African Cultural Factors in the Rethinking of Cross-Cultural Management in Africa in Terms of Crossvergence

Suzanne Apitsa

Cross-cultural management is a central theme in human resource management (HRM) in Africa, notably in the process of sustainable corporate internationalization. This standpoint is reinforced by the current climate of change (economic, digital, etc.) on the African continent (Habchi and Martinet, 2014; CNUCED, 2015), leading to a new balance of power and a deepening of links between cultures. These transformations call for reflection from management theorists and practitioners, challenging them to seize this opportunity to stimulate cross-cultural dialogue where the distinctive features of organizational management are in evidence (Hofstede, 1980; Bourgoin, 1984; d’lribarne, 1990; Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner, 2004; Jackson, 2004).

Based on African cultural features, details of which were obtained from empirical research in four multinational companies with branches in Cameroon and Nigeria, this chapter aims to contribute to the debate on cross-cultural management in terms of cultural crossvergence. The empirical information comes from our previous work (Apitsa, 2010,2013) and from an investigation carried out in 2015 in these two locations. With the data concerning cultural elements, the discourse and practices of HRM in the multinational companies studied enable us to offer a new perspective in order to integrate a model combining African cultural values and Western modernity in the practice of cross-cultural management.

The cultural issues associated with the transfer of Western models to Africa are of increasing interest to researchers (d’lribarne, 1990; Henry, 2009; Jackson, 2013; Pichault and Nizet, 2013). Further study of this topic is needed to interpret the management mechanisms in use in international organizations since, beside the fact that some management models have been widely introduced in Africa, their use involves compromises with local sociocultural realities (Apitsa, 2010, 2013). Furthermore, in the light of a significant number of management studies in Africa at both national and international levels, this research shows a form of rejection of Western models in their raw state (Bourgoin, 1984; Kamdem, 2000, 2014; Allah, 2002; Yanat and Scouarnec, 2005; Jackson, 2013) and a need for empowerment and the creation either of a management model specific to the continent (Favereau, 1995; Prinsloo, 2000; Hernandez, 2007) or one oscillating between African traditions and Western modernity (Muta- bazi, 2004). This view raises the issue of the embedding of managerial practices in the African context, an exercise that according to certain authors still relies on a sociocultural approach to management (Jackson, 2004; Tidjani and Kamdem, 2010; Kamoche et ah, 2012; Adanhounme, 2015). We will therefore turn our attention to cross-cultural management, which is, according to Dupriez and Solange (2002, p. 125), “a form of management capable of being aware of the existence of different cultures, of integrating the values underlying them in the exercise of various business functions, and of combining the awareness of cultural specificities with overall strategic imperatives.”

Based on this definition, we feel it is important to consider African cultural factors to show how they call for the implementation of cross- cultural management practices in multinational companies in Africa in terms of cultural crossvergence. This issue can be broken down into several research questions: (1) What are the managerial mechanisms in use in multinational companies in Africa?; (2) What cultural factors interact in personal attitudes and behaviour?; and (3) To what extent do these African cultural factors make it possible to call for a cultural crossvergence approach to cross-cultural management?

This chapter is organized as follows. The first part presents current cross-cultural management and enables readers to familiarize themselves with African cultural systems. The neo-institutional theoretical framework (DiMaggio and Powell, 1991) used in previous work is put into perspective here to show the challenges of institutional duality that multinational corporations in Africa face. Indeed, this institutional perspective makes it possible to set institutional and cultural factors side by side to explain the conduct of corporate players and account for the problems involved in adapting to specific local characteristics (Brouthers and Brouthers, 2001; Kostova and Roth, 2002; Scott, 2014). The second part, after describing the methodological protocol adopted, situates the context of the study. The third part presents the results and some elements of the research analysis. Finally, proposals on management and avenues for reflection are offered in the conclusion.

Literature Review

Cross-Cultural Management: Between Cultural Convergence, Divergence and Crossvergence

For more than three decades, the cross-cultural management literature has tried to explain the impact of national cultural differences on corporate management. Empirical investigations have compared how firms operate from the basis of a general conception of collaboration, rooted in a unique view of humanity and society (d’lribarne, 2008). This approach involves calling into question the ethnocentrism of management practices and stressing the wide cultural disparities between different countries.

Proponents of the convergence theory reject the idea that the culture of a country has an influence on the structural forms and rationales of companies. They consider that differences between countries are not significant, and their cultural influence is therefore non-existent. Under this school of thought, countries liberalize their markets, develop institutions, adopt modern technology and bring about industrialization; in this way, the strategic behaviour of companies will become similar because the individuals will adopt common values concerning economic activity and work (Pascale and Maguire, 1980). Mendoca and Kanungo (1994) add that cross-cultural analysis would make it possible to transfer technology and management practices more effectively from wealthy to developing countries.

This view has led several researchers to analyze cultural differences between countries and to put forward a way of understanding national cultures (Hall, 1979; Hofstede, 1980, 2001; d’lribarne, 1989). Their work is part of the divergence or even contingence trend of thinking. Followers of this school of thought insist on the particularism of national contexts. They claim that national culture rather than economic ideology or technological progress is—and continues to be—the dominant force in shaping the values, beliefs and attitudes of managers in a particular country (Hofstede, 1980; Laurent, 1983). Many academics such as Child (2000) accept this view and add that globalization is not a convergence towards best practices in a widening, borderless world, but rather the possibility of drawing on differences to achieve specific positions and advantages (Guillen, 2000).

