We can do it!

we can make itUnited States President, Barack Obama is well-known as an inspirational speaker and leader. His State of the Union message, delivered on January 28th, received global media coverage. The consensus is that this was another inspirational tour de force, not just for Americans but many others who have been undergoing hard times.

It doesn’t matter that there are differences about the policies, programmes and political agenda; at one point or another, your heart was stirred Continue reading

Advertisements

The Barbados Brand

Barbados brandI regularly participate in online discussions.  I prefer these to call-in programmes for the introduction of ideas and issues for fruitful discourse. I have decided to contextually integrate some of the issues that fit this column.

Senator John Watson has a Facebook group called FB Senate that I find informative and stimulating. I commend Senator Watson for this approach to public dialogue and consultation. This article flows from a suggestion that we should be working toward establishing a “made in Barbados” identity as a preference among Barbadian consumers and in the global market. Branding is a hot marketing buzzword that in many instances, is heavily skewed to a product orientation. Continue reading

A promise made is a debt unpaid

Stressed Over MoneyIn our work, our firm relies heavily upon clients and colleagues to contribute to achieving successful outcomes. Ideally, these contributions will meet agreed qualitative standards and be delivered on time. Unfortunately, there are more instances of unfulfilled promises than ones that are kept. Ironically, the ones in the greatest and most frequent deficits are service providers.

The promise “debtors” are often persons of high integrity who are fully capable of what is required. Certainly, when I am a “promise debtor”, I am filled with remorse and apologies. Nevertheless, the damage is done, especially when I become a bottleneck in the delivery of our famed “Supreme Service”. I know full well that reliability and responsiveness rank highest on the customer’s definition of quality but there are times that I miss.

In the “old days” of time and motion study, workers did mundane, repetitive work so it was easy to define productivity. Then, a good worker was someone who came to work every day, on time and responded promptly to the factory whistle that signalled times to start and finish. The assembly line kept moving. When I see awards given today for good attendance and long service, it represents a bygone era.

With the ratios of work becoming increasingly focused on the application of knowledge, there are more unpredictable elements in today’s work. Even tasks we might have performed frequently have nuances brought on by new information, which can delay our response times. Is it realistic to expect every promise to be kept? Where is the line drawn when we become unreliable and non-responsive?

We don’t expect perfect performance from professional athletes, doctors, politicians or any other group that earns our respect. We do get concerned if there is a high margin of error for pilots, surgeons, architects and others where public safety is involved and back this up with requirements for additional safeguards. Personal resilience, flexibility and a commitment to continuous learning have now become our assurance of authenticity.

How much of the decline in public trust can be attributed to an erosion of our commitment to bring our best game every time? I have seen many instances where the least productive employees provide orientation to new employees. They say them “Here’s how we do things around here; if you want to get along, you will work at the pace we set”. This always results in a de facto performance standard that is lower than that for organizational success.

What if we are now entering a period where there are no more employees and everyone was a freelancer? In truth, the demands of the marketplace are causing more functions to be outsourced and contracts are more specific about what is to be delivered and for how much.  With this trend, what does your “best game” entail?

Somehow the word “professional” comes to mind. Typically, we associate this term with fields that have prescribed educational and ethical criteria such as medicine, law etc. but it also serves to differentiate from amateurs.

Therefore, I submit that all of us should promise to be professionals in whatever we do. This means that we will strive to be reliable, responsive in our efforts to achieve goals that are mutually beneficial. We will recognize “stumbles” as learning opportunities for self-improvement and actively seek to improve.

God bless.

New Wine in Old Skins

“No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.” (Mark 2:22, Matthew 9:17)

vineyardThis parable speaks directly to the challenges being faced in our society as we seek ways to make necessary changes to improve our social, economic, and spiritual circumstances. There are those who make constant reference to “resistance to change” as a natural human condition that will predictably frustrate the best intentions. This results in a “why try” attitude that becomes an excuse for not making the effort or contribution that one could make,

Another familiar refrain is “we have heard all that before” and we are still talking years later about the same thing. This, as though poor implementation is a default position that cannot be overcome. What actually occurs is something akin to reading a headline and assuming you can accurately fill in the details from inferences made about previous experiences.

These and many other avoidance clichés, deprive legitimate change initiatives of the propulsion and resilience needed to achieve a positive, beneficial outcome. Since all of us have an ongoing desire to improve our circumstances, I thought it might be useful to look at this Biblical parable for insight and wisdom that can be applied today.

First, let’s say the “old wine” represents the combination of thoughts, ideas, values, rules and actions that led Barbados to achieving a global reputation for being a good place to invest. It is a recognized leader in political, economic and social stability; along with a highly literate workforce. One aspect of this stability is that you find many people who have long tenure in positions of influence and authority, who over time, keep things at a pace that is comfortable for them and those like them. So in many ways, the “old wineskins include many established traditions such as test cricket, working for the boss, and not delegating authority.

The “new wine” is comprised of those who have endured the system and seen where it fails to recognize and adjust to the new realities. In those instances where they find themselves being forced into “old wineskins”, they are leaking out the sides and voice their discontent among friends, the countries’ customers and others who agree that the old system needs radical change. They lack sufficient authority to create meaningful change. They have seen many examples of those who are too vocal or visible with new ideas being cut down or treated unfairly.

There is a saying that “the first rats to leave a sinking ship, are the good swimmers”. As a result, many who remain are loyal to those who have kept them there are unlikely to generate innovation. Circumstances such as these tight economic times, increased lawlessness and declining customer satisfaction, represent the new wineskins of today. The opportunities come from addressing the needs of the country with compelling actions whose benefits satisfy urgent needs.

