Empower Series 62: Of wasted executive hours and failed promises in Sikaman

Recently, I attended a function that had the Vice-President of Ghana in attendance. It was the first time I had seen him at close range, and it felt cool.

The start time advertised on the ticket was 6.30pm. I spent the morning with my two sons visiting some friends and family and got back home around 2.00pm. At 3.00pm, I went to the bedroom to take a nap, telling my wife wake me up at 4.30pm, so I could dress and leave home at 5.30pm for the program, which was taking place in Accra. I usually give myself an hour to drive from Tema to Accra for functions. I had a very deep sleep, and Vivian woke me up a few minutes to 6 pm. I guess she saw how tired I was and decided to have mercy on my soul!

Anyway, I was on my way soon enough and got to the venue of the program just before 7pm. The Vice-President arrived soon after I did.

A few minutes after 7pm, one of the masters-of-ceremonies (MC) came on stage and called the meeting to order. He then invited a pastor to give the opening prayer, after which the chairman for the occasion was introduced. The speech by the chairman, in response to the introduction, was delivered with fervour and the message was apt, relevant to the theme for the celebration.

The MC came back on stage just as the chairman was ending his speech and told the chairman, and us all, that we were supposed to have been on air (TV, I guessed) at 7pm, but we were still not on air, so he would have a contract with the chairman to call him back on stage to give his speech again, for the benefit of the nation! My senior colleague at Unilever and mentor, Yaw Nsarkoh, once said that sometimes we have to laugh at outrageous occurrences to prevent us from crying. I laughed at the incredulity of the suggestion!

Dinner was served, and at 8.30pm, the MC called up the pastor to repeat the opening prayer, the chairman was introduced again, and the chairman repeated his speech! I was really impressed that the chairman delivered with even greater passion (well my companions at my table indicated that he had just eaten).

The event closed eventually at 12.30 am. We had been in the hall for five and a half hours, and it was an awards program. I wondered why we couldn’t do it in two hours, really. And was it the most cost effective use of executive time, of the Vice-President’s time? I also wondered why the start time was advertised as 6.30pm when it was clear that the actual event would begin at 8.30 pm? Was it because it was envisaged that the invited guests would be late, so let the time be given two clear hours to make allowance for lateness? Was it just to get us there to eat and wait for the actual start time?

A couple of months ago, I attended an annual general meeting which started at 11 am, even though the invite indicated 10 am to start. Why?

If you invite me to a meeting, and you know it will start an hour late, give me the time plus that hour, so I am on time. I was in a meeting when someone came an hour later than the time the meeting was to start. The meeting did start an hour late, anyway, so when the person was queried, he quipped “I know I am late, but I am on time!” I didn’t find the remark funny.

We laugh about Ghanaman’s time but it is becoming a national joke. And it even shows in the lackadaisical attitude we display when our work causes delays on other’s schedules. I will explain.

On Friday 20 August 2010, I was on my way to Accra from Tema when I saw some work being done on the motorway, on a bridge close to the Abattoir. “Traffic cometh!” I thought. The following week, the traffic on that part of the road was so great it was a headache leaving work to Accra from Tema. The impact on commuters’ time is of no concern to the contractors. In some other jurisdiction, an alternative route would have been found so traffic build-up is minimised. Not so in Sikaman.

You go to offices, banks, pay points at our utility and telecommunication companies and the longer the queue for services, the more important the workers there feel, it seems.

In discussing this issue of lack of respect for time with George Owusu-Ansah, a senior colleague in Unilever, now working in Singapore, he told me that in an environment where nothing is predictable, people tend to make and accept excuses and then arriving late at a meeting becomes a norm, not an aberration. He went further to say that for the couple of years he has lived in Singapore, he has never spent more than thirty minutes driving to work from home. Such predictability makes for good planning. It takes me fifteen minutes to drive to Tema from home without traffic, with normal traffic, forty-five minutes is average. I have spent two hours making the same trip some days.

With such erraticism, one could learn not to even set off on time and does not target arriving on time for an event, knowing that just a simple “Oh, traffic!” will suffice. And that is when the indiscipline starts. But don’t develop this bad habit, don’t.

In my view, two qualities of a serious person suffice: the person keeps to time and keeps his/her promises.

Promises. We complain that our politicians don’t keep their promises but do you keep yours? Gary Jones, a former Training manager at Unilever Ghana, made a statement has been with me for a long time: “A good manager is one who does what he says he will do.”

Keeping to one’s time is a promise honoured. Keeping your promise or otherwise is a reflection of your integrity. It always amazes me how businessmen in Ghana act as if the number of times they fail to keep their promise is directly proportional to their status as crack businessmen. It gives me a very negative impression of that person. Some take your call, and promise to get back to you by email or phone, because they are engaged, in a meeting or another activity, and never get back. It is better not to promise if you know you cannot deliver, keeping to the advice by George Washington, “not [to] undertake what you cannot perform, but be careful to keep your promise.”

On a daily basis, in meetings, we promise to follow up on an action, to send an email by a certain time, to update our teams with relevant information to aid the achievement of a specific milestone. Any time we fail to deliver to such a promise, we dent our integrity, we waste time, we fail our team and company.

