A Trinidad–Jamaica Chamber of Commerce

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It is an idea whose time has come.

Beyond the differences in food, accent, holidays, ethnicities and culture there is much for the business communities of Trinidad and Jamaica to work together to accomplish. A Trinidadian Jamaican Chamber of Commerce seems like the perfect kind of forum in which it should take place.

Now, to find others who agree!

In the current study we are conducting on Trinidadian executives working in Jamaica, there is much that we are discovering that so many have in common.

The same thought struck me when our firm conducted the Caribbean Acquisition Project, and we discovered that there were all these similar stories of “coming to Jamaica” among the manager-emigrees. I wished at that time that I could gather everyone together in one room, put on the drinks and just lime away until each issue was addressed.

That was not too realistic, but it occurred to us as if conducting a study would be the next best step.

Now, 5 years later, it seems as if we are ready for more. How about a Trini-Jam Chamber of Commerce?

Apart from the obvious social benefits that such a lime would produce (my wife is Trini) I think it could be good for business. I imagine 2 sister organizations, one in Kingston and the other in Port of Spain.

Here is a possible list of topics to be tabled from the very beginning:

  • travelling to work between Trinidad and Jamaica (work permits, CARICOM Skills Certificates etc.)
  • welcoming and preparing new executives
  • promoting and changing laws related to trade, immigration, taxes, joint ventures
  • giving export and import advice
  • starting new businesses in each country
  • provide needed business intelligence
  • sourcing timely market information, news and trends
  • learning how to manage across the cultures


Now… as I said before… to find others who agree.

Francis

Books I am Reading Now — August

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Yet another quick update on the books that have recently attracted my attention:

Reading List (paper)

  • Words to Our Now by Thomas Glave
  • Weinberg on Writing by Gerald Weinberg
  • Presence by Senge, Schwarmer, Jaworski, Flowers
  • The McKinsey Mind by Ethan Rasiel and Paul Friga
  • A Course in Miracles (text)
  • Triathlon Swimming Made Easy by Terry Laughlin
  • Culture Matters by Lawrence Harrison and Samuel Huntington
  • Return on Customer by Don Peppers and Martha Roges
  • The Right Move by Delano Franklyn
  • The Answer to How is Yes by Peter Block


Listening List (audible.com mp3’s on Creative MuVo Slim)
— Lctures by Marianne Williamson
— The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith
— I Need Your Love, Is That True? — Byron Katie
— Fast Company Magazine Monthly Summary
— The Right Use of Power — Peter Block

eBook list (Palm Tungsten eReader or PC)
— InfoGuru marketing by Robert Middleton
— Create Your Own Information Products by Alice Seba

I have my usual list of magazines: Time, Runners World, Bicycling, Tritahlete, plus the occasional others. And of course, there is my daily reading list of : Jamaica Observer, Jamaica Gleaner, Trinidad Guardian, Trinidad Express, New York Times, Sun-Sentinel — and now and then I read the Barbados Advocate.

I am also using Google and Yahoo Alerts to tell me when there is any mention of Human Resources and various Caribbean countries. I also look to see where my firm’s name has been mentioned, of late using a Google alert.

I think I must be crazy to try to read this much…! But, it is fun.

Confusion from Trinidad

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See the 2 prior blog entries for the prelude to this blog.

Also, from the Trinidad Express:

Narace slams Kamla for ‘untrue statements’

AMBASSADOR Jerry Narace yesterday slammed statements made by Opposition MP Kamla Persad-Bissessar which she attributed to him, as untrue, describing them as most unfortunate.

Narace who heads Trinidad and Tobago’s Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME) Unit, Ministry of Foreign Affairs refuted Persad-Bissessar’s claims in a release issued by the Unit.

“Mrs Persad-Bissessar claimed that the head of the Unit had disclosed that there were 2,000 applications for jobs by Caricom nationals to work in Trinidad and Tobago. “This is completely false as the head of the Unit alluded to the fact that as a region as a whole, there were a total of approximately 2,000 applications for certificates of recognition of Caricom skills qualification. “The correct number of skills certificates issued by Trinidad and Tobago to all the various member states at last count was 719 – Antigua and Barbuda 13; Barbados 71; Belize 2; Dominica 33; Grenada 26; Guyana 114; Jamaica 191; St Kitts and Nevis 7; St Lucia 46; St Vincent and the Grenadines 29; Suriname 19 and Trinidad and Tobago 168.”

