South Africa: Leading or Lagging in Talent Management
by Marius Meyer
Recent business scandals and poor performance on the sports fields is a reminder of the dichotomy South Africa faces as a nation struggling to build adequate talent pipelines, yet the pockets of excellence we have developed are testimony of the progress made to position talent management as a key facet of corporate and societal transformation.
In many areas we are lagging when it comes to talent. In several highly skilled fields such as engineering, pharmacy, information technology and science we have a shortage of talent. Yet, despite these talent gaps, as a nation we have performed well in certain areas. In the highly specialised field of auditing South Africa is number one in the world, and we should be proud of this achievement. Likewise, South Africa is a world leader in corporate governance and integrated reporting, and some of our talented business leaders like Mervyn King have put South Africa on the map in this new era of moving boards forward with improved governance, sustainability and integrated reporting. Also, talented South Africans have shown the world that South Africa is ready to share our pockets of excellence with the world at large. This has been showcased by some of our top talent ranging from Charlize Theron to Trevor Noah as they have achieved excellence internationally.
In no other field do leaders understand the essence of talent better than in sport. Sport coaches always pursue the best talent to build the best teams. Also, sport teams understand the notion of bench strength, i.e. having sufficient back-up talent when needed. It is therefore once again a proud moment to realise that South Africa occupies one of the top six positions in the world when it comes to cricket and rugby, while our golfers and swimmers are also among the top performing sporting nations world-wide. But new and sustainable talent is needed to sustain performance and to create new talent pools. The current talented teams on the sport fields are clear evidence of the need to build sustainable talent pools, not only for current competitiveness, but also for future success. Business can learn from these efforts in the world of sport. While potential is often praised, the real test is in performance. It does not help you to have a high potential team if the team continues to underperform. The ultimate test is therefore to build high performance teams who can perform in a consistent way.
In the middle of 2016 we realise that it is now 16 years after the year 2000, and we are only 14 years away from achieving or failing to achieve the goals of the National Development Plan (NDP). Talent and people development are at the centre of the NDP, but with only 14 years to go, time may be running out to build sufficient talent pools in leveraging the NDP agenda. In certain areas we are indeed lagging the world, such as technical skills. Furthermore, the recently released Sustainable Development Goals set for countries world-wide to achieve is in essence a talent agenda for countries, regions, continents and the world at large. But these goals, like the Millennium Development Goals may prove to be elusive, if some of the basic elements of national development fundamentals such as education, poverty alleviation and equality programmes are not embedded into national cultures and systems.
However, South Africa is also the first country in the world with a National Talent Management Standard as part of the National Human Resource (HR) standards, and we are indeed proud of this significant achievement. Making this standard a success is of utmost importance in ensuring that South Africa’s talent needs are addressed. Failure to do so, will not only cause damage to business, but may deplete the early gains of our young democracy. High youth unemployment and under-employment in the workplace cannot be perpetuated if we want to become a nation of achievers.
In this vain, the science and practice of talent management provide hope that South Africa’s young talent are indeed our future leaders and specialists in turning the country around into a nation of high performing talent ready to achieve excellence in raising our competitiveness as a country. I salute our young talent, their managers, mentors, family members and companies for supporting them all the way to achieve this milestone in their careers. Moreover, we are all reminded of the need to accelerate all current efforts in identifying, engaging, developing and retaining talent in South African companies. We can all become talent leaders or continue to be talent laggers. This time, time will not tell. There is simply no time to waste on debates about the talent war or talent gaps. It is about getting down and make talent management happen. With a clear national Talent Management standard in place, we have no excuse to excel in talent management. A purposeful approach to talent management should be our top priority at all South African organisations. However, we will have to collaborate like never before. Ultimately, individuals, teams, organisations and countries will be winners or losers. The strength of talent management will determine in which category you will fall. Now it the time for talent leadership.
Marius Meyer is CEO of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP). He is a member of the Talent Advisory Board of the University of South Africa (UNISA).