Capacity building

Whether it is a start-up company or a project, capacity to get things done is a decisive condition for success. In that regard there is a problem that is often underestimated, if not usually. Capacity is often thought of in terms of knowledge and skills. In addition, reference is often made to the need for an enabling environment, with appropriate infrastructure such as roads and electricity and favorable government regulations. For example, if a farmer purchases a biogas plant, he needs to know something about the amount of manure and water that must be added on a daily basis, also how the gas is stored and possibly cleaned and how the remaining slurry can be used as fertilizer. And with regard to an “enabling environment”, he must also be able to sell any surplus production made possible by good fertilizer, or there must be a market for the remaining slurry, perhaps dried as fertilizer. There must also be someone who can repair the device if he is not able to do it himself. Gas leaks are more common as the device ages. All of that is what capacity entails.

However, it is often forgotten that the farmer himself is also a significant (f)actor. If he has no feeling for this innovation, it will be difficult. Many traditional farmers have learnt their farming practices by copying family members. But now it is explained to the farmer how to do it, just in theory. How much can he absorb if he is not used to digesting theoretical information? He may know that the installation has to be filled with as much water as manure, but is he really aware of this, and convinced? Does he see and experience that as an important issue? Or does it all feel too strange? And then: how precise is the farmer? Does he keep doing it each and every day? Is he accurate in his planning? He may also outsource the work to some low-paid family members or employees. If he is not present on the spot, then do they feel responsible? Or do they only act by command and control? In the latter case, the biogas installation will not function well. And what about the cooperation between the installer of the biogas plant and the farmer? Often there is not much trust and there is no lasting relationship between customer and supplier. The farmer may not even make a phone call if the device is broken, because he assumes that he will not get any support anyway. Or he suspects that he has to pay too much. You better not depend on others!

The problems mentioned are no longer merely a matter of knowledge and no longer simply a matter of environment, but they touch on values ​​and on mindset, on mentality and social codes. So capacity is a multi-layer problem. Three layers can be distinguished:

  1. Knowledge / expertise
  2. Mindset / values
  3. Social environment / institutions

In relation to mindset many values ​​can be mentioned: loyalty, planning, hierarchy, group thinking and so on. However, in order to create some clarity, it is recommended to apply a certain reduction. The following values ​​or cultural characteristics are usually the most important ones for success in business.

  1. Hierarchy versus egalitarianism
  2. Collectivism versus individualism
  3. Initiative versus going with the flow
  4. Planning versus synchronous behavior (everything at once)
  5. Status by labor versus status by position
  6. Particularism (privileges, favoritism) versus universalism (equal treatment)

By mapping the corporate culture of both large and small companies on these criteria, one usually gets a good impression of the values ​​and mindset that play a role in a particular company and that determine productivity.

It may still seem somewhat abstract, but one can get a more concrete impression by the following examples. If a company is very hierarchical, then the employees do not produce much if no command is given. Even if there is a problem, they will wait for the managing director to solve it. Production has stopped. If adaptation to the group is more important than individual judgment, everyone should be careful and adapt. If taking initiative is not appreciated because the manager considers it as a risk, the employees will adopt an indifferent attitude. They will not attempt to propose improvements. As a result this leads to a lack of professionalism. Professionalism means that one does feel responsibility for the tasks assigned, and that includes coming forward with creative ideas. If such an attitude is not self-evident in Western companies, then the more it should be taken into account that in a collectivist and hierarchical culture with little planning and a low status for labor, such a mindset is even less to be expected.

That means: one must consciously work on it. That is possible! Change often has to come from the top. When the management of the company sets a good example in labor discipline and responsibility, it has an influence on the rest of the company. It may be necessary to be strict if there is a low level of motivation for work, but it is all the more important to be fair and have a feeling for exceptions and exceptional situations. One can also consciously work on team spirit and make people grow in a professional attitude. But a professional attitude will not develop if a manager does not tolerate opposition. Managers often have to learn to embody opposite values in their behavior: criticism must go hand in hand with respect. Giving clear assignments must go hand in hand with a listening ear. And all of that with the right mix of trust and control. Everything at the right time.

In my book Kroesen, J. Otto, Darson, R., Ndegwah J. David, 2020. Cross-cultural Entrepreneurship and Social transformation: Innovative Capacity in the Global South, Lambert, Saarbrücken, 331pp. I have further elaborated this problem of capacity on the basis of many cases.

In my book Kroesen J.O., 2014. Planetary Responsibilities: an Ethics of Timing, Wipf and Stock, Eugene, Oregon, 210 pp. I have proposed an ethics of the right time. Choosing the right time and developing a sense of timing is based on values ​​and language. Language decides (when people speak to each other) when which value should be used.