OK, well enough. But I thought that those numbers looked small. 2000 people in the entire region have applied for Skills Certificates? And 719 of them were awarded in Trinidad alone?



From a Jamaica Observer report, it is clear that Jamaicans have little interest in getting this legal permission. Only 78 Jamaicans had applied through November of 2005.

On the other hand, in Jamaica itself, a whopping 400 Caribbean nationals had applied, presumably while living here and probably already working. Of that number, 147 Trinis had applied.

While this is not what Louise Bennet called “colonisation in reverse” it is something like “colonisation through the back door.” Trinis are clearly more interested in working in Jamaica than the reverse. Given the current labour shortage in Trinidad, this strikes me as lopsided.

My alarm bells really started to ring, however, when I checked the archives of the Express and found the following:

Caricom Single Market a reality
Caricom passport by March 2006

Jerry Narace

Head of the CSME Unit, in Trinidad, Ambassador Plenipotentiary Jerry Narace has also revealed that to-date some 2000 Caricom professionals have applied to the CSME Unit in Trinidad for certification to allow them to move freely for work and business purposes in the country.

Narace said of this amount just over 700 have been approved thus far.

“In Trinidad we have approved 13 from Antigua/Barbuda, Barbados 71, Belize 2, Dominica 33, Grenada 26, Guyana 114, Jamaica 191, St Kitts/Nevis 7, St. Lucia 6, St. Vincent 29, Suriname 19, while we have awarded T&T nationals 168 certificates,” Narace revealed.


Wha???? Two months earlier the newspapers reported Narace as saying the exact opposite?

Now, the newspapers could have gotten it all wrong, as could the MP, Mrs Persad-Bissessar. He could have been misquoted in January.

In fact, the CSMETT website says the following:

So far, some 2,000 applications have been made for Skills Certificates, and Narace said to date just over 700 certificates have been awarded to allow Caricom nationals to enter the labour market in the region. Current statistics show that more Jamaicans have applied and have been approved to work in Trinidad and Tobago.


It might be just me, I have no idea what this is saying, and I could see how the Opposition MP and the newspapers could have gotten confused.

That 2000 number looks small to me — it says that only 2000 of people have been interested in getting the certificate throughout the entire region of some 14 million. Not a great start.

If the numbers are to believed, then the 700 plus certificates awarded up to that point in Trinidad alone is a reflection of the great job that the Trinidadian government has been doing in getting the word out. Assuming that perhaps another 300 people were either rejected, or “in process,” then Trinidad accounts for maybe half of all the CARICOM Skills Certificate activity.

Here is another report from 2004 that sheds some light on the issue, from The Trinidad Express of May 30, 2004:

Trinidad and Tobago stands to be the greatest beneficiary from the free movement of skilled labour envisaged under the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME), according to Ambassador Jerry Narace.

To support his claim, Narace noted that in 2003 about 126 Trinidad and Tobago citizens went to work in Jamaica, while only 40 Jamaicans came to this country.

He added that the same situation applied to Barbados.


It sounds to me as if Narace is trying to have it both ways in these statements, and maybe that might extend to the Trinidadian government. Clearly, he sees Trinidad being “the greatest beneficiary.” He cites the gap between the number of certificates being granted as evidence of that.

While Jamaicans are, by and large, more interested in working on Miami, Toronto or London than Port of Spain or San Fernando (where??) it seems that the Trinidadian government might be, perhaps unwittingly, making it easy for their own workers to work where they want, while making it more difficult for other workers across CARICOM to work in Trinidad. See the letters to the press listed here.

In my prior blog, I mentioned another altercation between Persad-Bissessar, in which she accused the PNM government of using CSME to upset the balance of political power in the country.

It seemed to me, an outsider, that Narace seemed to back-pedal under pressure from Persad-Bissessar, and appeared to try to minimize the numbers of workers trying to work in Trinidad.

The reality seems to be that it is harder to gain the certificate to work in Trinidad than anywhere else. This would fit neatly into the need to the PNM government’s need to a) demonstrate that they are not trying to gain an advantage and b) show that Trinidad is benefiting the most from CSME by widening the gap between its own emigrants and immigrants.

From a Jamaican point of view, whatever jaundiced view we have of Trinidad only gets reinforced. Many businessmen remember the difficulties in the 1970’s and 1980’s of trying to do business in the twin-island republic. What seemed like a friendly welcome turned into a mess of red tape and bureaucracy (which from all accounts, makes Jamaican bureaucracy look tame.)

More recently, Jamaicans have welcomed Trinidadian ownership of key financial institutions and industries, and it seems to us that we have welcomed Trinidadian workers to our country, giving out work permits and accepting certificates at face value.

Do the recent reports of Jamaicans facing difficulties in getting legal permission to work in Trinidad represent a lack of reciprocity? Is it more of what our businessmen faced two decades ago? Is an apparently open welcome to come work in Trinidad turning into another mess of confusion when the offer is actually accepted?

A colleague of mine has a joke about Trinis — “they are all ready to invite you to come down to Carnival, and tell you how they will show you a good time and not to worry, because they will take care of everything — the lime will be great! Then, when you actually arrive at the airport the week before Carnival with your two suitcases, standing at the curb looking around for them….”

Jamaicans who have dealt with Trinis get the joke (although a Trini may not.) A Trini might well laugh it off, and make light of the various mishaps, but the truth is… we Jamaicans do take these things VERY seriously. In Jamaica, the term “Trickidadians” is still being used, and this situation is starting to look at lot like something quite familiar to us.

But as someone who is married to a Trinidadian, I can say that I cannot see malicious intent here.

But no matter — the Trinidadian government should either encourage free movement of labour, or not, and let the region and its bureaucrats know accordingly. At present, there appears to be some “mamaguy” (a form of Anansi-ism) at play.

Trinidad would actually have “the most to gain” if it were to look to relieve its current labour shortage by lowering the barriers to importing skilled immigrants, not raising them. Talented people bringing valuable skills are not a handicap, they are a potential benefit.

To do otherwise is to risk being seen as taking unfair advantage, and appearing “tricky.”

Unspoken Trinidadian Realities

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Earlier today, I was doing some research into the CARICOM Skills Certificate, and came across some disturbing news reports.

The first was from the Trinidad Express :

The release continued: “Mrs Persad Bissessar -also claimed that the CSME would be used for voter padding – according to the Representation of the People’s Act, any Commonwealth citizen living in any Commonwealth state is eligible to vote after a period of 12 months. […]

[…] The head of the Unit considers the statements made by the Hon Member of Parliament (MP) for Siparia as most unfortunate and views them as a deliberate attempt to politicise the CSME.

“The head of the Unit therefore calls upon the Hon MP for Siparia to withdraw these statements and to use the opportunity to bring correct information to her constituents.”


Those with a knowledge of Trinidadian racial politics would understand (or at least infer) what she was referring to — a possible influx of voters for the PNM (she is with the UNC)

An influx of voters for the PNM would, in the language of Trinidadian racial politics, mean an influx of Black people, who by and large tend to vote for the PNM (although not exclusively.) Was she referring to the possibility of the delicate balance of Black and Indian (in which Indians have a slight numerical advantage) being upset by CARICOM immigration?

Given that the UNC signed the original CSME agreement, is it possible that a UNC administration would bring in more Guyanese, and therefore more Indians? Also, is the PNM government likely to bring in more Jamaicans, Bajans and other islanders, and therefore more Blacks?

At the very least, she seems to have been speculating along these lines.

While Guyanese might be quite comfortable thinking about race and its connection to political parties, Bajans, Jamaicans and other islanders have every right to be concerned. With the advent of CSME and the CARICOM Skills Certificate, in Trinidad (and perhaps Guyana) will there be a renewed emphasis on race as a determinant of immigration? How about nationality?

Trinidad is fast earning a reputation as being the hardest country in the region to gain legal permission to work in, as the reports grow that they do not accept CARICOM Skill Certificates issued in other territories. One has to re-apply for a certificate while in Trinidad, without which working in Trinidad is illegal.

However, how is a Caribbean professional to find this out? A Trinidadian HR manager who puts an advertisement in the newspaper might have no idea that the current practice deviates significantly from those being advertised. Here in the blogosphere, the issue is not being mentioned.

It might be a good idea to wait to get the facts straight before moving to Port of Spain with a certificate in hand.

Trinidad and the CARICOM Skills Certificate

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Letter of the Day – CSME certificate – the full story
published: Sunday | August 6, 2006

The Editor, Sir:

After seeking to benefit from the much heralded free movement of labour under the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), I am most disappointed that the full story has not been told. I did all that was necessary, notwithstanding the bureaucratic encounter at the Ministry of Labour (where only the minister can sign the approval for the CSME skill certificate) to get my skill certificate to travel to work in Trinidad. All this time I was told that this was all that was necessary to be employed in a country signed on to the programme.

