Category Archives: Professional Development

Resourcing in Southern Africa

Imported Photos 00033Author:
Yendor Felgate – Emergence Consulting

Recessionary times have dramatically impacted the volume and level of resourcing opportunities available in Southern Africa.  Anecdotal evidence from resourcing companies we engage with or have trained over the last 6 months, suggest that in the first half of this year we have seen vacancy levels oscillate between 30 – 60% less vacancies.

The impact in Southern Africa has been uneven, with the obvious exceptions being Angola and Mozambique, where local environments and skills shortages continue to fuel resourcing opportunities.  The relatively small markets of Namibia, Zambia and Botswana have slowed, with a number of companies placing moratoriums on new or replacement hires. These markets are highly susceptible to any slowdown in the worldwide demand for commodities, even impacting governments, who tend to be the largest employers.

South Africa is by far the largest resourcing market in the region and has been similarly impacted.  The knock on of the slowdown in the region has led to increased Southern African applicants applying for South African jobs.  In turn South African companies increasingly look to apply job moratoriums in the work place, with an overt South African first policy. When speaking to companies, many are literally ‘holding on’, using natural attrition to right size their businesses.  Our sense is that this can only go so far, and that we will see a range of corporate restructuring in the South African market in the last of half of this year, despite the perceived upside of hosting the World Cup next year.  Such a dramatic market change has impacted applicants and recruitment companies alike.

Firstly this has slowed down the use of non-South Africans in the South African market, which is a big blow to encouraging Southern Africa as a region, to utilise skills co-operatively.  Our view is that companies and recruitment agencies continue to miss significant upside opportunities in the hiring of African talent, both in terms of pricing and value add.

Secondly, the South African recruitment market will go through a significant restructuring of the players offering recruitment services.  The larger companies will consolidate during this period, with some of the more adventurous ones looking to expand in the region.  Small to medium companies are under pressure, with some already closing.  In order to survive, these entities will increasingly need to come up with different customer propositions or products.

We see the market differentiating between low cost producers and the higher end players, who increasingly operate in a more consulting role, with a wider range of products or services.  This period will be very difficult for ‘traditional’ players, who want to simply ride out the storm, as margins will reduce in tandem with the recession.  This will be exacerbated by the trend of companies accessing candidate databases directly and using social networks in lieu of recruitment agencies.

The third impact will be an escalation of tension between stakeholders around what it means to employ people.  Governments will look to protect full time employment, whilst the market will intensify their search for labour flexibility.  This tension has already erupted in Namibia, with the recent banning of labour broking and the South African government is also looking to do the same.

This brings us back to the question of where next for commercial recruitment.  We have a two scenario view.  The first or low road suggests that recruitment becomes unattractive as a commercial venture with the banning of labour broking and the commoditisation of recruitment.

The second scenario is hardly a high road, but one that will benefit those recruitment companies that look to diversity their services and become low cost producers when mining their candidate IP.  This implies a significant change in current recruitment approaches, pricing and funding models.

In the short term, our sense is that a complex combination of the two is occurring currently.  None of the above in our mind necessarily benefits applicants and we think that recruitment professionalism will be increasingly under pressure.

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Managing Across Cultures

Warren Heaps photoAuthor:
Warren Heaps Birches Group LLC

Cultural knowledge is critical when operating in today’s global business environment.  There is a wonderful new book penned by my friends Mike Schell and Charlene Solomon from RW-3 called Managing Across Cultures: The Seven Keys to Doing Business with a Global Mindset.  It’s a terrific read.

If you work with global teams, deal with people from different countries, or perhaps your company is exploring business expansion into new country markets, you will find this book extremely valuable.  Check out this interview from Fortune magazine with the authors, too.

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What’s In A Title?

Chuck Csizmar – CMC Compensation Group

I once faced a client situation where I was asked to uncover why a Senior Accountant (non-exempt) reported to an Accountant (exempt).  This same company used the title “supervisor” to describe individual contributor positions and it was not uncommon for Managers to report to Managers and Directors to report to Directors.

Given that these situations occurred in a large and presumably sophisticated company, one might ask – is there really a problem here?  What’s the big deal, and is anyone being harmed?  Advocates would say that offering an employee a special title is a harmless and inexpensive reward, one that doesn’t raise employer costs.  It also improves the morale of affected employees.

