Adaptive cultures

According to Robert E. Quinn and Kim S. Cameron at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, there are four types of organisational culture: Clan, Adhocracy, Market, and Hierarchy. Last week we looked at the prevalence of Market and Hierarchy cultures in Africa. We noted that they are structured and controlled, with a focus on efficiency and stability. Company cultures with market focus tend to be results-oriented, with a focus on competition.

Much progress has been achieved by these types of organisation. But, as I move around the corporate space, I sense that leaders are frustrated. It’s almost as if they have gone as far as they can to grow business by top-down leadership. They are meeting resistance to Western-style cultures that demand ruthless competition and the absolute subordination of employee interests to those of the body corporate.

To put it in human terms, Africa produces people who are still more socially engaged than many of their western peers. Interested in doing the right thing by one another. Helping each other out; and giving respect where it is due. Overlaid on this we now have the complex value sets of Generations Y and Z. As you will have read, these younger people prize opportunities to make individual contributions to the organisation and to be recognised for them. So, authoritarian company cultures now fit poorly with modern social norms.

Fortunately, Quinn and Cameron’s work identified two further culture types – worth considering in this situation:

Clan culture. A friendly working environment where people have much in common and strongly resemble a large family. Leaders are viewed as mentors and maybe even father figures. The organisation is held together by loyalty and tradition. There is a high level of engagement. The emphasis is on the long-term benefits of human resource development and great value is attached to personal relationships and morale. Success is usually defined as the ability to address the needs of the customer and take proper care of its people. The organisation attaches great value to teamwork, participation and consensus.

Adhocracy culture. A dynamic, entrepreneurial and creative working environment where people stick their necks out and take risks. Their leaders are viewed as innovators and risk takers. The binding agent that keeps the organisation together is a commitment to experimentation and innovation. Longer term, the organisation’s emphasis is on growth through new products and services. Being a pioneer is considered important, so the organisation encourages individual initiative and freedom.

It’s time for modern business leaders to acknowledge that culture is fundamental to enterprise success and to try something different. Insanity is sometimes defined as doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.

Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside in Africa

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Try emotion

In Africa, the Internet now provides almost universal access to global news. We’re no longer limited to stodgy newspaper coverage of national, regional and local politics. The daily trumpings of  Trump, and China’s campaign to secure the planet’s strategic resources for itself are now common conversational currency in Africa. Within that context, the unresolved agonies of Brexit (the UK’s unactioned resolve to leave the European Union) provide two salient lessons for organisational leaders worldwide.

The Leave campaign is primarily driven by emotion; the Remain by logic. Emotion won the referendum and logic has tried to prevent its realisation. Whatever your views on Brexit, it’s clear that emotion continues to win the war of attrition. As commentator Rory Sutherland  says in his amazing new book about ideas (Alchemy) Remainers don’t understand that saying ‘leaving the EU will result in higher labour costs’ is heard by half the population as ‘wages will rise’. Economic logic has no traction, because both the EU and the efforts to overturn it are political projects.

So, the first lesson for business leaders is that cold logic on its own is ineffective. If you order your employees to work every Saturday and Sunday because failure to do so will jeopardise company results, what do you imagine they will do?

I recently engaged with a company where the leadership team believe that giving orders  and demanding compliance is the only way to change business performance. They are learning a hard lesson about the limits of coercion: passive resistance and active sabotage surround them. Their response has been to issue more orders and be nastier to staff. If we manage to save this enterprise, we will have to address the weakness in its leadership.

Which brings me to outgoing UK Prime Minister Theresa May. She’s a godsend to me (not her country) because she provides the clearest demonstration of the difference between a Manager and a Leader. She is educated, methodical, process-driven and has been totally committed to delivering something she doesn’t believe in because she feels that is her duty. That’s the only point at which emotion has been allowed to play a role in her premiership. Everything else has been cold, relentless, persistent logic. And it has failed, so (logically) she now has to go.

In business, we call the process of building company culture to deliver a specific result ‘Alignment’. The most successful enterprises manage to persuade employees to deliver what their brand is promising, and therefore the desired business result. It’s more of an emotional task than a logical one, and it tests leadership… not management.