To my surprise, after being employed in Trinidad and travelling out of the country on business, I was informed on re-entry that the CSME certificate obtained in Jamaica is only good for six months and does not give the privilege of being employed in the country. The holder is expected in Trinidad to apply for a CSME certificate in Trinidad including, medical, police record etc. before being able to reside and work in the country. This I do think is absurd as the same procedure is required in each home country. Is this to say that if I need to work in five CARICOM countries, I need five skill certificates from each country?

Please, can someone explain to me what really is the usefulness of issuing skill certificates in one’s home country when it has no true value in the country that you are seeking employment? This is not free movement of labour, as I could have been debarred from entering Trinidad even if I had a CSME skill certificate from Jamaica.


CSME not working
published: Friday | August 11, 2006

The Editor, Sir:

I must agree with the letter from Mr. Carl Stewart, referencing the CSME.

It is one of the most bureaucratic pieces of legislation that I have ever run across.

I, like Mr. Stewart, moved to Trinidad and Tobago to make a better life for myself and family. This legislation was to aid in the free movement of labour within the Caribbean. I am here to tell you, that is not so.

I submitted an application to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs three months ago and to date still have no certificate, even though I have a Bachelors and Masters Degree in Finance.

I have had to obtain police reports from everywhere I have lived, even places that I lived 18 years ago.

Mr. Stewart is absolutely right – the true story is not being told, the CSME does not work. It has been in existence for a few months and is in desperate need of an overhaul.


The above letters caught my attention, as it reminded me of a friend of mine who was facing almost the same treatment in Trinidad.

Then a few days later, someone shared virtually the same story in the Gleaner.

What is going on here? I posted the same question on CaribHRFoum, to see if anyone else had heard any stories about Trinidad not accepting the CSME Skills Certificate. Sure enough, both Jamaicans and Bajans reported that they had encountered difficulty in getting the CARICOM Skills Certificate recognized in Trinidad.

I placed a few emails to CSME offices in Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados to try to find out what the story is, and what HR executives across the region need to be aware of.

We shall see if there are any responses.

In the meantime, if you or anyone else you know has encountered difficulty in using the CARICOM Skills Certificate anywhere in the region, please post your story as a comment to this post (it can be done anonymously.)

It might very well help someone who is operating under some false understanding that could be damaging.

FirstCuts Issue 2 – Developing Caribbean Executives

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This second issue of FirstCuts has a “P.S.” sub-heading that I removed from the official version because it did not fit the eZine format, or the content of this edition. It includes the following:
in our executive training sessions on feedback skills, we found that:
* Trinidadians tried to become your friend * Jamaicans tried to become your headmaster/headmistress * Barbadians tried to become your preacher

Your comments are welcome, as this was a more difficult topic to tackle.

FirstCuts
A Framework Consulting eZine
High-Stake Interventions
Issue 2 August 15, 2006

Developing Accountable Caribbean
Executives
by Francis Wade

Editorial

If I had had any idea what it takes to launch a simple eZine, I probably wouldn’t have! The writing has turned out to be the easiest part by far. The formatting, archiving, subscriber management, software learning and other administrative duties that were required were formidable. It was a steep learning curve but I believe that I am now over the hump.

And, yes, it has been worth it and thanks for the feedback that has been sent my way so far. In a few weeks, I will be asking you for your ideas, via an online survey, and I look forward to hearing from you then.

In the meantime, I hope that the content continues to be provocative. In this issue, I have tried to deal with some heavier matters in a newsletter format — breaking a rule that an eZine should be fairly “light.” Depending on your reaction, I may alter this approach — let me know.

Developing Accountable Caribbean Executives

“My dog is probably outside playing with your dog, right now”
Caribbean saying.

There is not a company we have worked with in the region that has not complained about its lack of bench strength i.e. the lack of qualified managers waiting in the wings to be promoted. Leaders
lament the small number of future executives who are ready and willing to take over new and important areas of responsibility.

Indeed, our research in the Caribbean Acquisition Project showed that companies took advantage of available acquisition opportunities, knowing full well that they would have a problem finding leadership for the new company from within their ranks. In many cases, the barrier to undertaking further acquisitions is not a lack of capital, or a lack of raw talent, but a critical capacity or skill that is missing.

