Skills@work

The African Company Culture

The African Company Culture

What is your company culture?

ÂDiversity in African Businesses

Business culture in Africa is diverse and influenced by various factors, including cultural heritage, historical context, and regional differences. While it’s important to recognise that Africa is a vast and diverse continent with 54 countries, there are some common cultural aspects that can be observed across many African business cultures. Here are some key points to consider:

  1. Relationship Building: Building strong personal relationships and trust is crucial in African business culture. Africans tend to prioritise relationship building before conducting business transactions. Taking the time to establish connections, engage in small talk, and show genuine interest in individuals is highly valued.
  2. Respect for Hierarchy: Hierarchical structures are often respected in African business settings. Age, seniority, and position within the organisation are considered important factors in decision-making and interactions. Showing respect to those in higher positions is expected, and deference to authority figures is common.
  3. Communication Style: Indirect communication is prevalent in African business culture. It’s important to pay attention to non-verbal cues, read between the lines, and understand the context of conversations. Politeness, diplomacy, and avoiding confrontation are valued, and disagreements may be expressed indirectly to preserve harmony.
  4. Sense of Community: African business culture emphasises the collective and communal aspects of work. People often identify strongly with their community, tribe, or ethnic group, and decisions may be influenced by communal interests rather than individualistic goals. Inclusive decision-making and consensus-building are valued.
  5. Long-Term Orientation: African business culture often emphasises long-term relationships and goals. Patience and perseverance are key, as business negotiations and agreements may take time to develop. Building trust and maintaining relationships over the long term is essential for successful business interactions.
  6. Flexibility and Adaptability: African business culture may exhibit a degree of flexibility and adaptability in response to changing circumstances. This is influenced by the concept of Ubuntu, which emphasizes cooperation, empathy, and the ability to adapt to different situations.
  7. Respect for Elders and Experience: African societies generally hold great respect for the elderly and value the wisdom and experience they bring. Senior professionals and leaders are often highly regarded, and their guidance and input are sought in decision-making processes.
  8. Importance of Etiquette and Courtesy: Demonstrating proper etiquette, courtesy, and professionalism is highly valued in African business culture. This includes dressing appropriately, using formal greetings, and showing respect for others’ customs and traditions.

It’s important to note that these are general observations, and business practices can vary across different regions and countries within Africa. To effectively navigate business interactions in Africa, it’s essential to research and understand the specific cultural nuances and practices of the target country or region. Building strong relationships, showing respect, and being open to cultural differences is key to successful business engagement in Africa.

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10 Ideas for Improving Company Culture

You must first recognise the current culture of your business before making any changes. Unaware of it or not, every organisation creates a corporate culture. Culture develops and changes on its own, even if nothing is done. That’s why it’s so important to work toward building culture at work in positive ways that align your organisation’s ideals and goals with everyone’s behaviours.

The problem is that an unstructured, unguided culture might cause more harm than benefit. The mission, beliefs, and vision of your organisation could be significantly different from what its members and executives really perform. That indicates a dysfunctional corporate culture.

1. Find People Who Fit

Many have spent an enormous amount of money and time only to have the new employee leave after a few months. To help prevent this, hire people who not only have the needed job skills but who also share your organisation’s values and vision and will fortify them with fresh perspectives. Help candidates get to know your company culture during the application process so both you and the applicants will have a better idea of whether they would be a good fit.

2. Integrate Your Values into Everyday Activities

Ideally, your culture should be the showcase where your values come to life and prove their worth. Ben Peterson puts it more frankly, “The values you define for your organisation will mean nothing if you don’t intertwine them into everyday work.”

Ways to integrate your values can be found almost everywhere in your organisation. You can, for instance:

  • Train your values and their significance to each new employee during onboarding.
  • Stress the importance of your values during company meetings and in company communications.
  • Make sure your external messaging (marketing, social media, etc.) reflects the same values so your branding is consistent.
  • Make values-based decisions when choosing company initiatives.
  • Use your values to guide performance management and assist underperforming employees improve.

3. Foster More Feedback

Both your employees and your organisation can benefit from a company culture that encourages better feedback. Constructive feedback enables the company as well as the individuals within the company to grow.

Many organisations still primarily rely on annual performance reviews that aren’t very accurate, timely or helpful. Often seen as burdensome and a waste of time. However, with the right training and alignment to the company values and vision managers can see the value in this process.

Plus, many organisations don’t know what their employees really think of them, leaving leaders in the dark as they make decisions about cultural initiatives. Using an email survey can reveal what employees like and don’t like so you can shape your culture in ways that increase employee satisfaction and reduce turnover.

4. Keep Up with Changes

The business world changes at dizzying speeds. New industries rise. New processes disrupt traditional ways of doing things. New generations of employees and customers bring different expectations to the workplace and marketplace. No organisation is exempt from the effects of change, so your company culture must change too to keep up.

