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Cultural Diversity and Multiculturalism in Ghanaian CompaniesManaging Across Borders

By Kwesi Atta Sakyi


2014

13th December

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 Solomons 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.

Childrens 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, HampdenTurner, 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 RiskTaking 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 independentminded, 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.
Contact: kwesiattasakyi449@gmail.com