Category Archives: Business and Professional Practice

What Do You Have In Your House?

What do you have in your houseWhile I do not normally endorse products or service on this web-site, given the current economic climate, I feel compelled to highly recommend a little booklet that I read in less than one hour.  It is a well-written, clear and concise guide on how to develop and implement a workable plan to get out of debt.  It is titled “What do you have in your house?” and it is written by Barbadian author and chartered accountant, Donna Every.

 It is written for anyone with the desire to get out of debt, but who lacks the guidance and/or encouragement to do so. The book is not padded with extraneous information, but it is packed with wise advice and inspirational true stories that can give the reader the suggestions, tools, and hope that is necessary to start.

 If you are struggling to repay a mortgage, or wish to get out of debt, then I strongly recommend that you read this book.  If your lack of finances is creating problems in your relationship with your spouse, then this book can become the catalyst for a new beginning where you can work together towards a common financial goal.

 For the record, I have no financial interest in this book whatsoever, but I highly recommend it because it has the potential to literally change your life.  It is available from Donna Every’s web-site:



Killing the Goose

 The Prime Minister has explained that wealth creation through innovation should be a normal return on the investments made in education, and other social services in Barbados.  I agree with him.  However, the seed capital that one initially uses to fund the development of these innovative products will normally come from one’s disposable income.

 The Government must be commended for doing so much to assist the “have-nots” in Barbados.  However, as long as they remain have-nots, they will continue to spend all of their disposable income on essential services, and will still require additional assistance from the haves.

 The haves are those who “have” enough to help themselves and others.  They normally have enough to give to their churches, dependents, professional and social organisations, PTA and Old Scholars associations, the various community and national appeals for assistance, the poor and needy whose income only covers basic necessities, etc.  From where do the haves give?  They give from their disposable incomes.

 There is a third group whom we can call the “have-mores”.  They “have more” than enough.  However, the principal difference between the haves and the have-mores, is that the have-mores are not vulnerable to high taxes.  The high taxes that do not affect the have-mores can easily send the haves into the ranks of the dependent have-nots.

 The have-nots are normally exempt from paying taxes on their incomes or property.  The have-mores have learnt to use the loop holes in the regulations to avoid paying what Obama calls “their fair share”.  Some haves have also learned this skill.  However, the tax burden is mostly felt by the haves, who are normally called the “middle class”, or the class between the financially dependent have-nots and the financially independent have-mores.

 Many in this middle class have learnt to maintain their position by carefully managing their disposable income.  Thus, they are able to pay a home mortgage, feed and clothe their children, and give to others.  What they have not generally done is to create wealth.  They have not considered that the investments in their education were meant for more than just maintaining a comfortable lifestyle.  They have not realized that they have something valuable within them that can benefit humanity.

 After working for some time, most people intuitively know how they can be more effective at what they are responsible for.  It is Rule No.3 for life on Earth: Only God is perfect, everything else can be improved.

 Every experienced automotive mechanic knows how to make an engine run more efficiently.  The mechanic does not get the opportunity to capitalise on this knowledge, because the car manufacturing company’s research and development department continuously improves the last year’s car model.  However, every manufactured product, service and process can be improved, and the actual innovative idea can be found in any user of the product, including users here in Barbados.

 There are three major impediments to innovation.  The first one is unbelief.  If people do not believe that they can actually innovate, then they most likely will not.  That is why it is important that Barbadians are taught the rules of this life governing human behaviour.

 The second impediment is lack of compensation.  If people believe that they can find an innovative solution, but do not believe that they will derive any benefit from it, then the innovation will likely remain an idea.  Government can assist in overcoming this obstacle by allocating $5M annually to provide development grants of $100,000 for the top 50 viable innovative products.  I believe that this will usher in a culture of innovation in Barbados.

 However, the single greatest impediment to innovation is a lack of personal disposable income, which will be used as seed capital to initially develop the innovative idea.  In this regard, the Government should seriously reconsider the high 0.45% and the unconscionable 0.75% property tax rate on single family dwellings.


Like his predecessors, the Hon Christopher Sinckler is encouraging Barbadian service providers to export more.  We would like to, but we need his help.  Since Government is the largest service provider in Barbados, he needs to encourage his colleagues to improve the efficiency of those government departments with which we must interact.  One example should suffice.

The sticker that enveloped my road tax certificate was coming off of my windscreen.  I therefore moved it from the left side of the windscreen to my right so that I could periodically push it back on.  Later that day, before I could get to my insurance company to get a replacement sticker envelope, I was stopped by the police.  They informed me that it was an offence to drive with the road tax not displayed on the right side of the vehicle.  I acknowledged that I was not aware of the offence and offered to pay the fine.  I was told that I would have to appear before a magistrate.