While there are many managers with the necessary technical
qualifications, they lack a certain profound ownership of their
own performance, let alone the performance of the company. This prevents them from being able to step up to higher positions in which they are asked to produce difficult results under trying circumstances, without anyone being able to tell them what to do. For example, companies need executives that can be sent to save a division that is in trouble, or has just been merged, or is operating in a foreign country.

Instead, they have managers who are more interested in staying out of trouble, doing the minimum, not being taken advantage of, and caring only that their personal results are good enough for the next raise. They give excuses, manufacture explanations and create reasons for poor performance, when what is really needed is solid leadership that is willing to own negative and positive results alike.

They are not bad employees, but a key ingredient is missing that gives others the confidence that they can lift their concerns above a personal level, and to a corporate level.

In short, there is a level above which they cannot be trusted to be accountable.

A Lack of Accountability
Accountability can be defined as a willingness to own a result, along with ALL of its consequences, long before the result is known i.e. “before the fact.” When accountability is defined this way, regional executives often agree that it is missing. Furthermore, when they look beyond their direct reports, they frequently see a problem that affects every employee in the organization. A 1982 study by Jamaican Carl Stone showed that the average worker puts out only 67% of his/her total effort on the job. In the 1997 book “Why Workers Won’t Work” (in Jamaica) by Kenneth Carter, some 65% of workers surveyed considered their jobs to be unimportant to the overall goals of the organization.

And executives do not know what to do about this.

While they are vehement that they want the culture to change, they are unable to see the part they play in keeping the Caribbean work-place the way it has always been. To intervene effectively, executives and managers need to
a) understand Caribbean Workplace history
b) see the Basic Unit: a manager-worker relationship
c) implement Missing Skills at every level
a) The Caribbean Work-Place — Stunted at Birth
What many executives do not fully comprehend is the hundreds of years of hostile worker-manager relationships they have inherited.

A great deal could be said about the effects of slavery,
indentureship and colonialism, and there is truth to the claim
that workplaces in the region, and employees in particular, were deliberately stunted by the first European managers.

Under duress, our ancestors were brought to the region to be put to work, in most cases, enslaved. Work killed off the
aboriginal Arawaks and Caribs. The workplace was designed as a battleground, defined by obvious winners and losers.

Perhaps as a result, today’s Caribbean workplace shows less of the ownership and accountability required of modern corporations, and more of the resentment, anger and just plain “bad mind” that one would associate with hostilities.

It is against this background that the modern Caribbean manager must operate.

b) The Basic Unit — Where Change Starts
Arguably, the basic unit that must be transformed in the workplace is the relationship between manager and direct report. This relationship functions well when communication between the two players is populated with numerous feedback conversations. In its highest form, this basic unit evolves into a coaching relationship. Without these conversations, performance cannot be addressed, breakdowns cannot be resolved, and empowerment is impossible.

The modern Caribbean manager has inherited a work-culture that is marked by behaviours drawn from historical extremes on the one hand, and known everyday relationships on the other.

c) Missing Skills
We found that today’s Caribbean manager compensates for the historical extreme by first feeling-too-much, and then by
feeling-too-little.

From a wife managing a domestic helper, to a vice-president
managing a branch’s employees, the relationships between manager and worker swung on a pendulum from a “too-nice softness,” to a “too-harsh wickedness,” and back again.

Our research and experience tell us that the critical executive
skill that would help to create accountability in managers is an
ability to give clear, empowering feedback, in a Caribbean style. While a North American or European manager can give blunt feedback and fire people at will, relying on the fact that they will never see the person again, the Caribbean executive has no such luxury.

In our context, it is critical to maintain relationships while
simultaneously giving feedback on results. After all, as one
client put it: “my dog is out there playing with your dog,”
indicating that outside of our work relationship, there are
probably many other ways in which we are interconnected, and in which our lives are intertwined.

These inter-related relationships are not a fault, but a strength. They are to be built on and acknowledged, rather than ignored (as many US/European programmes would encourage.) Doing this effectively, however, does not come naturally. It takes focused training and practice for most executives-in-training, and their development can only be accelerated when they are able to foster accountable reporting relationships around them.

