The cream of the crop

Talent concept

Recent figures released by Ernst & Young reveal that approximately 70% of African firms are recruiting, but are taking longer to fill vacancies and experiencing higher staff turnover. With technical and professional skills in particularly high demand, finding the right person for the job requires keen discernment.

According to Sage International, a leader in the Human Resources (HR) industry, many HR departments are not well prepared for an escalating “war for talent” that sees people with key skills and expertise able to pick and choose between employers. The organisation states that, “All too many HR directors are tied up in red tape rather than spending their time on strategic talent management, skills development and performance management.

“That puts their businesses in a weak position to respond to a changing workplace and workforce. Today's employees are ambitious, connected, and demanding global thinkers. They're more mobile within the borders of their own countries and industries than ever, and they're also increasingly open to global opportunities. These factors demand that HR departments become more flexible and focused,” says Anja Van Beek, HR Leader for Sage International (Africa, Australia, Middle East, Asia, Brazil & Latin America).

But what exactly is the current state of affairs in South Africa, and what will it take for employers to win the talent war?

Vuyokazi Dwane, HR Director at LexisNexis and member of the Board of Directors of the South African Board of People Practices (SABPP), is using her energy to facilitate and precipitate the aspirations of employees. She says, “Winning the talent war must be the organisation’s top priority, a key leadership focus and, flowing from this, a top priority for the HR department. Talent is only as good as it is aligned, empowered and supported to be. As Business Partners, the HR Department’s key responsibility is to provide those tools and processes that help line managers to identify, assess, develop and line talent up for succession - and information that enables managers to make robust decisions about their talent.

“Getting, keeping and rewarding the right talent with ‘strategy-and-culture-aligned’ skills and experience is critical to successful implementation of organizational goals and, ultimately, its sustainability. Employee engagement and commitment to organisational success is also a very important ingredient for a workforce that is innovative and productive, contributing to bottom-line performance and results,” she says.

Dwane says in the past, recruitment used to be about the hiring company being spoilt for choice and asking candidates: “What do you have to offer us?” However, as more organisations realise and act to hold on to skilled and talented individuals, the bargaining power at the interview table has turned. According to Dwane, they are now looking for ‘passive’ candidates, who are satisfied in their current role, and this puts the hiring employer in the position where they have to ‘sell the opportunity’.

“Our economy has become very consumer-centred. This puts a focus on the candidate experience through the recruitment process - a golden opportunity to create strong impressions about the recruiter’s employment brand. And with the power of social media - both in terms of making information available to potential employees, and the candidate’s opportunity to share their recruitment experience far and wide, it is so important to be professional, provide timeous feedback and treat the candidate as a key customer right from the onset,” she says.

Van Beek says we are seeing companies rethink their approach to talent for three major reasons:

  • The first is that the labour environment has evolved and governments and communities expect companies to treat employees with respect and fairness. That’s not just about pay and meeting minimum standards in working conditions- - it is also about embedding a genuine concern for people into the business. Many people in South Africa are asking questions about how sustainable an unequal society can be - so it’s in everyone’s interest to show that we can create working environments where people can grow and prosper.
  • Secondly, with the current economic turmoil; the balance of power has shifted to employees when it comes to roles and industries that demand specific technical, business or management skills. Companies that don’t offer their employees, especially their top talent, opportunities for growth or give them purpose will struggle to attract and hold on to the best people, and thus be at a competitive disadvantage.
  • Thirdly, companies understand the links between employee satisfaction, company culture, and performance. By addressing employee engagement in a constructive way, companies can better align employees’ goals with the business purpose. This helps nurture a motivated workforce and a culture of innovation and high-performance according to her.  

Comparing today’s recruitment arena to that of the past, Van Beek says we are now seeing a new attitude emerging towards recruiting and managing people management - and leading organisations are thinking about people in a more strategic and holistic manner. For them, it’s not just about costs and productivity - it is also about innovation, unlocking human potential, and creating organisations that people are truly inspired and proud to work for.

Belinda Young, Human Resources Director at The Unlimited financial services company, is passionate about leadership development and organizational culture and believes that leadership is a true art that takes people beyond where they believed they could go. When asked how the recruitment arena has changed over the years, she says, “10 years ago, the majority of South African’s only really cared about the bottom line on their payslips. It was all about remuneration and additional benefits. Today, this has changed dramatically and a whole host of additional features play a role in making one company an employer of choice.

“People today are also far more purpose led and want to know that they are working for a company that is a making a difference and will allow them the opportunity to do the same. At The Unlimited, we are extremely purpose led and encourage our people to get involved and to add value beyond their day to day roles.  We understand that not everybody is looking for the same rewards and benefits and for some, this can range from the obvious reasons of career advancement to development opportunities to free meals in the canteen or flexible hours,” she says.

