What steel bands can teach us about goals, leadership and teamwork …

I have been mulling over the lessons of the panyard experience and continue to feel that the panyards are on to some yet unexplored management concept in the way they organise themselves for Carnival.

Mind you, there are as many systems as there are bands, but what is common is that they deliver a result over and over. That result is a well-crafted piece of music executed with precision. On judging night, each band delivers something magical.

Photo: Arranger Carlton “Zanda” Alexander (left) leads the Despers Steel Orchestra.
(Copyright Steelpan Authority)

Oftentimes, two nights before the preliminary judging, the sounds emanating from both shiny and not-so-shiny oil drums are more noise than music; even when the tune is recognizable, the performance is lacklustre. Yet magically, 48 hours later, your pores raise in response to the musical genius manifested during the judging.

My annual journey of admiration leaves me asking the question: can our public service and state enterprises emulate the systems, processes and procedures that bring out the best in Panorama bands?

I think we can, but we must invest resources in understanding those systems, processes and procedures. We need to understand what makes the 5,000-plus pan players deliver the excellence we experience year after year. If anyone is aware that this is being studied, please let me know.

I see the following three concepts replicated in each panyard:

  • Being goal-oriented
  • Teamwork
  • Strong leadership

If you ask any player in any panyard what their objective is, you will get a variation of ‘we plan to win this year’, ‘we are placing in the top three’ or ‘we are placing one better than last year’.

Photo: The Marsicans Steel Orchestra beat a tune.
(Courtesy Annalicia Caruth/Wired868)

Those responses check all the boxes for how a goal is articulated. If you get into a deeper conversation, the goal will be explained further.

A brilliant example of how teamwork happens is seen in how the music is taught to the players. In one instance, the section leaders arrive early and are ‘given’ the music, which they learn and subsequently teach to their colleagues. Person by person, the music is shared until each person can play the piece. There is patience, love and mutual respect in the teaching.

My third observation is about leadership; the arranger and the drillmaster epitomise the qualities of exceptional leaders. They demonstrate that there is no question about what needs to be done. Once they have decided about a particular aspect of an arrangement, there is no changing their minds and, finally, their passion is infectious.

I continue to ask the question: what makes pan unique in its product delivery? What brings players back to the panyards every year voluntarily? Our pan sides continue to deliver structures, systems and processes without heavy-handed management. What is the inspiration?

Deep in my consciousness, I see an opportunity for this phenomenon to be analysed. How can we set up a laboratory to cull the lessons and make them replicable across our organisations and systems?

Photo: The Chord Masters Steelpan Orchestra let loose.
(Courtesy Annalicia Caruth/Wired868)

Apart from an academic application, we can begin by asking each of our politicians to spend some time in a panyard of their choice and sit quietly and observe. These players, who are often disregarded, can teach us a thing or two about how to treat each other.

Presidential “boof” is insufficient!

A ‘boof’ from your ‘tantie’ will sting, but it will not necessarily lead to any improvement of the undesirable behaviour it was aimed to correct.

At the opening of the refurbished parliament building, called ‘The Red House’ for over a century, our president, Paula-Mae Weekes, fondly re-named ‘Auntie/Tantie President’, ‘pelt a good boof” at the 41 members of parliament and reminded them that the country is hurting. I wonder what response she is expecting, or more importantly, will these pointed remarks catalyse any positive behaviour change in her 41 ‘children’?

Photo: President Paula-Mae Weekes at Red House re-opening (via guardian.co.tt)

On both sides of the aisle, the parties seem stuck in their ruts, unable to redefine themselves in any meaningful way. On the government’s side, we know that election is in the air, with the paving of roadways and the increased rhetoric about transformation. Those of us who have been around the block a couple of times smell this for what it is—cheap, lazy electioneering.

On the opposition side, I was impressed with yet another ‘makeover’ of the leader of the opposition (new haircut and all), and on this occasion, an un-slurred delivery of her remarks at the opening of the refurbished Red House. A closer listen told me that the UNC is smelling victory, but a look at the stable reveals very little to hope for.

