With global competition spreading like a super-charged virus, leaders can no longer afford to use old leadership paradigms and beliefs. We need to behave and act in new ways. The need for me is to become a different kind of leader. We need new skills and understandings. As the playing field for companies has leveled in respect of technology, and the pace of change has accelerated, the primary source of a company’s value has shifted from tangible to intangible assets: improved processes, access to information, and, most importantly, people.

Therefore a new global economy leader leads from his/her centre core – his/her soul – with passion, authenticity, integrity and care. The new global economy leader has an executive coach, who provides honest feedback, insights, asks difficult questions, and holds the staff member accountable to his/her word.

Often, the default thinking of a larger, cash-rich company is that key talent retention and employee motivation is best managed by spending money to mitigate the “problem” – i.e. by increasing salaries and benefits, by providing cash incentives and by incurring employee development costs. This is done, for example, by funding tertiary education needs such as MBAs, etc., in return for the secured ongoing employment of high flyers, or indeed by budgeting across-the-board for individual vocational needs.

Talent retention and employee motivation can be achieved more elegantly and effectively by focusing on a broader set of retention/motivation elements. In the past and as well as in our current age of technology, entrepreneurship seems highly marketable, extremely well qualified people leave high earning, relatively secure roles, with excellent benefits and career prospects, to join high opportunity-cost, high-risk, high-workload, but apparently high-potential start-ups; very often at significant cuts in pay and benefits.

In return, these people are seeking accelerated hands-on career experience, the opportunity to build something completely new at speed, the opportunity to be associated with a ‘‘sexy’’ new product or service, and the opportunity to build incrementally a medium- to long-term stake in a high value business, with expectations of ‘retirement at an early age’.

So, by understanding the above, how do major companies as well as normal companies recruit and retain the best talent within the pool over a sustainable period? We need to “understand” our target market, and these are some basic thoughts currently out in the market place from South Africa through to Europe and the United States:

  • motivation and retention are not necessarily best or exclusively managed with cash inducements;
  • people have very individual motivations, often in complex combinations;
  • ignoring broader potential ideas/thoughts of motivation and/or dissatisfaction is naïve of companies; and
  • regular measurement of motivation and/or dissatisfaction, and the interactive communication of these to the organisation is a powerful first step to actively managing employee motivation.

So now that we know the above, still too many companies begin acting to retain their best people once a talent drain has begun, therefore using the re-active approach instead of the pro-active approach. The pro-active approach is; instead of waiting, we should begin at the beginning and identify what attracted talent to the company in the first place. In your industry, what is your company’s brand value that is out in the market, companies should question which company attributes/brand values are attracting the talent in the first place. After discussion with a few professional people within our market place, a few points were identified:

  • strong brand name within its industry,
  • innovative approach to customer as well as employee wellness,
  • excellent CSI approach, and
  • professional yet people-orientated leaders.

All of the above will be fruitless unless this is communicated throughout your whole company, and that this is the feeling shared by the majority of your employees with your company from the bottom up and, finally; that you share all of this with your external market (your customers, associates and competitors) to create a company that people want to work in for a sustainable period.

The next step is to try to understand whether you are living up to the promises you have made to people within your company and out in the market. So how do we do this? Enquire from new recruits why they have joined your company in the first place. Then find out from the same recruits a few months/years down the line whether the points that had drawn them to the company are still alive and well, and keeping them enticed to “their” company; does it compliment and add value to their lives from a vitality as well as from a monetary point of view. So what have we just done? Narrowed the gap between perception and reality.

So, being a CA(SA), I understand being technically proficient, professional, and hard working, but since I completed a coaching & self actualisation course, I now understand why certain people do well and others do not. If we look at our South African Rugby team – they had massive amounts of meaning for “why they do what they do”, particularly when they went across to the World Cup, but that all had to be linked to actual performance on the field.

The same applies to everything we do in our lives, and particularly in respect of the staff we employ to help us generate a successful company by annually increasing the ROI and keeping customers and shareholders happy.

If our employees have low meaning in respect of why they are at work everyday, are we surprised when burnout happens and these “flat employees” just don’t produce the goods we expect. As leaders of business and the economy of South Africa we would like to balance meaning and performance for all our employees/colleagues as work is only one facet of their lives, which comprise of many other facets of equal importance to them.

As professional yet people-orientated leaders of business within South Africa, lets use the thought that the customer is always right also with our employees. Our employees, with their mountains of knowledge/information are as important as our customers are in building a great, sustainable environment helping company.

Etienne Petersen CA(SA), ACMC, is the founder and an Executive Director at People SA.