I subsequently received a letter instructing me to appear before the magistrate on a specified date.  On the stated day, I attended the magistrate’s court as instructed, and took out my laptop computer to do some work while I waited.  I was told to put it away.  I therefore took out a note pad to write some correspondence, but was told to put that away also.  I therefore took out a typed report in order to edit it, but was told that I could do no work whatsoever while in the court room.  I therefore had to sit and listen to the cases before mine.

After most of the day had been spent, my name was called, and I stood in the dock.  I pleaded guilty and was fined $300 forthwith.  I went to the accounts section as ordered and offered my credit card to pay the fine, which they bemusedly refused.  I therefore took out my cheque book and inquired to whom I should write the cheque.  They told me that I had to pay cash.  I explained that I did not have that amount of cash on me.  They told me to either call someone or transportation would be provided to me, free of cost, to the remand section of the prison, because the magistrate stated that the fine was to be paid forthwith.

Not wanting to place my life in anyone’s hands, I asked whether I could go to the bank and withdraw some funds.  They stated that if I was not back within the hour, then a warrant would be issued for my arrest.  I therefore ran as fast as I could to Broad Street, found a bank, and waited in the ATM line for what seemed like a very long time.  After withdrawing the funds, I raced back to the magistrate’s court, slowing down while passing the Central Police Station lest I be delayed unnecessarily.  I made it back with 20 minutes to spare.

What is restraining me from spending my time exporting as the Hon Sinckler would like?  The time wasted waiting to receive frustratingly inefficient government services.  I am including government’s statutory corporations as agencies that provide government’s services.  How can this be improved?  There are so many ways.  Why not start with the following 5 initiatives?

  1. Allow payments for government services to be paid by credit card and on-line.
  2. Do not allow the majority of cashiers to take lunch between 12:00 noon and 1:30 pm when persons are trying to fit in paying their bills within their lunch hour.
  3. Extend the hours that government departments can receive payments.
  4. Allow drop off facilities for those who simply cannot visit the government department during the department’s normal working hours.
  5. Allow the police to fine persons on the spot for minor traffic offences.  Those who wish to challenge the fines can spend their time in the court room.



Choosing A Career

Dear Readers:

I am addressing this article to students who are in their final year of secondary school and who may be feeling a little anxious about their futures at this time.  People thinking about choosing another career can also benefit.

Choosing a career can be a daunting task.  You may be in the career that you choose for the next 40 years of your life, so you should not choose carelessly.  Allow me to suggest the following selection method.

1.  Identify your Aptitudes First, I would suggest that you identify your aptitudes. They may be several things.  Identifying your aptitudes can be challenging since you must give each subject a fair chance.  Please do not judge your aptitude by the grades that you have received at school; they can be poor aptitude indicators.  A few examples may suffice here.1. You may not think that you like music if you were only taught music theory, but you may excel if you learnt to play an instrument “by ear’.

2. Similarly, you may not think that you like foreign languages, like Spanish, but you may excel if you learnt conversational Spanish.

3. You may find science subjects challenging; however, try reading your science texts from the first chapter until the end and you may be surprised at how easy the subject really is.

2.  Identify your Motives

After you have identified your aptitudes, identify some jobs that you think that you would find attractive.  Write them down and then ask your self, “Why do I want to do this job”. i.e. try to identify your motives. If your motive is principally to make money, then you may have identified the wrong job for you.  If your motive is principally care, then you may have identified the right job for you.  You must care about what you do rather than simply doing a good job and getting paid for your services.

3.  Get some Experience

It may be useful if you worked for a company (it can be a company of one) who offered the service that you found attractive. If they are not hiring, then offer to work for them for one month for free, explaining to them that you see it as an investment (and it is). If you have made that agreement, then DO NOT QUIT!  If you do quit, then that decision may follow you for the rest of your life. If you do not think that you can last one month without pay, then agree to work for one or two week without pay. Remember to explain that you are trying to choose a career, and therefore, you want to work in an environment that will help you to decide.

4.  Ask God to Guide You

Our national anthem states: “The Lord has been the people’s guide …”.  You are one of those people and therefore have the right to ask God for guidance.  However, while God provides the direction, you must provide the thrust and momentum.  The thrust, or the initial movement, is accomplished in the first three steps until you can secure any type of job.  The momentum is provided by you working with conscientious dedication to achieve the highest standards of competence at that job, even if it is one that you do not like.

When you are ready, God will guide you into the responsibilities that He has for you.  Therefore do not hold on too tightly to any one position of responsibility.  If someone else wants your job, then let them have it.  God will take care of you if you let Him.

Best regards,


Giving Professional Advice

Dear Readers:

The recent issue with the Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES) poll and Cave Hill Associates Polling Organisation (CHAPO) poll is instructive for professionals and their Clients.  The CHAPO poll was popular, supportive of the then ruling political party, apparently backed by the University of the West Indies, and wrong.  The CADRES poll was unpopular among the then ruling political party, the pollster vilified, but the poll was accurate.

