Traditional South African business tended towards the accumulation of power and decision-making in the hands of a few senior managers (usually white) with middle managers waiting in line to move up the corporate ladder over time.
Post-apartheid, things have started to change – especially under the influence of the myriad of MNCs which have flocked into the country. Hierarchies are breaking down somewhat and younger middle-managers are looking to become more proactively involved in decision-making.
Thus the best advice to give is for a manager to be seen to be in command of the facts and the subject matter but to ask for input and opinions from the team. Be authoritative but not authoritarian.
The biggest change to have impacted at middle management level over the last few years has been the introduction of a new cadre of black professionals into most companies. This new breed of managers has been enabled to make corporate progress through the use of affirmative action programmes, where companies have actively sought to develop a more representative and racially diverse management team.
It would, again, be very naive to pretend that these policies of affirmative action have been universally well-received amongst existing white management teams and many whites will complain about inappropriate individuals being selected for a particular position simply because of skin colour, rather than ability, knowledge or aptitude. The issue of affirmative action is one of the flash points of modern South African business and must be approached with great caution and sensitivity.
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This World Business Culture profile is designed as an introduction to business culture in South Africa only and a more detailed understanding needs a more in-depth exploration which we can provide through our training and consultancy services.