How Sheikh Mohammed makes Dubai tick; and why it works

The guiding principles of a public servant are similar to that of a successful business person

By Michael Jabri-Pickett/Editor-in-Chief

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Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

Published: Wed 22 Nov 2023, 8:16 PM

Last updated: Thu 23 Nov 2023, 3:02 PM

Not for the first time, the Ruler of Dubai has publicly held people accountable.

Any hard worker can tell you that one way to effect instantaneous change is for a leader to make a statement through action. Sometimes, the best way to hold an entire team accountable is to identify one underperforming individual and dismiss him.

This happens on a regular basis in the world of sports. Management cannot get rid of 10, 15, or 20 players all at once when a team is not winning; so, as the losses add up, the decision is often made to get rid of one key person – the coach. (In ice hockey, which is my sport, the person calling the plays during the game is the coach; in football, it is the manager.)

On Sunday, it was announced that the director of a hospital in the UAE had been dismissed after the healthcare facility was ranked at the bottom of the list of worst-service centres.

The Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed believes that Government officials have a responsibility that cannot be taken for granted.

“Outstanding government service is a right of the people residing in the UAE that we will not compromise on,” he posted on X on November 19. “Interacting with the public in a positive manner is a basic duty of every government official.”

I remember the last time this happened. Sheikh Mohammed walked into a Dubai Government office on a Sunday morning in late August 2016 (weekends back then were Friday-Saturday) and he was shocked at the number of absentee employees. On August 29 of that year, Reuters reported that he immediately “ordered” the retirement of nine senior officials from Dubai Municipality’s management.

But it is not just the underperforming who are singled out. When organisations do exceptionally well, public praise and tangible benefits are heaped on those responsible. Four years ago, he awarded the employees at top entities a two-month salary bonus.

What’s also interesting about how Sheikh Mohammed operates is that he understands his presence could be a distraction and, therefore, he might not always be shown the truth. As a result, he employees an effective tool: mystery shoppers.

Through this method, he is able to gather information and efficiently measure the quality of services offered. On his social media channels, he has referred to his team of mystery shoppers who evaluate government services.

In 2019, he shared a photo (taken by a mystery shopper) of long line-ups at an Emirates Post. He reprimanded the government agency and publicly shared its performance report, stressing the need for stronger customer service.

In January 2021, Sheikh Mohammed took to X to acknowledge the work of a Metro employee. He said the man, who helped a passenger, was “a true example of a real civil servant”.

Again on X, this time in June, Sheikh Mohammed said that “people’s satisfaction is the goal of the government and serving them is an honour for whoever assumes responsibility”.

Sheikh Mohammed believes in holding everyone accountable. He values performance and rewards hard work. It is also why Dubai is so welcoming to entrepreneurs because this belief system works for public servants as well as businesses.

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