By Kwesi Atta Sakyi???????????????????????????????????????????????????? 13th December 2014
In this era of globalisation, we live in a global village and work in a multicultural milieu, with people of different ethnic, tribal, and national origins and identities found at the work place. We find ourselves at work surrounded by people of different cultural, religious, social, sexual, educational, philosophical, political, economic, and moral orientations and persuasions. This is more so if we work for a multinational or transnational company or corporation (MNC or TNC) such as Airtel, MTN, Unilever, BP, Toyota, GMC, Barclays, CitiGroup, ExxonMobil, Pfizer, GlaxoSmithCline, PWC, Deloitte, KPMG, Anglogold Ashanti, Newmont, British Airways, Ethiopia Airways, inter alia.
Globalisation or the process of concatenation of countries whereby we have merging borders and seamless operations across national boundaries has been made possible by the creation of trading blocs such as ECOWAS, SADC, COMESA, EU, NAFTA, MECURSOR, ASEAN, ACP, APEC, OECD, among others. Globalisation has also been facilitated by stupendous advances in ICT, transportation, and the growth of many MNCs which have operations in many countries. We need add also that the use of social media networks such as Whatsapp, Twitter, Facebook, inter alia, have also contributed to the? process of globalisation.
Globalisation has no doubt helped many transitional and emerging economies such as ?the BRICS ( Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) and the ?MIST ( Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea, and Thailand) countries to find a larger global market for their exports on the one hand, and also on the other hand to outsource their non-core activities such as the supply of raw materials and component parts, thus maintaining tight integration in their value and supply chains through forward, backward, horizontal, vertical, and lateral integration.
We have become a world of greater interdependence and complementarity by putting into practice the principles of opportunity cost ratio, comparative cost advantage, and absolute cost advantage propounded by Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Michael Porter, Herscher-Ohlin, among others. Ricardo forecast many years ago that the world would tend towards the equalisation of economic rent as finite resources became scarce, and greater mobility would flatten isocosts, isotims and isodapane isoclines in economic space. Ghana is no exception to this process.
This is exactly what is happening now with globalisation, whereby rich farmers from all parts of the world are relocating to Africa and South America in order to buy prime land for plantations, thus increasing land rents. ?Prime agricultural land with fertile soils have been located in Africa and South America. This mobility is also increasing the rate of racial mix. Chinese and people from other overpopulated Asian countries are fanning out in their numbers to look for the legendary El Dorado or land of gold, alluded to by the English novelist, Rider Haggard in his novels such as Allan Quatermain , King Solomon?s Mines, ?among others.
Many eyebrows have been raised about the pros and cons of globalisation as many skeptics have raised concerns that free trade or globalisation advantages only the rich and powerful nations which apply double standards in their dealings with the developing countries, in that they ask for abolition of trade barriers yet they impose strict restrictions when importing from the developing countries. They give advantage to their farmers by giving them subsidies and farm support, yet they ask us to remove subsidies on fuel, electricity, water, food, education, medicare, among others.? The WTO has become a symbolic tool organisation with a bias towards the interests of the powerful and mighty, and the world economic scene is not a level playing field.
How do we manage or fit into a workplace where it requires managing and interacting with people from across borders? What is the import of having multicultural teams? What challenges do we face when working in multicultural teams? Why is managing across borders a challenge to managers and employees alike in Ghana?? How do Ghanaians fare when working for MNCs? ?These and other questions will be explored in this essay with a view to answering them.
MNCs choose to operate across borders to increse their physical presence globally in order to increase their market share, and to take advantage? of low cost labour and tax havens. They also operate globally to exploit locational advantages of being closer to markets and sources of raw materials, to exploit favourable investment climate in some countries, to spread risk through diversification, and to gain competitive advantage from their core strengths, as well as reap the benefits of economies of scope, and economies of scale. MNCs also learn from best practices when they compete globally, thus becoming more efficient. In this day and age, MNCs engage in world class manufacturing, leading to fragmentation and scatterisation of their operations in many SBUs (Strategic Business Units).
They also build global synergies working with their subsidiaries across the globe. They also operate globally to reduce internal and external failure costs by being present where their customers are, and knowing their needs from their decentralised operations, thus applying the principle of subsidiarity, and being customer-centric.
It is now not uncommon for a worker in an MNC in Ghana to be transferred to a subsidiary abroad as an expatriate. For example, those working for Airtel, MTN, Barclays, Standard Chartered Bank, Ecobank, Unilever, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, among others may be posted abroad to places such as South Africa, Kenya, Zambia, Uganda, India, Singapore, inter alia. Postings can be for short or long periods of time, on contract. Ghanaian soldiers and policemen have in the past gone on UN Peacekeeping missions in Lebanon, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Congo DR, Bosnia, East Timor, Sudan, Cyprus, Rwanda, Ivory Coast, among others.
