Harmonising mainstream HR practices with ubuntu values


Similarities exist between ubuntu and mainstream HR practices and businesses should explore a synergy between the two systems to bring out the best in their people, writes CHRO Award 2023 nominee and CHRO executive advisor at Africa Chartered Managers, Besa Muthuri.

It is evident that cultural norms are represented within mainstream human resource practices, but the level of convergence varies across different management strategies. Servant leadership converges more with the ubuntu management approaches, while transactional leadership shows the most significant divergence.

While the convergence indicates shared traits, the areas of divergence point to the strategies that mainstream human resource managers could implement to build synergies with ubuntu ideologies in the workplace.

Understanding cultural influences in HR practices

Although the conventional management approach to production and efficiency may seem to be conflicting with ubuntu’s view of the need for solidarity, collective wellbeing, and social harmony, there are steps that managers can take to incorporate both ideologies. Proper communication and avoidance of blind implementation of conventional management approaches to productivity help prevent conflicts that could result in complex problems.

The attempt to increase efficiency should be carried out with a focus on the concomitant social impacts. A critical target area for building synergies is decision-making. Human resource managers should consider negotiated decision-making approaches aligning with the popular ubuntu values.

Negotiation geared towards achieving agreed-upon decisions is a core component of ubuntu. Limiting negotiations by exercising control over employees and curtailing their involvement leads to ineffective implementation of decisions made and could result in dysfunctional employee behaviours. Human resource managers should therefore plan carefully the decision-making, tapping into the ubuntu decision approaches.

Mainstream human resource managers should also be cautious with the use of time when engaging with native South African employees. Instead of relying exclusively on the classical management view of time as a strategic commodity, managers should also be aware of ubuntu’s view of time as a healer.

Mixing traditional and ubuntu perspectives

There are similarities between ubuntu and mainstream human resource management practices. One of the similarities is the focus on teamwork. Ubuntu supports the notion of teamwork and the fact that the creation of a whole exceeds the sum of the individual parts. Mainstream human resource practices should take advantage of this belief by tethering the reward system to team performance instead of strapping it to individual performance.

Treating people with respect and dignity as ubuntu advocates could bring benefits in the workplace. Managers who show respect and dignity to employees motivate them to show greater commitment to the organisational goals. Evidence presented in the Global Leadership and Organisational Behaviour Effectiveness (GLOBE) research suggests that the management approaches that consider the native cultural ideologies should not use technical skills as the only guiding principle in selecting and promoting leaders. It may be beneficial for organisations to consider age.

Additionally, the younger HR managers leading groups of older employees should devise management approaches that minimise adverse reactions. Instead of issuing commands and being instructive, such leaders should lead by example, getting things done through others. The managers should be socially and culturally competent as well as technically astute. Mainstream human resource practices should embrace the need for coaching and cheerleading instead of leaders who present themselves as experts leading through instructions.
In conclusion, the willingness of conventional human resource managers to recognise and incorporate ubuntu principles in management should be assessed. Future researchers should also assess the challenges that conventional human resource managers will likely face when incorporating ubuntu principles in management.

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