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Intercultural Management - Afghanistan

Being a Manager in Afghanistan


Management Guide AfghanistanThe business set up in Afghanistan is extremely hierarchical and as such strictly defined roles exist.

Managers in Afghanistan are often very paternalistic and relationships with their employees usually overlap into the personal sphere. You may find that managers in Afghanistan give their employees help and assistance with family and even money problems – loaning money where this is considered necessary.

The concept of honour is extremely important and managers in Afghanistan will go to great lengths to protect the honour of their employees. They do this by ensuring that employees are always taken to one side to discuss issues as it would be considered great shame on behalf of the employee if other employees became aware of any issues being discussed. If someone is fairly close to them in status, then the manager will only speak to that individual indirectly about the issue, i.e. describing the issue as a third party act as opposed to something that the individual concerned may have done directly.

Managers in Afghanistan rarely communicate the real reasons to an individual that is being dismissed. Again, this is to protect honour. They will typically tell the individual that the reason for their dismissal is due to budgeting problems for example.

The role of a Manager in Afghanistan

Managers in Afghanistan are often fairly paternalistic and for this reason their involvement may extend outside of the workplace into the personal lives of their employees.

The concept of personal strength is important to managers in Afghanistan and as such, it is key that you do not demonstrate any ‘weaknesses’.

Approach to change

The need to maintain the status quo and to mitigate any negative impacts on the ‘group’ is greatly valued in Afghanistan. For this reason, you are likely to find that managers in Afghanistan are averse to change. Change therefore takes considerable time to implement and decisions concerning change are preceded by a detailed analysis of risk. Managers in Afghanistan are only likely to follow through with changes if they believe that the change will not threaten the working cohesion of the team. You are unlikely to find people in Afghanistan who are inspired and motivated by opportunities for change.

Decision Making

Since managers in Afghanistan are chosen on the basis of their advanced technical and broader business knowledge, then it is not considered appropriate for a manager to liaise with his / her subordinates when making business decisions. In fact, this would result in a loss of respect for managers in Afghanistan as employees may come to the conclusion that they have insufficient knowledge to make the decisions themselves.

Decisions are typically made by the most senior person in an organisation in Afghanistan. Consequently, if a decision needs to be made, then it is more time efficient to direct the request to the most senior respective contact.

Approach to time and priorities

Afghanistan is a fluid time culture, and as is the case with many fluid time cultures, it is also very relationship-oriented. People in Afghanistan will not want to upset others in order to force adherence to a deadline, and while appointments and schedules need to be set well in advance as a sign of respect for the individual, you need to understand that those schedules are seen as flexible, not necessarily needing to be adhered to.

Nevertheless, because of the requirements of global business standards, local managers may understand and appreciate the important of adherence to schedules and deadlines.

When working with people from Afghanistan, it’s advisable to reinforce the importance of the agreed-upon deadlines and how that may affect the rest of the organization.

Boss or team player?

Due to the hierarchical set up in Afghanistan, it is important that the manager maintains his / her role as ‘boss’ as this engenders respect from within the team.

When the manager needs to work collectively with his / her team however, then it is important that the need to work collectively is stated and that the team are encouraged to operate openly in a non-threatening environment. If contributions are made from a member of the team which are not useful / necessary to the discussion, then the manager will ensure that this is dealt with sensitively as to protect the honour of the individual. To do otherwise, would result in the individual feeling shamed and the rest of the team stepping back from participating.

Communication and negotiation styles

The concept of ‘strength’ is important in Afghanistan and as such the win-lose mentality is prevalent. Managers in Afghanistan feel that compromise is a weakness and resist compromise even if it would be of mutual benefit to all concerned. Likewise, if a manager is trying to sell something then securing the highest price is testament to his / her strength.

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