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By Francis Wade

Tuesday, March 26, 2013.

The world, through its collective economic mouthpiece, the IMF, has spoken.

Its message to Jamaica: You are unproductive, and we refuse to help until you transform yourself.

It hurts our national pride to hear this reality. Our first reaction is to defend our virtual borders against this unwanted foreign incursion. But the weight of the evidence is plain, and it reflects our ineffective actions since Independence.

We don't want to think that we are incompetent, but our failure to grow our economy has roots in the failed ways in which we work with each other.

Recently, a handyman promised a friend of mine to start a job on a Thursday. When he didn't show up, my friend called him to reschedule, gently pointing out that he was unreliable. He apologised profusely and asked her to call him the following week, not only the night before the new appointment, but also at 6 a.m. that morning. She did, leaving voicemail messages. He failed to show up.

My friend wearily decided to find someone else, even though some would argue that he needed a second chance.

If you live and work in Jamaica, you have probably tolerated tardy handymen, and other tardy professionals, for years.

You have come to expect that certain other people are afflicted with permanent incompetence - they can't learn new tricks. Newsflash: the time is fast approaching when you simply won't be able to afford their behaviour.

In essence, the IMF and other friendly lenders have told us exactly this: You have been putting up with low productivity for too long. You cannot afford it any longer. We certainly are not willing to fund it further.

As you may realise, the tardy handyman who wastes your time is not an isolated individual. When we indulge him, we reflect the bligh we ourselves hope for when we too arrive late, forget appointments and miss deliverables. In those moments, the 'little favour' we get seems small and insignificant, but all this inefficiency adds up. And it kills our economy.

Instead of hoping for things to improve on their own, or that foreign investors will come in and save us from ourselves, we need to find micro-behaviours that will catalyse a different macroeconomic result.

Where to Start?

Clear, consistent, and quick feedback around productivity is a great place to start.

Twenty years ago, I hired a life coach whose contract warned that if I ever arrived late for an appointment, her hourly rate would double from that point on. If I was late again, it would triple. After three late arrivals, she promised to fire me ... as her customer.

The result? In my 12 years of working with her, I was never late. Not once. The contract she sent me to sign with its surprise addition, helped transform my professional life forever.

It was a clear demonstration of her commitment to high standards and of what she would not tolerate.

As professionals, we need to look for teachable moments like these from which we can carve out transformations, and we should not be overwhelmed by debt-to-GDP ratios.

By becoming experts in things we can't directly influence, we waste our time. We need to busy ourselves, not by worrying about the exchange rate, but by lifting ourselves as well as our associates to the high standards that the world has told us we lack.

We need to start with a mirror - a steady picture of our own behaviour. My life coach painted that picture very clearly, and that made it easier to for me become a better person. Surely we can provide that for each other?

I'm not suggesting that it's easy. In day-to-day life, we shy away from confrontation until the stakes rise dangerously high. We believe that we need to have all the answers and that if we don't, we should just shut up. But in fact, we don't need to have all the answers.

We just need the courage to hold up a steady mirror, unimpeded by our personal judgement. When we focus on showing people their behaviours and their consequences, they will change the way they manage themselves. It's just that effective.

Now, the IMF has held a mirror up to our nation. Its picture is clear and steady, but the mirror is a tool: we must act to transform what we see into daily, individual actions that can change everything.

Francis Wade is president of Framework Consulting and author of 'Bills Im-Perfect Time Management Adventure'. He can be reached at columns@fwconsulting.com

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