“Executive Search in South Africa is a bit of a misnomer – it is often seen as a more expensive form of recruitment or talent attraction approach– when in reality it is anything but! Having the right talent in a business can have an enormous impact on its success, and the same can be said about having the wrong talent in the business, as this could be your organisation’s demise, especially in the key roles. So, you need to ask yourself, what is the sustainability and success of your business worth to you?”
says Jackie Launder, Group Managing Executive at Mindcor InterSearch in Johannesburg. Coming from a classical management consulting background with time spent at Deloitte and Accenture, Launder considers herself to always have been “in the talent game” to ensure business objectives are met through well-thought-out people practices. To her, executive search is very close to consulting, the key difference being that consultants look from the outside in, and their clients rarely implement their advice completely. “As an executive search consultant, you have the opportunity to affect sustainable, scalable changes from within an organisation by influencing top leaders to make the right talent decisions for their businesses.” As more and more firms are losing faith in traditional consultancies, they are turning to executive search to meet their needs in a more agile way – in areas as broad as talent pipe lining and mapping to create future talent pools, board advisory services or succession planning. “It’s all about how the right talent in the right seats at the right time, which directly impacts the trajectory of a company,” Launder explains.
Employment legislation leads to a war for equity talent
This newfound appreciation of executive search is by no means an indicator that Launder’s Job has gotten easier. There is some top talent in the market, but overall, finding the right candidates is challenging in South Africa. The country has undergone immense restructuring in the past decades and in that course has introduced extensive Employment Equity legislation – known as Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment or BBBEE to address the impact of Apartheid on specifically the Black South African populous but also includes the Indian and Coloured South African populous. Within the framework of this legislation, companies are awarded points for hiring parity regarding race and gender (equity). These points, in turn, enable the company to trade. Thus, a war for top equity talent has erupted. “Clients do not yet understand that they will have to pay a premium for equity talent because they are so sought-after,” Launder explains. “For highly specialized positions in certain industries, there is simply no equity talent available. This is due to past inequalities, and the time it takes for individuals to develop and have the relevant exposure to ensure they are set up for success. We must remember that it takes at least a generation to undo past impacts. In these cases, it is up to the companies to decide whether they really require great skills or whether they are willing to take time to develop talent for the position, which will take a little longer,” she explains.
Search firms can mitigate costs
Multinational corporations, in particular, tend to struggle because they have trouble understanding the talent challenges and the local labour legislation in South Africa, which can be very strict. “You cannot simply hire or fire people at will but have to be able to prove that you have done everything in your power to help an employee succeed in your organisation. Our labour legislation is in favour of the employee, which can seem onerous, especially to some multinational organisations who are unfamiliar with it,” Launder says. These requirements, amongst others, have led to a surge in the popularity of executive search services. “We mitigate risk for our clients and ensure we advise them appropriately around all these areas, but we also take time to understand our client’s structure, strategy, culture and pain points. It enables us to provide the right advice and guidance to ensure a better fit of the selected talent to the organisational environment. This results in speed to performance, smooth integration with a new team and for us, a sustainable and trusted relationship with our client,” Launder posits.
The South African world of work is changing
In addition to the strict regulations affecting the South African economy, there is a large outflux of skills with talent leaving the country due to high unemployment rates, increased crime, lack of opportunities and various other economic and political factors. At the same time, international talent or ex-pats have a hard time finding employment in South Africa unless they are truly unique in their qualifications as “we focus on localisation first and foremost, which is the right thing to do”. The hybrid workforce and the great resignation are also felt in South Africa. Candidates may choose to live in the country but work remotely for modern multinationals. “We are experiencing a seismic shift. It is no longer about the size of the company or the product but more about how a work environment affects employees. Employee wellness has become a key initiative for organisations especially post-COVID and employees are seeking agile environments that enable a balanced lifestyle focused on purpose and flexible working arrangements. Companies have to adjust to these changes sooner rather than later in order not to be left behind. After all, talent is the ultimate driver of competitive advantage,” Launder says.
South Africa in numbers
GDP: USD 418.02 billion
Economic growth: 4.9% compared to the previous year
Per capita annual income: approx. 6,950 USD
Inflation rate: + 4.6% compared to the previous year
Unemployment rate: 34.2%
Employees in the service sector: approx. 73%
Source: Statista 2021
Jackie Launder has been with Mindcor InterSearch for over seven years and serves as Group Managing Executive. Previously, she worked in Management Consulting with a focus on Human Capital Strategy Consulting – amongst others, for Deloitte and Accenture. Her assignments span various sectors, including Financial Services, Facilities, ICT, Industrial and Automotive.