Time Horizons

I hope you started the new year off on the right foot. At this time, we all think a bit about the passing of time, don’t we? Each day offers 24 hours to each one of us. But we live them with very different attitudes. And it’s important to be aware of these as we engage in business across countries.

People from different cultures have different time horizons
People from different cultures have different time horizons

On one occasion, I talked to the Managing Director of a company in Kenya. They manufacture and distribute animal health products. Many of their customers are farmers who own just a few cows. He was telling me that they are very short-time oriented, and wanted to see immediate results when they buy products. I asked what was their time horizon anticipating that the answer might be around two months. To my surprise, he said: “Two days!”

Time-horizon orientation is one of the temporal dimensions with important implications for management. The Hofstede Center reports some data on this. They have measured long-term orientation in a number of countries. By long-term orientation they mean the extent to which a society maintains some links with its own past while dealing with the challenges of the present and future.

A low score implies indicates a short-term orientation. People from countries with such a culture have great respect for traditions, a relatively small propensity to save for the future, and a focus on achieving quick results. A high score indicates a long-term orientation. People with this culture encourage saving and efforts in modern education as a way to prepare for the future

Below are the values for the sub-Saharan Africa countries included the The Hofstede Center’s studies. As reference points, the countries outside Africa with the lowest score are Colombia, Dominican Republic, and Trinidad and Tobago which they all score 13. And South Korea scores the highest: 100 (!!).

Ghana 4
Mozambique 11
Cape Verde 12
Nigeria 13
Angola 15
Senegal 25
Burkina Fasso 27
Zambia 30
South Africa 34
Tanzania 34
Namibia 35

All of these countries score on the low side – some do really low, such as Ghana.

Any surprise?

7 thoughts on “Time Horizons

  1. Happy New Year Africa. It is a very interesting approach to the way people are focused in their lives for those countries in Africa. I can suspect that life expectancy, poverty, health, work conditions are affecting very much to those low scores.

    Great analysis in The Hofstede Center too. Thanks for that.

    1. Thanks, Jose-Pedro. Something I find intriguing in Africa is the comination of short- and long-term views in business. What may be missing is the medium term that allows you to get to where the long-term vision dictates you should go…

  2. First of all, my best wishes for 2016 and congratulations for your very interesting article. During my whole professional life in SSA, I was confronted to this problem which makes it so difficult for us, Europeans, to adapt to this way of working. I presume that precarity has to do with that.

    Marc-Henry ROUVROY

    1. Huh! I now understand better your comment on the post on ” ‘Africa rising’ — Under question? ” This is something that always intrigues me. We use time as a coordination mechanism, and when different people have different time perceptions that causes coordination problems…

  3. Very impressive study! Is there any data reported on the subject for the Eauropean countries as well? How people perceive time can give valuable information about their psycho-cultural behaviour.

    1. My apologies for the late reply to your and others’ comments (just too hectic a week!).
      You may find information about European countries at The Hofstede Center’s website: http://geert-hofstede.com/countries.html
      Let me share an anecdote from a European friend travelling to Cameroon: someone told him: “God gave time to Africans, and a watch to Europeans” — I just love it!

Comments are closed.