In recent feedback training we delivered, when we observed
managers skillfully holding their reports to account for results,
the conversations appeared to be magical. They were able to call forth accountability while simultaneously maintaining the quality of the relationship. The person receiving the feedback was honoured and respected as a fellow professional. Our most recent research shows that “honour” and “respect” are critical elements in the highest performing workplaces across the region.

However, executives that are unskilled at holding employees to account fail to practice effective feedback conversations, and are unable to create workplaces of accountability. In so doing, they help to perpetuate the historical dysfunction that, without their intervention, is merely be passed on to future generations. They need to understand the history they are inheriting and the role that they can plan in reversing it. Their skills are critical to the Caribbean region’s success.

*
To discuss these issues, and discover how in our training sessions in feedback skills, we found that:
* Trinidadians tried to become your friend
* Jamaicans tried to become your headmaster/headmistress
* Barbadians tried to become your preacher
go to our blog from the following link to share your comments:- http://tinyurl.com/nuweq and we will respond.
*
In an upcoming issue of FirstCuts: How to use the principles of video-based training to develop feedback skills of managers and executives.

Useful Stuff

Tips, Ads and Links
To receive our white paper “The Accountability Challenge” send email to fwc-accountability@aweber.com.

For other related entries in our blog (Chronicles from a Caribbean Cubicle) that you can read and comment on, see:
Management via Critical Confrontations:- http://tinyurl.com/k2zc9
The Employee Who Cannot Be Fired:- http://tinyurl.com/z5l5c
The Space of Accountabilty:- http://tinyurl.com/zv5mh
Un-confronts:- http://tinyurl.com/j3l7b

Current Research Update: Study of Trinidadian Executives Working in Jamaica. We are in the process of conducting interviews and are looking forward to sharing the findings in the next 4-8 weeks.

To manage this newsletter, we use an excellent programme called AWeber that you can explore here:- http://www.aweber.com/?213577

General and Newsletter Subscription Info
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FirstCuts © Copyright 2006, Framework Consulting, except where indicated otherwise. All rights reserved worldwide. Reprint only with permission from copyright holder(s). All trademarks are property of their respective owners. All contents provided as is. No express or implied income claims made herein. Your business success is dependent on many factors, including your own abilities. Advertisers are solely responsible for ad content.

FirstCuts: An Online Newsletter From Framework Consulting Inc.
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P.S. Here is the paragraph taken out:

A Cross-Comparison
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Recently, Framework partnered with Confida (a Trinidad-based firm)
to deliver training in effective feedback to a group of over 80
executives in three countries for a regional conglomerate. The
training followed a method of video-based coaching, that had been
delivered with different materials to hundreds of participants in
the US and Latin America.

The cultural differences were remarkable.

We found a real reluctance in the region to deliver hard-to-hear
feedback in a straightforward manner, and observed a variety of
techniques that were used to reduce risk, albeit
ineffectively. We found that the methods to do so varied by island.
When executives were faced with the need to deliver difficult
feedback,
* Trinidadians tried to become your friend
* Jamaicans tried to become your headmaster/headmistress
* Barbadians tried to become your preacher

Although these are generalizations, they tell an important story
that is worthy of further investigation.

Each of these methods of avoidance has built-in pitfalls, and
demonstrates habits that do not work when the news to be delivered
is unpleasant. They have little to do with the best of modern
management techniques.

Yet, these methods made sense when compared to the grotesque
“feedback” methods that colonial slave managers used throughout
Caribbean history to enforce control — a pat on the head for
“The Boy” when he was good, and a whipping when he was bad.

Deeply buried in the psyche of Caribbean managers is the
experience of this set of historical extremes. Buried right
beside that experience is a determination to manage differently.
However, without focused training, this determination is rarely
translated into better technique. It shows up, instead, as too
much befriending, teaching and preaching, and too little managing
by holding direct reports to account.

Jumping from the Plateau

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Yesterday I experienced a jump in productivity. It had nothing to do with work, but instead it occurred in my swimming, which I found to be instantly improved.

In some recent posts on the topic of mastery, I shared how I have been working to improve my swimming technique, mostly through the use of Total Immersion. In this particular approach, drills that are designed to improve one’s form are the order of the day.

Yesterday, I was drilling away, doing a drill called “Skating” when all of a sudden I realised that I could kick my legs differently and get more propulsion. I tried it a few times and found that if I focused the kick from my hips as opposed to my knees I could produce a more fluid movement with less effort.

I decided to try out full swiming and thought that I was indeed going faster and not working as hard. I was taking less strokes on each length.

