Doing business in Kenya? This is what you need to know about Kenya’s corporate culture

If you are run a business in Kenya, one of the things you must understand or at least try to appreciate is the corporate culture. The KENYA BUSINESS GUIDE spoke to Tazim Elkington, a Paradigm Shifter, trainer and writer who works with organisations to support them in finding their balance and vision.

Who is Tazim Elkington?

Tazim is the embodiment or living example of an inspiring and authentic life being lived. I define myself as a “paradigm shifter” credited with motivating, stimulating and encouraging many groups and individuals in society today with my unconventional strategies to living a more fulfilled and rewarding life.

You have worked with many organizations in Kenya in the area of culture. How would you describe the Kenyan corporate culture?

The Corporate culture in most organizations/companies is outdated. They are working from the 20th Century model with all its limitations. No clear set of Values are understood or exist neither are the systems and processes clear for all. Leadership and management are challenged by trans-generational carry forwards and there is a huge gap between employer or top tiers and the rest of the employees. Profit margins are affected or unmet due to unclear policies on performance, delivery and customer service. Training and skills development are not a priority and creating a dedicated work force in a healthy work environment is rare to find. We need to fast forward into the 21st Century with the fact that we are a hub in this Global world.

And the general culture of the Kenyan people?

Culture cannot be described for over 40 million people. Each person firstly has their own personal culture, then the rather mixed up family culture, added to a very vague work culture makes it impossible to answer this question. Add education, religion, social, economic, tribal socialization and you will see the diversity. We have some very outdated belief systems that many Kenyans believe in as well as the deep ingrained conditioning on poverty, silence and greed. These translate into heavy corruption practices right from the top to the bottom. The lack of 21st Century practices as part of the learning and development of human resources create some serious ‘gaps’.

Culture gets so mixed up when we try to understand it collectively. I have sat and listened to five people from the same ethnicity only to hear five different versions of the so called truth about their community. I truly do not believe there is a common culture amongst any particular ethnicity. What I would say is that everyone has a personal culture which they then try to hook up to others who may have some commonalities with.

What is the best part about working in Kenya that you will not see just by walking around offices?

I am not sure how to answer this question as I have not worked in an office in Kenya since 2000. What I do hear when I work with organizations is that the fast paced 10-14 hour days for senior employees is taking them to the edge. No time for family, friends or a life. The rest of the staff are also pushed to work many hours, feel unappreciated and now money is not the only hook as people question what their lives mean.

What are the most common complaints companies in Kenya have about employees?

The gaps between bosses and employees from salaries to treatment. Racial/tribal divides, favoritism, not feeling acknowledged, no training and development programs, long working hours with low pays and finally not feeling secure in their jobs.

For people intending to start a business or have a business that is less than two years old, how do you put systems for a good corporate culture?

Systems and processes must be installed when there is more than one person for a start-up. A good foundation must be laid at the start. Therefore, it is extremely important to have a clear vision for five years with a plan which includes all these cornerstones of starting and creating a progressive company. Clear direction, solid agreements on what this company will stand for and why, customer service commitments, and the list goes on. In short, creating a sound proof culture as the company is being setup NOT when it is two years old. Since every company has a different business idea, processes and systems are customized. It is essential to have experts provide this service for longevity, growth, foundational pipelines and ultimately success.

The issue of corruption is a major concern in Kenya. What drives it?

The poverty mentality whose best friend is greed! Apart from the fact that we do not have a system that has consequences so people get away with whatever.

You are also an entrepreneur, what do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out in self-employment?

I have nearly three decades of working in various industries and businesses and I was very well prepared from the get-go. The best part is my business keeps evolving as I ensure I keep myself current and 21st Century focused with the services I provide in training, learning, development, leadership, management and culture creation.

What advice would you give a foreign company that wants to set up a business in Kenya?

Kenya has an amazing educated and diverse talent. Creating a 21st century model enterprise is absolutely necessary. Vet new employees carefully as there are a lot of people who are not honest in their CV’s. Also consider processes, systems, HR, culture and leadership.

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