This will call for vision, courage and persistence.  There is still much to be savoured from the old and an important place for the new. When Jesus turned water into wine, the first thing the wine steward said was: “it is customary to serve the best wine first”. It’s your turn.

God bless.

I have a dream

Why Martin Luther King, Jr. did NOT say “I have a plan.”

In the past week, I have been reflecting on the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights march on Washington DC; the one where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made his historic “I Have a Dream” speech. I won’t claim to have been present though I was at the time, in Boston, labouring in the community development trenches. I was more inspired by the speech than the march itself. I took pieces of it with me every day and used it to start conversations and to encourage others to believe in what it described.

During the week, I encountered an article (posted on my Facebook page and LinkedIn company page) written by Daniel Burrus, entitled “Why Martin Luther King, Jr. did NOT say “I have a plan.Continue reading

Trust me?

Finance Minister Chris Sinckler delivered the Budget and Estimates to an anxious nation wondering what drastic measures could be effectively applied to turn things around?

Key phrases such as “institute a sequence of managed structural adjustments and reforms”, “until global growth and recovery is evident, an 18-month programme of fiscal adjustments and specific growth initiatives will have to be implemented to pull our economy around, stabilize and grow the international reserves and create new jobs through major private and public investment” and finally, the theme is of BGDS 2013-2020 is “Adjustment, Reform, Recovery and Sustainability”. Continue reading

Personal Power Tools

Repost

Observe – Describe – Disclose

An antidote to ass/u/me (making an ass out of you and me).

MP900382971The problem with making assumptions is that it leads to errors and mistakes. Far too many people make assumptions and the result of this is that people are not in the habit of observing.

They get into talking about what should have happened, what did not happen, what they would have done, and what went wrong. They have low skills in observing what actually did happen. Continue reading

“You Really Oughta Wanna”

Repost

This week I have heard the Prime Minister and the Leader of Government Business in the Senate emphasize the importance of increasing productivity. They exhorted members of the public service in particular, to “pull their weight” and “be punctual”.

MC910216326This certainly recognizes a perennial performance issue that is generally characterized as low productivity. Recent reports commissioned by NISE and the Barbados government and others conclude that: a large segment of the population don’t want a job and that a large percentage of workers in the public and private sector are disconnected from their jobs.  Consequently, the cost of doing business in Barbados is so high it has an adverse effect on our competitiveness.

The title of this article is taken from the subtitle of a book written in 1984 by Robert F. Mager and Peter Pipe, called “Analyzing Performance Problems”. It is still in print and still relevant. The point is that the laudable words of exhortation by government leaders cannot, by themselves, lead to improved performance. Continue reading

What is the Real Score?

Election campaigns are now in full swing with lots of “noise at the barricades”. As I try to sort through manifestos, promises and boasts, I am left with the question: What’s the real score”? In the midst of all this party tribalism and the litanies of historic grievances; it’s like trying to watch a sporting event that has no scoreboard.

MM900395774The politically intense will reply with references to “voter swing”, at risk constituencies and a tally of political gaffes by their opponents. We mustn’t forget the economic statistics and claims of what has been done, should have been done and why it wasn’t possible. It seems like an athlete that’s involved in a competition but more preoccupied with making personal points or playing to the crowd. That is a sure formula for defeat.

From where I sit, both major parties seem to have gaining power as their objective and are using fragmented “solutions” without the context of a confirmed diagnosis. For example, education is an area that is sure to evoke deep emotional reactions. After all, we are renowned for our high literacy rate and it is a cornerstone of national development. However, the circumstances that existed when Errol Barrow made education universally available have changed drastically and we are struggling to put “lipstick on a pig” that needs major restructuring. Is it possible that the countless dispirited people unable to support themselves and increasing lawless behaviour are like the umpire’s finger going up in a cricket match?

Our vaunted social partnership seems to only emerge in episodes of crisis and make a calming return to the status quo of contentious industrial relations with government as a referee. Heck, university graduates with advanced degrees feel as aggrieved as the average wage-earner. Too often, they insist that they are entitled to pay far more than the actual value of the work they produce and employers are then saddled with labour costs that strangle their businesses.

MM900236244These are just two examples that are eating at the core of Barbados’ development as a nation. The ponderous inefficiency of government services and questions around ethical and respectful behaviour warrant mention as well. Alas, I have word limit so I will take this up further in other articles.

There should be no gloating by either party because both are culpable. Barbados’ political stability rests on the fact that regardless of who is in power, things remain essentially the same. It seems that this “stability” is an over-played strengthen and we are in danger of becoming a one-trick pony.

I am very aware that these are politically sensitive areas. They are the veritable “sacred cows” of Barbados society. It is said that: “Sacred cows make the best hamburger”. No disrespect intended to Hindus.

There has been much talk during this campaign about leadership. I submit that effective leaders must answer two questions constantly: What are we working on? (Vision) and How are we doing? (Performance). We live in a democracy but democratic management is a failed concept.

Our leaders may want to consider a modified version of a “balanced scorecard” that covers and aligns the breadth of key functional areas. They can then report against measurable targets at agreed milestones. Maybe then, we will be able to follow and participate in the game.

God bless.

Prepared for the February 18, 2013 “Strong Suit” column in the Barbados Business Authority.

Dennis Strong can be reached at supremeservices@caribsurf.com