The South African Talent Management Standard: Raising the bar for talent


The South African Talent Management Standard: Raising the bar for talent
by Marius Meyer

Yesterday we debated whether we are leaders or laggers in talent management. Today we accept the fact that there is no time for debate. Let us face the facts and start working on proper talent management to leverage South Africa’s talent in every organisation.  On the following pages you will see an overview of the Talent Management standard element developed by SABPP.  It was developed by 108 South African HR Managers. In the second part, 468 HR Managers from all nine provinces and four other SADC countries developed the HR Application Standard with specific guidelines on how to apply the standard element in the workplace.  The standard was also accepted by 21 universities as a framework for their new curriculum.

HR Standard Element 2: TALENT MANAGEMENT



2.2.1  To build a talent culture which defines the organisation’s philosophy, principles and integrated approach to talent, which leverages diversity and is communicated in a clear employment value proposition.

2.2.2  To identify strategically critical positions and leadership roles and capabilities in the organisation into the future from the Workforce Plan that will determine the sustainability and growth of the organisation.

2.2.3  To set up processes and systems which will:

  • Attract a sustainable pool of talent for current objectives and future organisation needs.
  • Achieve employment equity progress in the spirit of the legislation to achieve transformation.
  • Manage the retention and reward of talent.
  • Develop the required leadership skills.
  • Plan for succession to key roles.
  • Identify high potential employees and link them with key future roles in the organisation through monitored development plans.
  • Identify where there is under-performance in a key role or in a person identified as high potential and raise the level of performance through a Performance Improvement Plan.
  • Identify through assessment the optimal development opportunities for talent.

2.2.4  To agree appropriate roles for relevant stakeholders in the development and management of talent.

2.2.5  To monitor and report on talent management key results areas and indicators.


This standard element should be read and applied by taking cognisance of all the other standard elements, but with a particular focus on strategic HR management, HR risk management, workforce planning, learning and development, organisation development, HR technology and HR measurement.

HR Competency Model: HR practitioners must be able to play an appropriate role in the following outputs:

  • Employment Value Proposition (EVP)
  • Skills acquisition and retention strategies
  • Leadership development
  • Integration of talent management activities
  • Succession management

SA HR competency model



Strategic Talent Management Process.png

An important general principle is that a consultative approach should be taken. Key stakeholders to be consulted are likely to be the various levels of management and employee representatives. Such consultation would need to involve clear explanations of the concepts of talent management, the organisation’s objectives for talent management, the proposed strategy and reasons for the choices made in formulating the strategy.

Where a highly visible talent management strategy and interventions are embarked on, normal good change management practices should be put in place.

2.3.1  Engage and support line management regarding  long-term planning, talent identification, staffing and other talent requirements. 

  • The management of talent in an organisation in terms of creating a work environment that is attractive, managing individuals so as to engage and challenge them, and recognising and rewarding different levels of performance is the responsibility of line managers. Performance standards/contracts for line managers should include a KPI/KPA on development of talent.
  • The role of HR is to provide frameworks, systems, support, advice and coaching to line managers in talent management related activities.
  • Talent management processes must be based on a philosophy, principles and approach that is whole-heartedly driven by the top management team, who must be willing to act as public role models in the implementation of talent management interventions. It follows therefore that the philosophy, principles and approach must be debated and agreed on at the top management level and supported by the Board. The public endorsement and drive of the CEO is critical. If the top management team is only willing to approve basic or minimal talent management interventions, then the design of the interventions must reflect this.  Financial resources (budget) should be agreed commensurate with the anticipated criticality of talent management to the future of the organisation.
  • Part of the top management debate and agreement should be the definition of the terms “talent”, “performance” and “potential” as they are to be used within the organisation. Each organisation may have its own view of these concepts and it is critical to ensure a common understanding.
  • A second part of the debate should be the risk tolerance in relation to appointments and promotions – what are “non-negotiables” and what can be bridged or otherwise supported.
  • HR should ensure that good practice (benchmarked from other organisations locally and overseas), latest thinking and research are presented to management as appropriate so that sound decisions on the talent management approach can be made.
  • The skills of line managers to perform their talent management responsibilities must be adequately developed through regularly updated training, coaching and mentoring.
  • Based on the talent segments/groupings identified in 2.3.2, top management should agree on the sourcing strategy for each segment. Possible strategies include build (develop own people), buy (recruit in the competitive labour market), borrow (outsource, create partnerships, bring in experts from overseas), birth (create long term development pipelines), bridge (create a temporary solution for loss of a particular skill), bounce (move people from another part of the organisation), or bind (ensure retention in the short term through specific contracts).

