Graduate retention challenges in South Africa

Working recently with several large South African companies, particularly in the financial services industry, we’ve come face-to-face with some of the challenges of attracting and retaining talented black graduates.

There appear to be two main aspects to the retention challenge. The first of these is the acculturation challenge – particularly in large companies with an established culture that is still transforming, graduates may initially feel uncomfortable in what to them is an alien environment. For some, this discomfort will be so bad that they will leave the company within their first or second year.

The second aspect is more of a pull factor than a push factor. Because the competition for black talent is so intense, opportunities exist for graduates to hop from one job to another in their first few years, often securing pay increases and other perks when they do so.

Given that it can take up to 7 years for a graduate hire to repay what has been invested in them, this high rate of turnover amongst graduates is a financial drain on companies, not to mention a disruption to workforce morale and productivity.

Our experience has shown us (and this is backed up every year by the findings of the SAGRA report on graduate recruitment trends) that training and development within a graduate’s first year with a company is one of the key factors that determines whether they stay or go.

What has your experience been with graduates, and black graduates in particular? What do you think are some of the key ways to retain graduates?

Key success factors for graduate development

We conducted research for a large South African financial services company recently, looking at graduate development and retention generally, but also looking to identify specific success factors for that company’s graduate development programme.

One of the key things that we identified was the importance of buy-in from line managers to developing the graduates. This insight affected both the way that we positioned the programme and the way that we structured it.

Firstly, an internal marketing campaign would look to provide line managers in the different business units with information on the graduate development programme in advance of it being rolled out, and would make the business case for graduate development.

Secondly, we recommended that the graduates be employed into permanent positions, and that they not be rotated through different business units during the development programme. We heard from several sources within the company that line managers were far more likely to nurture and develop a graduate if they knew they could keep them on their team.

Not everyone agreed that this was the best way to structure the programme – good arguments were put forward for rotating graduates (it exposes them to opportunities and leaders in different parts of the business, prepares them as potential future leaders), and for fixed term contracts (allowing both grad and business to feel each other out before committing).

How do you structure your graduate development programmes? Do you rotate the grads through different business units? Do you offer fixed term or permanent contracts? And how do you find that this affects buy-in from your line managers?

Guest Post on using Linkedin to drive sales – Paul Hodges

Paul actually wrote this in response to my earlier post on using Linkedin for business development purposes (here), but I decided that it was such useful comment that it deserved it’s own post. Thanks Paul!

“For me, the true value of Linkedin (and true of all forms of social media stalking) is the fact that the information on an individual profile, is a subjective set of data written by the individual you want to connect with, highlighting the information that is important to them.

When writing a profile on Linkedin, people invariably focus on branding themselves and highlighting the events and achievements that resonate with who they are and who they want to be.

By spending time reading into the summary and the salient points they have chosen to highlight, you as a sales person are given access to an invaluable set of data providing you with insight into

– Your client’s individual brand
– What they see as being most important in any career
– What their aspirations are (they invariably highlight strengths and achievements that they see as being important for their aspirational role)

In the sales process dealing with a true “decision maker”, you cannot afford to waste those precious initial moments of contact, searching for that sense of rapport you need to start an effective conversation.

I found that using the information gleaned from a client’s Linkedin profile assisted me in more successfully developing rapport with the client in the first 30 seconds of the interaction, that all important FIRST IMPRESSION. In addition, this insight also allowed me to position my proposal more effectively by building the solution in manner that resonated with my clients aspirations.

I recommend cyber-stalking the hell out of any potential decision maker before ever interacting with them.

In all sales, the deal is closed because of the trust your client has that what you sell will achieve their true objective best.

This trust is established by more than just hard facts. It is a series of intangibles that differ for every individual. In our current time poor commercial lives, especially true for “decision makers”, having access to the crux of what they are really after (written by them, about them, for them) in a commercial and professional interaction, helps to identify those intangibles for consideration in shaping your discussion, before you have even met.”

Does Twitter contribute to a sense of constant crisis?

social mediaWow, I just discovered a blogger by the name of Kathy Sierra. Weirdly, she stopped blogging about 5 years ago after receiving death threats (read more about it here, it weirdly involves Chris Locke, the author of The Cluetrain Manifesto, a piece of writing that I’ve only ever heard referred to favourably up till now).

Enough of the weirdness, what I really want to pick up on are some comments she made about the use of twitter. In her own words:

Worst of all, this onslaught is keeping us from doing the one thing that makes most of us the happiest… being in flow. Flow requires a depth of thinking and a focus of attention that all that context-switching prevents. Flow requires a challenging use of our knowledge and skills, and that’s quite different from mindless tasks we can multitask (eating and watching tv, etc.) Flow means we need a certain amount of time to load our knowledge and skills into our brain RAM. And the more big or small interruptions we have, the less likely we are to ever get there.

And not only are we stopping ourselves from ever getting in flow, we’re stopping ourselves from ever getting really good at something. From becoming experts. The brain scientists now tell us that becoming an expert is not a matter of being a prodigy, it’s a matter of being able to focus.

Apologies for just copying and pasting so much of her writing here, but I’m not sure I can say it any better myself. She then goes on to quote Linda Stone:

“To pay continuous partial attention is to pay partial attention — CONTINUOUSLY. It is motivated by a desire to be a LIVE node on the network. Another way of saying this is that we want to connect and be connected. We want to effectively scan for opportunity and optimize for the best opportunities, activities, and contacts, in any given moment. To be busy, to be connected, is to be alive, to be recognized, and to matter.
We pay continuous partial attention in an effort NOT TO MISS ANYTHING. It is an always-on, anywhere, anytime, any place behavior that involves an artificial sense of constant crisis. We are always in high alert when we pay continuous partial attention. This artificial sense of constant crisis is more typical of continuous partial attention than it is of multi-tasking.”

