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Creating A Talent-Driven Work Place

Building on Workers’ Day, the Department of Labour decided to extend this spirit of this day to Workers’ Month in ensuring that we reflect and plan around a more co-ordinated campaign of worker empowerment in our organisations, economic sectors and the country at large. Already the hashtag #WorkersMonth is gaining ground in boosting this campaign. While the Department’s approach to Workers’ Month concentrates on the rights of workers in the workplace, I would like to offer an additional perspective and that is to position Workers’ Month as a key priority in embedding a renewed focus on talent in the workplace.

With the World Economic Forum session in Durban last week, it is once again evident that underperformance in the area human capital is not going to help us to take African nations and the continent forward. It remains a fact that human capital is one of the most important sources of competitiveness and countries will thrive, stagnate or simply go down if human capital is not developed to drive economic growth.

If you want your business to succeed, start with talent management. You may have great products, services, technology, resources, processes, policies and methodologies, but without talent, your business will not be able to achieve its objectives. Hence, the need for a sound talent management framework and system within your organisation. Talent management is all about attracting, developing, deploying, optimising and retaining talent in a proactive, yet systematic way in ensuring that you meet and exceed business objectives and customer expectations. Successful high-economic growth countries are talent-driven economies with the best leaders, scientists and other specialists who drive performance and deliver customer satisfaction. In reality, all businesses and economic sectors are talent hubs. Also, cities, provinces, regions and countries are talent hubs. These talent hubs constitute the engines of organisations – the places where things happen, where value is created, replicated and distributed where it is needed.  In essence, talent drives innovation and therefore delivers results in a meaningful and sustainable way.

Yet, if we look around us, we see divergent approaches to the current economic situation. It appears as if there are three broad schools of thought: (1) The optimists are those who see opportunities despite the current economic down-turn. They decided to go for a “business as usual” approach or in some cases “business as unusual” in becoming even more innovative; (2) The middle group is cautious and have adopted a “wait-and see” attitude on how things will unfold; and then (3) The pessimists are cutting down on spending and not pursuing any new opportunities, they have fully embraced the “junk” mode in their thinking and actions.  While this type of categorisation may be too simplistic given the complexity of our business, political and socio-economic environment, the reality is that we need to make choices on how to deal with our customers, staff and suppliers over the short term.

While the economic situation is getting worse, the reality is that your people have not changed. Inside your organisation you may still have some of the best talent South Africa has to offer. Newspapers, magazines, competitions and tournaments continue to showcase successes and depict the stories and journeys of those who have made it in the pursuit of making talent shine. Again, we are presented with an opportunity to celebrate our talent and to inspire newcomers to raise their game as the bar is set high for talent to excel.  Not only do companies compete for talent, they also collaborate for talent, and we need more collaboration and celebration in the talent space. However, some people think that talented people have an express elevator to the top. All talented people have to make sacrifices, are working very hard and are faced with numerous difficulties, challenges and obstacles as they chart forward on the journey to achievement, success and excellence – that is what makes talent so special. Yes, they are special people who deliver excellence despite the odds.

Once again with Workers Month as our national theme, we are reminded that acquiring, developing and retaining the right talent for business success is the most important task of management. All organisations are dependent on workers and the best talent to drive production, service delivery and ultimately performance. Companies require talented leaders and specialists like engineers, accountants and other staff members to deliver business performance – thus, in one word – talent.

In a world of scarce resources, new and innovative models will have to be found to acquire and build talent, and these models will be talent management models. It is therefore not surprising that talent management is a top priority for business globally. Yet, as a country we still need to do a lot of hard and dedicated work to raise the standard of talent management. Talent management is not a programme, it is a mind-set and culture to unleash the potential and talent of people. Fortunately, we have some good progress in recognising talent. The process of instilling talent into our national culture has started by many organisations when they champion their talented employees as shining examples of what can be achieved when we set talent up for success.

Having said that, the stark reality is that the average South African company does not perform according to the National Talent Management Standard. Now that twenty companies have been audited against the standard, it is clear that more work needs to be done to achieve a more integrated approach to talent management. The average score of twenty companies audited against the national talent management standard is 45%, thus clearly signalling a need to improve talent management in South Africa. Hence, the need to professionalise talent management and to build a high level of organisational capability in talent management.

Despite this challenge, pockets of excellence are emerging and leading companies have fully embraced talent management as a key capability in business today. In fact, leading firms now follow an “abundance” approach, rather than the traditional skills shortage mind-set.  Creating strong talent pools is in the interest of everyone. Traditional approaches of poaching talent is making way for building, sharing and multiplying talent within and across sectors.  Talent management is here to stay and it is the duty of human resource and line managers to optimise talent management for the benefit of organisations and society.

But new and sustainable talent is needed to sustain performance and to create new talent pools. The current talented individuals and 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 sustainable performance. The ultimate opportunity is therefore to acquire and develop the best talent and to build high performance individuals and teams who can perform in a consistent and sustainable way.

The science and practice of talent management provides direction, focus and hope that young talented people are indeed our future leaders and specialists in turning societies around into a nation of high performing talent ready to achieve excellence in raising competitiveness. There is simply no time to waste on superficial debates about the talent war or talent gaps. In fact, the talent war is over, it has been won by talent. That is the reason why talented people are in demand and can thrive in any part of the world, despite challenges, poverty and unemployment in their own countries.  The professional and business successes achieved by Indians and Zimbabweans all over the world are but two examples of what talent can achieve in different environments, even when their own countries do not benefit from this talent mobility.

Talent Talks provides 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 the country’s top talent, their managers, mentors, family members and companies for supporting them all the way to achieve significant successes in the workplace every day.

Furthermore, we are all reminded of the need to accelerate all current efforts in identifying, engaging, developing and retaining talent in South African companies. Moreover, while a specific emphasis is needed on building talent pools, let us never forget about our ordinary employees who keep things going on a daily basis. Without them our businesses will collapse. Professor Theo Veldsman from the University of Johannesburg refers to them as the “solid citizens” – those employees who are unlikely to rise to senior and top management positions. But their solid contributions to business success should be recognised, and their development is key to business growth and sustainability. That is the reason why the Talent Talks Conference on 22 June puts people first as the top priority in business. Without people there is no product or service, and no profits.

A purposeful approach to talent management should be our top priority at all organisations in both the private and public sectors.  At company level, talent is the heart beat of business. Without talent, your business will die. Talent keeps your business going. Talent keeps your business growing. It is about getting down and making talent management happen by creating talent-driven workplaces. Talent management includes creating opportunities for talent to thrive. But is also entails a positive working environment in which people can be engaged.  Without employee engagement, we cannot expect optimum productivity. Sadly, most employees, not only in South Africa, but all over the world, are not actively engaged in their jobs.

This article challenges readers to become leaders in talent attraction, development and optimisation when we make our work places talent places. We often fall into the trap of blaming government, SETAs, the economy and a range of other stakeholders for our problems. But who will we blame if we don’t develop and optimise our own talent in our workplaces? Who will we blame if we don’t retain our talent? We often focus on the unemployment crisis, but what about the level of under-employment, i.e. people who are not developed and utilised in the way they should be. It is my hope and wish that Talenttalks will continue to put talent at the centre of our conversations and discourse as we take our people, organisations, country and African continent forward with a renewed focus on talent as the key driver of success in business, government and society at large. Let us use Workers’ Month to get us all talking about talent and doing proper talent management in the workplace.  Let us create talent-driven workplaces and societies throughout the African continent.

Marius Meyer, CEO: SA Board for People Practices (SABPP)
For more information about the Talent Talks Conference on 22 June, click here.

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