Principles of success: how The Jameel Principles aim to enhance corporate culture
Culture influences almost everything we do. On the social scale, it can influence everything from the food we eat and the clothes we wear, to the languages we speak, and the social norms, or behavioral conventions and traditions that are expected. At the corporate level, the culture of a company creates the framework in which its mission, values, and ideals are pursued, and its purpose is brought to life.
So, what, precisely. is corporate culture? Forbes defines it as: “The shared values, belief systems, attitudes, and the set of assumptions that people in a workplace share.” Its importance in business performance should not be underestimated. In fact, research by Deloitte shows 94% of executives and 88% of employees believe a distinct corporate culture is important to business success.
Earlier this year, Abdul Latif Jameel launched its own initiative to build a consistent, positive corporate culture across every facet of its network of businesses across 34 countries internationally. At its heart are ‘The Jameel Principles’, which build upon four foundational values that have underpinned the original business since its establishment in 1945, reflecting the philosophy of the founder, the late Abdul Latif Jameel himself. The Principles, in turn, are the building blocks on which a positive corporate culture can be built.
Overseen by Faisal Abdalla, Vice President, Corporate HR and Kaizen, the project to develop The Jameel Principles and build a strong corporate culture has been a complex, multinational effort, encompassing every corner of the organization. We spoke to Yugo Miyamoto (宮本雄悟), Managing Director Cultural Development, Corporate HR and Kaizen, about how The Jameel Principles were developed, the challenges they faced and the outcomes they hope to see.
Yugo joined Abdul Latif Jameel in 2020, specifically to help spearhead the cultural change program and develop The Jameel Principles.
He previously spent 32 years with Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) where, among other things, he worked on the Toyota Way, the written articulation of Toyota’s corporate DNA.
He also spent several years as the Chief Representative for TMC in the Middle East, based in Dubai, which is where he first encountered Abdul Latif Jameel.
How did you begin the process to develop The Jameel Principles?
Our Chairman, Mr. Mohammed Jameel, was the driving force behind this project. When he formed the Corporate HR and Kaizen function in end 2020, his mandate to us was that he wanted to create a unified culture among the diverse and varied businesses in the network – comprising over 11,000 Associates in more than 30 countries around the world.
The first task was to define what we mean by ‘culture’. There were two inputs to this: One was the values that were handed down by our founder many decades ago, which are: Respect, Improve, Pioneer and Empower (RIPE).
The second was the founder’s vision for Abdul Latif Jameel.
We were struggling to articulate this vision until I walked into one of our facilities and saw a plaque on the wall which carried a quote from our founder. It said: “We are simply a company that cares for society and works in the same way as Toyota.” This became our guiding light in terms of defining the founder’s vision and understanding what that means for our values and our culture.
What role did Abdul Latif Jameel employees play in this process?
We began by conducting interviews with a very wide range of people in the business, from senior executives to frontline workers.
We asked them the same question: how do you think we should be behaving in order to live the values that were handed down by our founder?
We distilled their opinions into some fundamental beliefs and priorities, which we used to inform how we defined and articulated our four core values.
How influential was the Toyota Way in developing the Jameel Principles?
We took some initial inspiration from Toyota, because we have worked with them for so long and they are globally recognized for the success of the ‘Toyota Way’. Our Deputy President and Vice-Chairman International, Fady Jameel, and our Deputy President and Vice-Chairman, Saudi Arabia, Hassan Jameel studied in Japan and spent time working at Toyota, in the USA and Japan respectively, so they are very familiar with the Toyota Way and its influence on corporate culture.
But Abdul Latif Jameel is a very different business.
We didn’t want to just copy the Toyota Way. We wanted to develop something unique for Abdul Latif Jameel, so we took some of the basic ideas and reinterpreted and adapted them to create something new that suited our own context.
Why is it important that businesses have a defined ‘corporate culture’ at all?
This is what we explained when we launched The Jameel Principles: What is corporate culture? It is the beliefs and ideas that a company has on how it does business and how its employees behave, and it can have a huge impact on the success of a company and its employees.
The second question we asked was, why are we doing this? We can trace the answer back to the very beginnings of the business. In the early years, our founder the late Abdul Latif Jameel could personally oversee the entire business from his office. He knew everyone by name, he knew their families, and so it was easy to articulate the values he wanted his business and his employees to uphold.
But the business has grown enormously over the past few decades, so that is no longer possible. Nevertheless, we still want to do business in a certain way and to believe in the same shared values, because that is the right way, and it is the way that leads to sustainable growth. This is what a corporate culture does – it defines the framework for everyone to do business in the right way in line with our shared values.
What were the biggest challenges you faced in developing The Jameel Principles?
The biggest challenge was talking to so many people in the business about their expectations, their experiences, their perceptions, the values they prioritize, etcetera, and then distilling it into something meaningful that we could use in developing The Jameel Principles.
The way we did it was to group all the responses around the four categories of the brand values (Respect, Improve, Pioneer and Empower: RIPE), and then use those insights to guide the development of The Jameel Principles and what they mean in terms of the way we work and the way we behave.
In a nutshell, The Jameel Principles are an articulation of the behaviors we need to exhibit in order to live these four values.
How do you hope The Jameel Principles will strengthen the culture at Abdul Latif Jameel? What changes do you expect to see?
We don’t expect to see many changes immediately. The Jameel Principles are an aspiration, not yet a reality. But in the longer term our ambitions are high. We would like to enable all of our Associates to grow and improve professionally. We want them to be more engaged, to feel a sense of belonging to the business – like a family – and to love working at Abdul Latif Jameel.
At the same time, through having a strong culture, we want to guide the company on its path towards sustainable long-term growth, by elevating and prioritizing our values.
One of the key steps to achieve this is the ‘improvement’ element of The Jameel Principles. This comes back to the Japanese idea of ‘kaizen’, which means continuous improvement.
We want everyone in Abdul Latif Jameel to be empowered to make improvements in their professional performance. It doesn’t have to be a mega-improvement. But if everyone has the commitment and empowerment to make just a small change, the cumulative impact can be much bigger, potentially very significant, and both the individual and the business is uplifted.
Where does the Abdul Latif Jameel Code of Honor fit into this picture?
The Abdul Latif Jameel Code of Honor sets the tone of our culture by establishing the minimum ethical and moral standards that people are expected to uphold. When we follow the Code of Honor, we help to create a culture of trust, respect and accountability. The Jameel Principles, on the other hand, encompass the broader organizational context in which the Code of Honor operates.
This is the relationship between the two . . . like two sides of the same coin!
What’s the next stage for The Jameel Principles?
The immediate next stage is to spread the word and help everyone understand the content of The Jameel Principles and what they mean for them, as individuals, as well as the diverse businesses in the network.
It only takes a few minutes to read The Jameel Principles booklet.
But to understand the full extent of what they mean and the implications for your behaviors, expectations, priorities, and so forth, that’s a different matter.
So, we are developing an online training program that every Associate will go through and be certified to understand the contents of The Jameel Principles.
We are currently developing this training program and are aiming to start rolling it out towards the end of this year.
Once that’s complete, we will hopefully begin to see some positive results coming through in terms of our corporate culture, and the performance of our people and our business.
 Kaizen is a compound of two Japanese words that together translate as “good change” or “improvement.” However, Kaizen has come to mean “continuous improvement” through its association with lean methodology and principles. Kaizen has its origins in post-World War II Japanese quality circles.