Kathy goes on to make the qualification that it probably is possible to use twitter in a way that doesn’t involve being always-on. Her final conclusion:

All I’m saying is that beyond the hype, we should consider just how far down the rabbit hole of always-on-attention we really want to go.

Amazing to consider that she wrote this just over 5 years ago! I like the theme and I like what she has to say. I use twitter, facebook, and Linkedin, and I do some consulting in the social media space as well. On the other hand, I coach people around mindfulness. What interests me is how to chart a middle road between being always-on and being mindful (achieving flow). Watch this site for further blogs on this subject.

SAGRA release 2012 survey results

I recently attended the results presentation for the SA Graduate Recruitment Association (SAGRA) survey. There are two parts to the survey – one that goes out to employers of graduates, and one that goes out to graduates who have recently found employment with those companies. The intention of the survey is to get a snapshot of the state of graduate recruitment in South Africa.

There were a few interesting things that emerged. The survey confirmed that South Africa has this worrying twin problem of having a shortage of skills which leads to a war for talent – many companies all chasing the top talent pool, which is relatively small – as well as a large number of graduates who are unable to find work when they leave university. One of the most striking statistics was that there are on average 65 applications received for every graduate post available – meaning that 64 out of 65 graduates will be unsuccessful!

Another interesting statistic, and one that has been observed for a few years running now, is that ‘training & development offered by the company’ is the #1 most important reason graduates give for choosing whom to apply to, as well as whose offer of employment to accept. Obviously some of the training & development that they look for is technical training, but soft skills development is becoming increasingly important as well.

Retention of graduates is also largely driven by the training & development that they receive, as well as ‘visible career pathing’ – if graduates can see where there career is going, they are far more likely to stay.

Finally, it was interesting to note the growing role of social media in the graduate recruitment space. Facebook was the number 1 source that graduates used to get further information on companies, with Linkedin coming in at number 2. Graduates were perfectly happy for companies to use these social networking platforms for recruitment purposes.

A summary of the survey should be available on the SAGRA website shortly, whilst the full version is only available to those who take part in the survey, or at a fee from SAGRA.

Simon Sinek on the ‘why’ of leadership

I watched a great TED talk today by Simon Sinek, and it got me thinking about personal brand and authenticity. I know that I sometimes get caught up in thinking about personal brand and how I should be presenting myself in different situations. I like the way Sinek draws us back to the key question ‘why’ – why do you do what you do? Put another away, it is a move away from strategy, towards intention.

It reminds me of one of my favourite Rumi poems – one that sets a pretty high bar in terms of intention – here are the first few lines:

Forget the world, and so
command the world.

Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder
help someone’s soul to heal.
Walk out of your house like a shepherd.

And here’s the Sinek talk:

Conscious Embodiment Workshop 11-12 May

There is a Conscious Embodiment Workshop happening next weekend in Cape Town, run by Karen White. It’s a two day affair – on the 11th and 12th May, and I highly recommend the work. Inspired by the amazing Wendy Palmer, a US Aikido master, it’s about exploring ways that we can work with our own bodies to react differently to life situations – particularly situations that involve interpersonal conflict. This is an introductory course, so is open to anyone who’s curious.

Find out more here.

Using Linkedin for sales purposes..

I’m looking into writing something about how to use Linkedin for generating leads and making sales. Here are two articles I found to get you started thinking about it, A Guide to Business Development 2.0 by Alex Iskold, and A Guide to Generating Leads on Linkedin by Ann Handley.

I guess the first important point to come out of these articles is that there are uses for Linkedin beyond job hunting. This wasn’t really much of an issue for me as I haven’t been job hunting for a while.

Next, they look to make points about Linkedin’s popularity (second after facebook of all websites), and of how it is perceived as more of a business than a social site. This is important for two reasons – one, you’re more likely to find the leads / contacts you’re looking for, and two, they’re more likely to being open to a business related approach on Linkedin.

Both make some good points about how to use the search functionality of the site to find potential leads – you can refine a search by company name, location, job title, etc. So if you know that you typically sell to, for example, HR managers, search by that title and then start combing through the names that come up.

The next important point is that Linkedin will show you how you are connected to the various people that come up in your searches – i.e. how many ‘degrees’ you are separated by, and who the linking people are in between the two of you. This allows you to make the next move, which is to approach that person, using the intermediate connections as reference points. For example, my preference is either to call the lead directly and mention that I found them through Linkedin, perhaps mentioning some of our mutual acquaintances, or to contact one of the intermediate people and ask them for an introduction. I’ve found this to be an incredibly powerful way of starting new business relationships, especially if you believe those who would claim that ‘cold calling’ is effectively dead and buried in the age of Web 2.0.

Of course, the proviso underlying all of this is that one has to be sensitive to not abuse relationships or trust. Play open cards is my advice. If in doubt, rather ask for permission to use someone’s name or make contact with one of their connections. In the long run, this online world is not that different from the offline one – if you lack scruples, word will get around and you’ll start to find it very difficult to form any new relationships.

Wear Sunscreen

I went to a memorial service for a friend the other day, and the ‘Sunscreen Song’ by Baz Luhrmann was one of the songs that was played during the service. I really enjoyed it (again), and so I went in search of it online. Interestingly, I found out that it wasn’t actually written by Baz Luhrmann, nor was it written by Kurt Vonnegut, to whom it is apparently often misattributed. It was actually written in 1997 by a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, Mary Schmich – you can view the original article here.

The piece that I really enjoy goes like this: “Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.”

There’s also the Baz Luhrmann version if you prefer that: