Worker Attitudes in Jamaica

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Carl Stone was a giant of a man, but his work has largely disappeared from view.

He was a UWI academic who was most famous for his innovative polling techniques which seemed able to predict each General Election outcome, much to the chagrin of whichever party he predicted would lose. He was roundly condemned, pilloried and accused of being biased, but his polls were much, much more accurate than those conducted in any First World democracy.

Recently, I needed to get a copy of his book: Worker Attitude Survey. I had seen reference to it in the Jamaica Gleaner, and wanted to get a copy. First, I visited the plaza bookstores. No-one there had heard of Carl Stone, much less his books.

Then I tried The University of the West Indies (UWI) bookstore, where his name was emblazoned on the wall. They had heard of him, and the book, but did not have a copy. They advised me to visit the library.

With my wife in tow, we stopped by the reference desk and got a copy of what was really more of a pamphlet than anything else. It was a dog-eared copy that had been donated, after the owner had made notes in the margins and done some heavy underlining.

We read it in about 20-30 minutes.

  • The 1982 survey found that on the average, Jamaican workers put out only 67% effort on the job
  • Today it takes 1.5 workers to produce the same as 1.0 worker 25 years ago
  • Job satisfaction is correlated with productivity
  • There is deep distrust about management’s motives and concern for worker’s interests
  • Work effort was not correlated with job satisfaction or income level
  • Work effort was correlated with the quality of management, leadership example and having a positive attitude
  • Only 34% of workers felt that management recognized and rewarded workers who worked hardest
  • Productivity increases when managers display better skills, and present more upward opportunities to workers (especially in the form of educational opportunities)

These findings correlate well with the results described in the book: Why Workers Won’t Work by Kenneth Carter. This Jamaican case study reports that only 24% of workers are motivated, and ascribes the general cause as “management’s attitude towards workers.”

In the summary of the article available at the Framework website (in the list of white papers under Ideas), the author, Erica Samuels-Wade, states that “Workers cite the lack of respect and recognition, poor communication, lack of involvement in decision-making and general disregard for workers as human beings as key factors in their general contempt for and lack of confidence in management.”

This is the background upon which managers try to get work done. It starts out poorly, and there is not a blank canvas upon which to start to build a relationship. Instead, workers fully expect the relationship to be a poor one from day one.

Service Standards — no more

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The days are gone when employees will be trained to follow customer service standards.

Obviously, there is nothing wrong with the idea of creating standards.

While the intention of creating standards for employees to follow is an honorable one, the very idea of standards can devolve quickly into “doing what the company wants so that I can avoid being fired”.

This is not the best frame of mind to be in when it comes to trying to create a particular experience in the mind of customers.

However, it is quite easy to shift the focus from the internal need to “follow standards” to engaging in “Experience Practices” that are designed to produce a particular experience in the world of the customer. The term was recently coined by my colleague, Scott Hilton-Clarke, after some research that he did on the most recent thinking in the field.

I thought this was particularly brilliant innovation, as it changes the focus completely from compliance to creation.

These Experience Practices (or ExP’s) can be designed for an entire company, a business unit and even for individual job functions.

But that is not even the beginning.

The first step is that a company must define the Experience it is trying to create in explicit terms. It is just not enough to say that the Experience should be good, or excellent or top class. These mean nothing anymore, especially in the Caribbean when the average employee has not experienced anything more than the best of “Frien’ Service.”

Instead, the Experience must be defined, and here I use my own firm as an example. Early in 2005, I decided to create a particular experience for my clients:

  • bring sunshine and hope to dark places
  • create new thinking and innovations
  • be relentless
  • speak truth to power

In short, I wanted my clients to experience all the above, and to do so at the major points of contact with the company or any of its representatives. The best way to do this would be to create Experience Practices at each point of contact.

In a larger company, this would mean training employees in the following:

  • what the experience is
  • how to recognize it
  • how to use the Practices to create them in the customer’s experience
  • how to depart from the Practices when necessary

We know that the initial training could be modelled on the video-based feedback training outlined in our white paper available for download from our site: Lights! Camera! Action! During this experiential training, the employee would learn how to create the experience by being coached by a facilitator and his/her peers based on a handful of difficult cases or scenarios.

On an ongoing basis, however, the biggest difference would come from the kind of coaching that the employee receives from his / her manager in whether or not the experience is being created.

