Saturday, August 21, 2010


Uganda’s business community is facing serious existential issues with the opening up the East African common market.

When the common market is in full flow people, goods and services will traverse the region without barriers. At a very basic level it means – in terms of goods and services, that goods that of better quality and are better value for money will compete with the best and worst, of what we have to offer.

Consumers do not have nationalistic considerations in their spending habits, we will buy what has shown to be good value in the past regardless of where it comes from.

First let’s make a distinction between patriots and nationalists. Both have a great love of their countries the difference is, that a nationalist thinks his country is better than all others while a patriot wants the best for his/her country.

So consumers may be patriots but they are not nationalistic – believing that their countries make the best products in the world, unless of course where that is true.

And hence Uganda Inc’s dilemma. It is already happening with Kenyan commodities making a big push in our market and vying more than favourably for shelf space with our very own. The knee jerk reaction is to say, “Shut them out while we develop capacity to compete on even footing.”

But that time is past. The competition is here and it is not just beating on the door, it has knocked the door down and now heading for pride of place at the head of the table.

Faced with this challenge Ugandan business has to be come more efficient.

Last week world reknown speaker Larry Hochman was in town at the invitation of the British Council to talk to businessmen and leaders about success in their respective enterprises.

The Success of any enterprise Hochman says, will depend on how central customer service, courageous leadership and talent management to the management’s thinking.

The customer is king is now cliché, but like all cliches they tend to get only lip service.

“Customer relations is the single most important ingredient for success, without putting the customer at the heart of every enterprise it is hard to be successful,” he said.

This linked invariably with leadership, which is “Courageous to take the actions to make any enterprise ever more responsive to its clients”

Hochman questioned the relevance of customer relations departments, as if customer care is the responsibility of one department and not the whole enterprise.

“We are in the information age, what that means that it gives people choice, power and control, the necessity to keep promises to the customers will be clear to leaders because the customer will punish them for talk and no action and they can spread the word,” he said.

His opinion on talent management would sound even more radical for our business leaders, “Your goal: To be an attractor of talent. All the best people should be knocking at your door and if they are not you should wonder.”

And understandably so. The leader can have the best vision centered around obsessive customer relations up and down the enterprise, “But if you don’t have the people to deliver the vision it does not matter.”

We treat our human resource like they are dispensable but a useful measure of the happiness of our customers can be established by judging the happiness of our workers, because our staff can only look out for the clients interests if theirs are being catered for adequately. And here he was not talking about pay but the whole environment in which our workers operate in.

If our business can work on this they might have a fighting chance, especially since the focus on these three things will ensure that our businesses can develop a unique value proposition.

“Customer relationships are the unique value your business will develop, it takes days, weeks, years to building relationships based on trust, relationships which cannot be replicated by anybody … of course it does no t take as long to jeopardize,” Hochman said.

Our businessmen will need to step up their games if they are not only to survive but to thrive in an increasingly hostile environment.

They will have to look beyond physical infrastructure – buildings, plant and machinery, to spur them on to success, but to the “soft-soft” issues of customer relations, leadership and talent management.

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