TT vs J’ca Arrogance vs angst
Thursday, October 25 2007
The research done in the recent study, “The Trinidadian Executive in Jamaica”, makes the case that companies need to prepare themselves and their executives well to operate in Jamaica, and that this is the key to success. The first issue explored the issue of why unprepared executives get into trouble and where research pointed out that TT executives were ignorant of Jamaica culture.
Today, we continue the discussion.
#2. UNPREPARED COMPANIES CREATE UNNECESSARY RESISTANCE
The research showed that Trinidadians were slow to realise that Jamaicans feel strongly about companies playing an active role in local communities. They expect Christmas parties, Easter giveaways, assistance in paying school fees, contributions to funerals, favours after hurricanes, for instance. A “big company” is expected to do more than employ people — it must be seen to be benevolent, and willing to help those in need at all times.
When a company enters Jamaica, therefore, and boasts about boosting value to shareholders, it can sometimes generate resistance born from a feeling that this is yet another example of corporate exploitation. In Jamaica, this is a kiss of death.
Employees want to feel proud about their companies, and are willing to represent the firm in public much in the way that, at some point, many represented their school by wearing their uniforms in public.
They want to believe that their company cares, and that it is a good corporate citizen. This sentiment is so strong that when it is violated, employees talk about being ashamed to wear their company’s uniforms in public, due to their great embarrassment.
Once companies realise that Jamaica is different, they need to grant their GMs and CEOs a certain degree of flexibility to meet local conditions. The Jamaican economic landscape is much more variable than that of Trinidad, and sometimes company boards fail to realise the difference. When they stick to the belief that sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, they hamstring their Jamaican executives.
OUT OF BUSINESS
One Jamaican company owned by Trinidadians went out of business in less than a year when the owners failed to follow the advice of its CEO to do things differently, for example. They believed, to their detriment, that their success in their home country should naturally carry over to others, this kind of arrogance displayed by parent companies is readily picked up by Jamaican workers, and it is resisted.
Unfortunately, most Trinidadian companies generally have little idea exactly how Trinidadian they are, and how unsuited some of their business practices are for the wider world. “How we do things in Trinidad” is mistakenly believed to be a best practice.
In Jamaica, employees are quick to observe when advice given by locals is ignored by foreigners. In one company, a prominent case of local advice being ignored cost the company millions - a story that is retold with relish by employees as an example of Trinidadian arrogance.
In defense of Trinidadian managers, we didn’t find that this attitude was intentional. Instead, without thinking things through, Trinidadian executives assumed that the way they did things was correct, and by virtue of their success and their share ownership, they had to be right. Their successful track record (occurring as it did in a growing economy) was thought to be evidence of superior management.
Nevertheless, the result was the same — Jamaican workers perceived an arrogance that they actively resisted.
#3. JAMAICAN STRENGTHS LEFT UNTAPPED BY UNPREPARED
The final reason why companies should prepare themselves to do business in Jamaica is that it is easy for Trinidadian companies to overlook the strengths that Jamaican companies possess.
Our research revealed that Trinidadian managers were surprised at some of the ways that Jamaican professionals approached their work. They reported that they found them to have a cosmopolitan outlook, an assertiveness attitude and a level of company pride and loyalty that was serious, and remarkable.
These three attributes were described by some as assets that they could build on, and include in the corporate cultures they had established in the home company before coming to Jamaica.
OVERLOOKING JA STRENGTHS
Some felt that the new culture that Jamaican organisations brought to their companies could be used to enhance many of their best practices, their willingness to try new approaches and the degree to which employees identified with their companies.
On the other hand, when Trinidadian executives were not looking for the strengths of Jamaican workers with any seriousness, they tended to overlook them entirely.
Instead, they complained about the lower education levels, the relatively “thin skinned” nature of Jamaican workers and the degree to which they had to follow-up on even simple instructions. These weaknesses are real, but they do not present a complete picture. When the complete picture is well understood, Trinidadian companies are able to get the best from ALL their people in both countries.
Trinidadians who are interested in doing business in Jamaica need to understand that Jamaica’s complex culture is not a short or easy task.
It takes application, training and some degree of reflection. Those who persist can not only be profitable, but successful in the long term, building the kind of loyalty that creates shareholder value for decades to come.
Francis Wade is the President of Framework Consulting and the author of the company’s monthly magazine, FirstCuts. The study can be received automatically by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. A link to provide comments, feedback and questions will also be provided.
The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of Guardian Life of the Caribbean Limited.