The CHAPO poll was wrong because it was based on a critical assumption which was not verified before the advice was given.  Rather than seek to subsequently verify this assumption, especially with knowledge of the CADRES poll’s stated assumptions, the CHAPO pollsters spent the time defending their poll.

All professional advice is based upon the interpretation of evidence.  Each professional is trained to examine evidence related to their professional discipline.  When interpreting evidence, professionals make various assumptions, which may or may not be correct.  Conscientious professionals normally take the time necessary to identify and verify each of their assumptions.

Sometimes a client may request that advice be provided urgently, before the professional has verified the assumptions made.  In such cases, preliminary advice is normally given, and the assumptions are subsequently checked.  If the assumptions are found to be incorrect, then the advice is withdrawn.  If the Client has acted upon the poor advice, then new advice is given in order to, inter alia, mitigate any consequential damage.

Pride should never prevent a professional from withdrawing and revising previous advice when it is found to be unsupported by the evidence.  Since professionals are liable for any quantifiable damage arising out of the advice that they give, it is imperative that all professionals be conscientious.



Commercial Pressures

Dear Readers:

History has shown that the world has not always been well served by scientific research that has been driven by commercial pressures. These pressures can tempt research scientists to compromise the integrity of their work in order to provide results that are favourable to the sources of the research funds. Rather than submit their research to an unbiased review by their peers, such scientists publish their opinions in the popular press, typically speculating outside of the boundaries of their research experiments.

Publishing research seems to have degenerated into a game with each group of scientists vying for the attention of the popular press with speculative opinions of what “may” be a new link to cancer or some other disease, in order to encourage behavioural change to avoid ill or attain better health. Regrettably, their actions can cause persons to think less of scientific research.

Commercial pressures can cause scientists to reject acceptable scientific research methods and become embroiled in their client’s commercial battles, which can lead to bad science. Bad science typically starts with unfounded assumptions. However, bad science can become popular if an attractive argument is built upon this bad foundation. The old adage about truth being the first casualty of war is also true in commercial battles. Scientists funded by one company can selectively present findings that support their client’s products and that identify potential deficiencies in competing products.

Scientists can resolve many commercial battles if they were more responsible rather than choosing to market deficient products or services based on the source of the research funds. In this way, science is poorly represented and mankind can be severely affected. If the marketing strategy is successful, it can take generations before the product or service becomes morally offensive enough to exert sufficient negative commercial pressure to cause a change. It will then be another lesson in history where our grand children will wonder why we were so irresponsible.

The commercial battle within the tobacco industry provides a good example where scientists representing the tobacco industry refuse to acknowledge the clear link between smoking and heart disease and lung cancer despite the mounting evidence. When scientists debate, it provides a level of comfort or acceptable risk for those most affected to justify not taking action thereby inducing a state of apathy.

Such is the case with the commercial battle being waged within the agricultural industry. There is a clear link between pesticide use and cancer, allergies and disease. Farmers acknowledge the harmful effects of pesticides on humans, yet they feel compelled to use them due to the commercial pressures. The community feels that the risk is acceptable once the scientists working for the pesticide manufacturers and those working for the health industry continue to debate safe levels. Even after pesticides were banned in Europe and North America, scientists working for the pesticide industry continue to justify their use in less developed countries.

The apparent strategy of facilitating scientific debate in order to induce apathy so that persons will not negatively affect the commercial enterprise is common and very effective. It can actually take centuries before change occurs. The scientists’ unfounded assertion that non-European people were savages helped to justify the Europeans’ general apathetic response towards slavery, and the treatment of slaves. Despite the persistent efforts of many responsible persons, it took approximately 400 years for slavery to become morally offensive enough to affect a change in the commercial enterprise.

Perhaps the most senseless commercial battle where this strategy is used is within the abortion industry. The abortion industry is build upon the assertion by scientists that the aborted material is merely tissue while it is clearly a baby. The last 25 years have seen a merciless slaughter of unimaginable proportions that makes slavery seem comparably tolerable – over 1 billion babies have been killed. Yet we sit comfortably in the mist of the horrific torture and death, much as the Europeans did during slavery. The Europeans justified their apathy with the scientists’ conclusions – they are only savages, our response is similar – it is only tissue.

Our current Minister of Health has inherited Barbados’ contribution to this carnage. He has also inherited the responsibility to stop it.


Grenville Phillips II

Professional Practice and Evolving Standards

Dear Readers:

The information age appears to have had three phases thus far. The first phase started with the invention of the printing press where documents could be mass-produced. The second phase occurred with the establishment of public libraries that made information available to the public. The third and current phase started with the Internet. The Internet has made it possible for laypersons with access to a computer to conduct research on many topics without being a specialist in that area.

