Book Review

Author gives guide on winning and retaining talent

Winning Talent
A copy of Winning Talent by Shem Omuga. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NMG 

YEAR of Publication : 2017

It is rare that you come across a book written by a Kenyan on human resource management, but Shem Omuga had delved into the subject even when his aim was not to give an academic approach to the subject. He writes what can be described as a guide to HR students and practitioners as well as those interested in understanding the issues of people management in organisations.

The book has four chapters though chapter one titled “Welcome” and the introduction can be regarded as the same as they broadly outline the content and note the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) environment in which many organisations are operating.

“It can be observed that the most forgotten and yet important solution to these challenges [VUCA] is talent. Yes, talent because this is the only factor that you cannot fake and the only source of sustainable competitive advantage,” says the author.

The second chapter presents the scenarios of good and bad succession management, giving a concrete idea of how complex the issue is.


The cases of General Electric and Safaricom (former CEO Michael Joseph to the current boss Bob Collymore) are cited as successful ones while that of Enron and Manchester United (in transition from Fergusson to Moyes) are presented as failures in so far as succession planning is concerned.

The all-important question of what would happen if senior management needed to be replaced in one day is asked. The reader might want to hear more of this subject, but the design of the book is such that it is more of a general guide of 90 pages and detailed discussion could be found elsewhere.

The main drawback to this chapter are some factual errors – specifically around the US September 2001 terrorist attack and the shareholding of Vodafone in Safaricom – and unappealing sentence construction. The errors can, however, be corrected when the book goes into the second edition.

High potential

The third chapter identifies two types of talent in a firm: high potential (HiPos) and experts or specialist. It dwells on why firms should identify these workers and get the right reward structure and avoid promoting into incompetence. It is noted that most firms are not ready for succession in some critical roles including that of the CEO.

Chapter four discusses the five steps for achieving sustainable talent and succession management using the DIDARR model – an acronym for defining, identifying, developing, assessing and recognising and rewarding talent.

The questions for HR professionals to ask in relation to this include, but are not limited to: what do you have in the talent pool? What are the applicable policies or framework and what is the business strategy?

On the whole, the book while quite valuable as it is, can be improved in a new edition. For example, the last part of the book concentrates on discussing HiPos but it can be extended to have more on the specialist talent while also minimising the editing errors that make the book appear almost self-published.