The way we do things around here — —Charles Handy.
One of The most remarkable terms I have come across is the word culture. Though I had always memorised the definition of that word “peoples’ way of life”, the way a people live, the way they talk, the way they dress, the way a people think, the way they do business, the way they react to an emergency. Understanding the culture of a person can tell us a lot about the person before you meet the person.
Though I didn’t get to really understand the impact of culture and what it represents. I was born and brought up amongst my people; I got my nursery to university education almost in my backyard so the understanding of culture wasn’t supposed to be a thing in my life because I was with my people; I was raised to be one of us, no effort was required to fit in nor to understand things, I just needed to watch and see how things were done and once I acted accordingly, everything will be all right.
Nigeria is a country with 250 ethnic groups, with the three major ethnic groups of Igbo, the Yoruba and the Hausa. 250 ethnic groups mean 250 unique cultures, 250 unique ways of life.the peculiarities amongst these groups are so distinct that sometimes the language difference between two neighbouring communities are so different that a person from town A may not understand a different language of another town B. it means that whenever you come across someone not from your ethnic group, you take measures to interact with them.
Over the past few years, there’s been a somewhat exodus of The Chinese moving into the continent. According to reports, https://punchng.com/chinese-companies-investments-in-nigeria-hit-20bn-cccn/ the president china chambers of commerce in Nigeria Mr Ye Shuijin disclosed that as of 2017, about 40,000 Chinese nationals were living in Nigeria. the investments of Chinese companies in Nigeria is worth over 20 million dollars and also employing over 200,000 Nigerians. With such enormous investments, the Chinese are taking major stakes in different sectors of the Nigerian economy; the Manufacturing sector, Agricultural sector, Financial Technology sector, etc.
The mass inflow of the Chinese people to Africa has come with mixed feelings from the locals, as Chinualumogu Achebe wrote in one of his books. Wherever one thing stands, something else stands beside it. This means there is always a duality to everything. There is always good and bad, night and day. So many misconceptions have come up about working with the Chinese, but why shouldn’t there be these misconceptions in the first place?
China is a country with over 5000 years of history. China is in Southeast Asia along the coastline of the Pacific Ocean, it is the third-largest country in the world. The Air travel (bird fly) shortest distance between China and Nigeria is about 9920 km if you travel by aeroplane which has average speed of 560 miles, it takes about 11 hours to get to Nigeria, this distance already shows the vast variation in culture. I mean they are not Nigerians, neither are they Africans, so it is inescapable that there should be culture shock from both sides.
No one culture is the best, and no culture has the right to push away or belittle another culture. But we find out over the years that we can learn salubrious parts of one culture and adapt them to ours, for instance- using of spoons to eat was never our culture, we had to learn it from the west and it serves us better. For instance, in this Covid-19 season, it helps us to stay healthy by using clean washed and sterilised cutlery to eat instead of using possibly germs contaminated bare hands to eat. So making progress, we must overcome our weak points by learning from other’s strong points (取长补短).
According to Hofstede’s model, national culture influences how people work, how they manage work and expect to be managed. Countries approach to work differs in several dimensions. From almost a decade experience of working, living with the Chinese and also studying in China, over the years, I have learned one or two things about the Chinese work culture, most of which I have applied to my personal and business life.
so here are a few takeaways from having worked with the Chinese over the years;
Transportation infrastructure is key to development and prosperity 要致富先修路
The Chinese have a saying that to be rich, one must first put in place a proper transportation infrastructure, quick mobility leads to higher output.
Traffic jam stifles both state and national economies, Lagos alone loses about 30 million dollars monthly to traffic. Nigeria’s largest seaport costs the nation about 19 billion dollars annually because of the famous Apapa gridlock, a figure which is higher than Ghana 2017 annual budget. The reason the government will not address the traffic issue raises a huge question mark that has no answer.
speed is everything (兵贵神速)
During my time at Xiamen University in China, the first thing I noticed about the Chinese work ethic was the emphasis on speed (速度). anything worth doing should be done and most importantly, done NOW. Unlike the usual culture of African time where things should be done later or tomorrow, at a time, the first English word every Chinese person who comes to Nigeria learns is the word Tomorrow.
On December 28, 2013, the Xiamen Shenzhen bullet train became open to the public. This project which was the construction of bullet train railway from Xiamen to Shenzhen that covers a total distance of 502.4km, this is bout the same distance from Lagos to Enugu state Nigeria. This was expected to cut the time to travel by road from 11 hours to 3 hours 40 minutes by train and it only took 6 years to complete the project and make the service available to the public.
Compare the situation to Nigerian circumstances where there is never a sense of urgency in private or public works, for instance, the Enugu Onitsha express road that has been under the construction since ever. I am sure most people born after the 90s do not know that that road was ever a double lane road.
That number means 9 a.m to 9 p.m, six days a week, it is the shorthand for the amount of time a Chinese worker is expected to put into work. That is 72 hours a week of work volume.
This system has been adopted by many notable Chinese business persons. They believe that for one to get ahead in life or at work, one needs to put in the time.
While this concept may not be entirely good to the workers’ wellbeing, it gives no time for friends, no time to cook enjoyable meals for oneself, no time for friends and family. Tired employees lead to sloppy work, can cause work downtime which might need more resources to fix.
Jack Ma a Co-founder of Alibaba, one of the world’s largest e-commerce companies, who has a net worth of about 40 billion dollars when questioned about the 996 work schedule said: “If you don’t work 996 when you are young, when can you ever work 996?” this might seem gruff at first glance, but if you want to get anywhere in this dog-eat-dog times as a young person where opportunities are short, you need to put in the work. If you can not put in this amount of work, someone else will. If you must eat, you must work. putting in the hours also develops you as an individual, builds your tenacity, gives you the time to accumulate experiences and the more time you spend on an activity/ work, the better you are at it. These are qualities you might need when you start to run your own business.
The process of exchanging information and ideas both verbal and non-verbal between one person/ group and another person/ group. This process of effective communication is vital in getting the job done, it gives room for innovation; it increases the chances of workers who might have ideas on how to get work done to share their ideas, it helps to keep the morale of team members high and reduces grapevine information.
to increase effective communication, the Chinese often create group chats (especially on WeChat) where information is shared to members as soon as it is available and members also give feedback on work progress.
Daily progress report, weekly progress reports, monthly and yearly reports are also submitted as at when due. Forecasts are also discussed regularly, so members are always aware of what they expect of them.
A Chinese businessman once told me, Africa is China’s remedy for regret (非洲是中国的后悔药), when I asked what he meant by that, he explained that whatever you regret that you could have done in china 10 or 20 years ago but you had no opportunity to do it, Africa gives you an opportunity to redeem yourself. I strongly believe that success can be emulated. If these guys can turn around their country from where it was to what it is now, we too can do it. But it all starts with you and me.