Customers that come into contact with employees that have been trained to “follow a customer service standard” often complain that the employees are robotic, and do not show the respect or flexibility that is necessary when the customers are real people with real needs that do not fall in line with a company’s pre-planned process.

However, when the purpose is to create a particular experience, employees are able to focus on the right thing, and can then be trusted to create the right outcome for their customers.

The Customer-Supplier Fallacy

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The time has come for the business world to retire the customer-supplier model, and this is especially true of Caribbean companies.

There was a time when companies were more interested in making short-term profits, than they were in serving customers.

Until the early 1980’s, Western companies were quite complacent in the way in which they served, or did not serve customers. The rise of the Japanese manufacturer, however, forced a level of competition that created an entirely new paradigm of customer focus. The Quality Movement was born, with gurus such as Deming and Juran taking the lead in helping customers to create a new focus on serving customers.

However, as useful as the model was when it was introduced, it had its limitations. It was primarily created as a way to transform the relationship between the paying customer and the employees of the company. By thinking about the customer differently, employees could begin to put their needs at a higher priority than before, and therefore ensure that the company’s efforts were focused on the end-customer needs.

Problems arose as the model was stretched beyond its limits when it was applied to internal relationships between departments, and employees within departments. The “customer-supplier” model was applied to all kinds of relationships, and to this day it is still being mis-applied.

The mistake came when two departments or employees that are interdependent were forced into the model’s relationship and one party had to be seen as the customer and the other seen as the supplier. In a neat, artificial world of linear processes it was possible to force the distinction to apply, but in most real-world working relationships the optimal way to achieve combined goals is not to think of the relationship as linear.

Instead, the relationship should be seen as more of a partnership between equals, where an objective is shared, as are the means to accomplish it. In this kind of relationship, the customer – supplier model is not useful, and can even be damaging.

For example, in some companies in which my colleagues and I have worked, we have observed individuals fighting over who should assume the role of supplier versus customer. The fight would typically take place over who the customer is, and therefore who had the power to set the precise terms of the relationship.

In other companies, there has even been a struggle to turn a productive, non-linear relationship into unproductive, linear relationships with an emphasis on formality and bureaucracy. Attempts to turn the New Product Design process in numerous companies into something that resembled an assembly line are good examples of trying to force a creative process into a mould that it should never be forced to fit.

Thankfully, the newest thinking from the marketing world related to the customer’s experience offers a way out.

In our work here in the Caribbean we face a situation that is not unique, but is quite pronounced relative to that of developed countries. In short, the average customer service professional in the region has at most an idea of what excellent service is. At the same time, they have very little direct experience of excellent customer service.

In other words, they have heard about, read about and seen excellent customer service in the movies and on television and from those who have traveled. However, they have not actually experienced it themselves on a systematic basis.

This is quite different from their counterparts in the North America, for example, who are much more likely to have experienced service that is consistently professional through a variety of national chains or nationally known companies. In the Caribbean, the regional examples such as KFC, HiLo or local public transportation companies for example, are not examples to emulate in the least.

The new employee, therefore, enters the workplace with this lack of experience serving as their only point of reference.

Furthermore, they enter workplaces that are characterized by a deep mistrust, if Jamaica is an example through which region-wide behaviours can be broadly understood.

Studies by Carl Stone in his 1982 study for the Jamaican government entitled Worker Attitude Survey, and the book Why Workers Won’t Work (1997) by Kenneth Carter show clearly that most workers are demotivated, and that their de-motivation has its roots in distrust of management.

It can be argues that this distrust has its roots in slavery, and the perverse worker-management relationships that prevailed in that institution for almost 400 years.

Regardless of the source, this lack of mistrust in today’s workplace begins with worker-manager relationships and continues in the employee-customer relationship. There is an old axiom: “an employee will never treat their customer better than they themselves are treated.”

I would update that axiom to say that an employee will never provide an experience for their customer that they themselves are not experiencing on the job. I would even go further to day that an employee will show no more interest in the customer’s experience, than their manager is demonstrating in the employee’s experience. In other words, a manager who does not care will produce employees who do not care.

I cannot say to what degree the above “updated axiom” is true of companies based outside the region. However, I am confident in saying that our background of workplace de-motivation and distrust makes it more (not less) likely that an unskilled manager will do serious damage to the customer’s experience by mismanaging employees.

The symptoms are rife across the region. “Res a Dem” treatment, sullen faces, workers standing around waiting for something to happen, “service with a scowl” according to a colleague of mine.

