have to travel less around the city, which will mean less pollution and less traffic on the roads, as well as saving time for people who will
have to take less time off work. So, this is a macro effect for the Abu Dhabi economy.”
Jasim also has advice for aspiring leaders coming into workplace, not only to work hard, but to think outside the box and follow the examples of their successful senior colleagues. “They need to not only work hard and put in a lot of effort, but understand what their job requires them to do and exceed that, not do only what they’re asked to” he states.“They need to choose a mentor, someone they look up to, and follow their example, ask themselves what they would do in certain situations.”
It seems likely that Jasim himself will be the example chosen by many young recruits coming into the Department of Transport in the coming years and it was a pleasure for PSE to be able to speak to him.