CrowdIt is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate between competitors in almost every industry in the world. New innovations are quickly copied and improvements in quality, service and price are easily matched. In this globalised world, you can no longer differentiate yourself simply on the basis of your product or service. What you do is becoming increasingly less and less important, and who you are is growing in significance.
If who you are is who you hire, then the ability to attract and retain talented staff (and customers) is increasingly becoming one of the most important capabilities of every company in every industry. Human resource management has therefore never been more strategic than it is now.
Employer brand
Companies spend a lot of time, effort and money raising the profile and acceptance of their brands. They focus on developing the market for what they sell. But very few companies allocate significant resources to developtheir “employer brand”. This is the perception of their company held by current and potential staff members. It directly impacts the company’s ability to attract and retain talented staff.
Younger generations are becoming increasingly discerning as they job hunt, looking beyond salary, basic conditions of employment and the obvious perks. They are asking questions about culture and the “heart” of an organisation they want to work for. There are a few key litmus tests that seem to be applying in analyzing a companys employer quotient.
To attract talent in South Africa in the next five years, the following five items need to be at the focal point of HR and senior leaderships radar screens (in addition to everything else that needs to be done):

1. Work Life Integration
Many companies have flirted with greater work-life balance, mainly by allowing employees more flexibility in the work hours, and/or by providing more amenities at the office. These are all good, and weare convinced that more and more of this will be demanded by young talented employees.
But companies need to move beyond simple techniques, and recognize that the demand for more work-life balance represents a fundamental shift in the employer-employee relationship. Thats why we prefer the term work-life integration. The concept of balance is a myth.
Your most talented employees know that the only the thing they can rely on is themselves. They also know that it is imperative to keep their CVs warm i.e. to be constantly ensuring that they are employable. They do this by hard, dedicated work, and are not scared to answer emails from home over the weekend, or work late nights as required. But then, they expect the company to reciprocate and allow them time to go to movies on a Tuesday morning or watch their daughters netball match on a Thursday afternoon. Theyll probably be on the phone or using their Blackberry while theyre there anyway.
2. Technologies
In order to offer maximum work-life integration, most companies will need to adapt their IT focus. The technology gurus are talking now about Web 2.0. We have reached a stage where the promise of IT has largely been fulfilled anything you really want to do with computers, you can now do (at least, in terms of business process automation and systems). Technology no longer limits us it is an enabler, especially an enabler of transactions and connections between people and organisations. You are limited only by your imagination.
The new promise of technology is to dramatically assist us in connecting with each other. The impact of this is seen in myriad ways: staff members logging into the office network from home, making a trip to the office unnecessary (even call centers can now be operated in this way, with operators working from home and logging in as and when they can); customers preferring our webpages to be interactive (with blogs, wikis and real-time feedback, for example) rather than static content; the continual quest for ever more mass customization (as we use technology to create personalized markets of one), and so on.
We need to move beyond using technology to simply automate out-of-date processes. HR professionals need to truly understand the impact of emerging connection technologies, and utilize them to unleash a revolution in efficiencies and enjoyment.
3. Leadership Development and Wisdom Continuity
Companies need more learner leaders. This is an unfamiliar concept in many corporates, where the leaders are the ones who have completed their learning (after all, how else do you prove youre ready to be a leader?). We tend to not think of leaders as learners, with big red Ls on their backs. Yet, this is one of the key marks of a great leader. In fact, it was Alvin Toffler who wrote, as long ago as 1972 that the illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.
One of the key components of leadership development that must be addressed over the next five years is the issue of wisdom continuity. Probably the biggest barrier to inter-generational knowledge transfer is that many senior people in companies operate at a level of unconscious competence. They operate from a gut feeland on instinct, and do not even necessarily know how much they know about what they know. To put it another way, novices operate on the basis of rules, often relying on the application of codified knowledge. Experts operate at a level called heuristics, relying on experiential knowledge and not being constricted by simplistic rules. These heuristics must be captured and transferred if business genius is to be passed on. But these levels of experts dont often know the heuristics they use, or are incapable of articulating them adequately to others.
In the past, this level of knowledge has passed from expert to novice through a lengthy process of observation, assimilation and osmosis. Some professions created apprenticeships or articles to assist the process, but in truth it was expected that it would take a decade or two of just being there. But this is no longer the case. Because of changing technologies, young graduates have cutting edge information that leap frog them ahead of long-time experts yet, they usually still lack wisdom. Yet, theyre not staying around for two decades to get it, and in an age of high staff churn, companies cant afford to let wisdom transfer take as long as it used to.
Talented young staff are assessing the talent and leadership development programmes of the companies they want to work for. More than simply providing a leadership pool for the future sustainability of these companies, these programmes are becoming critical recruitment tools as well.
4. True Diversity
It is absolutely essential to build real diversity muscle into an organisation. This doesn’t just mean getting people with different skin colours or anatomical bits into your boardroom – because its all too easy to subtly (and not so subtly) promote only those blacks and women who act and think like white men. And its easy for them to start acting that way once they learn the rules. To put it another way, its often the best ones that leave – because they see the game and refuse to play it. NO. We need REAL diversity – of worldviews – hard coded into our companies. That is a key ingredient to resilience, multi-national and multi-market success, and to a sustainable competitive advantage in the future.
Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) is an attempt to redress the institutional abuses of the past. It has certainly achieved many of its aims, but has not been nearly as broad-based as was intended. It has also unfortunately resulted in quick fixsolutions, often seen as window dressing. The next five years will require a massive shift towards real development of real diversity. This goes beyond compliance to real empowerment. This is the challenge for the next five years. But the promise if we succeed is that we will have not only have complied with government requirements, but will also have developed globally competitive, innovative and highly resilient companies.
5. The Role of Women
Women are continuing to grow in influence in the workplace this is an unstoppable trend. Yet too many women try to succeed in the workplace by acting like men, and taking men on at their own game: the power-based, competitive, testosterone-filled, dog-eat-dog, workaholic game. Its not that they cant compete if they want to, they can. Its that they shouldnt compete. Rather, women should see their function as changing the workplace to make it exhibit more feminine characteristics. This is part of the diversity quotient of an organisation, and, frankly, men also need to learn these feminine characteristics and become adept at applying them where and when applicable.
One Final Reason to take this Seriously
Many senior leaders in organisations feel that todaystalented staff members are being overly pandered to, and don’t understand the demands and desires of these young people.Whilst some companies have certainly gone overboard, there should be no problem with implementing systems that ensure the organisation gets more than its fair return on investment in talent. If your talent isn’t delivering consistent, superior performance after all youve done for them, then maybe you have the wrong people on board.
But we also need to understand that the type of organisation these talented young people are asking for is the type of organisation that they are most likely to purchase from as well. Since existing and potential staff members are often also part of the company’s target market, it makes good strategic sense to work hard at understanding them, and aligning the organisation to their values.
In a world where connection and attention are at a premium, anything a company can do to attract and retain the most talented people in its industry is worth investing in. This has never been more true than it is now, and the next five years arevery likely to be a pivotal period of separating the future winners from the losers.
Dr Graeme Codrington is a business strategy consultant and founder of TomorrowToday.biz. He helps companies adapt their corporate culture to be able to attract and retain the next generation of talented staff and customers. He can be contacted at graeme@tomorrowtoday.biz.

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