Last week I attended a conference of business school administrators hosted by IESE Business School. The theme was “Quality in context: Management education for the developing world,” and the focus was on Africa. In one of the panels, a leader from one of the most prominent MNCs, which has operations in 13 African countries, highlighted finding talent as one of the most important challenges to doing business in Africa (my apologies for putting all of Africa in one big basket – big mistake, I know! But I think the generalization is not that serious in this case.) His point was that even if important, technical skills are secondary as they can be easily trained. In his words, “the most important part is the humanistic component.”
According to him, specific African values that need to be taken into account to manage operations in Africa (and – I would add – from which we all can learn) include:
- respect for old people as they have experience and can contribute a valuable perspective. In contrast, many in the Western world have forgotten this: by classifying them as “useless” we miss an important source of advice; and
- a strong sense of community, particularly the connection to the family.
Another panelist stressed some soft skills that Africans may need to develop as they become increasingly connected to a global business community:
- overcoming tribal issues: in today’s world, you can’t have a business just for your tribe; and
- becoming aware that time has a different meaning in different parts of the world (although I think we all need some training in this!).
Those of you more familiar with the African context(s): what do you think? Any perspective on these points you’d like to share? Any values and/or soft skills you’d like to add?