7 HR trends in South Africa

Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) Business School today released seven trend predictions for human resources management, workplace dynamics and executive education in South Africa for 2016.
“Our predictions are based on discussions with clients in private and government sectors across our offices and education facilities Cape Town, Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth, Durban and East London,” said Leon Mouton, Director of NMMU Business School’s Leadership Academy, the executive education and customised learning division of the School.
“We looked at global trend-scanning and the contributions of our residential subject matter experts in HR and organisational development.
“This year, South Africa’s HR agenda will start to embrace the contributions and prospects of artificial intelligence. Management development programmes and executive education will focus on unlocking collective leadership. Workplace flexibility becomes a topic of debate and may lead to new HR policies.
“On the leadership development front, and with talent wars in mind, companies continue to develop and groom their own, while familiar faces may be headhunted and welcomed back,” he said.
1. Artificial intelligence courts HR
The infinite possibilities of artificial intelligence (AI) are starting to seep into HR and organisational development agendas.
While exciting new AI future scenarios are discussed in academic literature, on the other hand software programmes designed to help talent managers, HR professionals and recruitment firms are becoming commercially available.
In Artificial Intelligence Techniques in Human Resource Management — A Conceptual Exploration, Stefan Strohmeier and Franca Piazza of Saarland University discuss the influence of technology on HR.
They believe technology can benefit organisations hugely. Turn-over predictions through artificial neural networks, knowledge-based candidate search engines, staff rostering with genetic algorithms, HR sentiment analysis through text mining technologies, and CV data acquisition through information extraction are all new possibilities, they claim.
While these ideas may sound like scenes from science fiction literature – or like nascent projects in the R&D pipeline of tech firms – already software programmes, such as natural language processing, can infer meaning from texts.
In 2016, South African companies will become more open to having discussions about the ways in which technology can be used to interpret data or generate new information to support decision-making in HR and across the company.
2. Leadership development, wider talent recruitment and the panacea for talent shortage
Senior management; specialists in medicine, engineering, law and the accounting fields, as well as people trained in artisanal vocations rank highly on South Africa’s skills shortage list. The latest findings of a leading South African labour shortage survey reported a 31% skills shortage in South Africa. However, on a global scale, we are still fairly safe. In the ManpowerGroup Talent Shortage survey, 10% of South African companies reported difficulties in filling jobs. Out of 42 countries, South Africa was ranked in 39th in talent shortages. Japan leads the race in first position where 81% of companies were struggling to find human resources.
In emerging markets, skills deficits occur when growth outpaces the availability of local talent. Despite a lower forecast in economic activity for South Africa in 2016, and with predictions of possible recession surfacing, the talent wars continue, and may even intensify. This is because management, senior executives and specialists are exiting companies to pursue their own entrepreneurial projects.
We predict South African companies will this year respond in three ways to talent shortages. In-house leadership development programmes will focus on the leadership development of existing employees in the company’s talent pipeline. Talent managers and recruitment agencies will have to throw recruitment nets much wider, looking for talent outside home markets. Companies may contemplate hiring back employees that have left.
In general, we predict that training investments will remain stable to lift skill levels, and to ensure that South African business enterprises remain competitive.
3. The people-leader imperative and organisational performance
People-leadership skills continue to shift higher on HR and organisational development agendas.
This trend is prevalent in both emerging and developed countries. Leadership IQ’s Talent Management survey found that the shift to people-leader leadership was occurring widely, with, for example, top performing companies in the US and China having higher people-leadership practices than poor performers.
In addition, the Carnegie Foundation’s forum research and other studies have shown how leading through people-leadership skills can support executive career development. In fact, the people-leader imperative was three-to-four times more important to a leader’s career success than skills or knowledge.
4. Management development underscores through collective leadership
Closely related to the people-leader imperative is collective leadership.
Executive education, skills development initiatives and training interventions focussed on this form of leadership development all seek to harness the collective leadership psyche and shared wisdom of a group or team. In short, managers and executives are shifted from their personal management style to the more inclusive collective leadership.
In order for collective leadership to thrive, managers and executives must work towards observing cultural and psychological dynamics within employee groups and focus on building strong teams, creating shared visions and purposes, and instilling collective action.
By embracing this form of leadership development, HR and talent managers can look forward to expanding the collective leadership capacity within organisations and transforming the leadership culture from top-down hierarchies to horizontal, agile and fluid environments.
5. Workplace flexibility enters organisational agendas
In a recent Forbes article on workplace trends, author Dan Schwabel draws attention to two studies which are reconfiguring workplace dynamics.
The first, a study by Gallup, indicates that the duration of an average week has moved to 47 hours in developed countries, while the second – a study by Workplacetrends.com – notes that 64% of managers now expect employees or team members to be accessible outside the office and during personal time after hours.
Telecommuting, shrinking office spaces, a growing body of literature around unproductive open-plan office spaces, and new computer-mediated communication technologies are shifting employee preferences to flexible workplaces.
In fact, in view of the talent shortages, we believe that organisations with flexible working policies and arrangements will become the most attractively positioned companies for top talent.
We believe that this year organisations will began formalising workplace flexibility policies. It is a big shift, but outputs, outcomes, creativity, productivity and profitability may just take off in the most unexpected way for those who are open to change.
6. Training programme duration gets shorter
The days of a nose-to-the-grindstone executive education and training are perhaps numbered – especially when we consider factors such as extended working hours, and the challenges of rapid change and volatility in emerging markets.
What is required is short and powerful in-house executive education programmes. Programmes with longer study durations should offer study flexibility, allowing students to work at their own pace but within the timeline requirements of the organisation and the learning establishment.
7. Cultural Diversity Training and Interventions around Employee Conduct on Social Media
Recent news events in South Africa show how organisations are responding and acting decisively with regard to employee misconduct on social media. The bottom line: it is reputational risk. Accordingly, a major bank suspended one of its senior economists, a well-known personality was removed from a popular reality TV show and a real-estate company and political party battled to distance themselves from the hate speech of one individual.
Employee misconduct on any public platform – whether relating to racism or hate speech – is being dealt with swiftly and publicly. At least, this is the signal from the market.
The grey line between freedom of speech and organisational affiliation will force companies to develop policies and undertake training for their staff. In addition, we predict that companies this year will focus their resources on training in cultural diversity and intercultural management. These are the areas that clearly require urgent attention.

NMMU Business School Leadership Academy Director Leon Mouton on HR, training and leadership development trends in 2016.
Source: The Skills Portal (www.skillsportal.co.za)