This debate setting convergence against divergence has led certain writers to put forward a third option using the term crossvergence (Ralston et ah, 1993), the aim of which is to address the deficiencies in the notions of convergence and divergence. The crossvergence approach is a process involving the synergy of values and changes in behaviour resulting from the dynamic interaction of sociocultural influences and company ideology (Ralston, 2008). Advocates of this method base their theories on empirical research in the US, Russia, Japan and China to show that the crossvergence process makes it possible to develop a hybrid model by finding common ground between imported practices and the local environment. The idea is therefore to find a compromise, strike the right balance and bridge the differences between the convergence and divergence schools of thought—that is to say, between market globalization and national cultures (Ralston et ah, 1997).

Although crossvergence provides a better prospect of integrating the two dominant approaches, which are technological capability (associated with convergence) and cultural rootedness (associated with divergence), this is not the only alternative. Sometimes, as certain researchers have pointed out, firms incorporate global models into their corporate and business culture. The underlying idea is that this view will allow the different entities to integrate and create a strong identity (Gupta and Wang, 2003). For these writers, this corresponds to an approach called transver- gence, which they consider implies a change in corporate strategic and managerial methods. This has not yet been much discussed in research papers.

Continuing the intercultural debate, a study of the literature reveals that the dimensional aspect of national cultures in comparative studies has been much criticized (Bjerregaard et al., 2009). In the words of certain writers (Barmeyer and Davoine, 2014), national cultural models identify cultural differences using bipolar scales to measure behaviour or work attitudes and are thus relatively stable and homogeneous in the way they interact; they are like billiard balls which touch and repel each other but which never merge.

Recent studies have attempted to restrict the comprehensive framework of national cultures. They suggest that contextual factors, the cultural diversity of individuals within companies and the transformation process of firms in the context of globalization should be taken into account. This work reveals that in multicultural companies, new forms of managerial practice develop, facilitating intercultural cooperation between people from different cultural groups (Chevrier, 2012; Dupuis, 2013; Barmeyer and Davoine, 2014).

Criticism of the use of the national culture model as a cultural influence variable had already led certain academics, building on the diversity of the cultural origins of individuals within international corporations, to argue for the implementation of corporate cultures that would lead to the erasure of national cultural differences. While this may appear a compelling point in certain contexts, and in the case of transnational groupings (Barmeyer and Mayrhofer, 2002; Barmeyer and Davoine, 2014), this prospect is nevertheless limited in Africa with its own specific environment of cultural specificities (Apitsa and Amine, 2014).

African Cultural Factors: A Problem or an Opportunity in the Cross-Cultural Management of International Companies?

Africa is a mosaic of cultures and ethnic groups, fostering debate on cross- cultural management. Although the growth in this area of research in management science has only recently gained momentum, much work has focused on the issue of culture in Africa (Hernandez, 2000; Ntuli, 2002; Theimann et al., 2006; Nkakleu, 2009; Pichault and Nizet, 2013; Michalopoulos and Papaioannou, 2015). Culture in Africa was originally presented in the literature as a factor in the dysfunctionality of

African economies and organizations (Hugon, 1995). The implication on reading these works is that the management of companies in Africa presents formidable problems arising from cultural characteristics (Bour- goin, 1984; d’lribarne, 1990; Seny Kan et al., 2015). This has led many researchers to analyze the performance of African organizations in terms of the compatibility of imported management models with African cultural characteristics. At national level, some authors have instead seen in the malfunctioning of organizations in Africa an instrumentalization of administrative bureaucracy, leading them to call for management specific to the African continent. However, the African management model proposed is still only poorly conceptualized (Jackson, 2013; Walsh, 2015).

From an international and cross-cultural perspective, the research in question shows that the use of imported management tools can lead to the failure of businesses if the cultural specificities of the environment in which they are implemented are not taken into account (d’lribarne, 1990; Allali, 2002; Yanat and Scouarnec, 2005). Kamdem’s line of argument (2000) amounts to saying that in a humanist and cultural spirit—owing to the economy of affection that characterizes Africa and opposes a production-geared economy—greater consideration should be given to the culture of the continent. With this in mind, certain academics—after carrying out some empirical studies in multinational and parastatal national companies in sub-Saharan Africa and in the Maghreb—prefer to consider a model combining African traditions and Western modernity to develop a productive economy in Africa. The idea is to create a hybrid model to achieve a balance in management practices. In this vein, Mutabazi (2004, 2009) puts forward an African model of management onto which are superimposed models imported from the West and the core principles of the values and rules of African sociability. He calls this “the circulatory model of management in Africa” (2009, Chapter VI.1, p. 2). This model is based on a comparative analysis of relations between mixed African and Western working groups. It is structured on the basis of four types of circulation: the movement of goods and people, the circulation of human energy, the circulation of power and the flow of information. In general, according to Mutabazi, African countries, apart from the diversity which characterizes them, have common cultural traits forming a coherent system of beliefs, values and rules of sociability rooted in family and social relationships.

