Thursday, November 29, 2007

WYPIWYG

WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) is a computer terminology that refers to the way in which a file is output in relation to how it is viewed on the monitor. As it says, what you see on the monitor is the way the file will be output. Before WYSIWYG technology the representation on the screen may have included references that would not be shown on the output.

I have based on this coined the acronym WYPIWIG, what you pay is what you get. And I think of this mostly in relation to the way we approach human resources in Jamaica. Sometimes when I see Butch Stewart, he proudly refers to the fact that his hotel workers are among the best trained in the world and attributes this large part to the success of his chain. In fact he will tell you that on occasions when he visits a hotel overseas he will see one or two former Sandals workers in management positions. His philosophy, hire good people and watch your business grow.

Recruitment process
This of course is one of the biggest problems in the public and private sector. Many hirers believe that the way to business success is spend as little money as possible on human resources, so that the greatest effort in hiring is to try to get someone with acceptable qualifications for the lowest cost. The result of course is that the “critical thinking” required to perform the job better than the competition, and driving the company to new levels of efficiency, is missing. They would much rather spend the money on internal training, fixing errors, or marketing than getting someone very capable who will prevent such expenses. Is there any question then as to why we have companies that find it difficult to compete internationally?

Some years ago a very senior manager said to me that the main advice he would have for someone is hire good people, irrespective of how long they stay with you, as the value they could add in a year far outweighs the value a mediocre person adds in five years. When that company was facing challenges (driven by global changes) it was the quality of the human resources there that turned it around and today it is one of the more successful companies.

In the USA for example great emphasis is placed on the recruitment process, from the right type of advertisement (for which they use many innovative means) to the selection process which is based more on assessing “critical thinking” rather than academic qualifications. They recognize that the human factor is the most important input in the output process and go to extreme measures to ensure that they recruit the right people, as that is where the success starts. In Jamaica of course there is not much creativity in advertising, as the objective is not about proper recruitment in many cases. In any event when the person is hired in many instances their ideas are not valued as some managers have an autocratic approach.

We talk about productivity improvement in Jamaica, but our public sector in many cases is not set up for increasing productivity. The bureaucratic nature of the rules governing public sector workers, the way they are compensated, and the autocratic way of some managers, in many instances prevents rather than promotes any critical thinking. So while we preach productivity every day we do everything within our structure to prevent the hiring of the best (in some instances) and where we have good people in place the way our public sector rules are organized is not conducive to increased productivity. Is it any wonder then that year after year we struggle with issues such as corruption, bureaucracy, and low productivity. It will never be enough to change one person at the top or buy a piece of equipment if we do not address the people factor.

Objective of the MOUs

As an example, our objective in forming the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was to save money, not develop a productive base of people who can contribute more significantly to economic growth and by doing so increase their compensation levels. Our objective is first and foremost to save money, which the irony is unless you improve the people factor it will all blow up anyway. After six years of the MUO (MOU1 and MOU2) what have we achieved. We are even more strapped for cash, productivity has not improved, economic growth is stagnant, and the people have suffered as their real wages have declined. This again is another human resource factor of course, lack of vision by our leaders.

When we talk about our public sector bodies, and how much they lose, we fail to speak about the most important reason for this, the human resources. In many cases the main problem is the quality of the human resources that run some of these institutions. In some cases this is because they are political appointments and has not gone through a proper selection process but is based on who the person knows. As an example someone sent me an email requesting that I help them to get a job because they are currently not working and think that I should help, without saying that they will submit their resume. In other words just expecting the appointment to be made thus continuing a tradition of appointments without scrutiny. We can’t seem to make the link between this type of practice and our current economic dilemma.

And so because of our lack of failure to recognize the human element as an integral part of production we have been hounded with falling productivity levels, which has resulted in a country that is mired in debt and aneamic economic growth. Until we make the link between human resources and economic development we will go nowhere. Unless we make this necessary link we will always create short sighted rules that are based more on controlling absolute costs rather than adding greater value to what we have, or don’t have in our case. For example I know someone working in the public sector that needs a tool to perform their job effectively but because of the procurement procedure has been waiting on that necessary tool for weeks, without any consideration that the waiting period is costing much more than the tool they need. And this is just one of many examples.

I have commented on many challenges faced by Jamaica but none is more critical to address than this. The fact is that unless we can change our approach to see the importance of human resources we will still be talking about the same challenges 20 years from now. At the same time people must be held accountable based on performance, and not be assessed based on who they know. If ever we needed a revolution in Jamaica (in both private and public sector) it is the way we approach the hiring and support of human resources. Our disdain for human input, however, is evident in the way we have revered the poor over the years as if it is necessary for them to be with us. So we continue to do everything to keep people poor in the way we have managed this country.

At the end of the day, the major players in the public and private sector must realize that if the people factor is continuously ignored then the organization, and country, will suffer also.

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