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Why we aren't doing enough about Jamaica's productivity

Published:Sunday | July 3, 2011 | 12:00 AM
Francis Wade

Francis Wade, Columnist

Our country's productivity levels are low, and by all accounts, are dropping lower every year.

Our normal response to this bit of news is to point the finger, and bring to mind a lazy 'smaddy' who desperately needs a time- management overhaul.

What we don't often ask ourselves is what we need to do differently.

We look around us and the evidence tells us that we are better than most. The fact is, if you are reading this column, you are likely to be:

a) literate;

b) educated past the secondary school level;

c) a curious, frequent reader hunting for new ideas.

You are, in others words, among the most productive one or two per cent of Jamaicans.

A few years ago, I designed a time-management programme based on my experience working in different countries, but mostly the United States.

I created a scale of accomplishments, using the martial arts, designed to reflect different levels of time-management skills, from white, yellow, orange to green.

I optimistically thought that I would find a range of skills among those who attended the programme.

Four years and hundreds of white-collar participants later, I can report some results: 99 per cent of the attendees in Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, and The Bahamas are at the lowest level - White Belts.It has been a revelation as even seemingly 'big' people have simply not been schooled in the fundamentals of personal productivity. While we may argue that it is due to a lack of training opportunities, there is more to it than that.

Such as what?

I hope to answer this very question in the weeks to come in this column, which will feature articles related to the productivity rut in which we find ourselves.

This goal cannot be accomplished by my words alone. It will take us all giving up some treasured behaviours such as:

Waiting for Someone Else - It makes no sense to sit by watching and hoping that the Government, Opposition, IMF, World Bank, or Church does something in this area. Nothing they do will remove the individual obligation we have to improve ourselves, and the creativity that is necessary to find a single point of contribution

Giving Up - Jamaicans who start their own companies, migrate, or do a part-time graduate degree have not given up on the future, and neither should the rest of us. What is interesting about these three groups of people, however, is how much their success has to do with becoming more productive.

Forcing Ourselves - We have enough of a history of forced labour, thank you very much. Plus, it hardly works, except for short periods of time, and it never feels good, even when we are able to produce some results. A more sustainable path is to inspire ourselves to greater productivity.

What I hope people will do when they read this series of columns is more of the following:

Understand Ourselves - This means knowing that we are an ex-slavery society with a peculiar relationship to the workplace, and its managers. It also means never lowering our mission to simple comparisons with those around us. Thank goodness our athletes and musicians don't do that!

Look for Action -I imagine that most of us already know a thing or two about passing exams. The kind of education we need to become more productive is quite different, and has more to do with demonstrating a change in behaviour than an increase in knowledge.

Habit-Change Support - The latest research shows that there is much to learn from ex-addicts, as the kind of support one needs to stop smoking isn't very different from the support needed to implement brand-new productive habits. Tremendous self-knowledge is needed to consistently change habits.

In this matter of productivity, we need to be like surgeons who operate with great skill, knowledge, and precision to solve a complex problem. It is the only way we can truly achieve the economic growth we believe we deserve as a people.

Francis Wade is a management consultant.