Six reasons for Africa’s management gap

Yesterday How we made it in Africa reported on the African Management Initiative’s (AMI) research that revealed that Africa is lacking high quality managers with the skills and competence to capitalise on the continent’s economic potential. However, to change the situation, one needs to understand the challenges.

Through surveying educators, entrepreneurs, employers and investors across the continent, AMI has identified six organisational and systemic challenges that need to be addressed if Africa is ever going to improve the overall quality of its managers.

1. The middle management gap

“Africa’s most pressing problem is at the middle management level: the ‘engine room’ that drives organisations,” stated the report.

There is a huge skills gap between senior executives and middle and low level managers who lack exposure to best management practices. Organisations often recruit their senior managers from overseas as expats or from the African diaspora, and send their top home-grown executives to the foremost business schools for management development courses, providing them with international exposure. “Meanwhile middle managers are usually educated at home, and have had little in the way of practical training and experience,” continued the report.

As a respondent from a Nigerian firm illustrated: “At a senior level, I can get Nigerians from abroad. Juniors you can develop. But strong, quality middle management or lower senior, that’s where we struggle.”

2. MBAs are too expensive for most

Africa’s quality business schools and training programmes are expensive and with MBAs costing between US$5,000 to $25,000, only the few elite can afford it.

“The economics of the western business school model simply does not add up for most Africans, and any new effort will need innovative thinking to create a new price-quality paradigm to build flexible payment options, and to create more accessible products,” suggested the report.

A Zambian respondent said, “I have no idea where I could send my staff for training. I’ve asked around and haven’t come across any highly recommended local training company. I certainly can’t afford to pay the kinds of fees that the top South African business schools charge and I don’t think I’m their target market anyway.”

3. Rigid hierarchies a ‘cultural’ issue

Many respondents surveyed in AMI’s research said there is a need for a shift from strict hierarchies to meritocracies.

The report states that change would have to occur at an organisational level. As a respondent from a South African business school said: “Cultural influence appears to hamper the development of managers. The aspect of follower-leader has allowed African individuals to be much more capable at following, and executing under tight direction and command-control. But the challenge is that when faced with management they often struggle with authority, communication, results focus within a time-frame and then holding people accountable.”

The aim is to create an environment where innovation is allowed to flourish but managers are held to account. “There is little point in developing managers with initiative if they are not allowed to flourish,” said the report. A good start towards this would be to implement solid performance management systems.