Kenya’s talent agenda: top issues

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BY MICHAEL HOLTZMANN

High-potential talent is a scarce resource among organisations of all kinds, in Kenya and elsewhere. Leadership development programmes help to attract and retain top talent. PwC’s recent CEO Survey shows that companies here and elsewhere in Africa are focused on building up the leaders of tomorrow and managing some very specific talent challenges along the way.

High potential in high growth markets
One of those challenges is the availability of high-potential middle managers and skilled production workers. In Kenya, many companies are creating jobs but not enough for the large number of people with university degrees. Graduates who do excel in the formal sector very quickly find themselves in high demand as they acquire skills and expertise.

Companies may be tempted to rush high-potential candidates through to middle-management positions. This creates a number of risks, one of which is that potential is inherently latent: you don’t know if someone will rise to the occasion until you try. Trying without preparation is a recipe for failure. Companies can give their high-potential talent platforms to grow into their roles and opportunities to try new things, helping to prepare them before they advance to managerial roles. Will someone who is technically savvy also make a good team leader? The answer to this question depends very much on preparation, training and support in the new role.

Identifying high-potential talent in the first place requires that companies pay attention to behavioural competencies. Managerial induction programmes must specifically address this aspect of talent development. The mix depends very much on the company and its talent needs, but generally a programme of 10 percent classroom learning, 20pc applied learning and 70pc on-the-job training makes sense. An effective talent management strategy will create the space for that 70pc to occur and enforce accountability among the people who coach and mentor the inductee through it. Too often, we witness an ad hoc approach instead, largely driven by the need to accelerate talent development. Other times, companies fail to look beyond their embedded hierarchy or industry to find the right people.

These challenges point to a need for workforce strategy at a country level. Relevant accreditation and training bodies can work together to create a plan to address Kenya’s talent needs, for example. An effective workforce strategy will ensure that training is informed by technical content and behaviours contributing to the resilience and effectiveness of tomorrow’s leaders. This will help create the jobs of tomorrow.

Paying for performance
Our survey also shows that the competitive market for top talent influences compensation, with 97pc of CEOs in Kenya indicating that they must match pay conditions among peer companies to retain top talent. One way to combat undue salary inflation is to evaluate the talent pool overall and implement clear career planning and succession policies internally. Experience globally shows that there can be significant return on investment from looking at the talent pool internally but this also entails challenges. Internal candidates-just like external candidates-must be supported in their journey.

Internationally, there is a wide variance between high-level and entry level or average compensation. That’s informative, because the market for top talent and corresponding pay expectations are not uniform worldwide. Companies in Kenya can attract top talent from anywhere but their Boards will want to justify a return on investment. High levels of economic growth and correspondingly high expectations for company growth may justify higher compensation.

Leadership development insights
In our survey, CEOs also shared their views on leadership development programmes, in terms of what works. Overall, there is broad recognition that if companies nurture and pay attention to human capital-and treat their people like an asset-they will earn a greater return on this investment. A portfolio of leadership development programmes will help to grow more diversity within the talent pool; no company knows for sure where its next CEO will come from, especially as regional and ‘one-Africa’ strategies cause workforces to become increasingly diverse.

The leaders of tomorrow view themselves as conduits between what is happening in the market (with clients, customers, markets, regulators and governments) and the kinds of products and services delivered. Leadership development is less about leading than it is about influencing different actors to identify trends and shape outcomes. Any leadership development programme must work to grow that capacity and agility among top talent. One of the most valuable tools for doing so is feedback. Companies can implement policies to facilitate feedback and an environment for acting upon it, as well as create the space for busy, talented people to trial different behaviours or take on something new. A culture that inspires fear of failure will have the opposite effect. Feedback must be seen as a valuable and necessary professional gift between the members of the organisation.

Overall, leadership development programmes are helping to change expectations. Leaders are not heroes but instead they are human and connected to their organisation, markets and other individuals. Our survey shows that connected leadership is very much on the minds of today’s CEOs.

Michael Holtzmann is the Director of PwC’s People and Change consulting practice for the East Market Region in Africa, which includes PwC firms in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Zambia and Mauritius. More information about PwC’s CEO Survey is available at http://www.pwc.com/ke/en/africa-business-agenda/index.jhtml

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