Where do these scenarios come from?

  • Managers grant esoteric titles to those for whom they have limited means of reward.  “They won’t let me give you the salary increase I think you deserve, but let’s change your title to xxxxx”.  Like greasing a squeaky wheel for a short term fix they want to do *something* to keep the employee quiet / motivated / not thinking of leaving.
  • Employees are given job opportunities (titles) where none should exist.  Have you experienced the long serving Secretary / Administrative Assistant promoted to the newly created role of Office Manager, all while performing the same job?
  • As a salve to employees a “special” title is used because somehow the position (usually clerical) is considered so different from other jobs that it needs to be specifically identified.  Special titles can also be seen as reflecting on the importance of the managers themselves.

In my experience it is usually those in management who consider themselves “above the fray” who do not see title inflation (puffery) as a problem.  Interestingly enough, that level of management can be severely put out if the same title giveaway happens within their hierarchical level.

At the risk of being called Mr. Gloom & Doom, let me explain the type of harvest that you can expect from planting these problem “seeds”.

  • Role clarity (job duties, business impact, decision-making, etc.) behind questionable titles will become blurred.  This in turn would generate more confusion as the company creates Senior Managers and Group or Area Directors and other in-between titles in the hierarchy to differentiate the “real” jobs from the inflated titles.
  • When attempting to determine the competitiveness of your positions the less accurate the title is in relation to the work performed, the more likely your analysis will be skewed.  Benchmarking unique, employee-specific and inflated titles will make a correct assessment of your competitiveness more difficult.  This could have real cost impact.
  • Those with inflated titles will expect whatever perks or privileges that normally accompany the title and their absence could cause difficulties.  It’s an awkward conversation when you tell an employee that the import of their new level in the organization is “title only”.
  • Inflated titles can be a detriment to incumbents as well, such as the “Director” who now only qualifies for a “Manager” title with a prospective employer.  These employees have limited opportunities outside your company because other employers would be reluctant to hire someone where the title is lateral or even backward to what they currently hold.  The result could be that mediocre performers remain with your company because they have no where else to go.
  • The natural extension of inflated titles is inflated grades / salary ranges, as the bogus “senior” position would be placed in a higher grade than the “intermediate” position, right?  This practice will gradually increase your fixed costs without a corresponding rise in either performance or capability.
  • Some employees legitimately find themselves in a dead end job, and granting them a cosmetic title as a salve doesn’t help anyone.  Lead or supervisory mail clerk?  Or the “supervisor” that no one reports to?
  • Employees do not like giving up these inappropriate titles.  Thus employee relations / morale issues will likely develop if you try to correct poor past practices.  You may have to develop creative “buy out” scenarios or grandfather employees.

If you are in a situation with inflated, redundant and confusing job titles, what steps can improve your lot?

  • Organize a Spring cleaning exercise:  start with the low hanging fruit by eliminating (deleting from your systems) all titles that are unoccupied.
  • To avoid backsliding you should accompany that initiative by implementing tighter procedural requirements necessary before a “new” title can be authorized.  While perhaps only a finger in the dike or closing the barn door after the horses have left, you must cut off the flow of new problems before you can effectively address the core issue of incumbents.
  • The company would need fewer job descriptions if the wording was more generalized.  Standardized titles would clear away much of the role responsibility confusion while clarifying an employee’s duties.

Especially in clerical positions, the general nature of duties for most positions (filing, record keeping, secretarial, forms processing, correspondence, etc) lends itself to standardization – which in turn makes it easier to move employees from position to position without having to “promote” someone when their title changes.

Bear in mind though, that title standardization makes more sense in a conference room than it does during an employee discussion.  A “Senior Depository Research Clerk” will always sound more important than a “Clerk III” or even “Senior Clerk”.

Companies try to reduce the number of titles whenever a new HRIS is established (that’s usually when the huge number of active titles becomes widely known).  Anyone who has been exposed to the process of implementing an HRIS (SAP, Peoplesoft, Oracle, etc.) will tell you that job title standardization is a key component of the project.

However there is always a degree of passive resistance when individual leaders realize that *their* area is being cleansed of superfluous / redundant / misleading titles.

Fewer titles can mean more role clarity in your organization, greater accuracy in assessing pay competitiveness, more control of labor costs and indeed higher morale as employees know where they stand and what they must do to succeed in your organization.