‘Marketing Medicine’ by Chris Harrison is now available worldwide on

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Machine and human

It’s sometimes worth looking up from the day to day routine and thinking about what is over the horizon. This applies to us all as individuals, just as much as it does to the managers and leaders set over us. What will it mean, for example, for humans to thrive in the age of the machine?

London Business School professors Andrew Scott and Lynda Gratton are wrestling with this in a fascinating new research study.  It builds on their bestselling book about longevity, ‘The 100-Year life’ that has been translated into 14 languages and is credited with jolting the Japanese Government into taking steps to address the issues thrown up by its aging society.

Taking a 100-year view of human lifespan opens up a broad debate on work and life. People are asking about technology and its impact on longevity. “They’re beginning to realise how interconnected things are,” observes Scott.

I’m of the view that the story is not about technology, it’s about the people. Those of us working in the digital transformation of businesses in Africa are learning that’s as true here as anywhere. Digital transformation is all about imbuing your business culture with new behaviours that are empowered by technology. Faster decision-making; anticipatory customer service; collaboration between traditional silos.

There’s already an element of fear underlying  the debate, prompted by luminaries like

Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking warning of a turning point when humanity risks losing control of the technology it has created. However, human intelligence and soft skills are still necessary as they will dictate future artificial intelligence. A critical role for humans will be to ensure that EQ (Emotional Quotient) balances IQ (Intelligence Quotient).

For roughly a century, life in established economies has followed a predefined pattern: a three-stage progression from education to work to retirement. One benefit of living longer is that, with more productive years, the range of individual choices is extended. It also makes some choices more critical. The obvious one is ensuring adequate material resources to support a long and active old age. It also puts an unexpected premium on intangible assets such as networks of family and friends, something Africa still has in abundance.

In education, technology is already placing extraordinary learning resources online, much of it free. In the next few years, Gratton and Scott see the education sector “exploding”’ to meet new kinds of demand, moving from part-life to all life, and from a fixation on university degrees to other kinds of upskilling credentials.

Humans have the benefit of insight. That’s always enabled us to build agendas and act upon them. We don’t have to accept what happens to us as destiny – together we can shape it.

Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside in Africa.

His book ‘Marketing Medicine’ is now available worldwide on

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Bonding not building

‘Let’s have a teambuilding’ is a popular cry. When employees say it they’re usually asking for a little relief from weekly routine and hoping for a treat. When HR people say it they may want to spend a budget but can’t think of anything new to do with it. When bosses say it, it usually means that they feel something is wrong inside the company.

These are all wrong reasons to prescribe teambuilding. They are elastoplast over a graze. They rarely address the wound beneath, so everybody gets a bit disappointed. A recent survey by Vodafone UK and YouGov found that the majority of workers surveyed had been made to go team-building, and 54% didn’t feel that doing more would help them work better with their colleagues.”

In Africa, we have much lower levels of employee cynicism. Generally we find that employee engagement activities work well, if they are part of a strategy that everyone understands. Staff enjoy opportunities for greater collaboration in and around the workplace. And the fact is, you don’t have to go away and spend lots of money if you can create the right tone for these activities.

Team building activities can be socially awkward, especially when very senior people are interacting with junior staff. Rarely, in the history of business, has anyone had real fun when being told to have fun by the Sales Director. And please don’t compel people to participate. I have seen Friday cinema trips promoted as Compulsory Fun Nights!

It’s time we moved on from traditional team building activities towards meaningful team bonding. You don’t do that with ‘trust falls’. Trust me.

Here are three very simple ideas you might try in your organisation. They really don’t cost money, so they are easy to run on a regular basis. You simply need to find people to champion. Here’s a tip – Millennials can help you.

Idea #1 – start singing. Almost everyone sings as part of their regular religious worship. But don’t limit yourselves to choral work. Think acapella, jazz, blues, traditional – Whatever form makes your people smile.

Idea #2 – have lunch together. Cornell University research shows a positive association between eating together and better performance. Remember that Latin origin of the word company was based on people who eat bread together.

