One of TomorrowToday’s bright young stars, Aloysias Maimane helps us to understand some of the unique drivers and motivators of young, black talent. His insights will assist those who are battling to attract and retain these “black diamonds”.
There is an overwhelming sense of war when it comes to black talent in South Africa. It is right that companies, regardless of legislation and external pressure, represent South African demographics. The success of business in Africa (and the success of African companies in global markets) relies on the retention and management of young black individuals.
Let’s put a face to this black talent: It would be young black graduates who probably observed the struggle (as opposed to participated in it). Their families were (and continue to be) affected and directly impacted by apartheid. They were raised by parents who insisted that they make the best of their lives or certainly improve themselves as a result of the new opportunities that 1994 brought them. These “Gen X’ers� are in their 20’s to early thirties and are ready to make a remarkable impact on the nation, it’s economy and society as a whole. How do you retain them and manage them in an era where it seems these individuals will move jobs at the offer of higher salaries or better perks? How will you win the war for black talent?

Understand their internal war

In a war there are always casualties. In the apartheid war the first casualty for black South Africans was the ability to dream: to dream about healthy children, a nice job, good salaries and nice cars. I remember seeing a picture taken during apartheid of two black guys who stood outside a vehicle – their only legal-priced possession. The picture depicted a sense of pride in these young guys eyes. The possibility to own anything that was long term, such as house, didn’t exist, so short term investments were the option. Imagine the lessons that came out of this time. Probably the most telling lesson was about instant gratification: a sense that there was nothing worth holding on to for long term – you had to have short success, and show it off, too.
This is a serous message for industry today. It means that for today’s black talent there is not always a sense that “good things� will last forever. Change in this sense is inevitable.
The dream for nice things, such a house, cars, a family, two children and a dog aren’t always realistic for most black South Africans. They grew up watching their parents who had suffered immensely at the hands of the previous government. This dream was not a reality for most of this generation as they were growing up. The dream was simply to find a job and be better than your parents. Now that the job is found, there is very often a challenge that faces this black talent: now what? What will I do now that I have this job? This turmoil is complicated even further by the fact that for most of these young people, their parents are not looking to them for support. But, many of the young people want to show them an appreciation for the sacrifice they made for them and the country. Today’s black talent don’t just come to work for self-gratification but to a large extent to support the extended family and lifestyle that they desire for them.
This is more than the often mis-used concept of “ubuntu�. Ubuntu summed up says, “a person is a person by other people�, which is to say that community and inter-dependence on others and society is a necessary ingredient for success. We are seeing many people who proclaim that they believe in the value, yet clearly live their lives in contradiction to these values in the sense that they are becoming rich at anyone’s expense. It poses a real challenge when even though these young people are taught this message they see little evidence of it around them. There is a conflict between enriching oneself and also looking after the needs of your family, community, etc. Understanding this conflict is critical to understanding what drives and motivates black talent today.

Understand change

If this war is real for many of today’s black talent, then we must expect them to be under tremendous pressures. Yes, the have plentiful doors of opportunity open to them, but its not quite as easy as it might look. They are not as comfortable with change as it might first appear. Change can be overwhelming – especially if every area of your life is changing simultaneously. One needs to have at least one dimension of life relatively stable in order to be able to manage change in the other dimensions. Many young talented black professionals have constantly changing personal, social, cultural and economic circumstances. No wonder then that they can seem so disconnected at work. It is important to understand this dynamic and how it plays itself out in terms of issues such as loyalty, recruitment etc.

Understand the war for retention

If change of employment is not always pursued by black X’ers, why then is there such a high turnover of black talent in the workplace? For black South Africans, each worker represents a family, a community, etc. It is therefore key to understand that there is still a drive for most black South Africans to not only have financial support for themselves but also for their families and communities. In our research, we have found that most moves are related to money or salary issues. It is not that black employees are driven by money, but money is a critical component of their overall perception of their role in an organisation. They have a need to be financially independent, but also to be able to support the many units that depend on them. This is vital for their social standing.
If we are going to win this war we have to have values that connect with these young people – values that match up to Ubuntu – values such as compassion and community upliftment projects in the workplace. The message these young people grew up with was that everyone in your community is your mother and father. Looking after people still enables these young people to feel like they are giving back to something of their past. Values that are in the workplace need to show a sense of community.
I guess the question really is whether your corporate values are in any way “African�. I bumped into workers from First Rand group who were involved in a community project. I could immediately see the value they placed in what First Rand did and also in how they could go back to their communities and boast about this great company they were working for. I guess in some ways their souls were connected to values that were lived out.
If you are to successfully hold on to these workers, decide what creative types of perks can be given. Look, for example, at innovative ways to incorporate that workers family into their salary package. A company that would concern itself with the funeral of a family member by making a contribution of some sorts or, even better, going to the funeral, will reap warmth and longevity as rewards.

Understand the war for management

A management edge on black talent will become a competitive advantage in the future of South African business. The golden rule is simply this: Relationship. Not just making friends with your staff but truly connecting with their lives. Connect with the issues that make them excited. Black talent leaves companies but not managers. Managers who map careers for today’s talent help them manage their lives beyond just work. But more critically, managers who bring back the dream (of the nice house, cars, children and wealth plans) will find loyalty and passion in response.
These are manager that inspire and help the retention of black talent in the workplace. If your company is going to be the employee of choice for today’s black talent then go beyond just hiring workers who simply deliver services, and get people who you can help buy into the company, grow it and own it for themselves.

Work and Life

Work then is not just a career, but rather a picture of success and an achievement of the dream. Talented black professionals do not need more “work-life� balance, as if work and life are opposites. They need employers who understand the integration of all the areas of their lives – work, family, extended family, community, culture, society and self. Right now, many of them can simply chase extra cash – but most know this will not last, and they don’t want to be caught short with a hollow life at the end of the game. Attracting and retaining black talent becomes slightly easier when the dynamics of their motivators, history and aspirations are fully understood – as a group, and, more importantly, as individuals as well. In this sense, they are quite similar to talented young people anywhere in the world.
Aloysias Maimane is a member of’s strategy consulting team. His focus is on understanding and harnessing the true power of diversity, and dealing with today’s young talented staff and customers. He can be contacted at .

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