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culture permeation

February 6, 2020 Leave a comment Go to comments

A huge problem in Corporate Nigeria is our tribal culture; it knows no bounds. It is inhibiting professionalism and influencing business negatively. The worst part is we’re its enablers.

A friend shared some shocking news with me some weeks ago. Her boss at the office requires all female employees to courtesy, and all male employees to prostrate, when they greet him every morning. Shocking, right? On top of all that, some female employees address him as “Daddy” instead of “Sir”, and he doesn’t mind. Can you believe that? This man has basically instituted the Yoruba way of greeting, and turned the workplace into a mini Yoruba community.

That would have been ridiculous, if it is an isolated incident, but it’s quite common. A doctor friend of mine [trained in eastern Nigeria] told me how nurses would refuse to take instructions for junior medical officers, on the grounds that they aren’t “mates”, and it’s disrespectful for junior doctors to “order” them to follow up on or give medication to patients. I asked my sister, who was a Lagos-based doctor, if this is true here, and she concurred.

How old one is or how elderly, no matter the culture or tribe, a supervisor should never instruct his/her subordinates to courtesy or prostrate to him; especially not at their place of business/in a professional environment! Talk less of tolerating female subordinates referring to their boss as “Daddy”. Having a supervisor [younger in age] is no reason for older subordinates to disrespect him/her or neglect their duties! The level of unprofessionalism in Nigeria is getting out of whack, honestly.

There’s also the issue of casually [and regularly] speaking in native dialects with colleagues [usually from the same tribe], or pidgin, during office hours. I’m all for cultural bonding of colleagues and team members, but this pattern of behavior [during business hours] tends to rid a firm of its professional outlook. This trend is so widespread, it’s like an epidemic. Speaking in any language, other than English, is only permissible when English is causing a communication barrier with an uneducated client/customer. Any other language can be spoken after office hours or behind closed doors. Otherwise, the trend may result in tribal undertones associated with the brand. For example, the former Diamond Bank was perceived as Igbo people’s bank. This was mainly due to perception and the proliferation of certain mannerisms at the branch level. Chances were, if you walked into any former branch, not only would most of the front-end staff be Igbo natives, but they would be conversing [loudly] in Igbo with each other and the customers. Even the AI chatbot personal banker was called Ada. Ada is a popular feminine Igbo name, and the chatbot’s avatar was, of course, female. If Igbo-centricity was a strategy, it might have worked in attracting Igbo-centric clientele, but it also alienated clients associated with other tribes.

All these are some of the reasons my friend, Collins, and I went into business together in 2017. We set up a personal development agency called Centerprise, with the sole aim of ending the mediocrity in business and upgrading professionalism in Africa. We are determined to cause a positive shift in mannerisms and mentality, and we’re working from the ground up. We connect undergraduates/recent graduates with relevant internships to gain valuable professional experience, develop/optimize resumes and offer interview/job preparation to undergraduates/employees, and provide bankable business plans to budding entrepreneurs; most importantly, we organize professional classes for graduates/employees to gain proper business decorum. We believe personal growth must be intentional, and that includes professional business etiquette.

I understand we have a strong culture in Nigeria, and it’s a big part of our identities, but things need to be kept strictly professional at the workplace. Only verbal greetings and handshakes are acceptable forms of greeting. Permitting female employees to refer to their superior as “Daddy” or anything form of endearment is grounds for sexual harassment, at the very least. The only acceptable titles are “Sir” or “Madam/Ma’am” [or “Boss”, in semi-formal settings], not even “Oga” or “Ma”. And of course, with the exception of interactions with certain customers, Queen’s English should be spoken in and around the office.

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