Sipho Ngcobo wrote an interesting article on Money Web this last week, reflecting on the reality the African National Congress (ANC) faces around service delivery, or lack of it, in South Africa currently. He suggests that the pressure the ANC is under for 2011 local government elections and 2014 national elections will mean them compromising on affirmative action policies in favour of ensuring the right people are in the right places.

I do think he writes as more of a warning to the ANC to get it’s house in order than possibly the reality of what will actually happen. But I also do think that we need to appreciate that in emerging market economies this is a situation we’re all facing. It’s certainly not unique to South Africa.

As Ready, Conger and Hill point out in their Harvard Business Review article, ‘Winning the Race for Talent in Emerging Markets’, there is a severe lack of appropriately qualified and experienced people to fill management positions (at various levels). In the four large emerging market economies, Brazil, Russia, India and China, there simply isn’t enough supply to meet the demand. In countries like South Africa we should appreciate that if these four power-houses are struggling, then it is appropriate for us to be feeling some pain.

In the Harvard Business Review article, they set out their findings in an interesting graph that shows supply and demand for management using a scale that goes from entry level, to middle management, to country leadership, and tops out at regional leadership. Their research suggests that:

  • Brazil has no supply to meet the demand from middle management upwards.
  • Russia is struggling to meet the demand in all four levels
  • India is battling from the first level (entry level) upwards
  • China is only slightly better off, but still struggling to meet demand from entry level upwards.

One should be cautioned against assuming that academic qualification equals appropriate skills for management. I mention this because when I bring up the Harvard Business Review article people often query the number of MBA’s in India and therefore the accuracy of the data? Education is but one element that determines management ability. Those who fill management positions will certainly confirm this.

Sipho Ngcobo, in my opinion, is on the money with the challenge that the ANC faces. What the ANC does to avoid this crisis will be interesting to learn from? When the pressure is on for delivery and performance, especially in emerging markets in a world with a skills crisis, a compromise is certainly worth exploring between affirmative action policies and ensuring the right bums are in the right seats on this bus called service delivery.

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