Where the word of a king is there is Power! That kind of power is called Ase- The ability to say it, and have it come to pass. The characteristic that makes kings kings. The ability to say it and have it unquestioned and uncontested. The seal that guarantees you the last word. Ase! Come slug it out and let your authority be established. It is the authority of the rain that gives the sun its shine. Your tongue will not get to the bottom of your source of words. Ase!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

IDENTITY-Brand Faces Article 001

How did we get to where we are?

Today’s corporate world has come a very long way. Industry gradually transformed from the agricultural economy of the 1700’s through the industrial revolution of the 1800’s into scientific management in the 1900’s which has resulted into the hypotheses and theorems we have today. The laws of history are emphatic: Things are the way they are because they got that way, and those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it! Nigeria’s corporate history is littered with examples of cases where things had gotten bad because those who led them were either not aware of history or deliberately took things there.

Our quest to open our doors to all that present themselves as foreign investors has left our national corporate identity a blend of many odds. While I quite agree that there are some strong personalities whose names tie into their company brands, it is non-the-less incorrect for a company’s corporate identity to derive its personality from its owner’s culture or personality. Microsoft will be making itself globally irrelevant for example if Microsoft everywhere in the world lives by America’s culture or by Bill Gates whims and caprices. Today however our corporate citizens suffer from many syndromes, from the all notorious One-man company syndrome to the foreign company culture syndrome. Many companies have been unable to exist beyond the makeup of their owners. The Lebanese, Chinese, English, Indian, American cultures all pervade different companies with their characteristic ambience.

Once upon a time
In the 1700’s we had an agricultural economy. This time was characterized by farm produce and craftsmanship. Items were made unique for individuals who wanted them. Human beings were motivated by the basic needs of food, clothing, shelter and comfort.

Not long after, the world witnessed an industrial revolution. Power was discovered, a powerful tool that needed to be fully utilized. Industry moved from home to factories and gradually the Military and Church organizations became the model for the new age industry! Attention moved beyond unique making into mass production. Some level of personal identity gave over to corporate identity. The concept of ‘in vogue’ was born. Communal identity was born. The needs of man moved beyond the basics to profound needs such as the need to belong.

Scientific management became the glee of the 20th Century industry. Work became more and more mechanized, processes were introduced, work broken into tasks, a number of theories promulgated and economic motivation seen as the only source of motivation. As industry progressed in the careful hands of history, knowledge was garnered from experience and a number of other theories and best practices saw the light of day.

1930’s

Hawthorne studied the effect of working conditions on productivity, and had the first recognition of human/social factors at work.

1940’s

Work became more diverse, and scientific methods were employed for selection.

1950’s

Behavioral Science was heralded by a number of behavioral scientists who came up with ideas on styles, motivation and human identity. Some of these behaviors govern the culture of some organizations today. Most Asian companies for example are predominantly X theory companies. The typical philosophy of which is “The average human being has an inherent dislike for work and will avoid it if he can; because of this human characteristic of dislike for work, most people must be coerced, controlled, directed, or threatened with punishment to get them to put forth adequate effort toward the achievement of organizational objectives. They believe that the average human being prefers to be directed, wishes to avoid responsibility, has relatively little ambition, and wants security above all.”

At this point I’m sure I have some nods, knowing smiles and sighs of relief across the nations were the corporate identities of company’s makes mere employee of employees.
I’m certain there are also companies that have tried as much as they could to escape from the stigma of racial, tribalistic or owner labels. I hope some CEO’s are hanging this edition over their faces not to be noticed and saying, “I hope this is not mere criticism, but an attempt to help with advice to bring about sanity.” Well, whatever category you fall into, tighten your seat belts, because we are not going to mince words and we won’t be done until we hear thank you!

Editions to come in this column will feature these behavioral theories, classify the corporate environment in Nigeria into ownership classes and look at them in the light of what exists and what is missing in these theories. Together we’ll be looking critically into what our colleagues are being deprived of as corporate citizens by being in systems that are skewed either by one man or by the prevailing management national culture. Together we’ll consult for such companies, proffer solutions, advocate for the employees and lead change in today’s industry. Peradventure you happen to be reading as well, and you ask, “What’s in it for me the entrepreneur?” Well, you better start making sure, that your culture is your brand value, because only then will you be able to deliver your brand promise.

Adeolu Akinyemi, an HR expert from Lagos, Nigeria
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