So, I decided to should check it out, by repeating an exercise I do to track my progress in swimming freestyle. In this exercise, the objective is to minimize not just one’s time, but also the number of strokes that are used. A formula is used to combine the two measurements into one by adding them together, and attempting to minimize the sum.

For example, over 50 yards:

45 strokes + 35 seconds = 80
40 strokes + 40 seconds = 80
55 strokes + 25 seconds = 80

In the exercise, these 3 efforts al lreflect the same performance because the sum is the same. Increasing speed is meaningless unless there is a decrease in the sum of the two, e.g.

40 strokes + 25 second = 65

Well, I had a breakthrough of sorts last night:

I went from
50 seconds + 86 strokes = 136 in April
to
35 seconds + 86 strokes= 121 last week
to
15 seconds + 65 strokes = 80 last night!

For my swimmers: my kick is now linked into the rotation of my body whereas before it was disconnected — I think!

Now, all I need to do is to keep practicing this new kick until it becomes a new habit, ingrained into the way I swim without having to think about it.

This is what happens when one is on the road to mastery… practicing over and over again until something happens and it all comes together to produce a jump in performance. Between May Jun and last night, I had seen no improvement — and by drilling I found some new way that my body could move that I had read about before, but enver experienced.

So there I was, cheering myself in the pool… happy as anything. I am still very, very slow compared to others but the pride and joy I felt came from making progress in something so small that only I could care about it (in the moment at least.)

This feeling is there for anyone who wants mastery, in any area of their life. From my plumber, to someone delivering front-line customer sevrice, to a CEO — it is fully available to all.

A Real Blitz

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For the past month or so I have been trying to call Cable and Wireless here in Jamaica to cancel my DSL service.

It happens to come at a time when the competition is heating up, as a new service called Flow is about to offer cable, DSL and local phone service bundled in one. In anticipation, C&W has been ramping up its advertising, with full page ads in the press and online.

When I say, I have been “trying to call” I mean that I have been calling their lines to try and reach someone. Anyone.

I can reach no-one. Once I spent 120 minutes on the phone, with headset on … determined that I would get through. A pre-arranged phone appointment forced me off.

At other times I have called only to hear from a pre-recorded voice that “our circuits are busy.”

This last time, the phone just rang without an answer.

Is it any wonder that I am going to try a different company?

I wonder if the people doing the advertising have any idea that they are producing more and more upset customers with their slick ads convincing customers to call their 888 number?

Swimming, Mastery and Customer Service

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It struck me while swimming this morning that the method I have been using for the past 8 years or so is all about mastery.

As a triathlete, I spend a great deal of time practicing the three sports — swimming, cycling and running. Running and cycling share one thing in common, which is that a good athlete in decent condition can do well in these sports, especially when they are blessed with some degree of physical speed and power.

Swimming, however, is quite different.

Water is 80 times as dense as air. The reason that good swimmers are not muscular is that being a good swimmer is all about technique. In particular, poor swimming technique is punished severely in the form of resistance or drag.

By contrast, poor cycling and running technique are not as important as stamina, speed and power. The movements in both these sports are much more constrained, or limited, and the air is much more forgiving than water as a medium.

This makes swimming unique — and the repetitive drilling that goes with mastery all the more important.

At my level of swimming it is ALL about technique. In fact, the books I have read say that someone with my (slow) speed should not even worry about trying to go faster. Instead, the emphasis needs to be on cutting resistance by using better techniques.

This particular insight is one that is pioneered by Terry Laughlin, the inventor of the Total Immersion approach to mindful swimming.

Someone watching me practice would wonder what the heck I am doing… it would look like a bunch of half-swimming exercises, repeated over and over again. They might think I am trying to get my body fitter and fitter by doing different things.

The truth is quite different, however.

Whereas the typical swimming workout, and the typical swimming coach focuses on quantity — doing lots and lots of laps with variations in length and speed and stroke, Terry’s focus is on using your mind to emphasize, isolate and improve different actions of the arms, legs, torso and head and the resultant bodily sensations.

For example, he would have you swim while focusing on creating a sensation called “weightless arm” which is created by pressing the chest into the water.

Why?

It turns out that these sensations allow for a more streamlined approach that cuts resistance and improve speed. However, the speed comes when the technique is right, and the technique is right when the sensations are right, and the sensations comes when the various appendages are doing more of the right things than not.

