In solving the ‘Talent’ crisis, it’s time for South and North to jointly solve the ‘gravitas’ problem

If you take a look at the state of business education in the world today, you’d have to conclude that we’ve never been in a better position to take our organisations forward to places we’ve only dreamed of. There’s never been more business education available than there is currently. We have more business schools, both physically and on the internet. More people are going through these formal programmes than ever before. There’s also never been more access to information informally than ever before. Almost anyone can get access to some of the greatest thinking with regards to business.

And yet there’s a shortage of people to fill key positions in most organisation I speak to, no matter the continent they find themselves on. The opportunities abound and yet there aren’t enough people to take them up. However, I contend, it’s not that there’s a shortage of educated people to fill these spaces. The problem we have is that there’s a shortage of people who have the required depth, gravitas and experience. And in my opinion, no number of business education programmes can fix this problem.

Depth, gravitas and experience are not learned in a classroom (no matter how good it is). These characteristics emerge on the job. They develop through numerous and varied experiences over time. And if this is the main process by which you aquire them, then there are some interesting modern challenges and obstacles we have to deal with:

  1. The length of tenure of many young people is getting shorter and shorter, before they shift jobs, companies and industries.
  2. Companies have placed significant pressure and stress on their managers and leaders by thinning head count. ‘Grey Beard’ availability to transfer knowledge and experience is becoming scarcer and scarcer.
  3. More digital engagement and therefore less personal engagement. Technology doesn’t necessarily add any extra value you weren’t expecting. It does what you ask it and then moves on.
  4. From a demographics perspective, the developed world, first world, northern hemisphere (I know these descriptors are weak) has an interesting challenge. Theirs is a number problem. When you look at their demographic shape you notice very quickly that there are more Baby Boomers retiring than the number of ‘replacements’ coming through in Gen X. Where do they find the extra people they need?
  5. Through the same filter, the developing world, 3rd world and southern hemisphere have the inverse problem. It’s not numbers, because their demographic shape is a pyramid. More than enough people but insufficient resource to train and develop this large number. Add to that senior people being attracted to the developed world to fill their numbers problem.

Certainly in my conversations with middle and senior managers and leaders there is agreement across the board for the urgent need to build gravitas faster. How that’s done is the question. As I wrote earlier, our tried and trusted method has always been numerous and varied experiences over time. But the challenges I list above are complicating this. We need to find another way to do this?

I’d like to hear your solutions, should you agree with me, and then have any? But let me end by putting one suggestion on the table.

What if the Developed and Developing Worlds got together to solve this? It does seem like we have a neat fit with regard to our demographic challenge. Why shouldn’t South Africa (for example – but insert and developing world country here) be one of the bread-baskets to the world for medical professionals? Currently our medical people are world class and highly rated by the countries all over the planet. And the great news is that we have a large supply of young people who’d love an opportunity to qualify in this space. We just don’t have the money to build more medical schools for education and hospitals for experience. Solve this and in a few years we’ll have more than enough for most countries with a shortage.

Of course, right now, why should the Developed World come to the party? They’re already getting our medical professionals for ‘free’. They have better value-propositions as countries than we do, and so it’s a fairly simple job convincing a 35 year old doctor to move across the planet to live and work in their environment. But if business and government got together to begin to find solutions, this may not be that far-out-an-idea.

It’s also a scalable solution. Call-Centers are often seen (in theory) as great training grounds for people wanting to move into other areas of an organisation. They get fantastic exposure to many aspects of the business, and in the 1-2 years they’ve been there they’re a better starting prospect than someone equally academically qualified who hasn’t had the Call-Center experience. Often the obstacle to taking on this sort of thinking is that the Call-Center doesn’t see itself as a ‘bread-basket’ and other business-units don’t see them as that either. Imagine the Call-Center selected it’s best agents, and instead of trying (in vain) to keep them, they did a deal with a business-unit in the company. Offer the Call-Center operator a chance to move within the business if they stay an extra 12 months and receive business-unit specific training and development. Churn rates fall in the Call-Center (more gravitas is retained), the Call-Center Operator feels valued and possibly more committed, and the business-unit gets a far better candidate than if they’d gone outside of the business.

