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Intercultural Management - Kenya

Being a Manager in Kenya
Management Guide Kenya


The business set up in Kenya is very hierarchical and intercultural success is more likely if you remember to be formal and courteous at all times. Older people and those in senior positions should be deferred to and treated with utmost respect. Unlike many other cultures, Kenyans do not draw have a clear demarcation between business and personal relationships. Since they do business with those they know, they become friends with business associates.

The Role of a Manager

Cross cultural management needs to bear in mind that each person has a very distinct role within the organization, and maintaining that role helps to keep order. People believe that their supervisors have been chosen because they have more experience and greater knowledge than those they manage, and it is, therefore, unnecessary, and even inappropriate for them to consult with lower-ranking individuals when decision-making.

In Kenya, as in other hierarchical societies, managers may take a somewhat paternalistic attitude to their employees. They may demonstrate a concern for employees that goes beyond the workplace and strictly professional concerns. This may include involvement in their family, housing, health, and other practical life issues.

Approach to Change

Kenya’s intercultural competence and readiness for risk is low. New projects will be carefully analyzed to assure that whatever risk they represent is thoroughly understood and addressed.

In order for change to take hold, the idea needs to be perceived as good for the group and be accepted by the group. Intercultural sensitivity is important with Kenya’s attitude toward risk dramatically impacted by the negative ramifications of failure on both the individual and the group. While in risk-tolerant environments, failure is perceived as a learning process that encourages confidence in future ventures, failure in Kenya causes a long-term loss of confidence by the individual as well as by others. Because of this attitude, intercultural sensitivity is going to be required, especially when conducting group meetings and discussing contributions made my participating individuals.

Approach to Time and Priorities

Deadlines and timescales are fluid. Patience is the key to successful intercultural management when working in Kenya. Essentially a relationship-driven culture, it should be understood that taking the time to get to know someone will always take precedence over any timelines. Don’t rush the relationship building process or you may jeopardise any future business dealings.

Global and intercultural expansion means that some managers may have a greater appreciation of the need to enforce timescales and as such, agreed deadlines are more likely to be met.

Decision Making

Managers rely on rules and regulations that employees obey without question and teamwork is a relatively new concept. In the past, employees preferred to work with others from the same ethnic origins. With the advent of more westernized business practices, managers must spend more time on team building strategies and guiding employees to treat each other with mutual respect.

Intercultural sensitivity is necessary and it is important never to chastise or criticize an employee publicly. When providing criticism, even under the guise of helpfulness, understand that employees are not comfortable with the concept of constructive criticism.

Boss or Team Player?

If you are working in Kenya, it is important to remember that honor and reputation play an important role. Intercultural sensitivity is required; it is important to qualify ideas that are raised in a gentle manner, protecting the reputation of those bringing up ideas, so no one is shamed. If someone is exposed and embarrassed, they may likely not participate again, and it will stem the flow of ideas and the participation of the entire group.

Communication and Negotiation Styles

Wait to be told where to sit as there may be a seating plan. Good personal relationships are important since trust is required in order to conduct business. Companies are hierarchical. Ultimate decision-making often rests with a few key stakeholders at the top of the company. Getting decisions from government officials can be very protracted.

Kenyans have a difficult time disagreeing, so do not think that things are going well simply because no one is challenging what you say. Proposals and contracts should be kept simple; however, it is a good idea to confirm all agreements in writing.

Want more? Have you thought about taking some formal training in Kenyan culture? We run a course called Kenya: Cultural Awareness Course which could help you get to grips with local ways.

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