2.3.2  Analyse the talent needs of the organisation by assisting managers to segment and classify talent across the organisation to ensure talent differentiation and management thereof.

  • The decision on how to segment/classify talent is unique to each organisation as it depends on culture, nature of business, diversity within the organisation in terms of types of skills employed, and future plans (how different is the future from the present).
  • Whilst it is often the preference of management to treat all employees as “talent” to be developed, it is none the less important to identify key groups which are critical to the organisation now or in the future.
  • A popular set of groupings is: core, critical, and scarce. This provides a working basis on which to plan attraction, development and retention strategies. Another popular set of groupings is derived from the “9 box” approach, which uses 3 levels of performance and 3 levels of potential, to classify each employee. Groupings may be different by organisational level, depending on what suits the nature of the organisation.
  • Talent pools are then defined according to the groupings agreed upon. Talent pools should be broader rather than narrower, to allow for career development and skills evolution.
  • The decision(s) on segmentation/classification need to be made in discussion by the executive team, and then a careful communication strategy must be developed to ensure transparency to all employees.
  • In the particular context of South Africa, talent management must emphasise the achievement of Employment Equity.

2.3.3  Conduct labour market trend analysis of the required skills.

  • Skills requirements need to be established through analysis of the current and future anticipated workforce against the strategy of the organisation. (See also HRM Standard Element #4 Workforce Planning.)
  • Rather than create many detailed skills descriptions which make for complex forecasting, aim to group like skills together into fairly broad groups so that future changes to technology, business processes and so on can be catered for.
  • In view of the lack of comprehensive and reliable labour market data, find a good spread of sources of information on likely supply trends of the skills the organisation will require in the future. SETA’s, industry/employer associations, tertiary education institutions, research institutions and professional associations are good sources of information.
  • Talent development is a very long term process and therefore, even if the organisation plans 5 years ahead, the talent forecasting may need to work in longer time cycles.
  • Talent forecasting for any but the most simple of organisations demands the construction of good forecasting models which can handle a large amount of data and can be manipulated to provide different scenarios.

2.3.4  Conduct a talent review linked to organisational objectives.

  • Talent reviews are discussions amongst management teams about the stock of available talent in relation to the current and future needs of the organisation. Decisions are then made to rectify any problem areas. These discussions could be formally structured as part of corporate governance and titled Talent Board, Talent Council or something similar.
  • Talent reviews should be structured, and based on data about employees which is gathered in a comprehensive and objective manner and presented in a format which allows valid comparisons and scrutiny of emerging trends.
  • Line managers participating in talent reviews should be familiar with the section of the organisation under discussion and should have some personal knowledge of the people under discussion.
  • Good practice is to hold talent reviews on a department basis, and consolidate upwards to the top level. An overall view on the availability and quality of talent is taken and development actions agreed.
  • A clear policy and procedure should be developed which states, amongst other items, how and when talent reviews will be conducted, who will be involved, and what feedback will be given to affected employees.

2.3.5  Create a talent management system focusing on current and future talent needs.

  • A talent management system will typically consist of:
    • Job profiling to establish required skills/competencies
      • Current jobs
      • Future jobs
    • Skills audit of current incumbents
    • Development planning to fill gaps and provide for the future
    • Succession planning to identify immediate (emergency), short term and long term succession candidates to critical positions
    • Career pathing (defining progression routes through the organisation)
    • Review processes to critically evaluate talent pools (see 2.3.7 below)
    • Retention strategies for people identified as critical in the short term for the organisation
    • Communication strategy around key talent management concepts, processes and results.
  • All HR processes and practices should be aligned with the overall talent management strategy, especially recruitment, learning & development, performance management and reward processes. A clear and simple model should be produced which demonstrates the inter-linkages between HR processes and how they support the talent management strategy.
  • The system should include expressions of the desired outcomes of the talent management strategy, expressed in terms which can be converted into meaningful measurements.
  • The system should include regular reviews of outcomes against expectations, to allow for system improvement.
  • A budget for talent management interventions should be prepared.