The enterprising worker is unable to rise above the norm, and quickly learns to do as little as possible to keep the job, without being committed to a high standard of anything. Eventually, he or she moves on to a different job, hoping that it will be different, and generally encountering the same situation.

While I have no empirical evidence, I believe that there is a difference when that same worker migrates to North America and encounters very different management style, in general. The change in behaviour may not be immediate, but it does take place. If this could be investigated with actual research, it might show that the worker himself is not the problem, as they are quite able to adapt to the demands of their new job.

Instead, the problem would seem to be one of management, and ownership. Company leadership takes the primary role to create the environment in which the workers serve customers. In other words, the onus is on them to create the experience that is desired, provide an environment that is abundantly manifests it, and train themselves and employees to produce it consistently.

This focus on producing experience is the gift that the marketing world has given to those who must transform their companies to be customer-oriented. These experiences go beyond the mere meeting of needs and the provision of outputs, and include as well the psychological feelings that ensue from good service.

For managers, this is a far departure from the old customer-supplier model, and for Caribbean managers it means finding ways to overcome destructive relationships and experiences that damage the bottom-line.

An Opportunity for Greatness

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This is a great article by Jean Lowrie-Chin in today’s Jamaica Observer.

Click here to go to to the article.

It talks about a speech given by Richard Hamming, who has analyzed the approach taken by Nobel Laureates over the years, and echoes much of the discussion that we have been having on this blog on the topic of pursuing what we love in life. It turns out that this is what has driven the Laureates over the years.

This is all quite encouraging!

Consultant’s Prices part 2

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In a prior post, I decided to come up with the “final” answer as to how consulting firms come up with the prices we charge.

I now have an addition to that final answer, which makes it even more “final”.

As a professional, I charge my clients for the results they want produced, rather than the time it takes to produce the result.

Employees, on the other hand, get paid regardless of how long results take to come (for the most part, and up to a limit.)

Executives have the luxury of delaying projects, and altering the timing of activities and deliverables on projects when they are working with consultants, at no additional cost to the bottom line. This works well in uncertain conditions, when the timing of sensitive work is critical. A delay of several months is expected to be absorbed by the consultant as part of the cost of doing business.

A group of employees, on the other hand, will incur salary and overhead costs whether there is a project delay or not. Executives sometimes feel pressured to get people busy when they know that the clock is ticking, and costs are being incurred on a daily basis.

Consulting costs tend to be significantly higher, therefore, because the consultant or firm is giving the executive more flexibility and choices as to when project activities are executed. This can sometimes make the difference between success and failure, especially when projects are of high-impact.

My experience working in the Caribbean is one of high uncertainty, in the sense that business is frequently disrupted and plans are forced to change. The source could range from a hurricane to a devaluation.

What is helpful for consultants is to remember that they have a business to run, and their pricing must reflect that fact. “Having a business to run” is very different from “getting paid to do some work,” which is a trap that I fell headlong into in the my early days in this business.

Top Class Caribbean Service for Every Class

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At my first stay at Sandals back in January I was amazed at how they were able to take the best of Jamaica, and deliver it in a way that not only a tourist would appreciate it, but also in a way that a local Jamaican would.

I could see them shift gears. When they realized that I was Jamaican, the accent would disappear and they seemed genuinely happy to see me there, and several times went the extra mile to make the stay a memorable one.

And they succeeded fabulously.

However, Sandals is the exception to what I perceive to be a general low level of customer service afflicting the region.

This is not to say that the service delivered to tourists is not different. In fact, in a prior blog I spoke about the three levels of service: Tourist Service, Frien’ Service and Res’ a Dem Service.

Tourist Service is rendered to foreigners, and the more foreign-looking, the more likely the service is to be polite, helpful and solicitous. It does not apply to locals.

Frien’ Service is the best service a Caribbean local can expect to receive. It is warm, connected and intimate, and comes when the server recognizes the customer from some prior acquaintance or connection.

Res’ a Dem Service is the cold, indifferent, mash-up-face service that is given to the general public, and I have seen it in every CSME island that I have visited in the region (and also Bahamas).

Our people often cry racism when they see tourists being treated better, but the cause is not racial hatred… it is more like a welcoming nature to outsiders.

While these are gross generalizations, I have found that they have a spark of truth deep inside. The reasons Sandals has been able to be so effective, is that they are able to create an environment in which their employees deliver Frien’ Service to people that they do not know, but act as if they know. Also, they expose their new recruits to an extraordinary level of service that they themselves have never personally received before.