To our knowledge, no research has yet tested Mutabazi’s circulatory model (2004) empirically. In addition, the four types of circulation appear to us too limited to describe the variety of elements in African culture which can be defined on three levels: a way of thinking, a system of values and a system of rules (Amoako-Agyei, 2009; Walumbwa et al., 2011; Chen, 2014). This model confines African cultural particularities to a single rationale, as it is overly focused on the primacy of the community over the individual (Apitsa and Amine, 2014). Culture is treated, as in much research, in its sociological conception, which has long been linked to that of community, known as Ubuntu (Lutz, 2009). This concept is conspicuous in the literature and is often misused (Henry, 2002; Amoako-Agyei, 2009; Chen, 2014). As a result, the implementation of management tools and practices in line with the vision of man and society which applies to the local context, is still in its infancy (d’lribarne, 2008). In spite of these limitations, this circulatory model contributes to our understanding of the principle of value and rules of sociability of cultural communities. This principle is based, according to Mutabazi (2009), on mutual knowledge and solidarity, the quest for consistency and social cohesion, the commitment to consensus, the primacy of the community over the individual, the priority given to investing time in the development of social networks and the reciprocity of rights and duties between members of a community.

The African thought system is based on sociability within the community and on ethnicity. Community sociability is both intra- and intercommunity, and enshrines the family as the fundamental socializing unit (Mutabazi, 2009; Hernandez, 2007). As for ethnicity, it represents a distinctive, structural dimension of African diversity (Kamdem, 2002; Chanlat, 2007; Apitsa, 2016). It reflects the awareness of belonging to an ethnic group. In African societies, which are intrinsically multiethnic, the ethnic group is an essential source of sociological attachment and acts as a reference point of identity (Kamoche, 2002; Nyambegera, 2002; Michalopoulos and Papaioannou, 2015).

Ethnicity can be defined as the identity of a social group recognized by itself and in the eyes of others as belonging to a community sharing the same references either by language, by religion, by values, beliefs, customs, traditions and ways of life.

(Apitsa, 2016, p. 47)

However, many African management studies reject the aspect of ethnicity, and yet it reflects the local realities where a subsidiary is established and with which it has to come to terms, notably in its daily management practices. Using a qualitative approach, recent work, based on an in-depth analysis of the discourse and practices of HRM in multinational companies in Cameroon, illustrates the informal incursion of ethnic factors as they interact within the logical determinants of individual people and impact on the social climate (Apitsa, 2010, 2013). The empirical study carried out by this author is based on research analyzing the transfer of management practices and tools from parent companies to their subsidiaries using an institutional approach (DiMaggio and Powell, 1991; Kostova, 1999; Scott, 2014). Proponents of this approach show that the negative effects of the convergence of practices and tools are linked to the cultural and institutional contexts of the locations in which they are established. They show that multinational companies abroad are subject to an institutional dichotomy: on the one hand, they must manage the firm as a whole and so put in place the tools of integration; on the other, they are subject to the pressure of the cultural and institutional environment and so must adapt their management tools (Kostova and Roth, 2002). This institutional duality led DiMaggio and Powell (1991) to identify three types of isomorphism which influence the internal and external environments of firms in a foreign context: coercive isomorphism, mimetic isomorphism and normative isomorphism.

Based on this conceptual framework put forward by DiMaggio and Powell (1991), recent work (Apitsa, 2013) has shown that multinational companies in Cameroon come under twofold pressure: pressure comes from head office through formal instructions, which they must factor in when translating the human resource strategy of the parent company to the local context; and further pressure comes from local constraints, obliging them to take into account, in a more or less formal way, a certain number of specific local factors, in particular the ethnic context. The results show that this institutional dichotomy obliges the firms studied to act as arbiter (though without any formally expressed explanation) on a certain number of cultural aspects, to ensure a certain economic efficiency at local level and enable individual employees to feel that their working environment is not hostile to them. We will return to these points in the empirical part of our study.

It is with this in mind that proponents of crossvergence have decided to develop a hybrid model consisting of finding common ground between imported practices and tools and the local context (Ralston et ah, 1997; Ralston, 2008). This chapter follows on from our previous work, from the framework of neo-institutional theory and from Mutabazi’s circulatory model (2004, 2009). The empirical part which follows provides background information and points for evaluation and discussion on this subject.

Empirical Study

Research Methodology Protocol

This research addresses African cultural factors to demonstrate how these call for cultural crossvergence in cross-cultural management practices in multinational companies in Africa. We based our study on a sample of research which took place in four multinational companies in two geographical locations: Cameroon and Nigeria. The advantage of this approach is that it enables us to study the same phenomenon in different contexts (Yin, 2009). The four multinational companies are world leaders in their respective spheres of activity (banking, insurance, transport/ logistics and retailing). Three of the multinationals are in Cameroon (banking, insurance, logistics/transport) and one is in Nigeria (distribution).

Cameroon and Nigeria are rwo countries in the African melting pot of cultures, each being home to around 250 ethnicities. Multinational corporations established in these countries cannot ignore this diversity.

