Management Lessons from Everyday Life

Management Lessons from Everyday Life

It has been a while since I got time to make an entry into my blog. But something I noticed/picked in an everyday mundane conversation at home just fueled me to write. I overheard a conversation between our Gardener/electrician/plumber and Dalitso’s nanny who also doubles up as the chef which was essentially the stuff for boardrooms. If you thought management/leadership was only for you white collar types- sorry you are very mistaken. Let me set the scene first.

Today is chicken slaughtering day at our home. Ever since we moved from Harare we have been regrettably unable to continue with horticulture because of water issues and also the fact that our current home is on a smaller piece of land compared to the previous one. So I thought seeing that we have an unused building let’s do chickens. We have been gradually increasing our stock, started off with 50 and now every 3 weeks we slaughter at least 60 for the market and also our own consumption. We also give away quite a bit.

Anyways into the management question of the day. As already mentioned we moved away from horticulture to chickens because of water and land challenges- that was my decision after consulting with my very entrepreneurial wife. That decision could be equated to what happens in business strategy- diversification or just closing down shop to open another one. I am glad to say ever since that day Ba Simba (our gardener) has singlehandedly and successfully run with this enterprise as the manager, the operations person and also at times as the salesperson. Today he had to make an important management decision either to slaughter the chickens or postpone and buy chicken feed for today. A bit of a Context– municipality water ran out at exactly 8:15am (this is usual by the way) before slaughtering could begin and our 5 000l storage tank is currently sitting with less than 500liters- we have been unable to increase the volume because when the water is available it’s a mere trickle and it does not have sufficient pressure to move up into the tank.

Dalitso’s nanny Amai Tino raised the issue that he can’t slaughter on such a day when we have no water- understandably she lives with us and is aware of the discomfort that is caused by a lack of running water in the house. To compound matters for Ba Simba he also needs hot water for plucking the feathers (everything is still being done manually here) and being a Wednesday we will not be having electricity for long (the story of Zimbabwe and may I add Africa as well) and the generator is mostly for my computer, internet and also to warm Dalitso’s food. So I was very curious as to how the discussion (or call it bargaining if you like) will end. By the way if he goes ahead with slaughtering he will also need to continuously make requests for hot water which can only be heated in the kitchen that is run by you know who.

First some management issues:

Scarcity- we all have to deal with resource allocation and in many instances they are scarce and there are genuine competing needs for the resource.

Dialogue/Bargaining– we have to ensure that competing interests have sufficient room to engage and make trade-offs. Where possible allow them to, on their own, establish their own solutions

Flexibility- we should not keep stock with tight deadlines-create flexibility where possible to allow for over consumption

Planning– our preparations should include the unforeseen happening on the day. Create different scenarios

After realizing Ba Simba’s frustration I went over to have a chat with him and in our discussions I discovered the following:

(i) He has customers who will prefer to buy live chickens- I asked him why he does not offer even other customers the opportunity to buy a live chicken. I might as well add that this is a BIG Trade-off that I am are making here- we normally keep the chicken legs, head and insides for our staff to use as relish for lunch and also lately my mother has started a business of selling these in the low income areas. So this is a big trade-off for me and Ba Simba. Whilst it makes sense from a production perspective it may affect the morale of staff and not to mention my relationship with my mother.

LESSON- Management decisions should not necessarily focus on optimizing production (read profit) but also consider the soft issues to do with morale at the work-place

(ii) We can stagger the slaughtering-today we will prioritize customers that have emphasized that they need live chickens and only slaughter enough to ensure that we have enough feed for the remaining chickens

LESSON- There is always another way.

(iii) My suggestion was for him to start the day earlier tomorrow- he could come to work at 6am and take advantage of municipality water- BUT he just reminded me that he has another job as a security guard in the evening and only knocks off at 6am. He needs two hours of sleep before he can come to our place.

LESSON- pay your staff an adequate salary that will allow them to only focus on your organization.

(iv) Long term solutions- seeing that I couldn’t resolve the one above I quickly suggested that we look for a long term solution. I am glad that Ba Simba is already thinking of a long term solution. We should purchase (yes another expenditure) an electric pump that we can use to create sufficient pressure for water to be pumped into the tank. According to him municipality is always available from 4am until around 8am and our challenge has been that our water tank is too high and thus water is not moving into the tank. Secondly we should create capacity for him to pluck the chickens without waiting on those who oversee the kitchen- more expenditure!

 Lessons for all of us

My initial response was lets close this venture, it’s already caused a lot of headaches and poor Ba Simba has to feed these chickens even during the weekends. Besides all I have done is pump precious bucks into this venture and am yet to see a return. But upon further reflection I have realised why it’s necessary to have this venture continue for many reasons:

  1. welcome distractionfrom my day job- that alone should suffice. It allows me to have a meaningful conversation with Ba Simba. I don’t do bars or other social events here in Chinhoyi so Ba Simba has become a friend and at least we can talk about chickens! Whenever I am having a mental block all I have to do is join him in whatever he is doing. Every decision maker needs a distraction (and fellow writers too may I add)!
  2. Management– the lessons are legion. Everyday I learn something new about chickens and people skills/management.

2.1 In our first batch more than 15 chickens died before reaching the age of 6 weeks- I could have thrown in the towel but I have always been a believer in what Aaliyah turned into song ‘…at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself and try again’. So everything in life, (management included and also running a venture) may not turn out the right way on the first attempt but you keep on trying. The success is in repeating so I suggest you pay the fees my friend and be prepared to repeat until you get it right.

2.2 We (me and Ba Simba) have learnt the importance of record keeping– this may look unimportant but you will be surprised by the number of SMEs that cannot keep records. We both know that we are not yet profitable- thanks to the deep freezer ( a joke that we make that we could have kept the chickens in my wife’s kitchen instead of buying a freezer and we would be profitable by now).

2.3 Listening skills– this has been one of the most humbling lessons I have had to learn. Initially I would bully poor Ba Simba as the know it all boss until he reminded me one day that I had made a decision on a matter before he had made his input and truth be told he is an expert in this more than I am. So now I defer to his knowledge and trust him when he makes a recommendation (although half the time I am praying that he does not recommend that we make another purchase!)

  1. Forget about 1 above for a moment- it has a lot to do with my current TrustAfrica job.

3.1 I see our ICBE program in practice here. Our focus is on the small and medium scale entrepreneurs. The majority of those who raise chickens for a living are (micro-small business enterprises) SMEs and they have to deal with the problems of electricity and water. Many of our commissioned research has shown how reliable and affordable electricity can help stabilize the operations of SMEs. I am experiencing how electricity and water shortages can negatively affect operations.

3.2 In setting the scene I did not mention how the supplier value chains for chickens and chicken feeds are literally controlled by not more than 3 companies in Zimbabwe whilst I suspect that in Chinhoyi and surrounding areas we have more than 5 000 small scale chicken growers- I should start a movement to ensure that input prices are low and also ensure that fellow chicken growers (the more serious ones) have improved access to markets- especially the supermarket chains- our Ag. Advocacy program.

3.3 I am sure my colleague running the Africa Philanthropy program would be interested in the new forms of giving that we are trying to introduce. My mum receives what others either throw away or consume on their own and she sells within her neighbourhood- hopefully at a reasonable price. We still have to devise ways of empowering Ba Simba beyond his salary.

My friends I hope you learnt something out of what I call the mundane. Go ahead and change the world for all of us.