A protocol for managing change will be needed for Barbados to truly transform itself, some business leaders have proposed, with a suggestion that the country was right back where it was on the eve of political independence in 1966.
During a public forum for Accountants Week at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre on Tuesday night, private sector officials called for a change in mindset among employers, a change in the education system and an improvement in the doing business climate as part of the transformation the island needed.
In her contribution to the panel discussion, The Economic Transformation of Barbados: A Business Perspective, hosted by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Barbados (ICAB), the president of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Trisha Tannis said as the transformation of the Barbados economy continued there was an urgent need to improve the ease of doing business.
Tannis said: “Change management is critical…We do need a proper change management protocol if we are to go forward.
“Change management requires a proper roadmap of what we are trying to transform, therefore we have to articulate what that vision is,” adding that “we cannot feed the new economy if we do not have the competencies to do so”.
She continued: “I think we are right back where we were in 1965 quite frankly, where we do need some sort of radical independent liberation of our minds this time.”
As much as the island enjoyed the fruits of the last 52 years, these “will not serve us for the next 52 years”, declared the chamber of commerce leader.
Chairman of the Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA) Edward Clarke said while some aspects of transformation had started to take place, the process was “huge”, requiring a lot more change at the individual, organizational and national levels.
He said while Government had done well to cut spending, slash the island’s debt-to-Gross-Domestic-Product ratio and control wastage due to “management from the top down”, the transformation of people was now critical.
Clarke said: “To me, that is the biggest challenge that Barbados, whether it is business, private sector or the public sector, is going to face going forward, managing that change.
“If we really want to achieve the targets set under the Barbados Economic Recovery and Transformation programme we have to work together. That is important.”
The BPSA head said that critical to the transformation process was also “a change in the way we educate our people in Barbados”, adding that children should be taught from the primary school level “not to become followers but doers”.
The employer also called for Barbadians to improve their work ethic, declaring that there was a perception among investors and prospective investors that the workforce generally had “the wrong work attitude”.
He said: “Once you have that negative perception it is difficult to overcome.
“It is not something you can change overnight but it is something you can change.
“We have to make sure we bring the right people in these jobs, well-educated and well-trained with the right skill sets, along with that right attitude to push Barbados truly into the 21st century.”
He said for a change in the doing business climate there was a need for modified Government policies, adding that there was a need for greater support from labour unions.
Clarke said: “I believe that the local labour leaders are instrumental in assisting the private sector and Government in pushing and transforming this economy, changing the way employees see how they work whether it is in the public service or private sector.”
But another employer, John Bayne, owner of Barbados Rum Cakes, said there was a need for employees across the island to feel more a part of the businesses they worked for in order for a change in work ethic and for true transformation to take place across sectors.
He said: “We need to stop talking about what need to happen and start doing things to make the difference, something tangible that the average person can see.
“The work ethic is not the best but there are pockets of people who want to make the difference and people who can make a difference but they need to be allowed to do so.
“They need to be listened to and just allowed to make mistakes really, to come out and make a mistake. I think people feel kind of left out.”
The Government’s senior economic advisor Kevin Greenidge said while there had been several changes over the last 17 months he agreed that some things needed further improvements. But he insisted that some needed more time than others.
The Barbados-born IMF senior economist pointed to positive changes in the Government’s fiscal position, lowering of the debt and beefing up of the foreign exchange reserves. He added that with newly-found fiscal space, Government was now in a position to focus on developing its infrastructure and continue the island’s transformation.
Greenidge gave the assurance that things were being done to transform the doing business climate in Barbados including changes at the Bridgetown Port, to which there was an outburst of laughter from the audience – an apparent reference to recent huge delays in shipping over the introduction of a new computerised Customs clearance system.
He said the transformation process also called for every worker to “deconstruct what they do and reconstruct it to make it better”.
Greenidge also called for greater flexibility in work time, saying this was a part of the solution for the island’s transformation. He suggested that this could happen through the Social Partnership.