The research was carried out in two stages, in 2008 and in 2015. The empirical study was conducted in 2008 as part of doctoral research, looking at the case of three French multinational firms established in Cameroon. The aim was to determine the position of the ethnic dimension in HRM and its role in managing the social climate in the firms studied. The results, which are based on discursive resources, show the limits of the harmonization of HRM practices and management tools at local level because of the considerable weight of ethnicity-related factors. These factors surfaced informally in HRM systems, where the effect of their implicit incursion on the social climate and ultimately on the performance of the firms could be negative and/or positive. The results suggest that these factors should no longer be concealed but would be best served by being integrated in a more formalized and controllable way into cross-cultural HRM. This doctoral research proposed to bring the concept of ethnicity into the debate opposing convergence and divergence in management practices and tools since a hybrid solution could merge these two schools of thought. On the managerial level, it called on the multinational corporations studied to incorporate the ethnic dimension into their HR strategies, tools and systems, thus allowing social cohesion to be maintained and establishing a climate conducive to enhanced performance.

To maximize the value of this doctoral research, we published an article in 2013 based on the commitment to addressing the issue of the hybridization of HRM practices through ethnicity in Africa. That article analyzed recruitment practices and day-to-day HRM. The results highlight African cultural factors which interact in the behaviour and attitudes of individual employees. They show the necessity of providing space for these cultural features to fit in, as a necessary compromise and a source of competitive advantages.

In 2015, continuing this reflection and with a view to putting forward an approach to cross-cultural management in Africa in terms of cultural crossvergence, a return to the context of the three multinational companies in Cameroon seemed appropriate. To this end, we added a further multinational corporation, this one with a branch in Nigeria. Africa is currently undergoing profound economic, technological, digital, political and environmental transformations. Based on the idea that these changes upset established behaviour, we tried to establish if there had been any developments since our previous studies.

Research Methodology

This research is from an interpretivist perspective which, according to Allard-Poesi and Marechal (2003, p. 42), consists of “developing an understanding of the social reality of individuals and not of discovering this reality and the laws governing it.” The behaviour of stakeholders, expressed through their discourse, can be interpreted by their interactions, implying their meaning must be established in the local contexts of studies (Berger and Luckman, 1996). The approach based on case studies is of a qualitative nature. It encourages on the one hand the observation of a situation within its context by providing both an in-depth and an overall understanding of a specific phenomenon, and on the other hand allows a more precise analysis of the situations being studied (Hlady-Rispal, 2002).

The different sources of data include semi-structured interviews (67 face to face and 19 by telephone), non-participant observation and documentary material. Before we began our work, secondary data were collected (documents on the company history, on its business and on developments in it from 2008-2015). After the study of these resources, the interviews were driven by a series of questions. The semi-structured interviews, which lasted on average an hour and a half, were conducted in French and in English and involved personnel in different jobs and hierarchical positions (expatriate executives, indigenous senior and middle managers, supervisors, technicians and junior staff). The interviews were initially carried out within the company and during working hours, face to face and then by telephone. Some members of staff were interviewed several times. A guide had been drawn up prior to the interviews, based on open questions and structured around the following topics: management policy, communication, management of the local workforce, cultural factors, diversity and relationships with time, space and work. To remain relatively consistent with the research objectives, the structure of the interview guide was based on previous studies, on the cross-cultural HRM literature and on the frames of reference given by Mutabazi (2004, 2009) and DiMaggio and Powell (1991). The questions varied according to the interviewee’s status in the company. For example, an executive or HR manager would be asked: “Can you tell me about your management policy?”; “What priority do you give to local culture in your management system?”; “What does it consist of?”; “How is it implemented?” To probe more deeply into this and to avoid participants confining themselves to a single response, we used prompts such as: “Could you tell me more about that?”; “Could you give me an example?” Further questions were needed such as: “Since we last visited your company, have there been any changes in the management?”; “Has the introduction of new technology changed your job, your life?”; “Has using these new technological tools changed your conduct at work (availability, relations with colleagues, customers and associates)?”

The combination of the interviews and the secondary resources led to phone interviews. The aim was to further investigate factual information and analyze it in depth with the data generated by observation. Indeed, as a result of our immersion in the firms, we were able to ask questions not included in the interview guide. Thus, during the data collection period, we were able to observe that working hours were flexible in Nigeria but not in Cameroon. In Nigeria, the employees never arrived at work or took their breaks at the same time. In Cameroon, the workers started and left work at the same time. We also noted that certain managers in both locations had flexible working hours. They could arrive in the office late and then extend their working hours, sometimes working late into the evening. This prompted our question: “How do you explain the fact that you arrive at your desk later than your staff?” Similarly, we observed that the constant use of the telephone, which has become a common work tool, has changed the behaviour of the workforce, making the criterion of the network of relations an important element in business. This has led to a genuine transformation, which caused us to reflect on the perception of time in Africa (Mutabazi, 2004) in the new, modern, real African context.

These data sources were used to create our database and to analyze it in accordance with the issues raised by our research. This is an analysis of content. The different units identified are compared and then grouped in categories according to their similarity (Glaser and Strauss, 1967), then encoded by hand. This manual encoding involved reducing the information to categories and linking it before coming up with a description and an explanation. Double coding was used to enhance the reliability of the results. The empirical results are summarized in Table 2.1.

Research Results

The empirical data were analyzed on two levels, according to whether they presented similar or unique features.

Management Mechanisms in the Companies Studied

The field data (interviews, observation, documentary resources) enable us to summarize in Table 2.2 the management systems of the four multinational companies.