When government is weak or unhealthy, everyone suffers and that is what we are suffering from—the malaise of weak institutions and even weaker leadership. I struggle to identify the systemic changes that indicate things are moving in the right direction. Instead, there is the continuous din of accusatory statements about the displaced opposition and a high-pitched tone about a turnaround, which we are all looking for.

The world looks at the ease of doing business ranking as an indicator that a country is on a growth path, but when I see that in four years, we have slipped from 62 to 105 on the index, I have no reason to be happy. Some of the countries ahead of us include Jamaica, St Lucia, Rwanda and Kenya. One of the reasons that this indicator is important is that the easier it is to do business in a country, the more likely it is to attract new investment, which in turn propels growth.

Trinidad and Tobago is at a place where no band-aid can help. What we need is deep systemic change, which can be accomplished by putting to work a team of bright young minds who can take a solutions-oriented approach to at least one of our problems. We continue to suffer because there isn’t the political will to take such a bold move. Instead, we seem to think that advertising campaigns will trick our people into believing that the work has begun.

Photo: PNM supporters celebrate their 2007 General Elections victory.
(Copyright Pedro Rey/AFP 2015)

Annually, there are companies that stage rally-type meetings, engaging the minds and hearts of their employees, but these visioning sessions are supported by work, plans and key performance indicators (KPIs) so that that progress is measurable. Our country is stuck at the rally stage and no amount of boofing from a well-intentioned Aunti/Tantie President will change that.

Maybe at her weekly meeting with the prime minister, the president can demand that he identify one specific goal, supported by action plans and KPIs to prevent her from having to resort to this public boofing at the next opportunity. Meanwhile, thanks for the reality check, Auntie/Tantie.

Demming: Time to vote for newbie politicians; T&T leaders fail to get things done — Wired868

Like most of Trinidad and Tobago, I am not looking forward to the upcoming election (a.k.a. silly) season with the current offerings. The PNM and the UNC or its derivatives have ruled this country since independence and the problems of underdevelopment persist. 35 more words

Demming: Time to vote for newbie politicians; T&T leaders fail to get things done — Wired868

Rowley should set positive precedence, give us the 2020 Election Date …

The PNM Manifesto 2015 begins: “In summary, we in the PNM envision a society where integrity and morality in public life is of the highest priority and the Government serves the public good above all else, and where decisions are made and actions taken by the Government in the best interest of all concerned.”

That statement comes to mind as we embark on the journey towards general elections 2020. It also reminds me that the 2015 elections represented a significant departure from the conventions that we have developed as a country.

Photo: Placing a vote in the ballot box.

Except for the election years of 2000, 2001 and 2002, governments have either called elections early or within ‘three months after every dissolution of Parliament’ as outlined in our Constitution. This was the practice before the PP Administration of 2010.

The PP’s natural term in office was from 18 June 2010 to 17 June 2015. Former Prime Minister Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar chose to take the elections down to the wire and hold it on 7 September, with just two days to go for the expiration of the three-month window.

Except for circumstances of war, it is clear that the framers of our constitution intended for the life of parliament to be five years (see sections 67, 68 & 69, Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago). The unprecedented extension of the life of parliament—on grounds that have not been shared with the population—communicated the guiding beliefs of an administration that epitomised the negative values that gave us the nickname ‘Trickydadians’.

On one occasion, former Prime Minister ANR Robinson said: ‘… streams into rivers and rivers into seas’ as a way of cautioning us about how small acts of indiscretion can escalate. What the PP government did was not illegal, but it broke a significant precedent in the way we conduct our political business.

One of the reasons 51.68% of the electorate voted for the PNM on Monday 7 September 2015, was their belief in the promises of the manifesto. To live up to those promises, it is necessary for Dr Rowley to dissolve parliament at midnight on 6 September 2020 and announce the date for the general elections. Here is an opportunity for him to demonstrate his commitment to doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley fields questions from the media.
(Copyright AFP)

The time has come for us to standardise the date for general elections, which I am suggesting should be the fourth Monday in September. If this is done, it will prevent any future prime minister from taunting the public with the remark that the date was in his back pocket or simply extending her term in office for political expediency.