A final caution: be careful of setting up titles without occupants “in case we want to promote someone down the road.”   Guess what?  You will.

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How Can I Develop Global Human Resources Management Expertise?

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Alan Freeman – LOF International HR Solutions

We are frequently asked this question either by relatively new entrants to the HR profession or by purely domestic practitioners who have been assigned international responsibilities for the first time.  In the latter case, there often is an element of panic in that the individual’s management expects top-notch global HR capabilities “yesterday”!

Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to acquire global knowledge and capabilities. For example:

Formal Education 

We believe that to truly advance in a global HR career, both Bachelor’s and post-graduate degrees in business and Human Resources form a necessary foundation. The University of Minnesota, Cornell University, and the University of Illinois offer excellent HR programs. Thunderbird, INSEAD, Cranfield University and the University of Southern California (IBEAR) offer global MBA programs of note. There are many more.

Additionally, many Universities and professional organizations offer classes, sometimes through their “Extension” programs, in various areas of global HR. These can be well worth checking into.

On The Job Experience

There is nothing like hands-on experience. One should seek out positions involving global responsibilities and volunteer for international projects, work teams and task force activities whenever possible. They also should get involved with business leaders who have global responsibility and shadow them and assist however possible. If an opportunity to live and work abroad presents itself, go for it! No, do more than that. Strive to secure an international assignment!

Professional Organizations

Many professional organizations now offer extensive global activities and resources. Join them and participate in their global HR offerings! Some are open to any and all applicants; some are by invitation only and sometimes dedicated strictly to specific industries. One of the first-best avenues is to become a member of your country’s national HR Association, such as the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) in the US or the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Personalführung eV (DGFP) in Germany. These organizations, in turn, are members of the World Federation of Personnel Management Associations (WFPMA). Attend both your country’s association events and WFPMA conferences.

Professional Certification Programs

A number of professional organizations have established certifications such as the SHRM “Global Professional in Human Resources”, the World at Work “Global Remuneration Professional” and the ERC Worldwide “Global Mobility Specialist”. These can be quite useful and we’d encourage the reader to pursue certification.


One can learn a great deal from a personal mentor. Some argue that mentorship is critical for success. Establish relationships with successful global business leaders, both within HR and in other disciplines, and ask them to be mentors. Heed their teachings and counsel. 

Conferences, Seminars and Webinars

There are many professional conferences and seminars available literally all over the world and they are often highly educational AND help one expand their professional network. Attend whenever possible!

A few examples include:

  • SHRM Global Conference
  • Big 4 tax firm conferences
  • Major consulting firm conferences
  • ERC Worldwide Global Workforce Symposiums – regional and global events
  • IBIS conferences and “institute”

Consulting Firms’ Reports and Data Products

A wide variety of useful information is available for purchase from major consulting houses. This is typically most useful for gaining knowledge relevant to practices in specific countries and regions. It is almost invariably quite expensive.

Professional Literature

A wealth of professional books, journals, magazines and newsletters are available and well worth the acquisition price and time to read. Much is available through the SHRM and World at Work bookstores, and from other outlets such as A very short list of useful materials includes:

Periodicals & Newsletters

  • “Benefits and Compensation International”
  • “International HR Journal”
  • Baker & McKenzie “Global Employer”
  • Law firm newsletters, e.g. White & Case
  • Immigration firms’ newsletters

Some Useful Books

  • The Global Challenge, Evans, Pucik & Barsoux
  • Strategic International Human Resources Management, Perkins & Shortland
  • International Human Resource Management, Briscoe & Schuler
  • Managing a Global Workforce, Vance & Paik
  • International Human Resources Guide, Roger Herod, ed.
  • International Human Resource Management, Dowling & Welch
  • Readings and Cases in International Human Resource Management, Mendenhall & Oddou

The Web

Finally, how could we not mention what’s available on the Internet? My first comment is “caveat emptor”!  Some of the information available on the web can be quite accurate and useful, some not so much. One must be very careful in taking the source into consideration and evaluating the quality of the input obtained. The ability to make such evaluations, of course, takes us back to working through the list above.

Wrap Up

As with any blog commentary, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface on the possibilities. We invite all readers to share their comments and suggestions as well.   Let’s hear from you!

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