It can be seen from this table that there is a convergence of management mechanisms in the four multinational companies in Cameroon and Nigeria, with some minor variations, during the two data collection periods (2008 and 2015). In Case 3 in 2015, there is a change in the allocation of key jobs to local managers, but the position of CEO is still held by an expatriate.

Generally speaking, the management of the four companies (defining overall objectives, organizing HR management, training, tools, etc.) is run from the Head Office in France.

During these two periods, the mechanisms were seen to be centralized and standardized. They served to monitor and coordinate business activities in the two geographical settings. There was thus an ethnocentric




Case 1

Case 2

Case 3

Case 4

Business Sector




Retail of Liquid Packaging Solutions

Year founded





Presence in Africa

45 countries

18 countries

5 countries

13 countries

Number of branches or sites

3 sites

24 branches

2 branches

1 branch

Company size (employees)





Subsidiary status

100% French subsidiary

100% French subsidiary

100% French subsidiary

100% French partnership

Company nationality


Number of nationalities











Status of interviewees

Expatriate Deputy general manager

Departmental and HR managers Middle manager Junior employee

Expatriate Departmental and HR managers Middle manager Junior employee


Deputy general manager Departmental and HR managers Supervisor Junior employee

Manager Sales manager Technician J unior employee

Data collection period

2008 and 2015


Number of interviews and data collection

22 face to face 3 by telephone

22 face to face 3 by telephone

16 face to face 3 by telephone

7 face to face 10 by telephone

Data processing

Content analysis with double coding and a posteriori categorization




Case 1



Case 2 Banking

Case 3 Insurance

Case 4

Distribution of Packaging Solutions for Liquids



Management style

Participative through objectives

Decision-making process


HRM organization in 2008

Positions of General Manager and heads of certain departments held by expatriates Centralization—formal nature of procedures— harmonization—standardization Goals by letter; individualization of objectives HRIS—Reporting

Allocation of key positions reserved for local managers in 2008

HR Director

HR Director

Deputy General Manager HR Director

HRM organization in 2015

Positions of General Manager and heads of certain departments held by expatriates Centralization—formal nature of procedures—harmonization—standardization Goals by letter; individualization of objectives; no delegation HRIS—Reporting

Allocation of key positions to local managers 2015

Idem 2008

CEO expatriate General Manager Cameroonian and local managers at the head of all departments

CEO expatriate Expatriate local management Senegalese sales management

Training/coaching of local staff

Seconded expatriates: specific software, technical and commercial backup

Local training centre: use and mastery of digital tools (internet and peripherals, HR1S, reporting)

Organizational processes

Formalized in discourse and irregular in application

Formalized and flexible in both discourse and application


Implicit, network of relations between personnel Tools: internet, intranet, mobile telephones, magazines

Working language(s)

French and English

French and English

French and English






Involvement of local cultures in day-to-day management



Cooperation within the workforce

Trust related to ethnic links and social networks

Relations between head office and subsidiary

Based on trust and skills related

Diversity characteristics

Ethnicity, gender, age, status, position, educational background, beliefs, languages (French, English, dialects, Pidgin English), etc.

Local customs



Attitudes and behaviour

Flexibility of managers as regards religious practice and during periods of mourning

Ethnic identity strongly asserted and visible in styles of dress


Working time arrangements and use of company vehicles to share moments of conviviality

conception of management based on the commitment of the multinational companies to harmonizing their policies and tools in their branches abroad.

The same charter is applied everywhere. There is no difference between here, in Senegal, in Ivory Coast, in Gabon . ..

(Case 1)

At Head Office, we try as far as possible to harmonize work tools.

(Case 2)

In the field of company management, the group’s motto—applied all over the world—is that “wherever they may be worldwide, company subsidiaries must all use the same standard management model.” The group says there is no such thing as the “African exception.”

(Case 3)

For some time now in Europe, a strategy has been adopted aimed at grouping sites together to create joint platforms.

(Case 4)

These data tie in with the literature concerning the convergence of management mechanisms in multinational companies abroad, supporting the idea that this convergence allows all the subsidiaries to adopt common values with respect to economic activity and work (Pascale and Maguire, 1980) and the technology and management practices of the wealthy nations to transfer more effectively to developing countries (Mendoca and Kanungo, 1994). Following this line of reasoning, the 2008 data show that in the three multinational companies in Cameroon, the IT tools arrive in Africa and the local companies are encouraged to use them by their head offices. Computers, the internet and reporting are tools made available to the employees at that point.

African people do not have a problem when confronted with something new. I saw this myself when computers were installed and when information technology arrived in Africa. Africans do not have a problem, it does not bother them. They work with it. They don’t question it.

(Case 3)

And I would say from looking outside that we should try to bring in systems which work in Europe, such as the “expert system” for granting loans, instead of doing manual credit analyses on paper with endless photocopies .. .

(Case 2)

It is practically the case that with new technology we do direct operations these days.

(Case 1)

In 2015 in Cameroon, our observations indicated that these tools had been developed and become indispensable in working practices and assignments.

In the case of Nigeria, the results reveal that the transfer of best practices has contributed to changes in the ways business is carried out and to increased customer satisfaction, while targeting the guaranteed efficiency of the local subsidiary.