If we can establish the dates for Carnival forever, why can’t we establish the date for general elections with the same certainty?

I have three wishes for our country as we start this new decade: 1. that we treat each other with grace and dignity, 2. that our public officials conduct themselves with kindness instead of arrogance and 3. that we regularise the dates for general elections.

No ‘work-around’ when it comes to curbing crime

‘Discipline guarantees success’ has been a tried-and-true maxim, but no matter how disciplined you are, if your operating context is chaotic, you are unlikely to succeed.  At all levels, Trinidad and Tobago exhibits a lack of discipline, which is facilitated by the absence of enforcement of the rules.  From captain to cook, there is a woeful lack of discipline and an inclination to look for the ‘work-around’ or ‘link’.

The reality is that there is no ‘work-around’ when it comes to curbing crime.  While the daily headlines reflect our reality of a high murder rate and unrestrained borderline activities and robberies, law enforcement is absent for small crimes particularly traffic violations (other than speeding).

Photo: Police car lights.

Some citizens feel helpless on the roads where traffic violations are rampant and it is a case of survival of the bold and daring.  This is intensified by the ‘PH’ drivers and maxi-taxis who hustle on the shoulders, break traffic lights and speed limits and stop without warning as they see a potential dollar standing at the side of the road.

The six speed guns have had little impact on the chaotic driving because much of the chaos occurs under the speed limit.  Law and order has broken down in general with the roads being a clear indicator.  Other jurisdictions have demonstrated that strict enforcement of traffic rules results in the discovery of criminals both big and small, so this absence of vigilance escapes my logic.

There is a strong argument that the responsibility for discipline is in the homes, which is supported by several studies that conclude the lack of parental discipline is responsible for aggressive and anti-social behaviour in children.  Even when parental intervention is absent, it does not remove the responsibility from the state for creating a context that encourages compliance rather than rule-breaking or the ‘link-up’.

The state is ultimately responsible for creating efficient structures and systems that facilitate daily living.  For example, in 2010 it took three days to renew a passport; today it is more like three to six months. So there is now a higher temptation to ask: “Who do I know that can help?”

Another example of the state presiding over chaos and confusion is being played out before our eyes in the changeover of our ‘blue notes’—the $100 note.  If the state cannot get basic things right, how can you expect the average citizen to do better?

Most citizens intuitively understand their responsibility, but people do what is done and not what is said. Every time John and Sumintra Public observe incompetence or mismanagement by our leaders, it re-enforces in their minds that this is the standard.  There is no incentive to hold ourselves to a higher standard, particularly since there are not many examples of leaders operating at a higher standard.

The daily lack of graciousness exhibited by our leaders in parliament … the apparent largess exhibited by favoured contractors … the blatant use of cell phones by police officers while driving … the obvious preferential treatment received by the friends and families of those in power … the abuse of special bus route passes …  the list can go on and on and are all examples of some citizens being favoured.  These all send messages to the population that we do not have to hold ourselves to a higher ideal, we just have to know ‘the right people’ and everything will be fine.

Our society cannot thrive in this context. All criminal and antisocial behaviours must be managed either explicitly by consequence management or implicitly by peer pressure and/or moral suasion.

Nobel Laureate and former secretary of state in the Richard Nixon administration, Henry Kissinger, said: “The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been.”

Our next leader must be up to this task!

Four women on 5 member Board at Angostura!

In 10 years, Angostura Holdings Limited has had two women appointed to their board of directors: Vidia Persad-Doodnath was the first in 2009 and Ingrid Lashley the second in 2016. At the time of her appointment, Ingrid Lashley was the only woman out of eight board members, if you exclude the corporate secretary.

Barely two years later, the company has announced a 300% increase in board membership by women. Four of the five members of the board of directors at Angostura are women under the leadership of the sole male, Terrence Bharath.

