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Retrenchment and Talent Management: The time of the chameleon

Posted by Flux on 

10 October 2011

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Retrenchment & Talent Management: The time of the chameleon

Human resource practitioners have never been so busy.  Think George Clooney – Up in the Air – without the glamour or the prestige air miles and you pretty much have the picture.  Retrenchment is the order of the day as is the laborious compliance with Section 189 of the Labour Relations Act as it dutifully unfolds in many an office, behind closed doors with anxious staff waiting to hear their fate.

None of this is unexpected of course, with the global economic downturn in the market, even though South Africa has been relatively sheltered until now. What is surprising is how long it has taken business to wake-up to how over-resourced they actually have been.  Not to mention how poor-performance has been accommodated or how inefficient business processes have been. The economic downturn has done at least one good thing. It has provided the trigger, albeit ironically, to register that it is time to streamline businesses into sleek, efficient and sustainable operations.

In this environment of workplace uncertainty, employment trends are moving fast. Despite pervasive retrenchments, talent management remains one of the biggest challenges facing business today. Speak to anyone in the recruitment industry and they will tell you about the vast divide between the search for talent on the one hand and the mass untalented on the other.

What is so illusive and in such short supply in the talent of today? What are employers looking for?

“Since we don’t really know what the jobs of tomorrow are going to look like,” said a strategic planner, at a large international advertising agency, “ it’s useless to recruit based on a set of prescribed skills.  What we want is someone like Madonna; someone who can re-craft and re-fashion their skills over and over again, as the business demands change.”

Innovation, entrepreneurship and accountability are the three most desirable and highly sought competencies in the job market today.  Insight, resourcefulness and flexibility follow hotly on their heels. “If you find me someone with these behaviours, we can do the rest,” said one HR Manager of a large bank.

Behaviourial attributes have replaced skills and experience as the non-negotiable essential ingredients of successful talent management.  Skills can be taught and exposure gained, but shifting an individual’s behaviour is a long and difficult commitment and business has woken up to reality that is serves their longer term interests to invest in staff who have the required behaviours to start off with.

Where are these individuals to be found?  The trend in the recruitment industry is away from splashy and expensive advertisements in the national press and towards social networking business sites. PNet, for example, established in 1997, is an online e-Recruitment Service Provider in South Africa with over 800 000 professional job seekers.   LinkedIn, Plaxo, Ryze, SANGONeT are examples of other popular sites used extensively with a large South African following.

Why it’s important?

There are lessons to be learnt from the economic downturn for both business and employees.  Employers have trimmed their excess baggage and now seek staff that possess the competence to respond and adapt to the unpredictable and ever-changing demands of the market.

It has taken retrenchment to meter out the proverbial kick up the backside to many individuals to get them to break out of their apathetic comfort or entitlement zones. Employees have also woken up to the harsh reality that there is no such thing as a secure job.  It is only those few with initiative and chameleon-like adaptability that will successfully secure their own fate.

What’s the butterfly effect?



Governments, educators and parents must be voyeuristically creative in their approach to building citizens with flexible resources to meet the unknown and unpredictable labour market.

The focus on acquiring a shopping list of degrees and diplomas is not going to provide the security it once did.  There are likely to be different and constantly changing competencies required and acquired from a different looking education system, different parenting and a fluid and evolving society.

The pioneers and global hotspots

Best practice global talent management adopts a “talent-on-demand” framework, borrowed from models of supply chain management.  Employees of the future will likewise do well to hone their skills and competencies to the demands at the time – less emphasis on acquiring a fixed set of skills and more on learning to be responsive and adaptable to the needs of a changing world.

By: Lisa Mahalah Lazarus

About Lisa


By day Lisa is a human resources and organisational development consultant. By night, she consumes vast quantities of BBC series accompanied by the occasional but audacious glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc.

Image credit: Gallo Images/ Getty Images

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