We set up a new system of managing flows, new rules like they use in France for handling customer relations; and a few months later, this was reflected in much increased satisfaction. If customers are satisfied, they are more likely to come back to us to place orders.

(Case 4)

Thus, the transfer of technology and Western best practices helps to ensure the local subsidiary is efficient, incidentally bringing the African branches into the modern technological world. We can deduce both coercive and mimetic isomorphous behaviour from these verbatim transcripts (DiMaggio and Powell, 1991). Coercive isomorphism can be seen in head office-subsidiary relations. It results from the pressure from head office, which imposes practices and tools on the subsidiaries in order to maintain a certain consistency with group mechanisms (procedural formalities, reporting, HRIS). This produces a group culture, a controversial concept much debated in the literature by proponents of divergence, who reject any convergence of best practices and insist on the particularities of the cultural contexts of the countries (Hofstede, 1980; d’lribarne, 1990; Child, 2000). Mimetic isomorphism comes from the firm adapting to its environment by promoting legitimate practices, similar to those of their competitors, to ensure they can be competitive in an African context, faced with the reality of modern technology. As a consequence, the introduction of new equipment is carried out directly, by exchanges of better practices and tools: for example, the ‘expert system’ for granting loans instead of‘credit analyses’ being executed manually on paper (Case 2), and new customer management rules (Case 4).

The results (Table 2.2) also converge to show that the management of these subsidiaries is based on crossing skills (trust) and motivation (bonuses, gratification). The annual targets of their respective subsidiaries are defined by the head offices of the companies. These targets are formally assigned to each employee via the local managers. This leaves room for autonomy. Our results show how it is in this autonomy gap that

African cultural factors can be expressed in the logical determinants of the corporate players.

African Cultural Factors in the Study Context

Table 2.3 shows the defining elements of the African cultural system (Apitsa, 2010, 2013). This cultural system can be defined on three levels: values, meaning and thought. The table has been created using the published empirical data of which this chapter is the continuation. We present these cultural factors in order to stimulate the debate on cross-cultural management in terms of cultural crossvergence in Africa.

In this chapter, we address the cultural factors that help to answer the questions targeted by our research. In fact, the crossvergence approach makes it possible to arbitrate between Western modernity (technological capabilities) and adherence to cultural roots (cultural values) (Ralston et ah, 1997; Ralston, 2008).

Local Pressure: The Sociability of African Cultural Communities

As already highlighted in the context of the first empirical study in 2008, the results showed that the three multinational companies studied are under pressure from local sociocultural constraints which oblige them to take into account, in an informal way, a certain number of cultural factors

Table 2.3 The African Cultural System

Systems of Values and Meaning

Thought System



Ethnicity (Ethnic Group)

Solidarity and mutual aid

Family, clan



Spiritual entities




Vernacular languages




Respect (age, elders, old, secret)

Relations with others (people, nature, technology)

Customs and habits


Myths, rites, secrets, chiefdom

Belief in the occult, dress codes, customary greetings


Linear conception of time

Orientation towards the past and the future

Source: Adapted from the work of Apitsa (2010,2013,2016) in day-to-day HR management, such as religion and mourning (Apitsa, 2010'2013).

I am very tolerant when it comes to funerals and other (ceremonies). It is part of African culture; so for certain staff members who have a funeral on a Friday, I have no problem saying yes and I offer them my condolences.

(Case 2)

The importance of death, of a family bereavement here. There are important ceremonies: the vigil the first evening, the vigil the second evening, the releasing of the body, the ceremony at church, at the cathedral, at any other place of worship; and then the burial and finally the gathering for refreshments. Of course, if you are a typical Parisian and you are seeing all that for the first time, you might say it’s a waste of time. It is difficult to understand, even unacceptable.

(Case 3)

When they are fasting, Muslims do not perform well socially after certain hours in the day. If the guy has been fasting for nearly the whole day, by 4pm he is actually tired. If you can’t understand that, as his manager, and you expect him to be as productive as at 8 o’clock in the morning, you’re wasting your time.

(Case 1)

The question of mourning raises particular issues arising from the way it is experienced in Africa. For example, the time for mourning, which is a longer period, means the manager must accept his employee’s absence, while the employee himself must show his solidarity and support for his community. These interviews highlight the sociocultural realities which oblige the management of the multinational companies studied to take into account local cultural specificities: granting leave of absence for funerals and burials during the period of mourning and reducing productivity pressure to allow for religious observance (periods of fasting).

In 2015 in Nigeria, births represented a further cultural pressure to which management could not remain impervious or turn a deaf ear.

In Nigeria, they are very keen on the system of solidarity. When someone in a company has a baptism or other ceremony, they like to share this; they like to celebrate things together, they like to pay visits together. We don’t do things like that in Europe. For example, a colleague whose wife has had a baby, the whole company doesn’t go to visit her. You congratulate her by sending a card; that’s all. But here, they need to organize things, to go and see the person; they arrange to meet at 4pm, and all the company’s vehicles will be needed so everyone can go; you have to let them go at 4pm. Those are concessions you have to make. I don’t go myself, but I accept the fact that my department will stop work at 4pm to go to participate in something which is important for them. You have to respect that. You don’t have the choice, or otherwise you will have problems. If you want to come to Africa and do things in a Western way, it is not possible. It’ll be difficult. They don’t have the same mindset. There are some things that normally need changing: the approach to work . ..

