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Talent Management: Managing talent or disrupting HR?

Reading newspapers, following the news and listening to corridor talk, paints a gloomy picture of the future.  From politics, to business, to storms and fires destroying property and threatening the lives of people, it appears as if things are just falling apart everywhere.  Will we survive amidst the doom and gloom?  The only thing we can be sure of is that we live in an age of uncertainty and disruption.  The problem with uncertainty is that we don’t know what will happen next.  What will be the next crisis or scandal? Where will the next terrorist attack be? Who will be the next president? Who will be your next CEO? What does it really mean that we are now entering a recession?  In this article I explore  whether the new emerging best practice of talent management is really about managing talent or whether it is disrupting (traditional) HR.

In the business world conventional wisdom is challenged. Business models are overturned and new business models are emerging.  The reality of disruption is that it is planned. If disruption is better planned than current business, disruption will win. A group of talented people sit around a table with tablets, target an industry and decide how it can be disrupted.  They make it their business to exploit the weaknesses of current businesses and then establish a new business exposing these weaknesses with clear solutions and supporting applications at the speed of light.  Some of these business models are disrupting the way we do business.  Life and business become unpredictable as current business models become uncompetitive and unsustainable when threated by start-ups.

Uber is the most popular example of disruption in business.  Uber challenged the taxi industry.  The response from the market was excitement on one hand, and resistance on the other. Traditional taxi companies are simply unable to respond to the new radical form of competition that makes their business model obsolete overnight.  Yet, traditionalists are fighting disruption. They run to the legislators to “protect” the status quo.  The question can be asked whether HR managers are traditionalists or modern designers of the new workplace, or rather – work space.  Speed and rapid responsiveness is not a strength of legislators, and the start-ups reign supreme despite the chaos they create.   While protectionism may create short-term stability and protect individuals from losing their jobs, traditional approaches to maintaining the status quo are simply not sustainable.  Traditionalists fall into the trap of fighting the future and failure is the inevitable result.  We need to realise that a paradigm shift is needed to move from the present to the future, especially if we purposefully challenge the current way of doing things.

The new science and practice of talent management offers a solution,  by leveraging talent to innovate our organisations, despite the chaos and uncertainty around us.  This will require HR to step up into a new space of opportunity, relevance and impact, provided that HR Managers are ready for the future world of work. Perhaps all HR Managers must become Talent Managers and all CEOs must become Talent Leaders.

Reflecting on this HR transformation challenge and opportunity, the CEO of SABPP, Marius Meyer poses the following questions to business leaders and HR Managers to challenge our thinking and future planning:

  • Is it time to disrupt HR by creating new models of people empowerment and productivity?
  • Is HR an enabler or obstacle to real talent management in which talent is set up for success?
  • Why do we continue with outdated and irrelevant HR practices from the previous millennium?
  • Do our HR professionals have the right talent to drive proactive and progressive talent management forward?
  • What difference does HR make to broader society?
  • Why are we competing rather than collaborating in the talent space?
  • Are we using qualifications and other job requirements as obstacles to keep youth talent out?
  • Have we created an environment for talent to succeed or to be suppressed?
  • Why don’t we leverage technology as a key driver of HR and business success?
  • Are we able to move beyond current fads in creating real value and impact?
  • Why do we waste the productive time of staff by letting them sit in traffic for hours every day?
  • Why do we continue to work from 8 to 5 if the world does not function like that anymore?
  • Why do we have a once a year wellness day, if employee wellness should be driven every day?
  • Why are we still doing once a year performance appraisals, if performance targets should be achieved every day?
  • Why do we continue with job descriptions?
  • Why do we perpetuate the status quo with regulations, rules, policies and aspects of labour laws that may not be relevant to the new world of work?
  • Could a new “HR-Uber” model lead to the total demise and eventual destruction of HR?
  • Is it time for real, significant and disruptive innovation in HR?

We will start the process of answering these questions during Talenttalks Africa , when South Africa’s top HR talent will convene to explore options for creating the future world of work. Individuals and groups of thought leaders and subject matter experts have started to work on solutions for the future world of work and their wisdom and insight provides the platform for transforming traditional HR practice into dynamic talent management practice (see summary of top speakers below).

Today we have a choice to continue with 0% economic growth, join the growing group of pessimists complaining about everything that is wrong and continue with traditional business, work and HR practice or start the journey of turning things around.

Imagine if we could leverage talent to build human capital and achieve 5% economic growth or higher.  We have an opportunity to face reality and decide to create better organisations and talent communities.  If we are honest with ourselves, as HR professionals and business leaders, we will admit that we are part of the problem.  We can stay with the problem and maintain the status quo or embark on a transformation journey with clear actions to elevate our thinking and practice to become relevant with impact.

Talenttalks Africa is a national conversation to generate a new approach to talent-centred future-focused HR.  It will require us to disrupt HR by moving away from traditional and outdated ways of doing things.  Let us start a journey and process to create future-fit talent management practice by disrupting our current way of doing HR work.  Let us move towards a new people-centred HR business philosophy. We need a new way of doing HR in which top talent and all employees will thrive and harness their talents for the best, not only in creating high performance organisations, but also a better society, country, region, continent and world. That is what Talenttalks Africa is all about.  Yes, let us disrupt HR with dynamic talent management.

Sue de Waal is the Publishing Director of Talent Talks and host of South Africa’s first National Talent Indaba, Talenttalks Africa 2017 on 22 June.   You can contact her on

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