So, there I was this morning, swimming back and froth, trying to accomplish better and better way of keeping that feeling, especially when I am fatigued.

I recognized a parallel between this kind of thinking and providing good customer service.

A company that sees the need to deliver good customer service might invest in actions such as training employees to smile, say hello and ask “How can I help you” every single time a customer walks in. However, the result might be the opposite of that intended.

In The US, for example, I got quite used to the “fake friendly” service that is delivered in stores by people who would do all of the right things, but five minutes later would ignore me outside the store as if they never knew me. I have even gotten the same greeting from the same person only minutes apart, indicating to me that they are not really meaning to be friendly — they are meaning to do their jobs.

If the company does not focus on the experience that the customer is having, versus the one that is intended, they could well deliver something very different.

It stands to reason that the way to focus on providing the desired experience with customers is to create practices for each employee of the company in producing the desired experience with other employees — the people that they interact with most frequently.

And this is where the analogy fit — practicing one thing can give you another. In my swimming training, practicing fast swimming comes from focusing on becoming more streamlined in the water.

In companies, producing excellent customer experiences comes from focusing on creating superior employee experiences.

When it comes to thinking about creating the right kind of experience with employees, executives have a tremendous blind spot, and start to think immediately of how much it will cost them. Often, the assumption is that the right kind of experience equates to giving them more money, which mostly comes from the point of view that employees are merely economic animals to be “inventivized” one way or another.

Well, it does come down to that — but only in the very worst companies.

In the better companies, employees do not retreat into monetary rewards as their sole or even most important reward. Research shows employees want much more than that, and are not so easily bought and sold.

Instead, in the case of the Jamaican worker, research from Why Workers Won’t Work by Kenneth Carter shows that respect is much more important.

In some companies that we have consulted with across the Caribbean region, workers have said over and over again that an executive that does not say “Good Morning” to each employee that he/she passes is guilty of disrespect, and insulting behaviour. While this may sound extreme (and it seems so to me with my American hat on) it nevertheless is true.

These feelings are then passed on wholesale to customers, as that same employee (without necessarily being vengeful) reproduces the same treatment that they received.

My sense is that executives can get away with this kind of behaviour to some degree in North American countries, as that “fake friendly” service can continue to some degree, perhaps due to the Protestant work-ethic that the US is so famous for.

In the Caribbean, however, a worker “dat not feelin’ it, not gwine give it.” Transl: “a worker that is not feeling it, will not give it.” Workers in our region are particularly unforgiving of such slights.

Mastery of the customer experience in our region may well start with executives mastering the kind of keen listening and sensitivity that they want employees to demonstrate.

A Call for More Mergers and Acquisitions

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Recently, Ambassador Richard Bernal made a call for more merger and acquisition (M&A) activity within the CARICOM region.

I hope no-one takes his advice too seriously.

Essentially, his argument reported in an article by Sir Ronald Saunders in Caribbean360.com, is that bigger is better. His concern was that the relatively small companies in the region are likely to be pulverized by the mega-multinationals, and he compares regional banks such as RBTT and FirstCaribbean Bank to Citibank as an example of institutions that we think are large, but in fact are quite small — their relative size being a weakness to be corrected.

I think Dr. Bernal’s premise is faulty to begin with, but I plan to address that in a future blog.

My concern is what will happen if companies across the region take his advice seriously.

Our in-house research cites numerous articles that show that some 60-80% of M&A’s produce no new value for their shareholders. That is, they fail.

Further primary research, available in the form of a white paper entitled Filling the Gap –The Caribbean Acquisition Report, shows that regional companies routinely underestimate the difficulty of the cultural differences, and have not figured out a way to create a single culture that is known by customers and the public as different or distinct.

Given these challenges, if shareholders were to heed his advice and were to begin calling for M&A’s to ward off external competition, my fear is that a dramatic loss of shareholder value would be the likely result. While it would make for good business for consulting firms like ours, which have a focus on interventions in M&A’s, we think that most would fail. After all, why should our efforts be more successful than the international averages? Many of these massive failures in shareholder value occurred to te mega companies such as TimeWarner and DaimlerChrysler of which Ambassador Bernal seems to be so fond.

While I share his concern, I think the prescription would end up killing the patient if the medicine were actually to be taken.

Disclaimer: I have not actually read his original paper, and am trusting that Caribbean360.com’s account (carried in several newspapers) is accurate.