“I am not satisfied with the current status of talent management in Africa. It is good that there is increased interest in talent management, but a lot of work still needs to happen. It is still early days. I would like to see more collaboration, more regional, national, and eventually Africa-wide clear focus as a strategy for countries and the continent. This would be the solution for driving talent management more effectively, going forward,” says Marius Meyer, CEO of SABPP.
Meyer believes Africa should focus on developing a different set of skills from those, which are currently being developed. “The focus needs to be on technology, on strategy, risk, leadership, technical expertise and IT. There are definitely some areas where you want to say if you take, Australia or America, they would have been in place for decades already, while some of these areas are new in Africa. There are so many areas where talent is really needed,” Meyer explains.
The age of disruption with technology and digital business strategies requires a sharp focus: “There are pockets of excellence emerging – Rwanda, Kenya, and Ethiopia are beginning to lead. Let’s face it we sit with 54 countries. If we want to make the continent as successful as it should be, then a lot of very focused skills development initiatives will be needed.”
Meyer believes we need to get the rest of Africa on board in terms of embracing best practice standards for people development; “It is key, otherwise, people are just going to follow trends, try to meet the next trends, or apply the best practices, but if it doesn’t become normal, standardized business practice, we won’t be able to leverage what we could be doing.”
A dedicated focus with a clear standard is required; this needs to become embedded in sectors, so that it becomes a natural way of doing things: “This will put us in a much stronger situation to ensure that these practices become normal business practices and not something additional that only top ten companies in the country are doing.”
Switzerland is number one in talent management: “it’s because everything works from the schooling system through to vocational system through to the person entering the workplace. They don’t retrain people when they go into the workplace; they are already competent in terms of your knowledge and skills. This is what we really need if we want to get talent management right. Not only for companies to benefit, but for the whole country to be competitive like Switzerland or Singapore.”
Four Scandinavian countries are always feature in any competitiveness Index, including the Corruption Index: “This is because of a very strong education system, which inform national cultures. Wellness is a theme, therefore, there is also gender equity. That is the type of best practice model that is there already that we can learn from and say: ‘How relevant is that in the African context?’ There are certain things that we can also do.”
Rwanda is particularly impressive. It is the leading country in Africa for gender equity, and it is also among the top five in the world on gender equity. “They have managed to start doing the right thing in one country, but we’ve got 54 countries and that’s an opportunity for us to really to really drive proper talent strategies going forward,” Meyer remarks.
Rwanda is establishing a national culture of people at the centre: “Whether its education or small business development, or creating clean cities, they have this absolute commitment to saying let’s make this country a success. So, it’s almost like a knowledge society that does the right thing such as building schools and libraries, and putting in place things that work. They eliminate bureaucracy. They have clear government strategies to reduce red tape. You can open a business in Rwanda at 2 o’ clock in the morning. It’s a 24 hour service to open a new business. Where in the world for that matter can you open a business 2 o’ clock in the morning?”
Meyer says Rwanda’s success is based on the spirit of let’s start creating success: “That’s what’s really needed. Let’s face it in 1994 Rwanda was not a shining example. One can almost look at where South Africa was in 1994 and look where Rwanda was. Similar things are starting to happen in Ethiopia. There are good programmes to start making the country successful. It can happen. It takes time, but it is possible to do if the right building blocks are put in place.”
He believes South Africa has relied too much on Western best practice: “The mindset was if it works in London lets copy and paste and see whether it will work in Africa. Given the colonial history, it was almost a dependency model. My approach, is let’s rather study what is working, what good countries and companies are doing, for instance, to reduce corruption, to improve education, to build leadership. What are the good things? Make these work within the country context. We have strong cultural elements, such as Ubuntu, and other good local practices that Europe or other countries for that matter can learn from. If we can get that recipe right of global best practice, versus local application and local context then we should be able to achieve good success.”
Mauritius is a good example of a country that is getting it right, and tourism is a good example of this: “Tourism is all about world-class service. Service in Mauritius, needs to be as good as it is in Hawaii. You build this notion of excellence, with skills development and all other good practices, and then the tourists will come. There are definitely opportunities for us to get that balance right between global and local. Other areas in the world are also struggling with this. What we really need to make this work is leadership. We don’t always see the right type of leadership that do have that vision to really drive this process forward for the success of the country.”
Meyer’s dream is for South Africa become a people centric society: “If you put people at the centre of the economy and drive the success of people from a very holistic perspective then it is possible to achieve. If you look at the UK, just the way in which they build the economy with good skills. Even their Department of Labour is called the Department of Business Skills and Innovation. That type of thinking is innovation in government. It is saying we need to do the right things. The UK is number three in terms of talent competitiveness, ahead of America, which is number four.”
This is the kind of mindset that is needed to make South Africa work. “Talent is not only the top performance, it becomes the way in which we achieve success. Look at the education system, the divide between public and private. It’s like two different continents. Isn’t there a way that we can replicate what is working? The same applies to hospitals. South Africa is number five in the world when it comes to private sector hospitals. However, our public health system is in chaos. Somehow we have these pockets of excellence and things that could work but we are not getting that recipe together to say talent should be at the centre and then we build all the systems, processes laws, whatever we need around talent. This will drive success for us.” Meyer concludes.