The Importance of Culture in Hiring for Africa

What is the most important factor in the success of a new hire in an organisation? Is it the individual's skills and experiences, the management culture of the organisation, or the market and external environment?

Often, recruiters are preoccupied with ensuring that a candidate has the requisite technical skills and experience to fulfill the requirements of the role to be filled. However, very little thought seems to go into whether the candidate will be a good fit for the company or country (in the case of an expatriate hire) from a cultural perspective.

In our experience, the most important factor in determining whether a candidate will succeed in the new role is cultural fit. You may have found the most competent candidate in the world, however if there is a mismatch between their personality and the culture of the company, the placement is likely to be a failure both for the organisation and the candidate.

Unfortunately, because a company's culture is difficult to capture in words, it is harder for recruiters to understand, and even harder for them to screen candidates against. When faced with tight deadlines and demanding clients, it is very easy for a recruiter to ignore the cultural aspects of the assignment and simply focus on the technical aspects when presenting a candidate.

To illustrate the argument further, let us take a couple of examples. Anyone who is familiar with Africa, would agree that the work culture and environment in Nigeria and in Kenya are very different. The approach to management is different in both countries - especially given the differences in business environment, size of the formal and informal economy, and the cultural norms in society. A production manager managing a manufacturing operation in Lagos, is likely to be very different to one managing one in Nairobi.

We have found over the past decade, that it is very difficult to take someone who has worked in one part of Africa, and assume that they will succeed in another part, because of the cultural differences. We have found that it has been difficult for Kenyans to adapt to Tanzania (even though they are neighbours) and not just because our Swahili isn't as good as theirs! Often, companies find that they are more successful hiring some from outside the continent, who does not come with a cultural bias from another part of the continent - they don't have to unlearn their way of working and can start from a clean slate.

However, it doesn't simply end there. Forget about the difference between Lagos and Nairobi. What about the difference between Nairobi and Mombasa in Kenya? Or between Lagos and Abuja? Would the same candidate succeed in the same organisation in two different cities in the same country? Our evidence seems to suggest otherwise.

Now, if this were not complicated enough, what about cultural differences between organisations? Two companies in the same industry in the same location will potentially have very different cultures - a candidate who would be perfect for one organisation could be a total disaster for the other. An owner managed business run with an iron fist with the owner taking all major decisions will have a very different culture to a corporate run by a professional CEO who believes in delegation. Similarly, a company run by a professional CEO with an iron fist and no delegation will be very different to one run by an owner manager who prefers to delegate!

Hence, if you want to recruit successfully in Africa, it is important to spend a disproportionate amount of time worrying about whether the candidate you are proposing would be a fit from a cultural perspective. Do they have the right attitude? Do they have the right personality? Will they fit into the country, city and company culture? Can they adapt?

At Select Global Solutions, we have over 10 years experience of recruiting for Africa, with our senior team having lived across Africa, we understand what type of candidates will be suitable for the role and the country. 

Keywords: cultural differences | cultural perspective | requisite technical skills | two different cities | competent candidate