Here is a sample of some of the guests’ reports.

The fact that makes this remarkable, is that there is not a single island I have visited in which there is a local company giving excellent service to local people, unless they are consuming a very high end, and expensive, service.

Regular, everyday service is consistently delivered as Res’ a Dem Service.

In a project I once studied, I noticed that the North American consultants that were used never did define what they meant by “excellent service”. It seemed self-evident and self-explanatory.
When they spoke to upper managers, they too understood what “excellent service” meant. After all, many of them had studied in a First World country, and had taken trips to visit Macy’s, Harrod’s and DisneyWorld.

However, what they failed to realize was that they knew what excellent service was because they had received it first-hand from a consistent service provider. Having a good impression of Disney service comes from multiple first hand experiences that are mutually reinforcing. The consultants and senior managers had all had the very same experiences.

However, the average Caribbean person has not had that kind of experience. Instead, they know Frien’ Service and Res’ a Dem Service. The latter is the default, delivered when they have no connection to the person in front of them.

Companies and consultants need to be very careful to not just define the experience, which is a cognitive requirement, but also to create opportunities to give employees an idea of what consistent, high quality service feels like when the recipient is not a tourist or a friend.

This can be done in several ways, and I think that Sandals does this by immersing their employees in a culture in which it is easy to give good service, as a function of the way they are themselves treated by their management.

I cannot say with certainty that this is so — I have no first-hand knowledge of what happens on the inside. But when I read the remarks in the link given above, and reflect on my experience I know down deep in my bones that the smiles are not faked, and the extra mile that employees go is not just done in order to get something in return (indeed, there is no tipping allowed.)

The fact that Sandals has been able to do this on a large scale across several properties on different islands (presumably effectively) tells me that it is built into the Sandals system.

And this is what our public services, banks, retail stores, food shops and mini-buses across the region have not begun to do — develop a way to systematically deliver a positive customer experience, starting with their front-line staff.

I Don’t Care

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I recently read a fascinating New York Times article about following what you love in life.

The article, by the authors of Freakonomics, started out by asking why it was that the best soccer players all seemed to be born in January, February and March.

It turns out that the reason has nothing to do with the Zodiac, seasons or school holidays. When young boys and girls are moving up in the soccer systems in their respective countries, they are all subject to age group requirements, and it turns out that the requirements coincide with calendar years. For example, to play Colts football (under 14), the players must have been born in 1992 or earlier.

Naturally, players born in early 1992 are larger (on average) than those born in late 1992, and therefore would have received that little extra encouragement from early on that the others would not have received. They would have been encouraged to develop whatever talent they had more frequently. In other words, if they had a dream to be a footballer, it would seem to those around them that they would be more likely to follow the dream than the rest.

It brought to mind a conversation I had back in 1992 with a new boss of mine. Her name was Norma, if I recall rightly.

I had just changed managers, and we were having an intro meeting, to really get to know each other. During that meeting, I told her that I really did not care about performance review, as others opinions of me just didn’t matter to my career.

This was plenty big talk for a 25 year-old.

But it was true. I had been doing a lot of growing and reading up until that point, and had very recently read a study that said that the difference between the largest and smallest raise in the typical department was some $2000. I was stunned.

I considered myself a high performer, and to learn that the difference was that small made me think that those who busted their butts to get to the top were separated from those who were lazy and did no work by a mere… $5.58 per day after taxes. That worked out to some 70 cents per hour.

This was clearly ridiculous.

I was in a rat race for a 70 cents per hour difference? That worked out to a Coke back then, or a candy bar.

A friendly supervisor could not believe it either, and he checked the numbers for our own department, and the numbers were almost exactly what I had read.

I felt like a fool.

And I stopped competing, as my dream was not to be promoted, but to leave and start my own company.

Even as I was telling Norma that the review does not matter to me, I could tell that she did not believe me.

Until, that is about six months later when it came time for her to deliver the review. I kept putting it off and putting it off, until it finally was overdue and we sat down to speak in a cafeteria in Bedminster.

She started in, and I could see that she had forgotten.

She continued, and I interrupted her by saying “But Norma, don’t you remember? Performance review does not matter to me.”

She stopped and stared at me. Her world and my world paused… I explained that it was not personal, no reflection on her, it was just that I was not interested as I found that it made no difference. The people who were evaluating me, I explained, have no idea what I am doing here, and I knew that nothing they said was related to what I was doing.

