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Management
 
 
Constraints and Opportunities

Developing awareness amongst the management team of the broader operating constraints (political, economic, legislative, social and cultural) within a complex operating environment, and how these may be turned into opportunities

The research is beginning to show a need for management not only to be aware of operating constraints, but also to develop an awareness of how these may be turned into opportunities amongst its management team. Sub-Saharan African countries' original economic development was based on extraction and agriculture aimed at an export rather than a domestic market and the contemporary export ratios reflect this. According to the African Development Report (2000: 136) Africa’s share in global exports fell from 4.5 per cent in 1977 to 2 per cent in 1997 (in US dollar terms 2000) This focus on export-led production had the effects of negating the need to develop a consumer-based economy, leading to the underdevelopment of processing and service industries, and skills associated with the secondary and tertiary sectors.

The inequalities of the past has ensured the under-education and under-skilling of many people who are ill equipped for jobs in a highly competitive global marketplace. Even in South Africa, its 1999 gross national product per capita (GNP) of US$3,170 places it in the upper-middle income group of semi-industrialized economies and one of the most prosperous countries in Southern Africa, yet it performs more in line with the typical lower-middle income countries considering its social indicators (African Development Indicators, 2001:5). A high dependency ratio among the population has been exacerbated by the pandemic of AIDS. The way this issue is being addressed in sub-Saharan African countries by Human Resource departments varies from decreasing expenditure on training (from interviews in Zimbabwe, suggesting that because of the number of employees falling ill after training, money spent on training was largely seen as a waste), to AIDS/HIV testing in countries including Kenya and Botswana (from personal interviews).

Long lists of constraints can be drawn up for other African countries (and through management interviews we are currently doing this), yet it is management who are able to turn these around into opportunities that may make the difference between a mal-adaptive management system and a highly adaptive system (see African Hybrid Management Systems). Organizations do thrive and prosper under adverse conditions. The research is beginning to throw up such examples, and we are developing a number of case studies that will be linked to this page (so keep coming back to this page and keep an eye of the home page for news: these results and implications will also be discussed at the Cape Town Workshop). The ability to draw opportunities from such conditions may involve the capability to include within strategic objectives the multiple interests of a wider stakeholder base. Hence, management will  also have to: Next

 
Strategies and Stakeholder Interests

Incorporating the interests of its multiple stakeholders including employees and their representatives, managers, community, government, suppliers, and customers into its strategic objectives, and not merely those of its shareholders in the case of private sector enterprises

Like many sub-Saharan African countries, South Africa has been launch into a competitive global marketplace when the overriding trend for organizations in industrial countries is to downsize and delayer to make the organization more competitive. Like South Africa other countries such as Kenya, Nigeria and even Cameroon, particularly under conditions from Structural Adjustment Programmes, may be becoming increasingly results-focused, and along with that have shareholder value as their main strategic driver.

For example, in South Africa Jackson (1999) found that managers perceived their organizations as having a low priority towards employees, managers and local community as stakeholders. Quality and growth are the primary key success factors while job satisfaction and success of affirmative action was regarded as less important success factors. A big challenge in South Africa and other African countries, is how to reconcile the need to grow people within the wider society, thereby contributing to employment equity and providing development opportunities within the organization; and, on the other hand the need to be globally competitive, to be ‘mean and lean’ and to develop a profit focus. There is a need for organizations to be a means to developing people for the future (Jackson, 1999). To be effective in South Africa (and other African countries) organizations may have to reflect the multiple interests of a broader base of stakeholders, and incorporate these within the strategic objectives of the organization. It may also be in this way that managers can interpret wider the ways in which constraints may be turned into opportunities.

Jackson’s (1999) study concluded that organisations were driven by downsizing to respond to financial constraints and commercial imperatives and, responding to the social and developmental needs for affirmative action: hence, a managing of interests from different stakeholders. But the study also warned that the current nature of managers and organizations in South Africa might militate against reconciling such differences. Managers were asked to indicate the level of importance given by their organization to its various stakeholders (defined as 'those who have an interest in the organization'). The most important were: customers;  shareholders; and government. The least important included: suppliers, employees, managers and the local community (Jackson, 1999). Managers perceive their organizations as being focused towards their business, rather than their internal stakeholders (employees and managers) and the local community. Although this specific study was not repeated in other sub-Saharan countries, the current research project is indicating a lack of inclusiveness often along ethnic lines. For example, South Asian run companies in Kenya do not necessarily reflect the interests of African managers and employees; companies run by a dominant Kikuyu management do not always reflect the interests (and reflect equitable access to decision processes and job opportunities) of other African ethnic groups. Foreign-run companies (for example, American multinational) do not always reflect the needs and aspirations of the wider community within which they operate.

