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Of wasted executive hours & failed promises in Sikaman – Nana Awere Damoah

Sometime in 2010, 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 6.30 p.m. I spent the morning with my two sons visiting some friends and family and got back home around 2.00 p.m. At 3.00 p.m., 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 5.30 p.m. for the programme, 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 p.m. 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 programme just before 7 p.m. The Vice-President arrived soon after I did.

A few minutes after 7 p.m. one of the masters-of-ceremonies (MC) came on stage and called the meeting to order. Then, he 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 fervor 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 8.30 p.m., 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 programme. I wondered why we couldn’t do it in two hours, really. 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 6.30 p.m. when it was clear that the actual event would begin at 8.30 p.m.? Was lateness anticipated therefore setting extra two clear hours to accommodate lateness? Was it just to get us there to eat and wait for the actual start time?

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.

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. Now, that is where the indiscipline starts. But let’s not develop this bad habit, let’s not.
If we will be taken serious as a nation and a people, we need to urgently tackle the canker of lateness. We have to learn to spend less time at functions. A four-hour church service could easily be done within two hours if we cut off the lengthy notices and highlight just the salient points during announcements. Any other detail could be checked out from the notice board. 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. There was enough time to have tea at the end of service! All in two hours! 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 programmes, especially our musical concerts, are the worst offenders.

For me, two character traits I will always consider sterling: a person who keeps to time and one who 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 that has been with me for a long time: “A good manager is one who does what he says he will do.”

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

Quite recently, 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 to move 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.

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 pick up a call, promise to get back respond later because they are engaged, in a meeting or another activity, and never honour their word. 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, 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 goal. Any time we fail to deliver on such a promise, we dent our integrity, we waste time, we fail our team and company.

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.

By: Nana Awere Damoah
Author, I Speak of Ghana

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