There are computer programs that are written for laypersons, which allow them to diagnose themselves and prescribe a form of treatment. There are also computer programs that can provide laypersons with limited accounting, legal, and architectural services. Following the introduction of such programs, some futurists suggested that this trend would lead to a significant reduction in the number of professional persons required. Approximately twenty years later, this prediction has not yet come to pass.

Access to information can allow laypersons to communicate sensibly with practising professionals. However, it does not adequately prepare laypersons to accept the liabilities that are associated with making professional decisions. Professionals are prepared through their experience. Their main asset is their practical knowledge of, and confidence in the industry’s international standards.

Industry standards are sometimes determined from the results of academic research work carried out at universities where various materials and methods are tested. Researchers gain confidence in their research when repeated experiments can give results that they can predict.

Once the researcher’s confidence is sufficiently high due to consistent predictable results, field trials are typically performed outside of the relatively sheltered confines of the university. The risks to human health, property, and the environment from field trials can be acceptable if a sufficient number of predictable academic laboratory tests were carried out. The results of both the academic tests and field trials are published and reviewed by qualified persons. If they pass this scrutiny, and if the results are of sufficient value to the industry, then they can be incorporated into the industry’s standards.

Industry standards are essentially principles of materials and methods that should generally be followed by practitioners. Persons who offer professional services to the public are practitioners. If a practitioner’s compliance with an industry standard does not provide the expected results, then that information is relayed to the publisher of the standard, and that standard may be changed.

Research work on new materials and methods within each professional discipline is ongoing, which leads to changes to industry standards. It is therefore necessary that practising professionals continue to develop professionally by understanding and using current industry standards. This is important since previous industry standards may have been found to be substandard, or not applicable to a particular environment.

One of a professional’s major objectives is to ensure the safety of the public and the environment, and thus reduce their own personal risk. While practising a professional discipline, mistakes can very easily be made. Therefore, new university graduates are not allowed to practise independently until after they have received up to, and sometimes in excess of 4 years of supervised training. This helps to significantly reduce the risks to the public of receiving substandard professional services. However, even after persons have become qualified to practise independently, it is always prudent for them to have their work reviewed by senior professionals in their field.

Given the legal and technical risks involved in professional practises, and the laypersons’ unpreparedness to manage any liability if their decisions result in damage, unqualified persons should not be allowed to offer their services to the public. However, with knowledge of various industry standards becoming more readily available to the public, the public has a right to comment on or query any aspect of a professional’s work that does not appear to comply with the industry standards.

Some professionals feel threatened when laypersons seek additional information about the service for which they are paying, and can be dismissive as they try to avoid answering pertinent questions that can reveal their unpreparedness. The queries and challenges posed by the public should prompt professionals to continue their professional development.



Pursuing Excellence

Dear Readers:

Various organisations and government agencies have recently adopted the phrase “standard of excellence” to encourage high standards. These are responsible initiatives because attaining high standards can only benefit small developing countries like Barbados.

Singapore’s economy is often touted as the model of development for developing countries. However, Singapore’s economic success is primarily based on the universal formula for achievement. It is a formula that is applicable to individuals, companies, organisations, and nations and it consists of three principal components – setting high standards, believing that they can be attained, and then pursuing them.

The government of Singapore first set high standards for itself and then for its citizens, and they believed that their country could attain such standards. Their response to national problems was to set even higher standards, and the results are indisputably impressive. Sir Frank Worrell reportedly set very high standards for the West Indies cricket team during his captaincy, and had faith in his team’s ability to achieve them. Their pursuit of those standards is legendary, and they left us with a legacy of which we can be proud. Barbadians who have attained above average achievements can testify to the effectiveness of this formula, and those who are currently following it are making an invaluable investment.

Regrettably, we seem to be abandoning this universal formula that has served us so well. There seems to be less emphasis placed on increasing the quality of our products and services, and an over-reliance on unsustainable marketing and public relations strategies that promise a standard of excellence, but deliver a hollow experience. A quality product or service is achieved by adopting and pursuing high standards and not through advertisements.

The amount of faith that a government has in the capacity of its people to achieve can be measured by the quality of the national standards set, and the type of hindrances placed in the way of persons pursuing even higher standards. These hindrances can be informal or institutional. Adopting low national standards is the equivalent of planting weeds among food crops. The weeds will not appear immediately, but they will negatively affect the harvest.

Lowering the standard of our driving test has allowed an increased number of undisciplined drivers on our roads. The subsequent rise of the undisciplined ZR type culture with its associated music containing violent and sexually explicit lyrics has cultivated a sub-culture of violence, sexually promiscuity, teenage pregnancy, and HIV/AIDS, primarily among our youth. The promotion of vulgarity at some NCF events has popularised part of this culture.