But are we ready for the upcoming talent war? As Van Beek points out, too many HR teams are tied up in red tape rather than spending their time on strategic talent management, skills development and performance management. As a result, they are not ready to effectively respond to the needs of a changing workplace and workforce.

“Against this backdrop, many HR departments need to rethink how they do things; some will even need to reconceptualise their reason for existence. Rather than asking how to comply with laws and tick boxes, they need to ask how they can enable people to perform at their best, and support them in driving business performance.

“Fortunately, recent research from Deloitte’s 2015 Human Capital Trends Report for South Africa indicates that many business leaders and HR departments are starting to think about these issues in the right way. Respondents to the Deloitte research ranked engagement and culture as the number one priority globally, followed closely by leadership, then learning and development,” she says.

When asked what the biggest hurdles are when it comes to attracting and developing the right talent and retaining high-calibre employees, Dwane highlights the important areas:

  • Resource constraints: Many companies’ HR and marketing budgets are being cut - we are having to do more with less. This limits employers’ ability to make appropriate levels of investment in the careers of employees.
  • Burdening the talented: Employees who are talented with the right skills, experience and attitude are being given more responsibilities which is a double-edged sword: a talented and conscientious employee is given more responsibility in response to the demonstration of their talent and capability. While this provides the employee with additional exposure and scope for growth, employers need to be aware that such employees may end up feeling overwhelmed and undervalued; which jeopardises their ability to retain high-calibre employees. Not being compensated for the additional work or responsibility.
  • Line manager / employee relationships: It is often said that people don’t leave their company, they leave their manager. At LexisNexis, the realisation of this has led the company to making coaching skills its manager development priority. The company wants the daily manager-employee interaction to be an empowering and affirming one where employees feel valued and supported. Respect, affirmation and understanding employee’s career aspirations goes a long way towards retaining those employees.
  • Employer brand: Especially that which is reflected through information that is in the public domain, such as media coverage, social media sites such as hello peter; are unregulated, unscripted and therefore more influential than any marketing or public relations blurb that an organisation or its agencies can prepare and distribute.

So what is South African companies doing right when it comes to recruitment? According to Van Beek, in general, South African companies have mastered the processes and fundamentals, but many are too tactical in their approach to recruitment. She says companies need to move from a reactive approach to a proactive one and focus on their employer brand.

Dwane says it is important understanding what prospective employees value and are looking for in an employer. “They are going to where the market is and where the candidates are; talking to them on social media platforms, understanding that they need to answer the question: ‘What are you going to do for me?’”, she says.  Dwane also points out that companies are making sizeable investments in graduate programmes where top performers at university are targeted early in their career - during their first and second years of study as opposed to in their third year or while doing their post-graduate studies.

“Retention strategies and succession plans are put into place. This include identifying and developing future leaders where employers target younger employees that they can work with over a longer period, and grooming and developing them for leadership positions. Recruitment is almost becoming ‘younger’ as companies grow their brand presence on Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook and such social media platforms, utilising these social media platforms as recruitment tools to attract talent, promote their and advertise opportunities,” she says.

Looking at where South African companies can improve, Dwane says in light of the increasing importance of employer brand, it is important for HR to forge closer working relationships with their marketing departments to sharpen the brand and make it more attractive to candidates and prospective employees. She says South African companies also need to structure their selection process and interviews so that they make the candidates feel like they are an important person in the room, even in the presence of senior staff such as directors.

“We can also ‘calm’ the interviews down and use them as an opportunity to have a relaxed conversation with the candidate. This creates an atmosphere where the candidate lets down their guard and shares more information about themselves. Keep the recruitment process simple and ensure that candidates are informed throughout the process. It’s even better if candidates are empowered to independently check their progression,” she says.

Van Beek further points out that according to a 2015 SA HR Recruitment trend annual survey conducted by MCI Consultants, 74% of South African organisations use social media as an integral part of their recruitment. “Many studies in the US and Europe place the number at more than 90%, so we are lagging behind the global trend,” she says.

When asked how technology can play an important part in the recruitment process, Van Beek says today’s recruiter has a range of powerful tools at his or her disposal to help make the recruitment process more efficient and cost-effective.

Pointing out some examples, Van Beek says recruitment agencies can make use of recruitment software tools such Sage SkillsMap to complement their recruitment services as they offer seamless integration with social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+. For many HR officers, one key issue is how they can refocus on strategic talent management, skills development, building the employer brand and performance management when compliance demands so much of their time. She says the answer, for many, lies in the automation of routine processes so that they can free up hours for the more strategic aspects of their job.