Such postings require those involved to prepare themselves with the acquisition of emotional and cultural intelligence, as well as good public relations, interpersonal, and communication skills to be able to function properly in their new environments. They should have the flexibility and linguistic skills to adapt quickly to their newly-found locations. To survive, one needs to be open-minded, alert, receptive to change, have inner strength, and internal locus of control, resilience, and ability to make quick and good decisions. It also requires diligence, humility, tolerance, and not being judgemental.
One needs the ability to overcome culture shock with regard to strange habits, new types of food, new modes of dressing, new ways of greeting, new work ethics, and the dos and donts of the new society that one encounters. Expatriates have hurdles settling in with their families in their new environments. They sometimes face challenges such as language barrier, xenophobia, inter alia. Also a spouse or partner may not be willing to relocate because of their job.
Children?s education may be disrupted, and you may lose physical touch with friends and relatives back home as you become attenuated from your roots and become a misfit, anomie and an erratic. You may leave a lucrative job back home to take up appointment abroad, and on your return after completing your contract, you may be assigned a junior position. This can happen if you did not go on secondment. Sometimes a foreign posting may not be all that profitable in the long run because of high cost of living in the new location, and other hidden costs. You may lose touch with what is happening on the ground back home, despite being in touch through multi-media.
Being a Ghanaian expatriate abroad comes with many responsibilities and challenges from? ?your immediate and extended families. They may request for financial assistance as their expectations become high, taking you to be in El Dorado or Land of Gold.? Working abroad comes with challenges such as facing inclement weather, racial discrimination, travelling costs to visit your home country, among other challenges.
Within Ghana, working in a cosmopolitan city such as Accra requires you to be a polyglot as you need to master languages like Ga, Twi, English, among others. At your workplace, you may encounter people from other tribes and you may have to know basics of other languages such as greetings and common expressions, to be able to get by. One has to be people-centred and flexible to be able to interact well with colleagues. You need to be able to tolerate people of different inclinations, persuasions, perceptions and social statuses.
Our friends from the west are highly individualistic, future-oriented, time conscious, result-oriented, competitive, aggressive, unemotional or restrained, affirmative, assertive, risk takers, and cold in attitude. In contrast, we in Africa tend to be short-term in orientation, collectivist or communal, very emotional, empathetic, gregarious, and we revel in groupthink. We are carefree, and we love procrastination. We forget that time is the most precious asset of man. We tend not to be self-dependent, independent-minded, and we tend to have low esteem of ourselves, thus wanting to be led always.? This is docility.
In Accra, we have businesses owned by foreign entrepreneurs such as Syrians, Lebanese, Indians, Chinese, South Koreans, Nigerians, and others from neighbouring countries. Ghanaians working for these foreigners have to adapt to the working styles of their employers who have different cultural backgrounds. Of course, these foreign employers do not operate in a vacuum as culture is a two-way street. They imbibe some of our national cultures if they stay long and get married to locals. ?There have, however, been a few reported incidents of some foreign employers of Ghanaians? who subject them to abuse such as underpayment, long working hours, insults, unsafe working environments, intimidation and threats, sexual harassment, among others.
Thus, Ghanaian workers have to know the labour laws, their human rights, and they need to be assertive when negotiating. International Human Resource Management (IHRM) has now assumed greater importance because of globalisation. It is more complex than managing people locally. In IHRM, you are dealing with different people and a myriad of labour jurisdictions, practices, and standards in economic zones such as the EU and OECD. IHRM requires HR managers to pay attention to the social sensibilities and sensitivities of employees from different cultural milieu.
For example, calling black persons as banana eaters, slaves or monkeys or niggers is unacceptable. Or touching the bums of lady subordinates is sexual harassment, or making verbal passes at them is assault.? Some non-African superiors who work in MNCs abuse their positions as they verbally and sexually harass beautiful black women working for them, sometimes making fun of their big boobs and protruding bums.
Some MNCs adopt ethnocentric approach to managing across borders whereby they use a top-down, one- size- fits ?all approach to all their foreign subsidiaries, disregarding local norms. Some American companies use this approach, sometimes with disastrous results as their standards and work practices may clash with local values.
On the other hand, some MNCs use the Universalist or Geocentric approach whereby they localise and decentralise operations, allowing for local modifications, and operating purely according to rules, rationality, and standards. This approach may also be termed polycentric. It is a bottom-up approach. Ghoshal & Bartlett have recognised the move of MNCs towards the network organisation which has been made possible by ICT, to enable video conferencing, teleworking, standardised and formalised procedures, outsourcing core, instead of non-core activities, among others. Some of these network organisations are e-Bay, Amazon.com, Alibaba, and LastMinute.com.
Kenechi Ohmae has classified how some MNCs operate, by grouping them into three, namely: Formalisation, Centralisation, and Socialisation.? The Americans have highly- structured and formalised systems in place in all their subsidiaries, and they can monitor work through the internet without being physically present. The European method of operation is through socialisation of their foreign staff, whereby an experienced staff goes to train the staff in their subsidiaries. The Japanese centralise everything at headquarters through the use of the computer network.