Incredibly, despite the negative consequences, our response has been to adopt even lower standards when the solution clearly lies in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, the most damaging consequences of our actions are for our students.

I was profoundly disheartened by the recent pronouncement by the Ministry responsible for Education, and also the admissions by senior educators that 70% to 75% of our students will not be able to pass the CXC exams. This is not a statement of faith in the capacity of our students, but rather indicates a deficiency in the institutional exam preparation process.

I do not believe that the majority of our students lack the mental capacity to pass the CXC exams. The principal problem with our system of education is that the current primary and secondary school curriculum does not take advantage of our student’s natural cognitive strengths at the different stages of their development. Furthermore, the spiral curriculum that the Ministry responsible for Education has adopted for the past 30 years was designed for mediocre results, and those results are apparent.

The Ministry responsible for education had previously identified the major problem with our educational system as the school curriculum. Perhaps there could be less emphasis placed on developing the National Vocational Qualifications and more on providing our students with an efficient curriculum thereby removing the major hindrance to learning for 70 to 75% of our students.

History has shown that it can take a considerable amount of time for new ideas to germinate in the minds of policy makers before action is taken. In the meanwhile, most of our students desperately need assistance. I hope to provide some of that assistance in next week’s article.

Secretaries in the Balance

Dear Readers:

As I conduct business at various public and private sector establishments, the secretary is frequently the first person with whom I communicate with. I have found that a pleasant and welcoming secretary is an excellent introduction to the company and to the person with whom I came to discuss business. Even if I approached the company irritated at something unrelated, I find that a pleasant secretary can completely change my attitude, which can result in a productive meeting with her employer. Good secretaries are therefore important resources for companies.

The question that follows is: if secretaries are so important, why are they generally some of the lowest paid employees? The principal reasons are that they are relatively easy to replace, and they are not viewed as contributing significantly to the company’s profitability. For secretaries to become difficult to replace, they should strive for excellence in their various responsibilities.

As a first step, they could strive for excellence in their grammar, tone, appearance, attitude, efficiency, and dedication. Secretaries must understand that as the initial contact for many potential clients, they can represent the voice, appearance, and attitude of the company. This requires that they maintain a pleasant and welcoming demeanour while at work. Performing this role can become stressful if they do not feel at all pleasant. Secretaries should therefore engage in frequent stress relieving activities, like getting a massage, exercising, and worship.

Secondly, secretaries could increase their value to the company by adding to their existing skills. For example, expanding their knowledge of various computer software programs, and offering to take on additional duties such as: maintaining the company’s web site, assisting with preparation and delivery of power point or other presentations, taking minutes at meetings, and maintaining a pending items report. They can also learn some of the core work of the company, thereby carving for themselves a valuable niche as a research or other assistant to the professional staff who perform such work.

Encouraging secretaries to add to their skills can avoid the discouragement that some secretaries may experience at the realization that they may have limited advancement potential in the company. Secretaries can therefore be provided with tuition benefits, which should encompass educational workshops and seminars, and their salaries should be commensurate with their increasing skills set.

The contribution that secretaries make to a company’s productivity can be difficult to measure, since they generally support rather than perform the core work of the company. However, a good secretary may be an important factor in a client’s decision to patronise, and to continue to patronise a business. People generally anticipate going to a place where they feel welcomed and respected. For many clients, first impressions do count, and many who choose to, or not to patronise a business as a result of their initial interaction with the secretary, may not inform the company. This further complicates the measurement of a secretary’s net worth to a company.

It may be beneficial for certain categories of secretaries, if an organisation like the Barbados Association of Office Professionals commissioned a quantitative study, to determine the secretaries’ contribution to clients’ decisions to patronise various categories of businesses.

Since secretaries who make first contact with potential clients can represent the initial image of the company, it would be in a company’s best interests if their secretaries were able to maintain a welcoming demeanour while at work. Performing this role consistently can be stressful. People generally work at their optimum when they have something to look forward to. Employers can assist their secretaries to work at their optimum in a sustainable manner by providing them with an innovative perk.

One suggested perk is a periodic stress relieving spa treatment that would include a massage. This should classify as a justifiable business expense for secretaries on the ‘front line’, who are expected to maintain themselves, to promote an excellent image of the company for potential clients.

Think Inside the Box

Dear Readers:

Work smart, not hard. Think outside the box. These are catchy and attractive phrases used by motivational speakers and management consultants to inspire persons to work efficiently and think creatively. However, such messages can have unintended consequences for some businesses if they adopted by inexperienced employees.

