MBA, HR & Talent

Precious Mahlangu*, days away from her thirty-third birthday and a newly minted MBA graduate from a leading business school, was contemplating her sixth career move. It was the summer of 2006 when the world, from the rice fields of China to the beaches of Cape Town, was screaming prosperity. In capital letters

Precious had studied hard and filled her CV with a who’s who of blue chip employers. She successfully negotiated the male dominated obstacle course to occupy the seat of an IT manager. Her employer and in particular, HR were pleased with having their only women of colour, in the IT department. They had invested R100 000 in her development and matched a counter offer too. Close call! But new competitors were determined to snatch her with a senior IT manager position.

Precious booked two days off work on account of a stomach bug. The only bug that mattered was not being followed during this time, as she negotiated the traffic from one interview to another. 

The HR message, couched in mumbo jumbo was:

We are a world class organisation. Our business is growing. We plan ahead and the future is bright. We value top talent. People, just like you, are our most important asset. We are a learning organisation. The sky is the limit. You will work with a team of professionals and go getters. Please join us today.

P.S: Did we mention the sign on bonus, 20% higher remuneration package and share options?

Three years down the line and the HR message, again couched in mumbo jumbo is

We will be a world class organisation (one day). Our business is operating under difficult economic conditions. We didn’t see it coming We value top talent (pause). We value the bottom line more. We will find out in 2009/2010 whether people, just like you, are our most important asset or not. We are a learning organisation. We learnt that foreign shareholders, with a controlling interest are terrible owners especially if they are sinking back home. We learnt that short term decisions can be bad for the long term. A hole in the ground is the limit.  You will work with the skeleton of a team, some are mad and others are going to get out of here soon. Please stay or go. We don’t know anymore. No mention is made of below inflation increases or those share options under water.

Precious is ready for her seventh career move when she e-mailed me.

She is disappointed with the broken promise of the sky in 2006 and the reality of a hole in the ground today. She knows that the world class organisation is back at the drawing board, trying to figure out what “world class”, will mean in future. Management confusion reigns supreme. She wants out.

Precious is tired of being penalised for the shortcomings of others – those overpaid strategists and economists that forecast indefinite prosperity. They missed the meltdown so badly; she wonders if there is there any hope for the rest of us? Maybe we stand a better chance throwing darts, blindfolded at where the market and our business are headed?

She has lost confidence in HR to retain talent. After years of talk shops about talent = assets in the same breath, when it comes to the crunch, HR has yet to demonstrate the asset side. They don’t understand the changing nature of the business, to appreciate the assets walking around them. She thought that skilled and performing individuals like herself; would be valued. Dream on. She estimates her contribution to the business is several times her package, ignored by the flawed performance management system.

If HR understood these individuals, surely they should be investing more in them, not less?  She looks at those taking voluntary packages and wonders if they are planning to return as expensive contractors when the company realises their loss.  Precious has run out of steam with her conversations with HR, they don’t seem to care about how many staff are disengaged. She is no longer worried whether the company will survive the downturn. Rather, how will it fare in the next prosperity cycle, when their talent is no longer around?

Maybe her next job will be in HR. 

 * Not her real name

(HR Future, August 2009)

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