Poor Norma. She was flabbergasted. I was a bit surprised that she had forgotten, and also nervous because I was basically upsetting the status quo by not pretending that this mattered.

From my recollection, we went on to talk about other interesting things, unrelated to the review, relieved that the pretense was finally over. I can’t say that we became close after that, but I would say that had an understanding from that moment.

It was a turning point for me and my career, and when I did eventually resign to go my own way several months later I was stronger for having dealt with my fears in a straightforward way — by telling the truth.

At the same time, I do understand what it was like to be caught up in a rat race. AT&T Bell Labs was, at the time, not only my employer but one of the best places in the world for a scientist or engineer to work. Getting fired was almost impossible back then. And, I remember vividly an old-timer telling me that I should not think of leaving, but instead should stay until I was vested in the pension plan… at the 30 year mark.

Many AT&T veterans were skillful at one thing — staying an employee of AT&T.

In the years since I left, AT&T split into several pieces and my department was disbanded. The company was recently acquired for very little, and the number of employees before the acquisition was at a very small fraction of the 100k+ men and women that I remember being on payroll.

I’m unsure as to why the soccer article reminded me of Norma, and the conversation. I guess that I am grateful that even though she was shocked, she did not try to talk me out of my thinking. In fact, she applauded it, which gave me some assurance that I was not mad. Just different.

Just like those January-March soccer players got some encouragement to later become world stars, I also benefited from the same. What a workplace it would be if people could only be encouraged to follow their hearts.

The Dual Income Profession

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In 1991 I was exposed to a fact that I have never forgotten.

In a training course that I have long forgotten, I learned that the profession I was about to enter full-time (I was an AT&T employee back then) had a bi-modal distribution of incomes.

What it simply meant was that consultants fell into two distinct groups — one group that earned a lot (median US$75k at the time) and another that earned much less (median $US45k.) The study went on to describe the difference in marketing techniques between the two groups.

Given that this was a time before the internet truly existed as we know it, the marketing techniques did not include an on-line component. However, the difference basically came down to consultants that used content-based approaches that reached a mass audience, and those that did not.

“Content-based approaches?”

Basically, it was saying that the more successful group relied on speeches, public seminars and other relatively high-risk, high-reward approaches to get the messages in which they believed, into the listening ears of large groups. They also wrote books, articles and other pieces for publication, once again for mass consumption.

The less successful group, from the research, relied on cold calls, free workshops, letters and paid advertisement to try to reach a relatively small number of prospects with little more than a shout of “here I am!” These were all very low risk techniques.

It is not too hard to extrapolate these findings to the world we live in 15 years later. Now, there are just more tools to use, most of them involving new technology.

However, the basics are the same — the market rewards those in the profession who develop a unique point of view, and then are willing to develop the speaking and writing skills to get their point of view in front of audiences in high-risk, high reward ways.

Nowadays, we have more avenues available to us through internet technology.

  • A book can be self-published for US$2000.
  • A website can be launched for free.
  • A blog can be created and updated for free.
  • Digital videography and pictures can be created for US$200 or less.
  • Newsgroups can be created to address any subject matter of interest.
  • Voice recordings can be made available to the world at the flick of a few buttons.

A consultant said to me a few weeks ago that he basically “did not believe in the internet” and thought that clients had no interest in viewing web pages. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I have not had a paper brochure for more than eight years or so, and do not plan to ever have one again, and that no-one had ever had a problem visiting my site to download over 30 articles or 40 blogs with content that spoke to them in ways that a brochure could not.

The truth is, it is not the website that makes the difference, but just as it was in 1991 — what separates the higher earners from the others is courage. In 1991 and also in 2006 it is the high-risk, long-term payoff activities that have the best return. Some examples include:

  • Speaking in front of large groups and risking rejection.
  • Writing and risking never seeing it published.
  • Putting ideas out in public, risking that others will take them and make better use of them.
  • Investing in a website and risking it being ignored.

I have taken the cowardly route in all of these at different times, and have to work hard to keep on taking risks. And then I come back to that old article, and looking at that bimodal distribution gives me faith that it all might work out one day if I continually give up any fear of looking foolish!

P.S. I recommend the book “Creating a Unique Brand in the Consulting Profession” by Allan Weiss as the best and only book of its kind that I have ever read, and even though it was written a mere five years ago, it is already stale (no mention of blogging, which was in its infancy).