OPINION

Stable cultures

In Summary

• The Hierarchy culture produces a highly formalised, structured working environment. Procedures determine what people do.

• Leaders are proud of being efficient coordinators and organisers.

Girls from the Gabrra community showcase how to weave a mat
Girls from the Gabrra community showcase how to weave a mat
Image: FILE

Although human beings have been creating teams, organisations and societies for close on 200,000 years it wasn’t until recently that we thought about classifying the most common types of organisational culture. In the 1980’s Robert Quinn and Kim Cameron, at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, laid out their ideas on cultural typology.

Prior to this, the culture of an organisation was not considered to have much bearing on its results.

Quinn and Cameron posited four main types of organisational culture. All four are present in Africa but two are more prevalent than others: the traditional Hierarchy model and the more modern Market-oriented model.

The Hierarchy culture produces a highly formalised, structured working environment. Procedures determine what people do. Leaders are proud of being efficient coordinators and organisers. For them, maintaining a smoothly running organisation is the most crucial thing. Formal rules and policy documents hold the organisation together. Concern for the long term focuses on stability and results, accompanied by an efficient and smooth execution of tasks. Success is defined in the context of reliable delivery, smooth planning and low costs. HR management is tasked with ensuring job certainty and predictability. The banking sector is based on the Hierarchy model, and some banks are successful in sustaining it. If there’s a downside, this tends to produce an inward facing culture rather than a customer-oriented one.

As Africa’s economies developed over the past thirty years, the Market culture model has emerged to drive our more competitive enterprises. The Market culture is Westernised, involving a style of leadership and behaviour that would be recognisable in London or New York. It shapes a result-oriented organisation in which the emphasis is on completing the work. Staff are encouraged to be competitive and goal-focused. Leaders are drivers, who compete with each other. Success is defined in the context of market share and market penetration; brand leadership matters. The binding agent that keeps the organisation together is an emphasis on winning.

This type of culture has driven the growth of consumer goods and services in our region. Our well-known branded houses (and houses of brands) are built upon it. And because so many of our business leaders learned their trade in international corporates, they took Market culture to heart and applied it in the local businesses they subsequently founded. So, Market culture has driven business success ... but I wonder how sustainable it is in Africa. Arguably, it doesn’t fit well with the broader values and behaviours of our societies, which are more collaborative and tolerant.

Next week we’ll look at the two cultural models that perhaps offer a better fit with modern Africa and are, fortuitously, better able to accelerate business growth.

BY Chris Harrison