let’s all go on a national retreat these next two weeks

“Why can’t we take on one task and finish it? We are here just talking here, barking there and finishing nothing.”

That’s the ultimate Quote of the Year for me.

I bet you can’t guess who said it but let’s see what options could come to mind:

Your workmates at the office, on any given day? Very likely candidates, but not in this case. 

Your plumber, perhaps at an annual meeting of all the plumbers you have used in the last fifteen years? Very, very, very likely, but again not in this case.

Your carpenter, same as the plumbers above?

Continue guessing:

“Why can’t we take on one task and finish it? We are here just talking here, barking there and finishing nothing.”

According to The New Vision (my only source because, sadly, I was not present when it was said) these are the words of President Yoweri Museveni at the start of a Cabinet retreat this week.

The old Cabinet list

I read the paragraph five times and found my hope in the future of Uganda was bolstered. First of all, the fact that the Cabinet had gone on a strategic retreat, with a Professor of Management (a non-Cabinet member) and the head of the National Planning Authority, was exciting. This normally happens at large corporates whose success we see in their profitability, ubiquity and other matrices that are a result of efficiency.

Then to hear that their Chief Executive was addressing them with tough words so squarely and openly that the journalists in the room could relay it to us, the shareholders: fantastic! In fact, we don’t even hear such news from big-name corporates, even at Annual General Meetings; which means that our Cabinet is way ahead of them and will most likely be more efficient at delivering public services than telecoms and breweries are at supplying retail markets!

Management consultants always tell you stuff like, ‘Acknowledging a problem is the first step in solving it.’

And the fact that this was said by no less than the President of the entire country himself means that we ALL should sit up and take notice.

Now, normally the process here involves the top executives holding their strategic retreat and setting the ‘global’ goals, objectives and targets for the year, together with over-arching strategies to achieve them. Then, they return to their departments and hold departmental meetings and brainstormers to share the strategies and targets. These are cascaded downwards until even the lowest cadre staff are aligned towards the main objectives, and even contribute to the methods and tactics to be followed in achieving them.

The Cabinet retreat ended on Wednesday, so they will be cascading down their goals, objectives and targets until you and I are brought on board to deliver our bit for the country. Hopefully this will happen very soon so that in these two weeks ahead we ALL go on a retreat to assess what we’ve done in 2013 and what we are going to do in 2014 to make Uganda a success.

We certainly can’t afford to just go on holiday and make merry.

And mind you, this is serious and the government also seems to be serious about it. 

In fact, the very day that the President delivered the phrase above, the Prime Minister was quoted at an event saying, “The greatest problem we face in the Uganda public sector, especially the traditional public sector, is complacency. Our service delivery apparatus is largely outdated, yet we tend to do nothing about it. We wait to be ‘caught off guard’ rather than be pro-active.”

And this is true not just about the public sector – even the private sector is largely like this. I run a couple of small companies and find I face the very same problem.

As I told one of my disgruntled clients last week who was protesting that of all people I shouldn’t be inefficient, I can never be efficient provided anyone I work with is inefficient.

Because the whole is only as good as the sum of its parts, we can’t go on complaining about the government or our leaders and sit back complacently waiting for them to change for the better – we’re part of the system.

And so I say again, now that they’ve finished the first stage of their strategising, let’s follow in the footsteps of our leaders these next two weeks and on top of echoing the salutation Merry Christmas, say: ‘For God and My Country.’

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