Here’s a thought. All of you had been mentally pumped up, the adrenaline racing and ready to give the inaugural presentation. Now everybody is trying not to fidget by concentrating on their phones.
Your new client comes in for the 9 am meeting an hour late and you have a 10.30 am with a longtime client who has been with you through thick and thin. Mind you, the managing director who has just rushed it with barely an apology heads a high profile company.
This is a big account that will cover your costs for at least two years. Your team broke their backs in trying to get this account and the competition had been fierce.
What do you do?
Knuckle down and eat your indignation while excusing yourself to call your 10.30am for a postponement or tell the flustered managing director you have to leave in 15 minutes?
One can be forgiven for thinking that time management in Uganda is frequently defined by mood rather anything to do with a clock or a chronometer. It is as if we tell ourselves, ‘I feel it is almost 11 and I better get a move on’.
We are so notoriously unpunctual (and it does not help that the Head of State is a leading culprit), that we have even coined the term, ‘Ugandan time’.
Hosts at numerous functions print out and distribute well thought out programmes, but somehow we end up with the refrain, ‘in the interest of time’ meaning the need to skip things.
Many of our television crews have carved out a special place for themselves in the way they saunter in like movie stars knowing the organizers would prefer not to start proceedings until their arrival. And yes, over the years journalists have also embraced Ugandan time with a vengeance irrespective of the fact that official invitations are usually sent out days in advance.
Yet time management is not a joke. Time is money. Pilots don’t want to leave you behind at the terminal, but if they miss their landing slot at the end of the flight, it means a huge added cost to the airline which the late comers cannot possibly cover.
The first thing many visitors from North America, Europe and Japan complain about after arrival in Uganda, is not the lake flies or mosquitoes or even the traffic jams, it’s our lack of punctuality. In some places like Germany, Switzerland and Japan people fix the accuracy of their watches according to the coming and goings of the trains.
Sometime between the early 1970s and today, the concept of keeping time in Uganda went into early retirement. Perhaps because of the long intervening years of fleeing bullets and what-not, there was no time to think about anything else except saving your life. However, that excuse is no longer applicable in this era of peace and security if Ugandans want to be competitive.
In Nairobi, there is old joke that you can always tell the difference between a Kenyan and Ugandan on the streets. The Kenyan is always in a hurry heading somewhere, while the Ugandan is practically at a standstill.
Punctuality is one of the most important but unwritten laws in business and the centerpiece of time management. Being late sends a wrong message and questions your professionalism, because it tells the other party, their time is less valuable than yours.
Now it’s time to go back to the earlier question.
In an ideal world, if you want the managing director to take you seriously then you have to put your foot down at the outset and set the tone of your future working relationships.
You tell him/her: “MD how possibly do you expect us to manage your account effectively if you cannot spare us your time?”
Then during the next 15 minutes you explain why you are the best and how respecting timelines has been a major contributing factor. After that, reschedule the presentation, express your regrets, but explain you have to honour your 10.30am meeting.
Yes, in an ideal world this would be the most appropriate stance, but in this economy, who are we kidding?