Idea #3 – share something about yourself. We find that regular meetings where staff are encouraged to chat about their lives outside work, showcase a talent, or describe their home country or region can work very well. The tone needs to be right: tea, coffee and mandazis help.

In company culture, little and often works best.

Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside in Africa.

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Generation Z

Just when you thought you’d heard all you needed to hear about Millennials, here comes another generation right behind them. Generation Z or Gen Z is the demographic cohort born in the mid-1990s to mid-2000s. Most of Gen Z have used the Internet since a young age and are more comfortable with technology and social media than their predecessors.

As a quick reminder, the earlier sequence runs: Baby Boomers, Generation X and Y (Millennials). I’m a Boomer, if you’re interested. By coincidence Boomer is also the US Navy slang term for a ballistic missile submarine, which goes some way to accounting for my mood most mornings.

Africa has participated fully in Generations X, Y and Z – which is why I am talking to you about demography today. Here in Africa, as everywhere on the planet, Gen Z are your new generation of customers and employees. So best you understand something about them.

Gen Z is proving to be an elusive generation to pin down, mainly because much of the information out there about them often contradicts itself. But Google search indicates some of the perceptions and prejudices the world already attaches to them:

‘They’re entitled’

‘They’re job hoppers’

‘Everything has come so easily to them – they’re lazy’

‘Can’t take criticism’

To be fair, the research I have read suggests that they have inherited much of this perceptual baggage from Millennials. That was the generation that worked hard to own new technology and to make a new impression on the world of work. That impression was so contrary to established norms that managers and HR professionals revolted against it. However, in my daily work in organisational culture transformation I have to say that I find Millennial perspectives and energy helpful. Even if they come across as precious and petulant sometimes.

Latest insights from Europe suggest some lightening of the mood in this new cohort. Gen Z are happy and optimistic, but also claim to be stressed. Interestingly they don’t see stress impacting happiness! This may mean that better hygiene factors in the workplace will yield greater productivity. They’re driven by convenience, in the brands they care about, social media habits, and attitudes towards personalisation – as customers and employees. Think about making that Employee Brand Proposition seem more individual.

Note also, they’re more willing to exchange personal data and communicate with a brand if it means getting a better, more seamless, online experience in exchange. Finally, Gen Z claims more affinity with their brands than any other generation. When they feel connected with a brand, they personally identify with it. That’s an opportunity for Marketers to build greater brand loyalty.


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Culture Cues

Culture is the character of the organisation. Businesses that cultivate strong, attractive characters understand the values they need to deliver their goals. They know the behaviours their employees must demonstrate in their daily work to deliver the right customer (and colleague) experiences. They measure the commercial value of their culture at customer touchpoints: evaluating how their staff behaviours impact sales, recommendation, repeat purchase, range purchase, and loyalty.

They pay great attention to the effort it takes customers (and suppliers) to do business with their organisation. The best cultures work at reducing that effort (lower customer effort scores) which almost always create an upswing in referrals (higher net promoter scores).

It’s obvious then, that this task becomes easier if you hire for cultural fit. One of my most successful clients has a hiring mantra: ‘fit for culture; fit for attitude; fit for skills’. Note how this inverts the order of requirements mandated by more traditional approaches to recruitment. The companies where bosses tell the HR department:      ‘We need a new accountant: CPA 1 or 2. Here’s my budget (and go to India if they’re cheaper there).’ Continue reading

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Morbid meetings

Last week on the sunny island of Mauritius I encountered a business behaviour that brightened my day. In the boardroom of a powerful, dynastic sugar business a modern courtesy was given a traditional touch. Before the meeting began, an assistant moved around the table and collected everyone’s mobile phone in a dark wooden box. The box was then placed on the sideboard for the whole of the meeting. The message was this: ‘We have come here to meet and talk; to engage with each other, respectfully.’

Before you dismiss this as archaic, let me tell you the boardroom was high tech. With more screens and connectivity than the average Skype or Zoom junkie could handle. But those screens were only activated to display content relevant to the discussion, then politely switched off again afterwards. As a result, a coherent, purposeful and productive meeting ensued.