In Ghana, the Kwahus are famous for their business acumen and they are successful traders. They operate their businesses using close relatives who are honest and trustworthy. They pass on the secrets of their businesses to these relatives who serve them from infancy till they are grown enough to be independent. They are like the Japanese and most Asians who do not trust outsiders or foreigners.? Geert Hofstede (1980) and Fons Trompenaars, both Dutch, have done considerable academic research in national manifestations of culture. Others in this field of research include Hall, Inglehart, Stiles, Ghoshal& Bartlett, Hampden-Turner, Schneider & Barsoux, Thomas DC, Lewis, RD, Adler NJ, Branine M, Albrecht, MH, Smith P et al., Deresky, H, Caligiuri, P, Dowling, P, among others.
Hofstede identified six dimensions of culture as Masculinity vr Femininity, Individualism vr Collectivism, High and Low Power Distance, Long term and Short term time orientations, and Uncertainty Avoidance or Risk-Taking Appetite. Developing countries have high power distance because there is a gulf of distance between those in power and their subjects, in terms of accessibility. In such a high power distance culture, bosses are worshipped, and the subordinate has to be a ?yes man? to gain favours of rapid promotion, hence giving way to corruption, bribery, abuse of corporate resources, among others. This high power distance is accentuated by poverty and ignorance. Those in authority entrench their power by surrounding themselves with classmates, relatives, tribesmen, and clansmen to ensure their power is consolidated.
They may use Machiavellian methods to cling on to power. Bosses adopt a patronising attitude, dispensing largesse to favourites. This may demoralise employees who are not blue-eyed boys, and this can lead to organisational atrophy, low productivity, conflicts, and sabotage.? Lord Acton once said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The only way to reduce the power distance is to be fair, transparent, and to follow ethical behaviour. This is lacking in corporate Ghana.
Masculine cultures are found in the west, where they are independent-minded, un-empathetic, aggressive, result-oriented, and highly individualistic. Feminine cultures on the other hand, believe in relationships, family values, and being caring, and having an egalitarian society with equal opportunities for all, as is found in the Scandinavian countries.? Ghanaians fall within the feminine culture, but in a negative way, as care and relationships are biased in favour of tribesmen and clansmen.
In high uncertainty avoidance countries, they are not risk-takers as they are highly calculating. In low uncertainty avoidance countries in the west, they take a lot of risks. Ghanaians fall in between the two, depending upon age, educational attainment, tribe, wealth, among others. Poor countries have many who are risk-averse because of absence of social security cover from the state, or social safety nets. In terms of time dimension, most Africans in general live for today, and they do not make long term plans or form the Puritan habit of saving or frugality. This may be attributed to poverty and a way of life. ?This is also due to social pressures and hostile environments, whereby many uncertainties can derail your long term plans. Take into consideration rapid inflation, rapid depreciation of the currency, political instability, among other adverse variables.
Trompenaars came up with eight dimensions of culture, some of which are diffuse versus specific cultures, neutral versus affective cultures, time sequence and time synchronous cultures, achievement versus ascription cultures, universalism versus particularism cultures, inter alia. In diffuse cultures, they believe social relationships are necessary to drive work. This is true for most African countries where relationships do not end at the work place but they extend beyond into social spheres. In specific cultures, work is not related to relationships. This is common in western cultures where work relationships are separate from social networks. This is what we need to adopt in Ghana to free us from proto-corruption.
In neutral cultures, people do not openly show their emotions as we do in Ghana. This standard of restraining behaviour of westerners has been ingrained in most educational programmes, thus allowing for temperate and urbane manners to be displayed in public. We need neutral rather than affective cultural behaviour if the Black Stars must win AFCON or the World Cup. We need a mixture of this culture, affective in private, and neutral in public, so that we do not bottle up too many emotions as to cause high blood pressure, cancer, and other ailments. Besides, we need high doses of both internal and external locus of control, by taking responsibility for our mistakes and not blaming others, or on external uncontrollable factors.
Western culture believes in time sequence culture of systematic planning and deadlines, while we Africans in general enjoy time synchronous activities, whereby we multi-task. Well, it depends on your talents and energies, as well as the exigencies of the situation.
I earlier on alluded to the ascription and achievement cultures. Suffice to state that ascription culture recognises who you are or your social status and not your achievements. This is the bane and curse of Ghana now, whereby people get appointed to the highest level of their incompetence because of their tribe. There is mediocrity instead of meritocracy. All over Africa, we see this sad trend, hence the rise in government judgement debts, failed public service delivery, among others.
In conclusion, working in an MNC in Ghana or any country requires peculiar methods of managing by managers, and a different orientation of mind by employees who find themselves working in multicultural teams. They need high levels of flexibility, emotional and social intelligence, high linguistic flair, interpersonal skills, and a lot of tolerance, open-mindedness, inter alia to sustain themselves highly functional, and sometimes to survive under harsh conditions.
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