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The State of Talent Management in South Africa: A call for action

When the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP) launched the world’s first National HR Standards in 2013,  the first question we asked HR Executives was:   Of the 13 HR Standards developed for South Africa, how are we performing against these standards?  Which standards are doing well, and which are the ones we are struggling with?  At that time we could not answer the question, given the fact that no data was available.  Since then the HR Standards journey continued with hundreds of HR standards workshops conducted to build HR capability in all 13 standards.

We have now audited 20 companies against the National HR Standards and another 29 audits are in the pipeline this quarter. Sadly, though, of the 13 HR standards the worst performance area has been Talent Management with an average national audit score of 45% (audits in 6 provinces).  We therefore kindly ask HR Managers and universities to prioritise Talent Management as a top priority in improving the current 45% audit average for Talent Management.

When I shared these results with South Africa’s top Talent Management researcher, Professor Nicolene Barkhuizen from North-West University, she responded as follows: “This result is consistent with our talent management research over the last five years.”  Thus, it is evident that we face a crisis in the application of talent management in the South African workplace.  Now what are we doing about the talent management dilemma?  We have three choices:

  1. We can adopt a wait-and-see attitude to see if things will improve in future;
  2. We can ignore the results and hope for improvement;
  3. We can tackle the bull by the horns and actively pursue improved talent management.

In terms of the work I do, I decided to go for option 3 – let us tackle the problem, mobilise resources and build a talent community to change the situation around.  To support companies and universities in building capacity in Talent Management, together with Africa’s first Talent Management publication, Talent Talks, we are hosting our first Annual Talent Management Conference on 22 June.  You are most welcome to pass this message on to your team members or other contacts who may have a need to achieve excellence in talent management.  The purpose of Talenttalks Africa 2017 is to create a network of professionals committed to learning and sharing best practices in Talent Management so that Talent Management can become the most successful HR and business practice in Africa.  In fact, we are so committed to Talent Management that we are now providing you with a daily article on

Together we can make Talent Management better in South Africa and indeed the broader African continent, and we appreciate the commitment from talent and line managers in putting talent at the centre of people management practices in companies.  The above case studies to be presented at the Talenttalks Africa 2017 Conference send a clear message to organisations:  Despite skills gaps and talent shortages in certain areas, there are  progressive companies such as MTN, Standard Bank, Sasol, Mc Donald’s and Tiger Brands who have decided that they will not sit back and wait for the market on what to do. These talent leaders have already started to implement talent management strategies, and despite some challenges, they have all achieved significant successes in a relatively short period of time.  This means that an explicit focus on talent management can produce the required results.

In conclusion, the state of talent management in South Africa leaves a lot to be desired.  However, this article is about a call for action – let us change the current situation.  Talenttalks Africa 2017 provides the opportunity to take the talent conversation to a new level.  Establishing this national conversation about talent management as a key business imperative, is the beginning of the journey towards excellence in talent management.  Achieving sustainable success in talent management provides an opportunity for managers to elevate current talent management practice in enabling companies to improve on their national talent management audit scores. Let us make it happen.

Marius Meyer  is CEO of the SA Board for People Practice (SABPP) and vice-chairperson of the UNISA Talent Advisory Board.

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