Photo: Ingrid Lashley, Angostura Holdings Ltd director (via businessuiteonline.com)

Trinidad Guardian’s Joel Julien commented that: “Angostura Holdings Ltd has undergone a facelift in the last year, with four of its five members now being female.” This is unprecedented in the commercial sector, and if he is right that it is a facelift, then what has happened is cosmetic, unsustainable and a slap in the face of all those who are working for social justice and gender equality.

We recognise how difficult it is to move our society away from the entrenched systems of government in which men are seen—and behave—as if they know what is best and will let you know at the appropriate time. Changing this patriarchal approach requires transformational leadership. From their responses, it is clear many of our leaders do not understand how their own behaviours reflect this lack of understanding and reinforce the dominance of men.

Brand Angostura has become associated with brand Sexual Harassment and the simple inclusion of four women on the board of directors will not decouple this association. The decoupling will occur when there is evidence of the company’s commitment to policies and procedures that support a culture of gender equality. The decoupling will occur when there is the implementation of policies and procedures to prevent all forms of violence, including sexual violence, sexual harassment and sexual abuse.

This four-woman board of directors has a responsibility to ensure that Angostura takes the leadership role in ensuring that every woman and man in Angostura enjoys equal access to opportunities, while at the same time being protected from violence and abuse. They have an opportunity to demonstrate how gender equality can be operationalised in the manufacturing sector.

This is no easy task, especially since there is a lack of awareness that the demand for gender equality is not about numbers of women represented. Rather, it is about behaviour change, which only occurs when the systems and procedures support the outcomes.

The work to be done will involve understanding how entrenched behaviours allowed Angostura to have three botched attempts at investigating a claim of sexual harassment. It will be deep, painful and systemic. More importantly, this will not be explicitly included in the terms of reference of members of the board, but it will be the measurement criteria the society will use to judge not just the women on the board, but the entire board of directors.

It is an opportunity for these four women to demonstrate how gender equality can impact the bottom line in the manufacturing sector. If they take up this challenge of transformation while maintaining Angostura’s profitability, they would not have just served the company but they would have led the societal transformation that our country deserves.

Disrupt the status quo …

On an early morning run or walk through Port of Spain, you are greeted by homelessness, filth and a strong smell of human faeces. That’s not very different from some other developing countries, but after 60 years of dominance by one political party, our capital city is still in this sorry state.

Photo: Downtown Port of Spain, Trinidad.

Where is the public transportation system to easily get to any destination? Where are the clearly identified public facilities if you need a restroom? Where is the information kiosk to tell the wandering tourist about his or her options? These things just do not exist. Unfortunately, we can easily replace ‘Port of Spain’ with ‘San Fernando’, ‘Arima’, ‘Sangre Grande’, etc, and the questions will attract exactly the same response.

The issues of city transportation, the availability of public restrooms and information kiosks are local government issues, which are absent from the current discussion in the lead-up to the local government elections 2019 (LGE 2019). Maybe the current tone of LGE 2019 is because the parties understand that the results can be an indication of the likely results of the 2020 general election.

It is evident that our boroughs, towns and cities are slowly decaying, regardless of the dominance of reds/yellows/whatever. What is needed is a transformation of the mind to provide some hope to the millennials and, indeed, to the 60/70 per cent of the eligible voters who choose to stay away from voting in the local government elections.

Imagine if we were able to break the dominance of our regional corporations and provide opportunities for minority voices to be heard. It would start a trend of changing the way we do business and redound to the benefit of our towns and cities. Different voices in the chambers would ensure an improvement in the level of accountability.

It would demonstrate to us citizens that, in collaboration, we better serve the greater good and allow for a greater level of transparency. As a country, we continue to attract a failing grade in accountability, collaboration and transparency (ACT).

LGE 2019 provides an opportunity for Trinidad to remove the stranglehold that the reds and yellows have had on our country for the past 60 years. Most of us have had the experience of living in a space for so long that we no longer see the cracks in the paint. Similarly, the reds and the yellows have occupied the space of leadership for so long that they no longer see their own inefficiencies. LGE 2019 provides an opportunity for disruption.

December 2 reflects our moment of freedom; we must use it wisely to send a message of inclusion.