Recently another negative report came out confirming the continued decline of Jamaica’s productivity. In a recent speech, IDB official Therese Turner-Jones understated that “firms in Jamaica are not particularly efficient” and “private sector workers are as inefficient as the Government.”
As a business leader, this is a song whose tune is probably familiar. But it is frustrating, because as far as you know, you are working as hard as you can. However, it’s obviously not enough because there is considerable empirical evidence that we are almost as far as we can be from being the Usain Bolts of productivity in the world.
To state the obvious: closing the gap means doing things differently from ways we have ever done before
It won’t be easy. There are only a handful of local companies who treat their operations like finely tuned machines. They are vigilant: always looking for first indicators of an incipient problem. In addition, their leaders treat their own individual systems in the same way. Seeking to be as personally effective as possible, they perform like Formula One Drivers.
Why We Need a Change of Mind
Culturally, we prefer to favour the underdog. Just listen to us re-tell the story of the “likkle guy on his push-cart” flying down Mount Diablo past a “big man in a Benz”, skating on just two wheels the whole way. However, this propensity to “big up” the unsophisticated shouldn’t be taken too far. Lewis Hamilton, multiple Formula One Champion, didn’t become a winner by luck. He spent years perfecting his craft and mastering his equipment, continuing to develop his skills every day.
During a 100 mile per hour race, he has learned to track a tremendous number of changing variables using sophisticated instruments. Off-track, he’s trying to find ways to save a few grams here and there, or cut wind resistance with the slightest of alterations.
Too many of our executives settle for much less in their personal productivity, as if they are push-cart men or women. They run late, forget commitments, allow their email to pile up and let their lives drift dangerously out of balance. In other words, their employees view them as cautionary tales rather than role models. While they may dress the part, speak well or have the house and car which befit their status, they don’t view personal productivity in the same vein.
In this respect, our local executives are satisfied being moderately better than the worst employees. They fail to hold themselves to a high personal standard; instead they are happy to barely beat a low social standard.
However, the best executives view their personal productivity as an extension of their company’s operations. As a result, they tackle it with high effort and rigour, developing two superpowers along the way.
Superpower #1—Detect Early Warning Signs of Trouble
The most productive leaders have a kind of “spidey-sense”: the ability Spiderman has to sense trouble before it occurs. In like manner, they can detect the moment when their personal system first starts to fail.
For example, if you had this skill, you would be able to see when it’s time to upgrade your technique for managing email. All it would take is the disappearance of one or two messages into the proverbial cracks; long before an actual complaint is received.
This ability to detect early warning signs of trouble is rare, much in the way Hamilton has the kind of foresight other drivers cannot even imagine. It gives him an edge in a close race.
In a tough economy, companies need leaders who demonstrate these abilities while actively teaching them to others.
Superpower #2 – Develop Diagnostic Skills
Once a problem is detected that’s just a start. Few take the next step: discovering why the issue exists in the first place.
For example, the challenge of email overwhelm is hardly solved by purchasing an expensive smartphone. In fact, it often makes the situation worse. The person with weak diagnostic skills would commit this error without understanding why.
The few who have developed superpowers waste little time scouring the internet, talking to friends or polling their colleagues. Instead, they know how to scrutinize their current practices and tools. If you have ever watched an episode of “House,” the television show about a doctor with fantastic diagnostic expertise, you may understand. These skills are hard to develop, but they save tremendous amounts of time and energy, enabling someone to make precise interventions.
When Jamaican executives start behaving like Formula One Drivers, we may produce role models with superpowers. Rather than Parliamentarians who are perpetually late, or CEO’s whose lives are unhealthy and unbalanced, we would live to see something new: leaders who take their personal productivity as seriously as their most recent haircut, watch or shopping trip to Miami.
Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2016, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.