HomeBusiness DigestReconstructing Zim’s talent base (part 1)

Reconstructing Zim’s talent base (part 1)

AT the Strategic Human Resources Initiative Network (Shrin) we have adapted Professor Dave Ulrich’s talent menu concept, the six Bs, to come up with a framework for talent mobilisation. In doing so I sought permission from Ulrich to adapt and scale up his ideas beyond the firm. 

We dropped “bounce”.(severing ties with employees) from the original model and introduced our own B, barter. The five Bs retained are: borrow, buy, boost, bind and build.
According to Ulrich:  talent = competence x commitment x contribution.  To have talent, all the three Cs must be present.
Competence (head and hand) comprises skills and knowledge. Commitment (heart) means consistent application of skills and knowledge. Contribution (spirit) is the meaning and significance derived from work. It is clear from this construction that it is possible to have skill and still have no talent. Building commitment and contribution is largely the work of the organisation. As such, a khumbula ekhaya or dzoka uyamwe migration-anchored (bringing back hand and head) approach to human capital mobilisation is insufficient. Underpinning our thesis is the argument that talent mobilisation is superior to skills mobilisation. 
Menu implies choice, options and combinations.

This is premised on the idea that an organisation does not need to permanently contract all the talent it requires.
Our assumption is that we have a significant number of Zimbabweans living abroad who are committed to contributing to Zimbabwe’s development but have since naturalised in their host countries, effectively  raising barriers to relocating to Zimbabwe. These barriers, among others, include new social ties such as marriage and families, change of citizenship, advanced career progressions and prospects, and significant economic investments in their adopted or host countries.
One way of getting around these barriers is thinking differently. For some types of skills and knowledge, the host of the skills and knowledge does not need to be physically present at the destination where they are required. This opens up alternatives that make the talent’s physical presence redundant. 
E-and web-based solutions can be leveraged upon. Skills and knowledge can be transferred cost-effectively through podcasts, webinars (seminars delivered via websites), DVDs and blogs, for instance. Tertiary education institutions can benefit from leveraging e-solutions. A professor in the US can deliver a lecture series using a combination of interactive IT based solutions. With the “broadbandisation” of Zimbabwe these interventions can become cost-effective and widely accessible.  
Academic talent on sabbatical leave (12 to 24 months) can be engaged by our tertiary institutions.

  • Engaging scarce skills through consultancy projects as team leaders or project members is possible. Some types of consultancy projects can be coordinated without requiring the physical presence of a project member.
  • Skills during down time or slack periods can be mobilised. Engineers, professors, doctors in nearby countries visit home frequently and this can be effectively leveraged upon on a regular short-term basis. For instance, universities in Bulawayo engage professors who have left for Botswana to come and conduct weekend lectures for post-graduate courses. Use of adjunct staff from industry and other universities can fill human capital gaps for organisations that share similar skills.
  • Inviting top talent in the Diaspora to sit on boards of Zimbabwean organisations is possible. To cut costs, such board members can participate via e-based conferencing. With respect to parastatals, there is a legislative hurdle. Only resident Zimbabweans are eligible to sit on the boards of most state enterprises. Policy advocacy is needed to allow public institutes to tap the expertise and experience of Zimbabwe’s Diaspora.

Why is the current public service human capital audit being done by a foreign company? We have talented Zimbabweans within and abroad whose skills could have been “borrowed” to spearhead this audit.


Buying involves attracting skills to an organisation as salaried employees. Present economic realities mean that attracting top skills from abroad to permanent positions in Zimbabwe may not be viable. We suggest the following buying interventions:

  • Calling of special skills out of retirement is a possibility within reach. We are glad the tertiary education ministry is musing over this route.
  • Creating donor-sponsored projects to support a come-back-home fund to provide assurance can be done to bring back rare and critical skills. This fund will be designed to offset the economic risks of coming back home. The fund should ideally provide for relocation costs should the returnees decide to relocate abroad. This idea was proposed by one Zimbabwean who after reading my article Brain Gain: Tax reform tightrope asked me to critique his proposal to create such a fund.
  • Tax incentives are necessary. Tax exemption for critical skills or retention allowance, lowering marginal tax for skilled employees to match regional levels, re-aligning our fringe benefit taxation regime to make it more competitive are necessary.

Buying back cannibalised skills should be encouraged. By skills cannibalisation we mean the process whereby highly skilled people find themselves unable to use their skills because they have been forced by circumstances to take up alternative pursuits requiring a new or lower skills set. Buying back or redeeming these skills requires much more than recruiting. Buying back may need to be combined with re-building these skills.
We do not need all the talent abroad back.
Instead we can ‘unbuy’, that is, we can treat these as leased skills, with the capacity to contribute to our economic growth through regular remittances and financial investments. Take the case of a relative of one avid follower of this column who affirmed the existence of the phenomenon of skills cannibalisation we recently wrote on. His relative, a trained educator with 17 years experience left for Australia where she subsequently trained as a nurse. If we ask her to come back which skill will we be calling her back for, education or nursing? Indications are that the supply of nurses in this country is beginning to exceed demand. Would it not be smarter to ask such Zimbabweans who are  multi-skilled to remain in the Diaspora?

Boosting refers to preparing an employee to take up a more demanding role. We believe one subtle way in which the skills cannibalisation has been happening is through boosting. Highly skilled people are removed from technical areas into general managerial positions created by departing experienced managers making their specialised technical skills redundant. We suggest the following.

  • Unboosting: asking managerial cadres to go back to the trenches ” and deploy the skills for which they were originally trained for without loss of pay.
  • Boosting should be done only when there is sufficient bench strength, that is, an adequate number of people ready to fill the gaps created by boosting. This requires a systemic analysis of the entire boosting pipeline.
  • Instead of using vertical progression as a way of boosting talent, parallel progression can be instituted so that skilled people are retained as their seniority improves.

These suggested interventions are in no way exhaustive. They are a showcase of the talent mobilisation menu, showing how strategists can think creatively to permute options that widen the scope and quality of human capital mobilisation interventions.

  • Share your views on this matter at brettchulu@consultant.com


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