Adapting to Ethiopia’s business culture
By Fanuel Haile – Recently, I was discussing about business relationship with a trade commissioner of one of the active embassies here in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on forming partnership with companies from the country she represented.
It actually has been our fourth meeting with her. And while discussing the casual situation of the general business attire here in Ethiopia, she surprised me with the following statement. “I have had always kept track of mails sent from companies from the country i represent which are sent to local companies here in Ethiopia. And almost all the time, i am forced to send reminders by text or call them. Almost all miss to check their contact mail inbox.”
I was ruminating this for a while and come to think about it, I have came by the same attitude and worse more through the 10+ years of my experience. (even though small) Then I came up with the idea of setting up a set of what-to-do lists (not rules) considering my experience of Ethiopian Business Culture.
1. Research your Business Partners
There is this powerful weapon that has been around for a while which is a wonder how it hasn’t been disavowed. It is called Google. It is amazing how the current age has developed to a point you can easily check on your business partners. And this works in both ways. It is like knowing each other before actually meeting. Foreign companies do these researches that it leaves us in awe most of the time considering their market knowledge which is most of the time better than ours.
You can also save a great amount of time from wasting your time and money (practically both are money). I had an experience of signing a contract with this company which evolved to hardship on keeping the contract and it resulted in a nasty break-up. Later, when googled, the company had ongoing legal battles in more than three countries.
2. Research your Counterparts Cultures
Most cultures have their dos and don’ts. And it helps grease some elbows to know these points. In some cultures, it might be rude to show certain type of gestures and it is worth to know this beforehand to avoid some unpleasant situation. Dress code, office attire, gift giving & taking, and so much more can be researched and practiced accordingly. Learning some words also usually help.
3. Always be punctual
We, as Ethiopians, have a culture of lateness. This must be the statement of the year where we all in business have common agreement on. This is a fundamental flaw we should rid of. It is disrespectful and very uncommon all over the world. And if we are to intertwine ourselves with the rest of the world, we are better off this backwards manner.
4. Set communication methods and stick by them
As discussed on the start of this script, it is often to hear the miscommunications that happens as a result of missed mails and other means of communications. We have to set goals to the means of our communications as business and business men/women. We should set office phones, mobile phones, mail (company mail preferred), other online messaging apps and/or even social networking outlets (these days proving to be productive).
We should choose and setup a convenient way to communicate with our business counterparts and make a habit of checking our communication means regularly every day, every hour or every minute (whichever means satisfy our business need)
5. Be Smart but Gentle
Business interaction are always about giving and taking. There are profits to be made, services to be rendered and products to be delivered. The interaction always involves negotiations with a to-and-fro communication. It is always useful to be smart, professional and in control of our needs and listen and feel to what our business counterparts look for.
But it is also necessary to be gentle about addressing our version of the negotiation with a gentle and presentable way. Hostile altercations often end up with unpleasant business environment or even break-up business relationships. It also sends negative vibes to both sides.
To sum up, It is necessary to tune up to the global business environment. I am sure the involvement of international companies within our country is going to hype up in the coming years as more needs of business and markets are created in the 100Million+ country.
EDITORS’S NOTE – The writer Fanuel Haile is Deputy General Manager – at VIVA Engineering P.L.C.