Friday, February 17, 2006

The Writing on the Wall

Stop Planning & Start Doing
Marcus M. Mottley, Ph.D.

I have taken it upon myself to read, re-read and read again the writings of one of Antigua’s giants of history, economy and philosophy: Tim Hector.

As much as I have been dumfounded by the political company he kept in his latter years, this pales in comparison to the awe in which I hold the man for his insight, clarity in articulation and depth of perspective.

And so, I would like to share with you a few paragraphs from a 1996 “Fan the Flame” Article entitled: “Lester Bird Broke the Neck of the Economy”.

“It is not an accident that the ‘best and brightest’ in Antigua over the last twenty years did not go into the productive and creative sectors. They went into traditional professions, law, medicine, teaching. Few went into management, engineering, marketing. This was because the productive sectors of the Antigua and Barbuda economy became even more underdeveloped between 1976-1996.

We are going to suffer in the future from this lack of trained personnel for modern industrial and productive activity. Besides, the free movement of skilled labour in all CARICOM territories, is going to make Antigua & Barbuda a net importer of skilled labour. This together with the fact, that nearly one-third of the Antigua labour force some 7,300 workers are already ‘foreign nationals’ will complicate both politics and economics here. The economy is a thorough-going Bird mess.”

Imagine that Tim Hector in 1996 was predicting that we would suffer from the “lack of trained personnel for modern industrial and productive activity.” Listen to the nurses at Holberton, have a discussion with a police officer, call your child’s teacher, talk with your mechanic… the chances are that you would be speaking with someone from either Cuba, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Vincent… and well… even Dominica! And if you speak with a business owner in English Harbour, Redcliffe Key or a real estate agent from addresses unknown – you will be speaking with someone from Wisconsin, Texas, Singapore, Germany, Canada or some such place!

Furthermore, Tim Hector saw what would happen with the advent of CSME! “The free movement of skilled labor… will make Antigua and Barbuda a net importer of skilled labour.” All because our political leaders failed to encourage, motivate and stimulate young Antiguans and Barbudans to go into the ‘productive and creative’ sectors! And, it is my contention that the threat from Caribbean nationals pales in comparison to the future hegemonic threat from the neo-colonialists (economic pirates and privateers) from North America and Europe. (But that is another discussion for another article.)

Tim Hector continues: “Simultaneously, Antigua and Barbuda, under successive Bird administrations did nothing to develop its human resources: from management through entry level labourers. That is, did nothing to train managers and provide labourers with skills. There was no plan. Therefore, those things dignified with the name "skills training" were pork-barrel patronage programmes, to provide workers to existing firms, with the government paying millions of dollars went down the drain. These millions added to the disastrous assembly type foray, made awful financial matters worse. No project instituted under the aegis of Lester Bird has ever worked. Each and everyone has always been a drain on the national treasury.”

Not only did millions of dollars go down the drain… so did the talents and aspirations of thousands of children in primary and secondary schools. They looked around and they saw few opportunities for a robust economic future. They looked around and saw their mothers and fathers, uncles and aunts going to dead end jobs, learning nothing new and doing nothing creative, sitting at desks twiddling their thumbs, passing ledgers from one desk to another… under productive and underperforming.

These same children had a window to the world through CNN, MTV, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon. They kind of knew that it was different elsewhere… that there was a mismatch between what was happening in Antigua and Barbuda… and the rest of the world - and even the rest of the Caribbean.

These children watched as they moved from Infant 1 to Junior 5… and noticed that their teachers were changing… that the doctors in the clinics were changing… that the nurses at the hospital were changing… These children watched as successive governments were unable or unwilling to find an Antiguan or Barbudan who could serve as Attorney General. When they went to the National Museum, they found a non-Antiguan/Barbudan telling them about our history. All around them, their uncles, aunts, and cousins had been marginalized and in some ways made irrelevant to the national scheme of things. And somewhere in the inner consciousness they knew that their future chances were limited… their birthrights were being stolen right from under them… their futures were dim… and they knew and know it. Go to any school… Ottos, Bendals, Golden Grove, Pigotts… look into their eyes… I can tell you… these are not the eyes that I saw when I taught in 1978. No.

I am from Perry Bay… Tinning Village… Grays Farm. I taught at Greenbay School. Each time I pass through the area… I see the children of students that I taught… hanging on the corners. I even see their parents hanging on the same corners. Unemployed. Underemployed. And some… well… unaccustomed to employment.

