Can Africa Save Itself from Poor Time Management?
Many of the problems that Africa faces can be linked to poor time management. It almost seems like poor time management has become a badge of honor for some Black people,especially for Africans. Needless to say, this issue affects our African communities negatively, and must be addressed if Africa is to move forward and make significant progress.
African Time and Color People Time
In the American Black communities, you may hear people refer to “Color People Time” (CPT). In Africa, reference is made to “African time”. While people often use these terms jokingly, the mentality that time is not important has become deeply rooted in the psyche of some Black people. “Color People Time” or“African time” alludes to the actual time plusan additionalfew minutes, or perhaps hours. As defined by the Urban Dictionary, African time “is when one says they will arrive at a certain time, but arrive much later”. In reality,the concept goes well beyond arrival time to all aspects oflifesuch as commencement time, departure time, due time, etc. If a function is scheduled to start at 8am in the United States, Africans will think nothing ofshowing up at 10am .
While this behaviour is frowned upon among other ethnicities in America, many Africans take for granted that they can show up whenever they feel like showing up, as long as they get there. This is the type of mentality that is holding many Africans back. While other ethnicities are trying to get things done right and on time, we are busy justifying arriving late at meetings and missing important deadlines.
Time is Money
Why is it that the vast majority of Africans don’t make the connection between wasting time and throwing away money needlessly? Did most Africans not receive the memo that “time is money”?
Just recently, I was expecting a report from an associate who lives in South Africa. This report was due for submission on Thursday, March 30th. However, that day came and went withoutreceiving the report or an update on the status. I decided to follow up with him on Friday, the 31st, only to be disappointed again by no response. It was not until the 1st of April that I received the report that should have been submitted two days earlier.
To add insult to injury, the associate proceeded to explain that the delay in submission was due to his having had a server issue.Yet I was hearing about this server issue two days after the deadline! To him, missing the deadline was not a big deal as long he could provide a valid reason or, should I say,alibi?
The Root Cause and Some Solutions
It is not that Africans are lazy. On the contrary, they are one of the hardest working people. I do believe that the root cause of our disregard for time is somehow related to our culture and our anthropological roots. In Africa, time is viewed as an infinite resource which is not valued as highly as it is by Westerners. Be that as it may, Westerners also waste countless productive hours engaging on social media, playing around with electronics, and surfing the net. Poor time management cost money and resources for every company. But that’s another post altogether.
I believe that one way to address this time management issue is through performance-based compensation. Africans would then be paid based on their output, rather than based upon a flat rate that doesn’t account for timeliness. Using the concept of“sprints” in Agile Methodology, workers would be paid based upon the output of individual sprints(pre-established timeframe and work expectations).
Here are additional steps which can be taken to address this time management issue especially within the African business community.
- Stop accommodating and accepting tardiness as a way of life. If a party is scheduled for 6 PM , start at 6 PM. Those who come late will know to arrive on time next time. It is by setting new expectations that we can change our behaviours.
- Establish SMART medium (3 – 6 months) goals.
- Have time bound short-term deliverables(e.g., Give due dates for weekly or monthly results).
- Offer rewards and incentives based on actual timely and quality results.
- Teach workers how to focus on one task at a time using the lean agile concept of WIP (Work In Progress)Limit.
- Create a result focused work environment fostering measureable output for specific time periods.
“It’s not the hours you put in your work that counts, it’s the work you put in the hours” – Sam Ewig
If we apply these principles to business and everyday life in Africa, we will make progress towards better time management within the African community. Since poor time management appears to be a cultural shortcoming, it will take time to change the culture. However, every step toward better time management is a step in the right direction, and moves us further along in realizing greater levels of success in the African communities.