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How to win the talent war and succeed in employee management

When you question how you can win the talent war, you need to be concerned about the employee management systems you have in place in your company as these processes maintain certain behaviours among your staff, said Mpho Makwana – chairman at ArcelorMittal South Africa at the recent IPM HR Director's Leadership Summit. Your organisation's employee management systems determine how your employees perform. So how will this help you win the talent war?

"I am a student of systems thinking. According to this philosophy, you need to fix systems holistically. Look at the whole system and examine every part of it to find out everything that isn't working. If you do this, you'll provide a sustainable solution for your organisation," he said.

We don't find long-term solutions for problems

When you look at problem-solving, don't look at finding a 'quick fix' as this solution won't be sustainable. You need to look at the root cause of the problem to find a long-term, viable solution.

"Organisations are like icebergs, made up of many competing layers," says Makwana . "To solve your company's problems, you need to look into these various layers to discover the patters that certain events, which happen in your organisation, have in common so that you can find a workable solution."

HR provides the strategy for discovering patterns

Many great CEOs started out as HR managers. "You, as a member of the HR profession, have it in you - because of the complexity of issues you have to deal with in your career – to take your place among these great leaders," he said.

To become a great CEO, you have to have finely tuned strategic skills.

You can't speak about strategy without discussing about Michael Porter, the father of competitive thinking, who gave us the five forces model. Primarily, he makes the point that in business there is constant competitiveness, in the form of rivalry among businesses, for resources – particularly talent. So to become more competitive in your business – and thus become more strategic – you need to become savvier in terms of the moves you make in talent war and those in your employee management processes because people will carry out your strategy – machines won't.

"Every single day, you're at war. You're at war for talent. This means that you need to figure out where you're losing your talent to and see if you can do something that will prevent this loss. However, you also need to find other avenues in which you can compete for talent," he said.

Look at your organisation from 'the outside in'

Ask yourself what, strategically, is most challenging to your business model and how can you learn from this so that you can shape your competitive approach.

However, cautions Makwana, you can't have a competitive spirit all on its own. It needs to be added to other values otherwise chances are very good that your efforts won't amount to anything.

Develop a pioneering sprit

Stretch yourself and set new rules for others to follow. In this way, you'll grow and discover new frontiers.

"Growth is the challenge the average South African organisation faces today. Why is it that while our economy is growing so slowly, there are countries across our borders (such as Tanzania, Mozambique and Ethiopia) that're growing exponentially. It's necessary to ask: 'How can I become a partner to these countries so that I can learn from them?" he said.

Think out the box

Always be open to the radical innovator who will shift your paradigm unexpectedly and open you to new ideas.

"Imagination is sometimes more important than knowledge. We find people in HR who spend a lot of time preaching rules, regulations and policies but aren't imaginative. You need to be creative and 'think out of the box'," he says. "However, it's not an 'either or': you still need to apply rules and regulations while you simultaneously compel and challenge people to think out of the box."

Final words on winning the talent war

Run HR as a people-service business within your company, concluded Makwana, because in this way you'll be able to quantify your true value-add.


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