“Automated systems also capture rich data HR managers can use for talent analytics that give insight into trends such as staff churn, the costs of training and development, and the skills they may need to attract and develop to support the business’s future growth.  Another important step is to look at how effectively the company is using technology to engage employees.

“Tools such as employee self-service can reduce paperwork for the HR department while delivering better service to the workforce. Employees, especially millennials, want dealing with an employer to be as easy as banking online or via a mobile app. When people apply for leave, fill in expense claims and pick up payslips online, everyone wins from the gains in efficiency and convenience,” Van Beek says.

Young says that with over 10 million internet users in South Africa, it means that almost everyone is online and so is the job market. “A LinkedIn presence for a company is no longer a competitive advantage, it is a necessity. We’ve been really successful in using LinkedIn to build a talent network where we share information about who we are, what we do, our values and our culture. In today’s market it’s essential to build your employment brand through LinkedIn---it’s so much more than just a place to post jobs, it’s a strong tool to attract the right talent,” she says.

Dwane says a solid recruitment strategy that is aligned to the business strategy and organisational talent and employment equity plans, brings all recruitment process stakeholders onto the same page. In this way, she says, it translates that all attraction and selection effort is directed towards the organisation’s priorities and requirements. She says ideally, it enables the recruitment team to be proactive about their talent search, especially in a market where talent is scarce and highly contested. In this way, recruiting managers get to see the best of what is available, modify requirements and remuneration offers where necessary and don’t have to make hiring decisions under pressure. This optimises the opportunity to find the right candidates for the organisation according to her.

Commenting on the importance of having a solid recruitment strategy, Van Beek says we often see organisations recruit in a panic in response to growth or new opportunities. “The result perhaps is that they bring the wrong person on board and face a struggle in training them for the job or letting them go because it didn’t work out. If you have a proper HR strategy that is aligned with your business plan, you can handle your recruitment in a more strategic way.

“You can think about what skills you need and where you can find them. But even more importantly, you can give serious thought to the personal qualities of the first employees you want to hire. This is about the culture you want to create in your business from its very beginning and finding people who will align with your vision and purpose for your company,” she says.

When it comes to how a strategy of this kind should look like, Van Beek says you should have a proactive recruitment plan that focuses on the needs of the business beyond today. She advises companies to actively think about the positions they may need to fill in six months or a year, and about the profile of the candidates they would like to attract.  “This is about consulting with the exco team about their vision for the company, as well as working with the line managers to map out the positions they need to fill and the skills they will require in the future,” she says.  

Young adds to this and highlights that, “The manner in which we engage our people is the very essence of what has enabled us to get our people offering to a leading edge place.  We listen to their needs and desires and we collaborate around relevant solutions, fit for purpose.  After all, happy people make for happy customers and healthy levels of productivity.”

So which is better, internal or outsourced HR teams? Van Beek says recruitment agents have earned a bad reputation in the market, but there are also good agencies with excellent contacts. She says those that take pride in the work and take the time to understand each client’s business and culture can add enormous value to any business. And for businesses that cannot justify the cost of full-time internal recruitment resources, a good agency can be a valuable partner according to her.

She says even companies that have strong internal recruitment teams can benefit from an agency’s support when recruiting for scarce skills or when they simply want to broaden exposure to quality candidates. Often, she mentions, the time and money a company will spend trying to fill a specialist role by itself could pay the agent’s fee several times over.

When asked if she had any advice for companies that are serious about taking recruitment to the next level, but just not getting there yet, Van Beek says “Focus on building an employer brand that will attract the right people to your business. If you want the best people to work for you, you’ll need to earn their attention and interest, just as if they were customers. An EY 2014 survey of talent trends and practices in sub-Saharan Africa shows that the strength of the employer brand is the most important factor in attracting talent. Companies that have a reputation as innovative, interesting and caring places to work are the best placed to attract high calibre talent. A quality workplace and a good employee experience matter as much as paying well.”

Young’s advice to companies regarding recruitment is that if you are serious about recruiting, decide what characteristics you want to prioritise in your potential recruits and stick to your decision. “Once you have created this proactive talent brand strategy, measure and invest in your talent brand online. Ensure that the messaging across all your communications platforms - from your website to your social media platforms to your online recruitment to your newspaper adverts - are consistent,” she says.

Concluding with some advice from Dwane, she says, “Look at your organisation from the outside and ask the kind of candidates you would want to employ whether and why they would like to work for your organisation. Conduct ‘stay’ interviews with your most valued employees - ask them what makes your organisation a ‘great place to work’. This will lead to an understanding of your value proposition as an employer and will provide you with a starting point that will enable you to position your company in the way that you want to be perceived.”


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Issue 58