Fiji Time, it’s no laughing matter

Preserving the traditional cultures of Fiji is seen as of short and long term benefit to the prosperity of Fiji. Few would argue the alternate case. However, one tradition that evokes laughter whenever mentioned to a visitor to these shores and needs to be changed at least in business is the notion of ‘Fiji Time’.

Laughter usually accompanies the late arrival at a meeting or the late return from lunch or any other break at a conference. However the implications of the cultural norms which lie behind Fiji Time are too serious to be a laughing matter.

Across all cultures and races and in both public and private enterprises there is a desire to achieve a sustainable balance between the traditions which make Fiji unique and modernity which provides prosperity. There is a desire to raise living standards across the nation to an extent where poverty is more of an economic definition of relative income than a crushing reality.

Programmes in the private sector independent of or at times supported by the public sector and programmes in the public sector itself seek to encourage investment. Not only in big ticket items in tourism, transport, power generation, sugar and garments but also in micro investment at village and small farm level.

Investments in agriculture, essential oils, soap manufacturing, aquaculture and traditional handicrafts but to name a few are being encouraged at the micro investment level.

The markets for the products for these investments are either export markets, mainly visiting tourists, Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Europe and Japan or local markets competing with imports from the same countries. Either way, Fiji has to compete in markets which are increasingly devoid of subsidies and increasingly fluid in terms of channels to market.

The real problem with Fiji Time is not that people are late for meetings. It is that people are poor project managers; they miss deadlines, quality standards and quantity standards. Opportunities have existed for Fiji farmers to replace imported fruit and vegetables at the food tables of the ever increasing range of resorts. What is it that often turns the hoteliers away? Lack of reliable supply in terms of quantity, quality and timing of delivery stops hoteliers from using fruit and vegetables that will grow in Fiji’s soil and climate.

The cultural norm which lies behind Fiji Time is not one that can be changed overnight. Work undertaken by Geert Hoefstede analysing the cultural norms of IBM employees in sixty five countries revealed that the cultural norms for different countries are deep seated.

My own experience and no doubt the experience of many of the readers of this news paper is that it is impossible to change the cultural norms. The answer instead, is to work with the cultural norms.

Fiji culture tends to have low time consciousness, low stress and few rules. Decisions are made based on consensus, with emphasis being placed on solidarity and quality of work-life. One’s identity is based on one’s social network and work relationships are seen in moral terms like a family link with harmony being maintained and confrontation avoided. Subordinates expect to be told what to do and bosses are expected to be benevolent autocrats.

It is within that context that Fiji Time must be addressed, not just at the late to the meeting level, but at the level which is important for the nation’s prosperity. The level that guarantees deadlines will be met or at least that customer’s expectations will be managed. The level that ensures quality will be maintained and the quoted quantities will be delivered.

The way that I know can improve outcomes described above, is to work within the cultural norms. Be a benevolent dictator to some people. Use consensus and the moral attachment to work to give people a sense of pride and obligation to the others in the ?work? family in making and meeting commitments or managing people’s expectations. Use indirect communication techniques to get your message across.

Train people in project management. I have a great project manager on our team. I hate him; he always makes me meet my deadlines and beats me up when I try to change scope. That is why he is a great project manager. Reward those teams that ‘get it’. If you want to reward individuals, be prepared to suffer the egalitarian backlash, not for yourself, but for the person being rewarded. If both you and the individual are strong enough, then reward the individual.

There is no silver bullet to improve the delivery of promised outcomes. Only hard work, consistency and persistence will make change happen. Without it, tourists and foreign export markets will not see the humour in Fiji Time, but foreign importers will.

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