If we will be taken serious as a nation and a people, we need to urgently tackle the canker of lateness. And we have to learn to spend less time during functions. A four-hour church service can easily be over in two hours if we cut off the lengthy announcements and just paste them on the notice board, giving only the highlights during the notices. I used to visit an Assemblies of God church in Nottingham. The entire service took two hours – from the welcome session, praise and worship time, testimonies, music ministration, sermon and announcement, and enough time to have tea at the end of service! All in two hours. And I always felt well-fed and nurtured spiritually (and physically) after service. Most churches in Sikaman have a lot to learn, to cut down the time wastage we exhibit every Sunday. Many programs, especially our music concerts, are guilty of this.

The urgency of the precarious state of our nation is at variance with our lack of urgency, acting as if time is an unlimited resource. To borrow from Loren Eiseley, we need to refine our sense of time, to upgrade our appreciation of this resource and utilise it profitably. Philip D Stanhope speaks my mind when he says: “Know the true value of time; snatch, seize and enjoy every moment of it. No idleness, no laziness, no procrastination.”

We re-denominated our cedi in 2007; perhaps, we should have done same to the Ghana Maybe Time! Indeed, time is money, time lost is never found again and we should respect it as such in this land of our birth – Sikaman.

Action Exercise

Quite simple: keep the promise you just made before reading this article. Plan to be on time for the next meeting you have planned, after reading this. And make it a habit. A habit is something you do repeatedly. The change we seek in our attitude towards time consciousness and keeping promises in our nation starts with you, and now.

Quotes

“We are all manufacturers – making good, making trouble or making excuses.” H V Adolt

“You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” Will Rogers

“Always tell yourself: The difference between running a business and ruining a business is i.” Frank Tyger

“Punctuality is one of the cardinal business virtues. Always insist on it in your subordinates.” Donald Robert Perry Marquis

“Punctuality is the soul of business.” Anonymous

“I recommend you to take care of the minutes, for hours will take care of themselves.” Philip D Stanhope

“You may ask me for anything you like except time.” Napoleon Bonaparte (to one of his officers)

“Those who make the worse use of their time are the first to complain of its brevity.” Jean de la Bruyere

“Many people take no care of their money till they come nearly to the end of it, and others do just the same with their time.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“Wasted time means wasted lives.” R Shannon

“From time wasted there can be no salvage. It is the easiest of all waste and the hardest to correct because it does not litter the floor.” Henry Ford

“Nothing inspires confidence in a business man sooner than punctuality, nor is there any habit which sooner saps his reputation than that of being always behind time.” W Mathews

“Be avaricious of time; do not give any moment without receiving it in value; only allow hours to go from you with as much regret as you give to your gold.” LeTourneux

“Lost, somewhere between sunrise and sunset, sixty golden minutes. Each set with sixty diamond seconds. No reward is offered, for they are gone forever.” Horace Mann

“Without the management of time, you will soon have nothing left to manage.” William D Reiff

“Thus we play the fool with time and the spirits of the wise sit in the clouds and mock us.” William Shakespeare

“Life is too short, and the time we waste in yawning never can be regained.” Stendhal

“Waste of time is the most extravagant of all expense.” Theophrastus

“A promise is an I.O.U.” Robert Half

“We must leave exactly on time. From now on everything must function to perfection.” Benito Mussolini

“The innocent and the beautiful have no enemy but time.” W B Yeats


End note

Nana Damoah is the author of Through the Gates of Thought (April 2010) and Excursions in my Mind (October 2008), both published by Athena Press UK.

All these articles are listed on his blogs Nana Awere Damoah (www.nanaaweredamoah.wordpress.com) and Excursions in my mind (www.excursionsinmymind.blogspot.com) as well as on the author’s Facebook pages.

Both books can be purchased online from http://www.amazon.com, http://www.amazon.co.uk, and http://www.athenapress.com, as well as Amazon sites in France, Germany, Finland, Japan and Canada. You can also purchase them from Exclusive books in South Africa and Botswana, Kalahari.co.ke in Kenya and and other online outlets.

In Ghana, obtain copies in Accra Silverbird bookshop (Accra mall) and Beacon Books, East Legon.

Contact Nana on +233264631209 or ndamoah@yahoo.co.uk for any enquiries.

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9 thoughts on “Empower Series 62: Of wasted executive hours and failed promises in Sikaman

  1. Hello Nana

    This is a master piece. I love it and enjoy everything to the end. Wow! I was wondering how this could be made available to a wider audience. I have forwarded it a few people in Ghana but for me, much more people need to get it, might contribute to the change in attitude that we are asking for. Thanks very much for putting such a piece together.

    God bless!

  2. Derek, thanks. I keep a column in the Business and Financial Times Lifestyle paper on Fridays, and this was published last week. I continue to post on Facebook as well, so let’s see how the message goes out. Grateful for your constant feedback.

  3. Interesting message on time. Outside Ghana Ghanaians are punctual to work and not to social gatherings. Good to see you mention names such as Yaw Nsarkoh and George Owusu Ansah. By the where is the latter? Thanks

  4. A very good article, Nana. I must say that I’ve a bad habit of not being punctual at all, even to work. This is going to change me, I tell you.

    Can I have your permission to use the quotes in my church bulletin? I’m the publicity chairperson responsible for the church’s weekly news bulletin and I think the quotes will find wiling ears and settle in the hearts of the congregation.

  5. Time wasting in Ghana has been an accepted norm. I’ve spoken to a few foreigners here who have had the opportunity to do business in Ghana and every single one of them always complains about time keeping. It’s quite embarrassing really and yet we seem to find it funny. No one can take you serious when basics such as time keeping becomes an impossible chore and yet we want to compete on international markets. As for customer service and the queues………..

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