It would seem logical that organizations must have effective means to give voice to those diverse interests, and incorporate them within the dialogue of the organization, its strategy, objectives, policies and practices. Hence, it is likely also that organizations will have to: Next

 
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Managing Multiculturalism

Consciously manage the dynamics of multiculturalism in order to develop strengths and synergies from these, including the management of equal opportunities of individuals from different ethnic and gender groups to influence the direction of the organization

This can be undertaken from a number of perspectives. In South Africa, as in most African countries, this would involve not only simply managing differences in culture and gender from the point of view of understanding different cultures. It would also involve managing the power relations among people of different cultures (Human, 1996). In South Africa, managing such relationships involves compliance to employment equity legislation on the one hand in order to redress the imbalances both at corporate and regional level, and consciously managing the process of multicultural working on the other hand. There is little evidence from the current research project that multiculturalism is being consciously managed in Kenya, Cameroon or Nigeria. In South Africa, cross-cultural workshops seem to have been undertaken in the mid-1990, but have faded away - perhaps through a belief that the job is now done! Recent figures from the Breakwater Monitor (2000) which monitors employment equity in South Africa through some 200 voluntarily participating organization, indicates that in 2000 African managers comprised 9.52 per cent, 5.53 per cent were Indian, 5.31 per cent were coloured and 79.64 per cent were white. Of the total 78.66 per cent were male and 21.34 per cent were female. There still appears to be considerable room for further redressing the power balances in corporations among the racial groupings, and in further developing awareness sessions and cross-cultural workshops.

Although training courses in intercultural management, and awareness sessions address issues of interaction, they may add very little directly to addressing issues arising from power imbalance within corporation that are culturally related. Nor do they address imbalances within the total stakeholder population. With these imbalances, it is difficult for organizations to argue that simply complying with the legislation is sufficient. Proactively managing across cultures would seem necessary in order to redress some of the power imbalances by building awareness, and  developing general cross-cultural competences. Because of the multicultural nature of most African societies (even apparently mono-cultural Botswana has a surprising diversity of cultural groups that are recognized as being quite distinct) and organizations in Africa (in the small community of Alice in the former Transkei in South Africa, the all-Xhosa community recognize differences between Xhosa from the locality and Xhosa who are not - favouring those clan-groups that were from the immediate locality), South African management in particular, and African management in general seems highly placed to take a lead in developing innovative ways to manage multiculturalism.

One conclusion that may be drawn is that in order to effectively manage across cultures, it is necessary to have an awareness of the types of stereotypes that one is working with, to overcome some of the negatives, and focus on the positive aspects of cross-cultural working: to see multiculturalism as a positive aspects whereby different stakeholders from different cultural perspectives can make a variety of contributions, and where this input is not simply desirable, it is necessary to economic and social prosperity. A starting point in this is for individuals to have a high awareness of their own cultural background, its values, and the contribution that their values, perceptions and expectations can make. Only recently has there been an articulation of the relation of African culture to management through the work of Mbigi (1997; Mbigi and Maree, 1995) in South Africa. Other African countries may be lagging behind in this articulation. Hence, it is also likely that organizations will have to: Next

Cross-cultural Training and Development

Providing appropriate training programmes to address cultural diversity  

In a multicultural context, the lack of understanding and articulation of the nature and influence of one’s culture may be a serious stumbling block to building synergies from cultural diversity. Yet Human (1996) argues that this is not enough. A clear understanding of the way power relations impact on stereotyping of groups and on the perceptions of individuals and the expectation one has of such individuals is necessary. Thus she suggested training  should make managers aware of the negative impact of the maintenance of inaccurate stereotypes and resulting expectations based on power relations that are transmitted through ideas relating to culture. Secondly it should make managers understand themselves. Thirdly it should provide the communication skills that are needed to minimize the impact of negative stereotypes and expectation, and to reinforce the process by which more accurate (and presumably more positive) stereotypes may occur. This is all dependent on a high level of awareness of one’s self and other’s culture, and the perceptions and expectations that have occurred as a result of the legacies of the past. This may involve grappling with many of the legacies of colonialism, and its impact on cultural perceptions and stereotypes. In order to incorporate these elements, it may be necessary, among other measures to integrate them within a development process.  

Training should reflect the following themes:

Developing awareness amongst the management team of the broader operating constraints (political, economic, legislative, social and cultural) within a complex operating environment, and how these may be turned into opportunities  

Incorporating the interests of its multiple stakeholders including employees and their representatives, managers, community, government, suppliers, and customers into its strategic objectives, and not merely those of its shareholders in the case of private sector enterprises  

Developing real and effective internal means for incorporating the perceptions, expectations, strengths and interests of stakeholders and different cultural and gender groups into the decision-making process and the management of change, through active participation.  

Obtaining commitment and motivation by developing understanding of the relationship between community/family life and work life, and the way this relationship is differently perceived by different cultural perspectives

Maintaining a high level of awareness of the contributing factors to the way the organization is managed through principles, policies and practices, and their appropriateness to the socio-cultural contexts within which the organization operates  

Consciously manage the dynamics of multiculturalism in order to develop strengths and synergies from these, including the management of equal opportunities of individuals from different ethnic and gender groups to influence the direction of the organization.       africamanagement.org

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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