“Work smart, not hard” is a concept that describes how individual tasks can be performed more efficiently. It encouraged employees to save time by planning their work and organizing their work environment. Unfortunately, if this phrase is not correctly explained, then motivating employees not to work hard can reinforce the notion of cleverly working with less effort for the same or more pay. Employees should be encouraged to work diligently and intelligently, and management at various levels are responsible for providing the necessary tools and training to allow employees to work intelligently.

Management is not correctly assessing an employee who is working hard, but who is reported as being unproductive. Hard working employees not only facilitate their own personal development, but should also be a benefit to the companies that they work for if they are properly managed. On the other hand, employees who work smart and not hard are more vulnerable to becoming lazy and unproductive, which can lead to higher input costs and hence uncompetitively priced products or services. A hard working, properly managed, and fairly paid employee, who is given sufficient health and safety breaks, should lead to the efficient delivery of a product of service.

To avoid confusion with subjectively defining terms like “smart” and “hard”, perhaps the “Work smart, not hard” expression could be replaced with a phrase that does not lend itself to misinterpretation, like “Work efficiently”. However, it is not as catchy.

“Think outside the box” is a concept that describes creative thinking. It encourages persons to think beyond established procedures and standards, and to question preconceived assumptions when trying to find solutions to problems. This concept basically describes how experienced persons generally solve non-conventional problems. For example, a manual should be referenced when problems are encountered with a product. However, if the manual contained insufficient information to solve the problem, then an experienced employee should be able to improvise a solution.

The prerequisite for thinking outside of the box should therefore be a mastery of the information already in the box. Having that prior knowledge should assist employees to recognize whether they need to venture outside of the box to solve a problem. In the delivery of most professional services, going beyond the established standards and procedures can have severe repercussions. In the delivery of construction and medical services, such consequences can be fatal.

Inexperienced persons should therefore be encouraged to think inside the box. When inexperienced persons think outside of the box, much effort can be wasted if they attempt to reinvent the proverbial wheel. The adoption of the “Work smart, not hard”, and “Think outside the box” messages by influential persons with limited experience can have more damaging consequences.

Persons with limited experience should therefore be encouraged to work hard and smart, and to fill their boxes with relevant information. They should not be encouraged to think out side the box until they have obtained sufficient practical experience where they can demonstrate their understanding of such information. Employers who expose inexperienced employees to improperly explained phrases from motivational speakers and management consultants, are essentially paying such speakers to motivate their employees to disrupt their businesses.

The Dark Side of Professional Services

Dear Readers:

To qualify as a professional in the traditional disciplines, persons must graduate from an accredited program of study and then undergo a period of supervised training. The governments of most developed countries protect their citizens from unqualified practitioners by requiring professionals to be registered. Unfortunately, once qualified, some professionals can offer a substandard service by, inter alia, adopting unethical practices, to the detriment of their clients and their profession.

Professional associations are responsible for managing codes of ethics for their members. However, with the exception of lawyers, professionals in Barbados are not required to be accountable to professional associations, which can leave some of them more vulnerable to temptation. Today, we shall examine the dark side of professional services with the hope that it will dissuade the tempted from going astray.

Lawyers are trained, inter alia, to understand the law so that their clients can operate within the law. Similarly, accountants understand financial regulations so that their clients can manage their financial affairs responsibly. However, some can use their training to identify perceived deficiencies in tax laws and financial rules to justify unethical practises.

Building professionals should understand development regulations so that their client’s property can be, inter alia, structurally sound, low-maintenance, and non-threatening to the surrounding environment. However, some can use their training to identify perceived deficiencies in the regulations to justify substandard building practises. Doctors understand how the body works so that they can assist their clients to live healthily. However, some can use that knowledge to justify death by abortion and euthanasia. Marketing professionals are trained, inter alia, to enhance a product. However, some can use their training to promote sexual promiscuity through their advertisement designs.

Entertainment professionals and artists aim to elicit a reaction from their audiences. However, some can use their knowledge of artistic licence and freedom of expression to justify promoting pornography and vulgarity. Teachers are responsible for teaching the next generation the fundamentals of core subjects, to prepare them to be productive citizens. However, some can use their influence to commit statutory rape. Priests are trained to, inter alia, teach God’s standard of behaviour. However, some can use their authority to promote immoral behaviour.

The shortcomings of accepting substandard professional services become apparent, and are clearly understood and regretted after the service is examined. Professionals who offer such services are essentially deceiving themselves and their clients.

The recipients of substandard legal or financial professional services understand that the short-term financial gains from insider trading, tax evasion, incomplete financial reporting, and other unethical practises, which may be facilitated by loopholes in the law, are not worth the punitive fines, incarceration, nor embarrassment following an investigative audit.

Property owners understand that the cost savings from substandard materials and construction methods, do not compensate for a high maintenance property with deteriorating finishes, spalling concrete, cracked floors and walls, leaking plumbing, faulty wiring, and corroding metal. Property owners are further convinced if a hurricane or an earthquake examines the property, and the building and its contents are destroyed.