(Case 4)

These verbatim transcripts illustrate the meaning and value systems which structure the rules of sociability of African communities, where the family is the fundamental, bedrock institution. These rules may manifest themselves in different ways from one ethnic group or one context to another. For example, in Cameroon, the ceremonies surrounding births as described in Nigeria are organized in a more private setting, among friends and family and outside the workplace.

The transcripts all reflect the principle of solidarity and mutual aid (Apitsa, 2010,2013). They materialize the movement of goods and people and the flow of human energy described by Mutabazi (2004, 2009). The principle of solidarity and mutual assistance operates through exchanges of gifts and counter-gifts. All the members of a group must contribute to these exchanges as their right and duty. By respecting this flow, each member of the community (family or clan) can thrive and exist as a member recognized and supported by the other members. The circulation of people is determined by the ability to develop a network of relationships, which is a network of solidarity and reciprocity of rights and duties. From it arises a pooling of resources: this constitutes the vector for the flow of human energy enabling each member to benefit from the energy of the other members who agree to act in the common interest. It is the same principle that is at work in the creation and management of tontines (Nkakleu, 2009).

The Space/Time Equation

The data collected indicate that working hours are flexible in Nigeria to meet the constraints arising from the distance between home and the workplace.

I applied the parent-company policy as regards working hours, where we can arrive when we like between 7.30 and 9am. Except that, if you come in late, you leave late. The main thing is that the person has done his 40 hours at the end of the week. There is a minimum. You can’t arrive after 9am or leave before 3.30pm. Also, you can’t take your break between 1 and 2pm because the telephone has to be answered. You must be at your desk to reply to emails and the telephone.

(Case 4)

Our observations in Cameroon, which do not concern a spatial issue, reveal that this flexibility is authorized for executives and managers who all leave late in the evening, whereas arrival and departure times are fixed for other employees. The issue raised is one of time. We note that in each geographical context, people have a different way of treating the issues of time spent at the workplace, the length of the working day and the statutory working time.

In the field of marketing, results show that customer satisfaction is the priority for multinational companies. However, data from the field show that this is not always the case when a cultural factor intervenes.

There is a passiveness, a passiveness towards the customer in Africa, as I have noticed this in our African subsidiaries. This means, say a customer has a machine that has broken down; a machine is not working when it usually operates 24/7; that produces 40,000 bottles an hour for him. If it is out of order, that means lots of money being lost and if he has to wait a week for the spare parts, it’s serious. He’s losing millions. This is unacceptable. You need to be responsive at work; you mustn’t allow the customer to lose time; you have to strike a balance, you must keep the customer informed; you have to provide him with the best service and that is not always easy But here, the customer may have a problem, even if it’s 5 o’clock, you shut up shop, you don’t care and then you go home and you say, we’ll see about it tomorrow, no problem. We treat customer relations lightly.

(Case 4)

The attitude of local staff towards their customers is governed by local culture in which the customer is not considered—as in the West—as king or as at the heart of their marketing strategy, or even as the person who is giving them work and allowing them to earn a living. The principle of the values and rules of community sociability is also based on the priority given to investing time in developing social networks. This can be summed up as follows: time in Africa does not have an economic but rather a social value. It is the cement of social relations (Mutabazi, 2004). Thus, one might wonder quite naturally what the new frame of reference is regarding the perception of time and space in the new reality of a technological, modern Africa.

Technological Capability and Cultural Rootedness

Observations from our immersion show that compared with the data collected in 2008 in Cameroon, the use of information and other technologies has become widespread, with the result that employees are no longer reluctant to make use of them and they have been fully integrated into their working practices (computers, reporting, HRIS, internet, automatic expert system for loans). At the time when the first data were collected, information technology was slowly developing with companies having only just provided all employees with an IT tool to carry out their work. Some employees did not even want to use them, as shown by this transcript:

Lots of people started work here a very long time ago. At that time there were no computers. Some people have really swollen fingers, if you ask them to go on a computer, it’s not going to work.

(Case 1)

The mobile telephone has also rapidly become a necessary means of communication (interconnection tool) between individual employees both within and outside organizations (text messaging, social media, etc.). At the same time, internet connections were very difficult, and few members of the workforce used it or were even very proficient with it. Information from documentary sources (employee assessment forms) shows that computer and software knowledge and skills were included at that time in staff training requirements.

In 2015, our immersion suggested that the technological transformation in Africa in general, and in the context of our study in particular, had completely altered the life of companies and individuals: there is high-speed internet access (social media, cable networks, fibre optics); unlimited text messages are sent by mobile phone or smartphone, etc. Our observations reveal that these tools enable staff to organize their business meetings formally or informally (building social networks) or to communicate on personal or professional matters.

You must always keep the financial analysts informed. As soon as information is not given through the usual channels and the analysts learn of it from somewhere else, there is immediately a feeling of mistrust and straightaway you can see the effect on stock market prices. To avoid this, the group needs to have all the vital, important information as soon as possible, trends in turnover, trends in claims, trends in the political situation, trends in the economy in a country. All that must be reported very quickly so that decisions can be made at group level and so the right information can be passed on through the central communication system of the group to the financial analysts, so they can say “that’s fine, you can buy” .. .

