We are all the Same, the Difference is in How we are Taught

Outsourcing to Bureaucracy

This statement was made during a talk I attended, and it got me thinking.

A British expat (let’s call him Dave) was tasked with building and leading a team of local employees on a very complex project in West Africa. There were over 100 employees who spoke a different language and did not have the level of expertise and skill he was used to working with.

The place was a pit.

There was rubbish lying around, and people wondering about with no intention, guidance or idea of what they should be doing. The uniforms the employees were wearing were soiled and unkempt. There were no company logos on the walls of the offices, no project information displayed on the walls, no project goals and objectives displayed, and no company values shown anywhere.

The reason Dave ended up there is that 2 or 3 people had tried and failed to build the team up and get the project going. The language and cultural barrier made it too hard and too difficult to get the local workforce up to a suitable standard to do the work. But Dave saw this as an opportunity, a challenge, an interesting problem to solve.

A few days after Dave arrived at the site, the solutions to this challenge were clear.

The first thing Dave did was tidy up the working conditions. New, branded uniforms were given to the employees to wear to work. The offices were tidied up, and the company’s logos and values were clearly displayed throughout the building.

Next, the project information was put up on the walls, outlining the desired outcomes of the project, including how each and every person had an important role to play in bringing the project to life.

Now, the employees could see why they were there and what they were working towards every morning they arrived at work. The improved working conditions made them feel proud to come to work. The company’s values were instilled in them, so they began to understand how they were expected to act and perform to ensure a mutual benefit was achieved for them and the company. Once the workspaces had been arranged suitably, Dave commenced training the employees.

Unlike the previous leaders, Dave believed that we, as humans, at a fundamental level, are all the same; it is what we have been taught and our individual experiences that determine our level of output and contribution in any given situation.

Instead of looking down on the employees, Dave saw them as equal and understood that the failure to execute this project successfully was not due to the incompetence of the employees; it was due to the inability of the leaders to pass on their knowledge and guide the employees in a manner that empowered them to contribute effectively.


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