Women, who are destined to experience the lifelong guilt from allowing their babies to be destroyed in the safest of places, regret being influenced to have an abortion. Some married persons regret being influenced to sell their most priceless possession so cheaply, to keep someone whom they now do not care about, rather than presenting their invaluable gift to their lifelong partner on their wedding day.

What would tempt some professionals to risk their client’s well-being and their professional reputations, by departing from the high standards that they were taught? For most legal, financial, building, marketing, and medical professionals, the motive appears to be money. For teachers, the motive appears to be pleasure, and for entertainers, the motive appears to be fame.

Identifying the motive for a priest to promote homosexuality and other immoral behaviour, which his Employer, and our Creator, has clearly and consistently judged to be wrong, can be challenging. One must go beyond the normal physical and physiological temptations to the spiritual dimension. Jesus calls it evil, and He describes such persons as wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Labour Relations in the Balance

Dear Readers:

We seem to have inherited an adversarial system of labour relations in Barbados. This system relies on each side pursuing their own interests, with a view that if each side pushes hard enough, then an acceptable equilibrium can be reached.

This approach may appear to work during employer negotiations with labour unions. However, such adversarial behaviour can cost the company in low productivity from employees, who can be severely de-motivated from the stresses associated with the spectacle of having their employer berated as their enemy by their union representatives.

Employers provide persons with opportunities to financially support their families, and some provide training for further advancement in the company. These and other actions can build an environment of trust, which translates to commitment and high productivity within the company. Convincing employees that such employers are not acting in their best interests can destroy the hard earned trust, and spawn a negative attitude to work, which can be manifested in undisciplined behaviour and reduced levels of productivity. If the low levels of productivity are sustained, then they can lead to redundancies and ultimately to a closure of the company. Unions do not represent the unemployed.

After the labour negotiations have been concluded, a joint press conference is typically held where both sides declare an amicable settlement. It is a fallacy to believe that this is all that is required to overcome the distrust that was planted in the minds of employees as a negotiation strategy. There has to be a better way.

Ideally there should be no need for labour unions. Employers should simply accept their responsibility to adequately remunerate employees, without employees having to agitate for it. Where profits are directly related to the labour resources, then the employees’ productivity should be rewarded with a fair share of the profits.

Due to a history of employers generally giving precedence to profit making, over paying fair wages and providing healthy conditions of employment, labour unions have become necessary bargaining agents to represent employees’ interests.

The stage is set for conflict when neither employer nor union representative shares the same vision. However, both sides should share a common vision of reaching an agreement on what is sustainable for the company, even if this means temporarily accepting lower than expected wages or lower than projected profits. For out of the company, the employer, including company shareholders, receives profits as a reward for risking their investment, and the employees receive a safe working environment, job security and wages as compensation for their labour. Therefore the desire for maximum profits among employers, and maximum wages among unions must be suppressed, and they should aim for profits and wages that the company can sustain.

When the employer is the government, labour relations are similarly adversarial. However, determining what is sustainable is much more complex due to the different practices employed between managing a company and managing the national economy. To manage a company profitably, the company must consistently earn more than it spends. It sometimes becomes necessary for properly managed companies to spend more that they earn. However, these times are restricted to crisis situations. If a company is required to consistently spend more than it earns, whether to pay wages or otherwise, then such spending is unsustainable and the company will eventually run into financial difficulty. Thereafter there will be no wages, no employment, and no profit.

Various governments around the world seem to have developed an economic tradition of intentionally planning to spend more than they earn, even during years of economic growth. This phenomena is called running a deficit, and it is one reason why taxes become burdensome. It typically leads to a cycle of borrowing, which destines such countries to exist in the economically vulnerable state of perpetual debt.

Sometimes external pressures force such governments to reduce their deficits, or the amount of their overspending, to manageable levels. However, even those experiences do not appear to convince such governments of the need to depart from the unsustainable economic tradition of overspending.

It is therefore challenging for government employees and their labour union representatives to determine what constitutes sustainable wage levels. However, such wage levels need to be sustainable for all of our sakes.

Public Sector Reform

Dear Readers:

Public sector reform is a government initiative that includes training government employees to make them more responsive to Barbados’ development needs. Today, we shall place the public sector reform initiative in the balance.

Having interacted with public servants in various government departments over the past 15 years, I have identified two types of individuals. These types are based on the two conflicting attitudes that I have encountered. The first type appears to understand the challenges that private sector professionals face, and in response, do all within their power to facilitate their progress through the government’s bureaucratic process.