(Case 3)

We observed that an employee who feels good, who is motivated and appreciated in his workgroup, uses the expression “the network provides,” making the link with these new communication tools which are part of daily life, rooting and shaping behaviour. He expresses in this way his sense of fulfilment within the group to which he belongs. These new communication technologies contribute to the development of social ties. They change one’s perception of space. For example, at a societal level, one no longer has to go anywhere; one can use one’s mobile phone and/or the internet to announce or organize a happy or sad event. Within the company, the telephone makes it possible to deal with conflicts or trade for market share without moving from one’s desk as the people concerned are kept permanently updated by text messages. They change one’s relationship with time when economic value is combined with social value. The use of modern work tools—which, for example, removes the need to manually enter information on paper and make numerous photocopies— saves a great deal of time which can be reinvested in optimizing tasks. From a sociocultural perspective, the time made available by technology diffusion or transfer can benefit investment in family and society (births, bereavements, religion, solidarity, etc.) The space/time equation has been modified, altered by the constant use of the telephone and of computers.


The aim of this chapter was to initiate a cross-cultural debate in terms of cultural crossvergence in multinational corporations in Africa. The problem is that of understanding how African cultural factors at issue in the management of multinationals call for cross-cultural management. Three questions guided our research: (1) What are the management mechanisms used in multinational companies in Africa?; (2) What are the cultural factors that interact in the attitudes and behaviour of individuals?; and (3) To what extent do these African cultural factors make it possible to call for an approach based on cultural crossvergence? To answer these questions, we used the institutional approach of DiMaggio and Powell (1991) and the circulatory model of Mutabazi (2009). This framework of analysis enabled us to highlight the management mechanisms of the multinational companies studied, to probe the cultural reality in these multinationals through the cultural elements identified in the behaviour and attitude of the employees, and to make sense of this cultural reality. The qualitative approach through a multiple case study (Yin, 2009) enabled us to analyze the same cultural phenomenon in the two cultural contexts.

The results reinforce the prevailing debate between convergence and divergence in management practices and tools in multinational companies abroad. An analysis of the results obtained by this study show that the African cultural factors revealed are found in the interaction in the subsidiaries studied between the management discourse formalized by head office (technological tools and practices) and a sociocultural situation linked to their location (mourning, religion, relationship with time and space, solidarity and mutual assistance). This institutional duality calls for a certain arbitration. The results show that, to achieve this balance, multinationals in Cameroon are obliged to informally adapt to and juggle with customs during periods of mourning and Ramadan. Conversely, in the case of Nigeria, the results reveal that arrangements for working time and making means of transport available to employees for moments of solidarity and mutual assistance (births) are formalized in management systems. This corroborates studies showing how new forms of cross-cultural practices are developing in multinational companies (Chevrier, 2012; Dupuis, 2013; Barmeyer and Davoine, 2014).

Furthermore, the results show that in the two African contexts of the study, company personnel have rapidly assimilated the use of computers, mobile phones and the internet and use them as tools for their work in the company (HRIS, reporting, texting, emails) and outside (social media, texting).

Globalization, boosted by exchange flows and new IT tools, has endowed Africa with a new corporate environment (space/time equation) as well as numerous opportunities arising from changes in intercultural management tools and practices. To facilitate cooperation between different cultural groups, we suggest multinational companies in Africa should review their management systems in a creative way through the full use of technological options and by re-appropriating local cultural values. This would allow them to benefit from the opportunities offered to African markets by globalization.

Our results also enable us to recommend that multinational companies in Africa take up the idea of formalizing hybrid management mechanisms, in terms of cultural crossvergence, in order to reinforce their corporate responsibility wherever they are located. As a guarantee of an ethical approach, this is a focal point of strategic tensions in firms abroad. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a real challenge facing multinationals in their ability to “recognize the existence of different cultures, to integrate the values on which these cultures are based into the exercise of individual business functions and to combine the awareness of cultural specificities with strategic imperatives” (Dupriez and Solange, 2002, p. 125).

This chapter builds on Ralston et al. (1997), d’lribarne (2008), Henry (2003) and Mutabazi (2004, 2009), but also differs from these studies because it shows, in the field of cross-cultural management in Africa, that the crossvergence approach provides a new perspective integrating a model combining African cultural values with Western modernity, capable of boosting corporate performance and even of enhancing sustainable internationalization in Africa.

Our research no doubt has its limitations, but we believe it paves the way for further investigation. In the field of cross-cultural management in Africa, it would be interesting to broaden the study to cover other multinational organizations. As far as Africa is concerned, it is urgent to move beyond the phase of observation, of advocacy, of reflections on thought systems, and to take action. There are, as yet, too few empirical studies in this field. The cultural factors revealed in this chapter can be used to shed light on the dynamics of cultural interaction within national and international companies. A broadening of the results would allow for further debate on cultural crossvergence and at the same time make it possible to find common ground between the convergence and the contingency of management practices and tools in Africa. This would also allow a coherent evaluation of the place of ethnicity in cross-cultural management since it is individual employees who are at the heart of corporate strategic and managerial choices; individuals who call for a certain well-being, a balance between their professional and private lives, and a recognition of their traditional values while at the same time being fully at ease in the modern technological world.


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3 The Making of an Innovation

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