And, each time I pass… or walk by… someone looks up through eyes dimmed with pain and disillusionment and shouts, “Mr. Mottley!” Or, “Teacher!” And, tears come to my heart and find a path to my eyes.

Anyone who dismisses the quarter century of “Birdonomics” as just another set of chapters in our history, have not really walked through Grays Farm, Point, or Old Road with their eyes open. They like some of my former students have been numbed and drugged by years of abandonment by the political elite, or they were blinded by their own marginal successes.

Tim Hector in his 1996 article, called for the then Bird government to change the way they did business. As pre-requisites to any success, he called for “an accountable government, free of scandal, which can mobilise the public for the economic tasks at hand. Nothing else will do. The more we wait, the worse it will become. Time is against us. A scandal-ridden regime, cannot, repeat, cannot, mobilise any nation, anywhere, anytime. Need I say more? The economic writing is on the wall, for all to see and read. Those who will not hear, the old adage goes, will feel. Nothing educates like feeling.

“The economic writing is on the wall.” Today, February 17th, 2006, fully ten years after Hector wrote his article, we have a new administration. Yet, it is not clear to me that we have been fully educated by the failures of the past. My heart is still crying not only for the plight of my former students, but for the condition that their children and grandchildren find themselves in. I am yet to see any changes in Greenbay, Grays Farm, Point or Old Road or even to get the feeling that substantive changes are on the way. I am yet to feel any sense of hopefulness and motivation.

I believe that some of our new leaders have the right intentions... but they surround themselves with people whose intentions are at least questionable. A business person who is disconnected from our community... who has never been connected to our community... who is your advisor... confidante and constant companion... will not be reminding you of the plight of your people. His conversations will not be about training the kids of the Jarvis', the Davis' or the Brown's. He will be talking about relaxing the laws so that he can import this or that from China or Brazil. He will not be whispering about fixing the housing situation along Christian Street, he will be trying to get his hands on the exclusive no-bid contract to build the next government office, or grab that prime piece of land for next to nothing for some will-o-wisp project.

I am yet to see training for the people who it need it in areas where they can feel a sense of pride and contribution, a sense of belonging and ownership - and a sense that they can make a real living. I see even more foreign nurses, teachers, mechanics and police officers – not to mention accountants, lawyers, attorneys general… even unelected ministers of government!

I am yet to see a major initiative to address the plight of indigenous Antiguans and Barbudans, to increase their skill levels, enhance their professional training and qualifications so that they can raise themselves out of the quagmire (mud) in which they were abandoned by the former and seemingly ignored by the current.

Two years pales in comparison to twenty-eight years of scandalous abandonment. Yes. But... two years is still too long. We cannot wait for the economy to be right. We cannot wait for the deficit to be reduced. We cannot wait to weight the options. We cannot wait for the consultations. We cannot wait for the programmes to move from the drawing board. We have waited for over a quarter century. We can wait no longer! We have been planning what we would do... ought to do when the time came. Enough of this action planning. Stop planning and start taking action!

“The economic writing is on the wall.” The social writing is in our face. We need real change, real fast!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Beware of Blunders

Marcus M. Mottley, Ph.D.

I have been reading a series of books and articles on marketing and have been intrigued by the types of serious blunders that major corporations and organizations make. Many of these blunders are so costly that sometimes even the CEO gets fired!

As I examined some of these blunders, I thought of our twin island state, our new government, the new ‘directors’ and our new ‘CEO’. I wondered at some of the blunders that our leaders 'might' be making and the potential cost if they don’t do better.

Here a few of those costly blunders from the corporate world. I leave it to you the reader to apply them to issues and concerns you may have with our ‘Sunshine Government’. (In some instances, I give in to the temptation to add a few artistic comments...)

Attempt “Business As Usual”

When a company has serious problems like issues with cashflow and charges of corruption and unethical practices, the leaders cannot act as if it is “business as usual”. It won’t be. When a company misses Wall Street expectations, institutes layoffs or closings, or announces some other bad news, it needs to rebuild lost confidence. Your brand has been damaged. Your shareholders and stakeholders (supporters and voters?) will look at you with a more critical eye. People will doubt you in ways they never used to. It will take time to rebuild. Rather than “business as usual”, act as if it is “business unusual”. Get busy. Communicate. Be transparent. Take massive and continuous action. And, keep your promises!

