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 

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Learning online - 'playing to strengths'

I came across this blog post from the Smart Work Company which provided a useful list of benefits that derive from participating in open online conversations.  In fact, the blog makes an interesting point about reflective conversations, developed online, might be offering an alternative approach to business education.  
  • Extending the informal relationships that people have always needed for fun, social support and learning
  • Letting us discover who knows what
  • Enabling us to ask our network for recommendations
  • Providing opportunities to find serendipitous and timely information
  • Helping us to make sense of and see patterns in flows of information
  • Helping us to practise disagreeing without being disagreeable
  • Helping us to practise asking questions, thinking critically and learning to challenge the status quo
  • Building our social capital — being known for our expertise, helpfulness and quality and influence of our network connection
  • Enabling us to self-organise
  • Letting us experiment
  • Letting us bounce ideas off each other
  • Giving us the opportunity to learn from and be inspired by others
  • Having playful conversations
  • Giving us courage and emotional support when we are fearful or overwhelmed by doing something new
It's a good list and it reflects my own experience of using social media, websites, blogs and so on as the means of facilitating my learning. But like any list there are some things that I would give more priority to than others which, I guess, reflects a lot about what I find useful, who I am and how I interact with others, regardless of the medium of communication.

My sense is that what learning online in doing is nurturing the strengths that each of us already has.  For example, if we find it useful to make notes about what we are learning - I do - then writing a blog plays well to this. Or if you are already strong at bouncing ideas off others - I'm not - then forums and chat rooms work in the same way just at greater scale and provide access a wider net of people. 

So my point is this: working and learning online amplifies what it is we are already doing and have always been doing be that writing or asking questions or providing feedback or observing or sense-making or thinking critically, etc.  What we should be doing is noticing and taking seriously what it is that we are good at and then participating in the online environment in ways that play to these strengths.  In so doing, we will be honing our strengths and practising 21C ways of working.  

Here are my suggestions for getting started...

Online tool
critical thinking

Blogger, Wordpress

Bouncing ideas of each other
Join and participate in social or business forums
Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+
Building informal relationships
Join and participate in social or business forums
Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+
Helping others
Set up or participate in online forums
LinkedIn special interest groups
Share slide presentations
Making short ‘how to’ videos
Working collaboratively
Sharing and creating documents or presentations
Google Drive/Docs



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...