For years, the world has been shrinking, and I’m not talking about the polar ice caps melting. I’m talking about globalisation, which has been accelerating as the Internet and advances in technology connect people and drive a global marketplace.
In July 2016, President Obama said that the process of globalisation is here to stay: what made globalisation possible can’t be stopped – the genie can’t go back in the bottle. Globalisation is irreversible and continues to challenge the local, regional, national and cultural boundaries that historically blocked material, ideological and social transformation.
The world has become integrated and interdependent as never before, making globalisation one of the most powerful and pervasive influences on workplaces, communities, and lives of people. No country can afford to ignore an increasingly globalised world where interdependence is the norm and society is built upon networks and access to information.
Africa is a continent of complexities, with a wide diversity of climate, topography, culture, peoples, and languages. This hallmark complexity is also compounded by tribal divisiveness, wars, selfish leadership, wealth inequality, corruption and massive unemployment. Any attempt to discuss the impact of globalisation on African leaders and organisations should take this cultural context into consideration. There is a need for a broad understanding of this diverse landscape if the African perspective in leadership and organisational ethics is to be fully addressed and understood.
Whilst there are enormous benefits to be gained from global integration, we must acknowledge that globalisation leads to widening inequalities. In this globalised world, capital is king and profit maximisation is seen by many as the only purpose of existence (for self and for business).
Workers have limited leverage in this globalised world, which threatens to leave them behind as societies transform: A recent paper by Stellenbosch University researcher Anna Orthofer found that 10% of South Africans own 90%-95% of all South Africa’s wealth.
In the era of globalisation, there has been little consideration for non-economic values, be it the people who work with organisations or the society that allows businesses to flourish. Whilst some organisations are starting to lay emphasis on their responsibilities towards employees, society and nature; corruption and selfish leadership is still the cornerstone of many African organsiations.
As African businesses respond to the new globalised normal; what steps should leaders take to ensure that their employees and communities are not left behind?
It starts with leadership imbibing ethical values in life and in the management of organisations entrusted to their care. These leaders are the makers of tomorrow and will greatly influence the place that Africa occupies in the global economy.
Ethical values determine the fundamental purpose of existence of a company. In simple words, values and ethics provide a code by which employees and leaders can analyse problems that come up in the day-to-day course of business operations.
There are several approaches to embedding ethical values in organisations, ranging from laissez-faire to a highly proactive methodology that spells out specific behavioural expectations in detail. An organisation that adopts the laissez-faire approach to values and ethics allows employees and leaders, with little or no training, to make decisions for themselves based on their own judgments and standards of morality. In this regard, the employees and leaders are expected to do the “right thing” which is not specifically defined, placing the entire burden for ethical compliance upon the individual. Unfortunately, there are far too many examples of our leaders falling short in this respect.
Defining and managing the values of a collective group of people within an organisation composes the practical application of organisational ethics. Ethical leaders strive for an organisation culture in which all employees are treated ethically and professionally, regardless of their race, religion, culture or lifestyles. Employees, who are the assets of an organisation, are shown “the right thing” to do is, and are expected to maintain the decorum and ambience of the workplace.
If Africa is to solve its development problems of poverty, ignorance, corruption, disease and unemployment, more emphasis has to be placed on instilling ethical values in all businesses.