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Post recession talent & reward strategies - Africa & Middle East
van Vuuren, Wikus
Wikus van Vuuren, managing executive: Middle East & Africa at USB Executive Development (USB-ED), recently delivered a keynote address at the Africa and Middle East Compensation and Benefits Forum Conference in London. This article is based on the topic of his address: Navigating out of the crisis – post-recession talent and reward strategies for Africa and the Middle East.

Indications are that the world is in the process of slowly emerging from what turned out to be the worst recession since the Great Depression. Many were hopeful that the recession would not affect African countries as much as it affected the developed world, but all indications are that the recession did indeed have a major impact on African economies, with World Bank statistics showing negative GDP growth of 0,9% for Sub-Saharan Africa in 2009.

But for African economies the economic crisis is not the only major challenge that they have to deal with. In order for any economy to show sustainable growth, certain efficiency enhancers are needed and one of the primary indicators happens to be the effectiveness of higher education and training in the economy in question. Unfortunately, the Africa Competiveness Report indicates higher education and training as one of the worst-performing areas on the African continent, and African countries in general fair poorly on the UNDP's Human Development Index.

But arguably one of the greatest challenges facing African economies in their quest for sustainable growth is the African Brain Drain. The Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) estimates that between 1960 and 1989 approximately 127 000 highly qualified African professionals left the continent. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Africa has been losing 20 000 professionals each year since 1990. Over 300 000 highly qualified African professionals now reside outside Africa.

An interesting statistic shows that there are now more Ethiopian doctors living in Chicago than in the whole of Ethiopia! This trend has sparked claims that the continent is dying a slow death from the brain drain, with the United Nations recently stating that the "emigration of African professionals to the West is one of the greatest obstacles to Africa's development".

But within all these challenges it does appear that there might actually be a potential benefit in the recession for Africa. A recent article in the Washington Post stated: "While that may seem counterintuitive to Americans accustomed to bleaker images of Africa, recent studies have documented the flight of immigrant professionals from the United States to their home countries. Chinese and Indian workers increasingly say they see better opportunities and lifestyles at home. And diaspora associations of Nigerians, Ghanaians, Kenyans and other Africans say their members – mostly from middle-class backgrounds – are joining the exodus, choosing life in the land of slow Internet connections and power outages over the pressures of recession-era America." In order for Africa to gain a real and sustainable benefit from the return of these expats it is important to understand what the requirements for any such future success would be.

A key strategy would be the attraction and retention of talent, especially that of returning expats. One of the greatest threats of globalisation and the 'War for Talent' is that a next economic upturn will witness the developed economies once again poaching the talent of developing countries in Africa. As such African organisations will need to launch a combination of strategies to develop adequate talent, to ensure the establishment of a culture that will make them a favoured home for talent, and to create cultures that attract and retain talent. Primarily, the attraction and retention of talent must be part of a formalised and well managed strategy within these organisations. Successful organisations in this respect will ensure that they provide their key talent with appropriate development opportunities and that key talented people are applied in challenging areas where they can truly apply their strengths. 

A second and equally important strategy is the reward and recognition of key talent. First and foremost, organisations should allow for the effective and accurate measurement of contribution to ensure that people are recognised for their actual contribution rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all approach. The application of 'broad banding' systems will also allow key talent at all levels to feel that their contributions are recognised and generously rewarded. These reward strategies should ensure appropriate alignment with the organisation's overall strategy and required leadership behaviours. 

A final, and probably the most important, strategy revolves around leadership in these organisations. Studies by the Centre for Creative Leadership (2008) show that organisations that invest in leadership development improve their bottom-line performance, attract and retain talent more effectively, drive a culture of performance and increase the organisation's agility. Echoing this study, Bersin & Associates found that companies with strategic approaches to leadership development are 73% more effective at retaining their key talent. As such, the case for leadership development and related strategies in improving financial performance and talent retention is very clear.

These key strategies require the Human Resource practitioner in African organisations to take up a role that is much more strategic. They must ensure the establishment of clear talent management strategies that are geared at preparing organisations for the talent requirements of the future. And, on a more practical level, they must ensure that the talent pipeline and recruitment processes in organisations are sustainable and that these will meet current and future business needs. 

In summary, African organisations must ensure that they exploit opportunities associated with the return of expats by implementing well-thought-through talent and reward strategies. Attracting, developing and retaining talent will be key to ensuring sustainable growth on the continent.


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