How very different from most of the modern ‘zombie’ meetings we all attend? Where participants are there in body, but not mind. Where the need to ‘do emails’ is an excuse for partial engagement. Where the lack of mutual respect is palpable. Where consensus is hard to achieve, except when it defines the time the meeting ends and attendees can slam shut their computer lids and shuffle off to another limbo setting.

I well remember the first time I saw an iPad in a meeting. It was in a bank, obviously), and the senior executives were simply delighted to be tapping away on their new toys. We even had demonstrations of how the clever little soft covers could roll up to form display stands. I don’t think that all the bankers present could actually work the devices properly but, my goodness, it looked clever.

But if we had watched more closely, we would have discerned the seeds of disengagement. The one application they could all work was the calendar, so they amused themselves making minute adjustments to their own and others’ working week. Inviting, rescheduling and canceling. Tap, tap, tap … ‘sorry, I just missed your last point.’

Now we have a bigger problem. Level One Managers have discovered the disadvantages of being ‘elsewhere’ during a physical meeting – that’s why they carry notebooks instead. But the zombie virus has now spread to Levels Two and Three. Today it’s the norm to enter a business meeting and erect your lid. In much the same way that you might erect a modesty screen when changing on a crowded beach. It says: ‘My screen is up, I’m busy multi-tasking’.

You see, most people at this level are trying not to be singled out, or asked a question. In the old days they carried spiral notebooks and biros, and assiduously wrote down every word spoken by others. Not to create a record, or to minute action points, but to look busy. Too busy to be called out.

Well done, Technology, for consolidating our culture of unproductive meetings.


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Staff turnover

One of the many metrics management and HR  teams like to measure is staff turnover. The percentage of the workforce that has left the organisation during a certain period, and had to be replaced. Received wisdom says that turnover rates in excess of 25% should cause concern. That may be true for large businesses in traditional sectors, but I think it’s becoming increasingly irrelevant for the organisations that are driving our future economies.

Many of the businesses I work with have staff turnover rates in excess of 35%, and some higher. The reason for this is that they are growing exponentially and that growth demands new talent and energy. A good analogy is what happens in the mouth of a child as she grows. First she has no teeth, then she has baby teeth. Later the baby teeth are pushed out by stronger, larger, sharper adult teeth. Later still, she may require an intervention to remove her anachronistic wisdom teeth.

I also take issue with the idea that staff turnover necessarily requires replacement. Above ancillary staff grades, every leaver creates an opportunity to do things differently and better. But that requires imagination from the leadership, and a deep understanding of the concept of talent from Human Resource professionals.

A few months ago I listened to a very experienced and successful entrepreneur talking about the humans dimension of business. You won’t be surprised to hear that he hires for attitude over skills and qualifications. Not for him the pigeonhole approach to recruitment: “We need an IT Manager with at least 3 years experience and qualifications X, Y and Z”.

Instead he would be more likely to define the talent brief thus: “Our IT problem is not about technology, it’s about communication. We need an IT person who will engage our staff to explain the value of digital transformation and to seek their input as future users. In short, we need an IT evangelist.”

Then he showed us a simple grid that he uses to manage his approach to talent. Draw a square and divide it into four quadrants. Label as follows: Continue reading

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Visible leadership

I’m sure many of you have watched the hit comedy series The Office in either its UK or US versions. If you haven’t, let me tell you that is one the most embarrassingly funny satires of office life that you’re ever likely to see. Its ability to make people squirm lies in the accuracy of its observation of human behaviour. I dare you to watch the series and not see things you have done yourself. The writers didn’t even have to exaggerate.

The Office also satirises various kinds of leadership style – both from the formal leaders in the fictional business and the informal ones. The wannabe leader, the rebel leader, the visitor from Head Office. Once again they are funny because they lampoon behaviours we all see in working environments every day: vanity, treachery, abdication of responsibility, favouritism, discrimination.

And that’s not so funny, when you stop to think about it.

What leaders forget is that that they’re under surveillance around the clock. From the way they greet security guards, to their clothing choices, to the food they eat and the calls they make.

They are watched by the silent majority – a group of people that, by contrast, leaders know relatively little about. As a CEO friend of mine says: ‘They know every little detail of our lives, yet we know nothing of theirs.’ Continue reading

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