The best way to prepare your culture to adapt to changes is by basing it on timeless best principles, instead of locking it into rigid best practices that often become obsolete. The need to be relevant to both your market and employees is critical for the future growth of your organisation.

5. Learn How to Change Broken Company Culture

Despite best efforts, just about every organisation will face times when something about their culture isn’t working. Don’t think of these issues as failures but as opportunities to improve. An article in The Harvard Review tells how to change company culture using four key practices:

  • Articulate the aspiration. Analyse the issues in your current culture and define the kind of culture you want.
  • Select and develop leaders who align with the target culture. Their support, strategising skills, and ability to implement changes will be critical to success.
  • Use organisational conversations about culture to underscore the importance of change. Just as culture is everywhere in an organisation, frequent and open dialogue about cultural changes must be too.
  • Reinforce the desired change through organisational design. Align your organisation’s structures, systems, and processes to support the improved culture you’re developing.

6. Reward Your Employees for A Job Well Done

“Where do you see yourself in five years?” is a classic interview question. The usual answer to this question is something like, “I see myself developing skills at your company, which is the best one on earth and the company of all my hopes and dreams.” The honest answer is, more likely, “I hope your job improves my capacity to live, with an environment I can stand most days and compensation that keeps up with my standard of living.”

Setting up a fair compensation package is a big hurdle to clear when building culture at work. Few things drag on employees’ performance quite like financial stress and additional non-monetary rewards may not go very far when your employees are worried about making ends meet.

But money is only the first step. If they’re motivated, your employees will find the money they feel they need, whether with you or with another company. When you find the right balance between an employee’s needs and the company’s ability to provide them, you’re setting the stage for the additional steps needed when creating a company culture, rather than a collection of employees collecting salaries.

7. Recognise Individual Contributions

Every employee you hire has a hierarchy of needs (remember Maslow). After meeting the basic needs of food, shelter and a secure environment, your employee will look to fulfill emotional needs. At work, that means earning recognition for their contribution to your company. When looking for ideas to improve company culture, adequate recognition is as good a place to start as any.

Your employees want to enjoy the time they spend at work. Effective recognition strategies strike a fine balance between incentivising individual success and praising teamwork. Different positions have different levels of visibility, and it might not be possible to give everyone company-wide recognition for a job well done. For example, awarding the Employee of the Month award (and accompanying cash prize) to a marketing manager for a record-breaking email piece may make the writers, editors and designers who crafted the email feel ignored or undervalued.

Rather than rewarding a single employee on an arbitrary timeline, apply recognition (and financial rewards, where appropriate) in the moment. Combining company-wide incentives (like paid vacation) with regular feedback from managers helps send a powerful message: no matter who you are, we value you and we want you to improve.

8. Retain Your Talent

Let’s ask the question again from the other side: where do you see your company in five years? How you answer this question provides insight into your company values and can help you visualize how to improve your workplace culture. Developing and communicating these values helps your employees envision their future with your company, no matter what comes down the road.

Be Open. When you’re upfront with your employees about what matters to them, from the company’s successes to its upcoming challenges, you encourage your employees to be open to their teams and their managers. Then when challenges or issues come up, your employees know that they have more options than voting with their feet.

9. Champion Teamwork and Collaboration

Having a welcoming and collaborative work environment is vital for building company culture. While this is important when working in teams or on certain projects, consider making this ethos prominent in all aspects of the workplace.

From offering spaces in the office for brainstorming and conversation to encouraging extra-curricular teambuilding activities – even something as simple as a weekly team lunch or grabbing a drink after work.

In many cases, building relationships can equate to building a positive culture at work – the easier you make it for your employees to do this, the happier your company will be.

10. Embrace Flexibility

Flexible working is becoming more and more popular, especially since the pandemic. Trusting your employees with more flexibility in their schedules is a great way to foster loyalty and satisfaction among your workforce, improving office culture immensely.

Whether you begin with a hybrid model between working remotely and in the office, allow your employees to choose their own hours or introduce unlimited vacation time, all these perks help create a company culture that employees can be proud of. Not only will they value the helping hand in finding their optimum work-life balance, but they’ll feel trusted, valued and respected.

Next Steps: Never Stop Improving Your Company Culture

It’s natural for your company culture to evolve over time—which is why you’ll never truly perfect it. Instead, it’s important to stay in a growth mindset. Even the world’s best companies still have room to improve over time.

Beyond these ten tips, there is much more to know about how to improve company culture. That’s why we would like you to invite us into your organisation and assist you with developing a culture that enhances growth for both the company and the employees.

Should this article have resonated with you and you want to discuss training or coach options please contact:

Skills at Work Training (Pty) Ltd

Human Capital and Learning consultants

+27 82 894 5827 / +27 82 883 2425

sean@skillswork.co.za

marjon@skillswork.co.za

www.skillswork.co.za

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