The second type seems to be under the misguided notion that all private sector professionals are very wealthy. They seem to despise them and appear to do all within their power to frustrate their progress. This type appears not to appreciate the risks, responsibilities and stresses associated with continuously trying to obtain and complete work in a timely manner, in order to support the company, including all of its employees. This type of public servant simply receives the taxpayers’ money on payday, seemingly oblivious as to where it comes from.

While the popular descriptions of public servants as: lazy, rude, uncaring, and sabotaging the growth of various businesses are unfair generalizations, there are not unfounded for this type. They appear to suffer from attitudinal problems that have not been corrected, despite the investments made in training such individuals through the public sector reform initiative.

Behavioural problems that are rooted in bad attitudes cannot be solved simply with customer-relations type training. The prerequisite for such training to be beneficial to the government department making the investment, must be a genuine willingness on the part of the employee to want to change. Attitudinal changes must commence with realization followed by belief and acceptance.

Realization becomes possible when information is conveyed to and understood by the employee. If this knowledge is believed, then it paves the way for the employee to accept all of the responsibilities associated with their particular job. Once this happens, the trainee becomes fertile ground for investment in training in personal development.

Admittedly it is difficult to blame junior public servants who display poor work attitudes if they have been trained by senior public servants with similar attitudes. Such senior civil servants tend to perpetuate the divisive myth that the private sector is the enemy. Some sympathy can be found for such senior civil servants who have simply followed the directives of some politicians who have been known to denigrate successful professionals and businesses during political campaigns, and who promote policies that penalize success and reward failure.

Policies like the rising income tax rate is a classic case of penalizing success, where the more one earns, the higher the rate of income tax with which one is penalized. Eventually persons reach the situation where after claiming the $15,000 tax free deduction for basic necessities (2003 tax exemption), more than half of the remainder is taken by the government through NIS, VAT, and income, road, land, fuel and other taxes. A more equitable system would be for the income tax rate to be the same for everyone. In this way, those who earn more will always pay more tax than those who earn less, without being penalised for doing so.

It is also discouraging when large public contracts are essentially provided to individuals who simply do not have the capacity to perform the work. Such contracts should be provided to successful companies with the capacity to complete the work properly, and thus avoid potentially embarrassing results.

Public servants must understand, realize, believe and accept that their personal income depends on the success of the private sector. They must understand that we are all on the same side, and that the government and private sector must work together as one team to advance Barbados’ economy. Unfounded negative political statements made about businesses and professionals during the political election campaigns can undermine this concept.

September 11 2001 – Preparing to Meet God

Dear Readers:

As today coincides with the first anniversary of the collapse of the World Trade Center (WTC) buildings, I thought it appropriate to recall some thoughts from that time.

Every night for one week following the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, I tried to imagine my reaction had I been a passenger on board one of the doomed airplanes, or on a floor in the WTC above where the airplane struck. I kept trying to determine how I would have reacted. Would I have tried to fight with the terrorists, and what weapon or form of counterattack would I have used. If I had been on an upper floor of one of the WTC buildings, would I have put on a large full-length coat, tied the bottom ends to my ankles and attempted to dive onto a nearby roof?

Regardless of my many different scenarios, I could not escape the fact that death would have been a real possibility. The only question that would have mattered to me then would have been whether I was prepared to meet God.

Admittedly the answer to this question is not easy to resolve, so I have used an analogy. I imagined working for a large multinational company with 50,000 employees. One morning I arrived at work to see a message on my desk indicating that the president of the Company wanted to see me immediately. If this were the first time I was going to the president’s office, would I be prepared to go?

1. If I were stealing from the company then I would not be prepared to meet him.

2. If I were doing some private work on the side while using the company’s time and resources, then I would not be prepared to meet him.

3. If I had a habit of gossiping and spreading rumours within the company then I would not be prepared to meet him.

4. If I were constantly arguing with my fellow employees and causing division rather than working as a team to advance the company, then I would not be prepared to meet him.

5. If I were ashamed of working for the company, telling my friends that I was only working there for the money, then I would not be prepared to meet him.

6. If I were lazy, inefficient, coming in late and slacking off, then I would not be prepared to meet him.

7. If I were rude to clients or potential customers, and discouraged their business by complaining about the company then I would not be prepared to meet him.

8. If I had a habit of hiding my mistakes, thereby causing the company to lose lots of money when the mistakes were eventually found out, then I would not be prepared to meet him.

9. If I were habitually careless in my work thereby embarrassing the company, then I would not be prepared to meet him.

10. If I were a responsible employee: learning from my supervisors, cooperating with my fellow employees, honouring the company’s clients, admitting my mistakes quickly, and maintaining a positive attitude about the work, then I would be confident about meeting the president.

Were I not prepared to meet God, then I would wish for just one more week to get ready. Unlike the unfortunate victims trapped inside of the World Trade Center one year ago, you probably have more than one week. What will you do with the remainder of your time?