Friday, April 08, 2011

Fervet — a model for national development

"FERVET" is the first word of the Jamaica College (JC) motto — Fervet opus in campis. Translated, it means "Work is burning in the fields", and the JC alumni, in talking about the school will just say "Fervet". Indeed, over the past six years, work has certainly been burning in the fields, as the board, foundation, administration old boys and students have all been working to ensure that JC is number one. We have achieved that goal. JC today is number one for total development of the student.

There are some who will argue that JC cannot be number one when we are not the best academically. This is true. But does someone go to school for academics only, or is it necessary to leave secondary school as a well-rounded person -- good academics, sports, and discipline? I would bet most would want the latter for their children.

The just-concluded fiscal year has also seen a public sector company I chair, Jamaica Ultimate Tyre Company (JUTC2), triple our 2009/10 profits (unaudited financials). This in an economic decline from increased productivity.

Both these organisations, and in particular the Fervet story, can be used as models for national development. What makes both these cases even more rewarding is that they both emerged from the ashes.

In the case of JC, we emerged from being a school with a bad reputation to one where parents want to send their children. In the past year the achievements have been Champs, schoolboy football, under-14 and under-19 hockey, placed in the Robotics competition, won the English and Literary competition, significant academic improvement, and others too numerous to mention. At JUTC2 we recorded profits for the first time in 2009/10.

There is a lot Jamaica can learn from both cases, about what is essential for moving forward. Some of these include the following:

* Entire team rallied around common objectives. JC — at the start of the six-year period, the principal and the board agreed we were number one and the school of champions. A sign was erected, even in the early days, to this effect. At JUTC2 the common objectives from day one were profits and productivity. Is there a common objective for national development that all stakeholders have accepted?

* Each person's role was defined and they were charged with meeting certain deliverables and given the authority to do so. At JUTC2 the general manager was clearly told he was to deliver a profitable and productive organisation through a motivated workforce and he was given the authority to do so, with the only interference from the board being policy input and operational support where required. At JC the principal was clear about his role, and defined it himself. The board offered support, but he always had authority over operations. In the public sector there is still not a clear distinction between policy and operations.

* JC and the JUTC2 clearly defined strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Maybe not as textbook SWOT analysis, but these were clearly recognised and we built on our strengths and eliminated weaknesses, while taking advantage of opportunities and eliminating threats. In JC's case, we built on the school's tradition and history and utilised the support of the old boys. Indiscipline was curbed, and today, when you go to the school, the students address you in a very courteous manner. At JUTC we recognised that in our business the recessionary environment was an advantage, and that we could offer better support to JUTC. Has Jamaica maximised our areas of comparative advantage — tourism, coffee, sports, and agriculture -- or eliminated our areas of weaknesses or threats -- energy, crime, and indiscipline?

* Set goals with specific timelines. In both cases specific targets were set that all related to achieving the ultimate objectives, so that we created a road map to achieve the objective with specific milestones along the way, which were all measurable, which a specific individual had responsibility for. Is there any clear timetable with milestones to achieve Vision 2030, for example?

* The right persons were in the appropriate functions. At JC we have the appropriate skills in the principal, chairman, board, foundation, administration, sports administrators, old boys, and PTA. At JUTC2, a part of our change was to ensure that we had the right skills at the board, in management, and on the factory floor; and we also have a very supportive minister. In both cases, if someone was not capable of delivering, they were replaced.

* Technology played a vital role in improving efficiencies. Technology does not only mean computers are a new and more efficient way of doing things, because one could have a computer but be ineffective without the appropriate skills. At JC, we ensured the school management system, computer technology, and task management tools were all up to scratch and persons were appropriately trained. At JUTC2, we invested our capital in new and more efficient machinery, and ensured our workforce was properly trained in using it. In the public sector we see Tax Administration has improved by doing this, but there is still a general lack throughout. The RGD, for example, has good technology.

* Staff is appropriately rewarded for improved performance. In both cases there is a link between performance and reward, and the staff clearly recognises this link. This recognition of the link between reward and performance is important. I have seen organisations in which the incentive programme is very good but the problem is that there is no clear link between reward and performance, so that the incentive is perceived as a part of salary, whether they perform or not. Similarly, if someone is being punished, then we must be certain about the evidence before accusing them of being in violation, otherwise morale suffers.

* Every milestone is celebrated and the staff is applauded.

These are some of the major factors that have contributed to the success of both organisations, and which can serve as a model for our country's development. The first inhibitor to Jamaica's development is our divisiveness, and unless we unite on common objectives, then everything else is a non-starter. I can never understand why a country of 2.7 million persons, with so much potential, is so divided along political lines. Is this any different from apartheid, when people were discriminated against by skin colour? In Jamaica discrimination is based on ideology.

Strength of customer service

All this fuss about the Digicel-Claro deal, I think, is misguided energy, as it will not hurt LIME directly, and therefore I wonder why anyone would want to focus on resisting the merger. The fact is that Claro's closure is a benefit for LIME if the energy is placed on the right objective rather than on the merger. If we want true competition in the mobile market, then we must address number portability and cross-network charges.

This also reminds me of the importance of customer service. For example, even though others offer better rates, I remain with BNS, FGB, Digicel, and FLOW because of good customer service. At the first three, for example, I know persons in customer service and call or BBM them at any time of night if I have a problem. And that is the primary reason why I have remained with them despite more attractive rates being advertised. In the case of FLOW their service has been superior, although, of late, the way they implement increases is cause for concern, as if they are feeling like a monopoly.


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