2.3.6 Decide on interventions to define and develop leadership and other competencies.

  • There are many reputable leadership competency models available, but care must be taken to adopt one which is compatible with the culture and needs of the organisation. A model which balances different dimensions of leadership, such as delivering results, engaging and developing people and alignment with organisational values is recommended.
  • The leadership competency model should cater for future evolution of the organisation, recognizing that what is considered effective leadership today might not be suitable for the future.
  • A leadership competency model should not be imposed on the organisation without thorough consultation.
  • Leadership competency development interventions should be balanced between formal and non-formal learning, using a wide variety of different methodologies. Coaching and mentoring and planned job rotations/project assignments/secondments are known to be among the most effective methods for developing leadership competencies.
  • Other competency frameworks should be introduced after careful consideration of the job families that are critical to the organisation, and should be developed through consultation with line managers and affected employees. Frameworks should include both technical skills and soft/behavioural skills. All frameworks should be aligned in terms of approach and methodology and should allow for movement between job families as far as is feasible.
  • Competency development interventions should be based on gaps identified through comparison of actual competency of the individual against the requirements of the competency model for current and desired/future positions.
  • Actual competency levels should be determined through methods of assessment which are accepted as objective and fair by both managers and employees.

2.3.7  Decide on interventions to support effective talent management in the organisation.

  • Interventions should be planned around the life-cycle of employment, that is:
    • sourcing (short and long term, internal and external, “alumni” groups);
    • recruitment; assessment and selection;
    • on-boarding;
    • development and career pathing including accelerated development for targeted groups;
    • performance development, reward and recognition;
    • wellness and retirement planning; .
    • terminations (exit interviews and research into causes of “regretted loss” labour turnover);
    • past employment (alumni pools).
  • Interventions should preferably be tested on a pilot group before rolling out to the entire organisation.
  • The level of employee engagement is critical to talent management.
  • An approach where an individual is held primarily responsible for his/her own development and advancement is recommended.
  • Individual development plans with a multi-year horizon are central to talent engagement and development as are honest and constructive feedback and career conversations.
  • Open and transparent communication with employees on their performance, potential and future development is fundamental to talent management. Expectations must be managed.
  • A strengths-based rather than a deficiency-based developmental approach has been shown to be effective in individual development.
  • An explicit and attractive employment value proposition must be elucidated and communicated. This should reflect the actual experienced culture of the organisation and should be designed to differentiate the organisation from competitors so as to attract people compatible with the organisation’s culture.
  • A robust and diversified pipeline of external resources should be in place to supply future skills requirements. Building this pipeline may include creating partnerships right through the education and skills development supply chain – for example, helping with maths teaching in primary schools; partnering with FET’s to ensure technical training to the required standard; funding teacher/lecturer positions at schools and universities in organisation’s specialist areas.
  • Programmes such as apprenticeships, learnerships and internships should be used to bridge gaps between studies and employment.

For more information about the SABPP HR Management System Standard or the auditing framework for the standards, please contact SABPP on +27 (011) 045 5400  or  The full HR Standards file including all 13 standards can be ordered from the SABPP office on  You can also receive regular updates via twitter @SABPP1 on hashtag #hrstandards, the website and the special blog for the HR Standards

National Human Resource Management Standards.jpg

In conclusion, the talent management standard developed by SABPP provides clear direction on how talent management should be implemented in an organisation.  I want to challenge HR Managers and their management teams to ensure the effective implementation of talent management in accordance with the standard. Let us leverage the talent inside and outside our organisations to build a talent-dirven economy.  This will not only create winners within our companies, but also contribute to building a winning nation.
Marius Meyer

 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).


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