HomeBusiness DigestReconstructing Zim’s talent base (Part 2)

Reconstructing Zim’s talent base (Part 2)

LAST week we covered the three Bs of the talent mobilisation framework. We developed this motif at the Strategic Human Resources Initiative Network (Shrin) by adapting, with permission, Professor Dave Ulrich’s talent menu concept as an approach to reconstructing Zimbabwe’s talent base.

The three Bs we covered last week are:  borrow, buy and boost.
Central to our motif is the nuanced difference between skill and talent.
According to the world’s most influential HR thinker, Dave Ulrich, talent is the product of skills and knowledge (competence), consistent application of skills and knowledge (commitment) and contribution (meaning and significance derived from work).  One can be competent and fail to qualify as talent.
To foster commitment, Ulrich suggests giving the employee VOI2C2E: V for vision ( a sense of direction or purpose); O for opportunity (an ability to grow, develop and learn); I for incentive (a fair wage or salary for work done); I for impact (an ability to see the outcome or effect of the work done); C for community (peers, bosses, and leaders who build a sense  of shared purpose, identity and experience); C for communication (knowing what is going on and why); and E for entrepreneurship ( a range of choices about terms and conditions of work). How many organisations measure up to these talent-building imperatives?
Is it not a rebuke to this generation that prides itself in being enlightened that we are world-famous for the talent our ancestors exhibited in cave painting and building enduring stone structures without mortar?
Singapore, a country in geographic size, no more than a few football fields put together (this is a hyperbole, of course) has 8% of its citizens as US dollar millionaires, the highest concentration in the world. In 1950 Singapore was practically a virgin jungle. Japan, an island country, not richly endowed with gold, oil and soils, has had to drain water from the ocean to build a runway. From the ashes of atomic-bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, rose Japan to give us Toyota, Kawasaki, Honda, Mazda, just-in-time manufacturing (— a reprimand to just-in-case), kaizen (continuous improvement), earthquake-proofed buildings, and so on. South Korea joined the party and has gone to give the world LG and Samsung. Zimbabwe, more blessed with natural resources is not in this league. Why?
Asia’s phenomenal successes lie in the concept of talent. We tackle the remaining three Bs.

Barter in our context is the exchange of skills and knowledge for non-salaried compensation.


  • Organisations in the same supply chain can settle financial obligations through skills sharing. For instance, Zesa engineers can assist Harare City Council by sharing expertise through short-term joint ventures and emergency trouble-shooting exercises.
  • Encouraging skilled people to spend holidays in Zimbabwe can be used as a skills mobilisation intervention. For instance, flight discounts and special discounts at resort areas can be arranged. In return, the holiday makers are asked to share their expertise in identified areas where synergies can be leveraged.

Binding involves either minimising or preventing the loss of skills and knowledge from an organisation.  One often overlooked aspect of talent leakage involves disenchanted talent resigning to pursuits that make their skill redundant. This is talent cannibalisation.  Its worst form manifests as ukuzihlalela ngekhaya or kuzvigarira kumusha (staying at home). Sadly, they ‘stay away at home’ but report to work faithfully, but are they faithful at work?

  • Organisations need to adopt a total rewards mindset. A total rewards approach allows organisations to intelligently create a portfolio of monetary and non-monetary rewards. We see strategic reward management being an area that needs serious attention and promotion.
  • Skills and knowledge transfer should be mainstreamed as a management function to mitigate the loss of skills and knowledge when employees leave. Succession planning and mainstreaming learning as a cultural capability that is measured and tracked by the organisation performance management system is the way to go.

A brilliant Zimbabwean economist survived the horrendous New York’s World Trade Centre attacks, trekked back to Zimbabwe and decided to serve in one of our universities. He even wrote an undergraduate economics textbook. A dictatorial and undemocratic culture at the institution drove him to the wall. Sadly, he left. A come-back-home campaign unaccompanied by a concomitant cultural reform of our organisations may not solve our skills woes.  How many such talented Zimbabweans who may choose to dzoka uyamwe (coming back are likely to be frustrated by undemocratic, inhospitable, commitment-sapping and spirit-crushing organisational cultures?

Building involves upgrading skills to meet current and emerging needs.

  • Re-training to bring to speed redundant skills is a necessary investment. Assisting in re-accreditation and re-orientation should be part of a decannibalisation process. Seminars, job shadowing, secondments can be used to re-tool cannibalised skills.
  • Using networks in the Diaspora, organisations can second high potential individuals (Hipos) to work abroad to develop a broad range of experiences. In talent management parlance, Hipos are the high potential individuals, not quite the solid high performers but nonetheless have the potential to become high performers. Thus talent in the Diaspora that opts not to return can still be mobilised to contribute to turning Hipos into high fliers.
  • Executive coaching is another area talented leaders in the Diaspora can be involved. Why shouldn’t the Nkosana Moyos and the Mthuli Ncubes become executive coaches for some of our budding CEOs?
  • Social responsibility initiatives driven by children of the Diaspora can be leveraged.  For instance, Professor Cyprian Lunga, a Zimbabwean who has naturalised in Britain, currently lecturing in Russia as a government-sponsored volunteer, and happens to be one of our patrons at Shrin sponsors underprivileged Zimbabwean students to study medicine in Russia, taking advantage of low tuition fees obtaining there. During holidays such students could give back to Zimbabwe as volunteer medical workers.
  • Decannibalisation is imperative. A subtle form of skills cannibalisation involves the thousands of graduates churned out by our universities every year to swell the ranks of the unemployed.  In a building the foundation is the understructure that determines the quality of the superstructure. An education system is the understructure for talent. As such our education canon needs reconstitution by shifting from producing mere headcount that is cannibalisable from the ready-go.  Non-business students can, for instance, be allowed to take up courses from the business faculty to grind their business and entrepreneurial acumen to turn ideas into viable projects. We need to dispense with the current tyranny of specialism. Brilliant student ideas are being squirreled away somewhere in some college office. Original student research needs to be protected through intellectual property law. In the springtime of my undergraduate studies I stumbled upon a discovery.   I harnessed this serendipity as part of my undergraduate project to solve some complex phenomenon with the help of a lady British professor who came to our university while on sabbatical leave. Sadly, this important discovery is salted away. My situation is not unique. It is happening all the time in our academies.

We hope this framework has provided new analytic lenses to broaden our intellectual space to address human capital mobilisation.

  • Any organisations wishing to partner Professor Lunga in his train-a-doctor scheme  can contact brettchulu@consultant.com


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