“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.” – Romans 8:28

Last week we discussed the topic “Camaraderie fuels Teamwork” and I received many written and verbal complimentary comments. One of my readers, who operates in a regional public sector setting, commented: “My concern about teamwork and achieving success is the environment to maintain sustainability of these efforts. In the public sector, policies and programmes are always subject to change”.

I empathise with his position because even though most of my professional career as a business consultant in a private sector governance environment, I have been “voluntarily” associated, for the most part, at the highest level with many statutory corporations and have been a change-engine consultant in many government and political institutions trying to effect change leading to sustainable economic growth.

This is not to say that in the private sector there is an idyllic bed of roses which constantly harmonizes with the ways of the Divine.

I am convinced that, in addition to teamwork, discipline must be addressed if we – in small Caribbean economies and beyond – are going to make a difference and contribute to sustainable economic growth. The Oxford dictionary defines discipline (the noun) as: “The practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behaviour, using punishment to correct disobedience”.

In his book “Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered”, British economist Dr. E.F. Schumacher stated that there is an optimal population size administrative unit, from a management perspective, of 250,000 to 300,000 people. Barbados has that size naturally. Larger population countries are best served by an amalgam of several optimal sized administrative units. Incidentally, the implication is that smaller population countries must amalgamate if they are to be optimally managed.

In an article by Ralph Butcher entitled “Understanding the benefits of segmented checklists”, he states that: “All pilots have been taught the importance of using written checklists, but a few ignore this flight safety resource. The FAA’s practical test standards clearly state that pilots must use appropriate written checklists, yet the accident record shows that some pilots don’t. Such actions can yield dire results.

“Pilots who believe in checklists usually use flow patterns and mental checklists to prepare an airplane for a specific task; they then back up those actions with the appropriate written checklist. If I see a pilot ignore the written checklist, I always ask why. The answer is usually related to aircraft familiarity, inconvenience, or workload. No matter the reason, failing to use the checklist is a mistake.

“Traditionally, written checklists are designed to be carried out from beginning to end all at once. Segmented checklists, however, are constructed so that specific segments are completed at appropriate times. This yields operational flexibility, making it more convenient to use the checklist. The before-takeoff and before-landing checklists adapt well to this concept”.

Another example of check lists (and this is one with which I was personally involved more than 30 years ago) is associated with the export of sweet peppers to Holland from Barbados. When we embarked on this project we had a motto “a different problem every week”.

We addressed these problems one-by-one and after some time a system evolved and ran smoothly but the check list included 60 items which had to go right every week. These activities ranged from production planning to receiving payment from Holland.

A sample of the discipline required is exemplified by the following:

(1) The practice of good corporate governance by the board of the company; (2) Planning the production to match the Dutch demand profile; (3) The farmers adhering to the package of production practices; (4) The pilot’s setting of the hold temperature at the right level to permit the sweet peppers from not turning into “soup”; (5) The negligence of transhipment personnel in the UK in leaving the container with the sweet peppers on the tarmac in freezing temperature during the winter; (6) No white out on ECO documents, otherwise the shipment could be rejected; (7) Packing produce in the hold of the aircraft in a way deserving of “fragile” cargo – and so on. To ignore one of these items is to put this project at risk.

Last Thursday night the international news headlines included that the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago had accepted the resignation of the embattled Sports Minister following the release of an audit into a controversial project under the minister’s portfolio. Was there a code of behaviour that was not obeyed? Was there a check list that was not followed? The matter is under investigation. Such actions can yield dire results to the image and economic growth of the country especially when the news announcement also alluded to the fact that 14 cabinet ministers out of 32 suffered a similar fate since the Government was elected in 2010.

Politicians, ministers, civil servants, labour unions, captains of business, NGOs and individuals all need check lists if they are to avoid these dire consequences. We need discipline to spur economic growth.

Let us get our check lists written and do our part in upholding discipline so that our lives unfold as they should.

Let us be patient and remember that a higher power is at work in our lives and in the lives of those we hold so dear.

Dr. Basil Springer GCM is Change-Engine Consultant, Caribbean Business Enterprise Trust Inc. – CBET. Columns are archived at: www.cbetmodel.org and www.nothingbeatsbusiness.com.