Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Business leadership in Africa

One of the things that I'm actively working on at the moment is a learning expedition to Africa. These expeditions are about learning in context by visiting a country and learning, through discovery and reflection, about business practice. 

The expedition will be based in Accra, Ghana and will focus on business leadership. We will meet with business leaders, university faculty, government ministers, students and NGOs to find out the strategies, business models and leadership approaches that are being used to take advantage of Africa's rising economic growth.

What's different about doing business in Africa?

I've spent the past seven years shuttling between the UK and Nigeria working on a contract with one of the oil majors.  Apart from some rather obvious differences between working in, say, London or Paris, compared to Lagos, which are about the weather and the traffic, the day-to-day business practices are, on the surface at least, quite familiar. But if you stand back a little and observe what's going on you find, just as you would in any business, a texture to how things get done that reflects the cultural norms of that place.  It's tempting for international businesses to assume that their practices can be applied unproblematically but to make this assumption is both naive and disrespectful.

Here is an example of what I mean in this piece written by the African journalist, Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani for the BBC - Letter from Africa: Doing business in Nigeria

In it there is a great example of how a foreign mobile phone company applied an international standard in its Nigerian call centres of ending a call with the question "Is there anything else I can do for you?" The problem they encountered was that the majority of Nigerians were not used to rejecting a blank cheque.  

"Whenever you asked them that question, they automatically assumed that they must request something else - almost like when diners at a buffet feel compelled to keep stuffing their bellies because the tureens are not yet empty.
And so, the conversations between customer service staff and Nigerian customers never seemed to end. Each time staff attempted to conclude by once again asking the question, another round of requests began. Sometimes, the customers would invite their nearby family and friends to the phone, in case anyone had a problem that might need sorting out."
The solution to the problem was simple: with the exception of premium customers, calls were concluded with a simple "Thank you for calling".

What should you expect on the learning expedition?

The approach that we are taking is to provide a diverse range of interactions that will expose participants to the economic, social and political practices.  We will, for example, be collaborating with a Ghanaian business technology incubator to run a 'hackathon' on business issues presented by the participants.  In another example, participants will be working with vendors in a typical African street market to sell mobile phones to customers. The bottom line is about learning in the field from practitioners.  We will meet in a classroom each day but this will be to facilitate the individual and collective learning that is emerging from the experience.

Want to know more?

Africa is changing and the leadership it needs is changing too.  Many organisations, wherever they are based, know they need to have executives who will be leaders in Africa.

If you want to know more please contact me on or +44 7748 984628 

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