Lie, Mislead, and otherwise Obfuscate

Lying never works. It sounds obvious, but companies and executives (and politicians?) do it all the time. It can land you in jail or ruin your career (well – we have yet to see that in Antigua & Barbuda). People hate delivering bad news, so they tell a “white lie” which they often rationalize as somehow doing good for others. Or, some people don’t tell the whole truth. They only state the minimum they have to.

Be honest and direct about the facts. Be brutally honest about the facts… and stop putting all the blame on your predecessors. If they did something wrong then your shareholders or stakeholders will take action (they already did… they put you in charge!)

Start by being honest with yourself about the condition of the business (and the country) and your role in what has happened or is happening. Get clear about this. Then you can decide how best to handle the situation.

Be honest with your stakeholders and shareholders (voters and supporters). If you are laying 25% of your people off, then say that’s what you are doing. Don’t say, “We are laying off 15% and expect some additional headcount reductions through normal attrition.” Don’t say we want 700 staff members to take the package if you really want 1500 to do so!

Not Communicating…

The truth will never be as bad as the rumors will become. “No comment” or worse… not communicating with the public will increase the untruths and gossip. It will also unleash the venom of the people you used to be forthright with. The press will attack harder, and your employees’ and your stakeholders’ distrust and mistrust will grow deeper. People will begin to make comparisons with the worst past experiences that they have had. This will undermine your efforts with customers and stakeholders and drive your ‘stock’ down. It doesn’t matter how much it hurts. You must overcommunicate – particularly if you have a history of effective communicating ‘in the past’.

Don’t be surprised if the press and analysts misquote you, or only use part of what you said to make you or your company (or government) look worse. It happens. Get over it. That comes with the job of being a senior executive (minister?). The bottom line is, if you don’t explain the condition the business or economy is in and what you are doing about it, things will get much worse.

Communicate Confusing Messages

When you’re in trouble, get clear about what you are going to say before you open your mouth. Rambling or trying to make 16 points will make you look confused, defensive, or stupid.
Appoint no more than three executives to do the talking: your CEO and two others. Then get clear on three -- and only three -- key messages for them to deliver: the facts as you know them, the actions you’re taking now, and how your actions today, position you for future success. Write these messages down, and practice saying them. Get a speech coach! Get a speech coach!

Write down every possible question you can anticipate from customers, employees, partners, shareholders, press, and analysts. Underneath each, write the number of one of the key messages that best answers the question. Practice answering those questions with a key message until you can recite them in your sleep. Then practice them again. All three people should be saying the same thing. No diversions. No ad libbing. No ‘un-rehearsed’ off-the-cuff remarks. (Yes… you have that right! All spontaneous, off-the-cuff remarks should be rehearsed!!!)

And, oh yes! Speaking on the platform is different from speaking in the boardroom.The CEO should get a speech coach! But speak in your voice and with your passion!

Believe Confidential and Internal Communications Are Internal and Confidential!

Write every email as if it will be printed in the morning newspaper and posted on the Internet. It will be. Do the same thing with your regular mails and conversations.

Don’t kid yourself about this. It doesn’t matter how much you trust the people you are working with. Someone absolutely will leak the information. Particularly when you least expect it. Assume that all of your stakeholders and competitors will be on every internal video or audio conference-call. Assume that whenever you speak, wherever you speak, to whomever you speak, that there is a “Voice” listening. “Steel” yourself and get ready for the “Fire” of criticisms that will come your way because of what you said. Or, don’t say it!

Understand that your executive management, board of directors, auditors, lawyers, consultants, (cabinet, party members, constituents, inner-circle members) and friends will leak information. No matter how much they promise not to. No matter how many confidentiality agreements they sign.

Forget this, and you’ll get stung. Hard!

Play Defense

Within three weeks of your bad-news announcement, you must launch a strong marketing offense. Why three weeks? First, people need time to digest the bad news and recover from what happened. Second, if you wait much longer, your stakeholders (supporters and voters) will assume that you have no future and will start bailing on you. And your competition will be holding a wake (with wine, champagne and Cavalier).

Launch an integrated marketing offensive targeted at customers, prospects, partners, shareholders, stakeholders, employees, and ‘competitors’ about the future of your business (government & party). It should include: three keys to the turnaround, a vision for the future of your ‘industry’ (party), and a vision for the future of your business as an industry leader.

The CEO – not the economists, not the lawyers, not the chief financial officer – must demonstrate the leader’s vision for the future of the enterprise!