Of course all of this requires a large amount of conversation, and that takes time. And with the pressure many people in business are under, there simply isn’t enough time to be thinking medium term. It’s tough out there and the problems are enormous and immediate. But if we don’t begin to fix this one, the problems are only going to get larger and larger.

Would love to hear some of your thoughts?


4 thoughts on “In solving the ‘Talent’ crisis, it’s time for South and North to jointly solve the ‘gravitas’ problem”

  1. Linda Barron says:

    I wonder if it is not because the people you talked have not shrugged off their responsibility. It is so much easier to pay someone else to “teach” rather than put aside dedicated time in the working hours to mentor the “upcomes for “outcomes””. If corporates were truly honest with themselves and us – they would like to recruit graduates who come neatly packaged, with a bow and all of the “gravitas” you talk about. “Gravitas” like experience cannot be bought off the shelve, rather it takes “learning from, learning on, and that magical ingredient that is in such short supply, time!

  2. Gericke Potgieter says:

    Your article is looking at a global solution when, because of the fundamental nature of the problem, perhaps it may be more local than one thinks. There are more factors at play here – what you are perceiving as a lack of management skill, I perceive as a discarding of old school business and educational practices.

    The problem you write about sits squarely within the realm of monolith-type organisations. We need managers where there is a large workforce required to do low level work at low intellectual levels, but with information being as freely available as it is today, leading to a more informed workforce, large corporations cannot afford to maintain old management models as they are no longer capable of retaining talent. They are desperately trying to do so (at the frustration of highly qualified, experienced individuals who have broad based experiences) by focusing on specialisation and sticking discouraging limitations on given positions. Within this approach the concept of a breadbasket makes complete sense, but it doesn’t solve the real problem.

    But short attention spans due to overexposure to informational stimuli goes against this model. We want to call it a lack of focus, but as much as that is true there is value in the ability to deal with the realities in the information society (pardon the paradox). This is where the new market is, and this is where businesses will need new market skills. What the new generation lacks in focus, the old generation lacks in new market skills.

    Dan Pink talks in this video about what motivates people, and I believe that in the growing knowledge economy these findings must impact the way businesses are organised, and also the way in which businesses regard competence:

    My hypothesis is that the issue lies not with a lack of ability or knowledge, but in the way that the internal relational structure of businesses discourage the individual nature of the GenX and future GenY workforce instead of reintegrating them into a balanced social experience (real-world vs. online).

    On the education side of things – you mention kids not being able to afford to study for desired positions. It is an approach issue – somehow the idea that people are solely responsible for their own development has conquered the truth about how we learn. There is no doubt that we are solely accountable for applying what we learned in order to become economically active participants of society, but getting there is in part the responsibility of every citizen who wishes success upon their country. What if one could develop an investment model aimed at developing kids into successful adults? Or even adults who wish to change their field of specialisation? What if we could make this an investment model that could be truly profitable for the investors? How about we take this model and make links with numerous umbrella funds in the retirement industry to fuel future potential in a profitable manner (there is a huge trend towards socially responsible investment growing in the retirement industry)? Could this perhaps change the dire picture? I believe it might.

    Moreover, if we are able to effectively integrate different industries with education instead of seeing them as disparate entities, then there would be clearer development pathways for individuals, especially if they can be exposed to practical experience from an early age.

    After writing all of this I just realise how fundamental the underlying problem really is. As you said – it is a long discussion, but one worth having.

  3. Hi Gericke.

    I like much of what you wrote in both ‘sections’ and I’ll spend much of today mulling it over in my head.

    I especially like the thought that traditional management style (expectation) may not be cut out to manage this younger and smarter crop of workers. As Pink says, ‘management’ was invented, it can be un-invented. As you’ll know there is more and more being written around self-managed teams.

    Don’t know if you’ve watched Pink at TED? ( Similar content to your clip on YouTube. Worth a watch to see him in person.

    I’ve also often wondered about education as an investment opportunity. Seems obvious, but I’ve never asked someone in that world why it seems as though no-one has ever really entered into it?

    May I ask you a question?

    If you were to begin to re-arrange the fundamentals, where would you begin? What 2 or 3 things would you look at?

    1. Gericke says:

      Hey! I only saw your reply 6 months down the line – apologies. Let me reread what I wrote and generate a good answer for you in a few days time!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *