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Saturday, February 5, 2011

Milking the Opportunity

I worked for less than six months at the factory. It was a short spell that brought me down to earth with a loud thud. The reality check crushed the grand plans I had for my job and me. God knew I needed that short tour of duty. It was the shortest time I had ever held a job. On that brief outing, I got to know more about wealth, success and fulfillment than I had ever known before.

At this famous factory, I met a man who had been on the same job at the plant for 17 years! I was a proud shiny brand new member of staff working my way up to be a top manager. This human being, the messenger, did not strike me as much of a threat - least of all as a threat to my career.  At most, I thought he was just a stepping-stone on the way up to my success.

By and by, I came to find out that this minor being lived in his own house 50 miles away. He also owned three 40-seater buses and, of course, a piece of land on which he and his wife kept some dairy cows.  I was shocked beyond words. In my wisdom, this man had a job that led nowhere. He could not possibly hope to amount to much in life. I felt so badly hurt by his success that I suspected he had somehow cheated to get all the wealth he had. I made up my mind to find out the truth.

In the meantime, I owned a new cute reconditioned car that I paid for with a loan from the company. This particular car had a huge appetite for petrol. I also lived in a rented house in an upper class area of town. Moreover, I owned a hi-tech TV that I got with the help of a bank overdraft. I kept my food in a hired fridge and was about to get some more credit to complete furnishing my house.

Just to help you understand why I was so badly hurt; this fellow’s gross pay was equal to what I paid in tax. Yet, he had achieved during his career what I hoped to achieve at the end of mine. I had to meet this fellow to restore my sanity. I also, as a matter of course, needed to confirm that he was not a threat to my career. I got hold of him one day and asked him rather cheekily;

 …What are you doing here? Judging from what I hear, you do not need this job. What are you doing here? His answer was simply classic. It is written here for all workers around the world to see and learn.

“Young man all those things out there house, buses, farms and all were born out of this job. And, as we speak right now, I have not milked all the opportunities this job provides me. If they (management) ask me to go, I will go happily. But before they ask me to do so, I am going to milk as much from this job as I can…”

The words cut through my heart like a hot razor blade - deep, ruthless and convicting. No - this fellow was not a threat to my career. I - was a threat to my own career! I may not have worked for 17 years, but I had already been employed for more than half of that time.
At the rate at which I was piling up debt, I would never own anything at all.  All the while, I thought my career was moving nicely up the job ranks. Yet this guy was happy with the success he achieved without leaving the messenger class.

Instead of milking the opportunity, I was busy drinking the milk. I was prospering in a manner that threatened my own future. My success was suffering at the expense of my career.

Do you know what is so unfair about all this? It is the fact that the “small guys” are always better at milking than the “big guys”. In fact, I doubt whether any of the senior officers know how to milk. If a cow stood in front of one of them, they may not know what it is. How do we become so blind to opportunity? If I would have it, this fellow was indeed a stepping-stone to my success.

Excerpt from the book How To Prosper In Employment by Allan Bukusi

Friday, February 4, 2011


(Based on the book My First Job ISBN 9966-809-07-04, by Allan Bukusi)

Some people may wonder why I chose such a large title for a short presentation. I make no apologies. The length of this speech may be short but its impact, if implemented, will transform employees into wealth creating agents and empower nations to become prosperous. However, the title of this presentation does raise important questions that need answers. What do I mean by new vision? Was there ever an old vision? Do employees need a vision for employment? Why are we talking about generations? And, why do we need to talk about Africa?

In 1964, there was no university in Kenya. The population was 9 million with the government as the largest employer. Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya, cast a vision for employees during his independence day speech by declaring;
…Therefore, my brothers, we have to work hard and be faithful, to make our independence mean all that we want and hope. If we do nothing but sleep, there will be many difficulties. All types of work must be done...
At the time, employers desperately needed skilled people to drive production. Hard workers were valued. anyone with a basic education was guaranteed employment. This belief became so strong that a popular song was written, and is still aired in the media today... Someni Vijana… mtapata kazi nzuri sana!..Employment was an end in itself. Today, many people still believe that the purpose of education is to get a job.  Employers were so terrified of loosing staff; they promised permanent jobs and planned 20-year career paths.

The vision of the first generation was social security.  They were taken by surprise when they were asked to retire between 1994-2000. Many of them were not ready to go. They had to be persuaded to go with huge bonus payments and pre-retirement training. Many of those employees had served a single employer for over 20 years and had no clue how to survive without a job. I took part in preparing and delivering programs to help staff retire. However, those were the most miserable programs I have ever been part of. It was heartbreaking to hear their miserable stories...

...I have worked for this company for 25 years and now they are asking me to go home. I have no house at home and do not have any savings. The retirement bonus is not enough to build a house and my children are still in school…what am I to do?

…I have worked for this company for 27 years. I have not completed my mortgage payments. My pension will not be enough to sustain me and my family; I do not know what I am going to do…

…I have worked here for 17 years my husband retired 3 years ago. Now he just sits at home. He tried to start a small business, but he did not have the energy to run it. The business finally collapsed and he now depends on me. Now whom will I depend on?

I sympathised with every one of those tales. Then I became alarmed when I imagined the scale of poverty that would spread across the nation, and the misery it would bring to millions of dependents in the country. This picture disturbed me and challenged me to find out where the real problem was.

 “if you have been employed for 20 years, and have earned 240 paychecks from a faithful employer. If you have no saving at the end of 20 years, whose fault is that? What did you do with the money? Did you not have a plan to prosper during those years? How could you consume everything! How can you remain in employment so long and come out with nothing?
But, before we call those employees irresponsible, let me ask you to reflect on your own situation. How much of your salary did you save last month (zero) how much money did you save the month before that (zero). Okay now let’s go forward. On account of your past, what is the likelihood that you will save money this month (zero)? At this rate, how much money will you have saved by the end of the year (zero). How much money will you have saved in 20 years (zero)? If this is true of you, there is no difference between you and those retirees! What I am saying is that it is just as easy for you to arrive at the end of your employment with nothing if you do not have a vision!

…At the African Union Extraordinary Summit on Employment and Poverty Alleviation in Africa (Ouagadougou, September 2004), the participating Heads of State and Government adopted a Declaration, a Plan of Action and a Follow-up Mechanism that placed Employment and Decent Work at the centre of Africa’s development. African Employment Trends, April 2007 (ILO)
Forty years after independence the presidents of Africa realized that though employment was a key to a nations prosperity, it had not yielded the expected returns. Employment had not alleviated poverty. They recognized that a crisis was in the making and that if not addressed would lead to multiplied poverty. How to prosper in employment is not a local challenge; it is a global need!

Today, there are at least 20 public and private colleges and universities pouring out thousands of graduates every year. There are not enough jobs for all of them. Employers pick and choose competent staff. In the past employers paid for productivity, today employers pay for performance. There are no permanent jobs, no promises of lifetime careers; only short-term contracts. Career development is a personal responsibility. Today skills are good to have, but only SMART employees survive.  A CHANGED ENVIRONMENT INSPIRES A NEW VISION – some people are not aware that things have changed.

There is an emerging trend among next generation employees whose vision is driven by four “C”s; Cars, Cash (loans), Cell phone and fashionable Clothes.  This culture of consumerism leaves employees with a negative net worth every time they buy something. But, you ask; if we don’t borrow, how will we survive? Basic economics tells me that a car is not an asset and neither is a rented house. It also explains to me that clothes expire the minute you perspire on them.  The standard SMS rate from one phone to another is a standard 1 shilling. No phone, however expensive, is able to send flowers along with the SMS. Pursuing these things adds no value to your Nett Worth. If you insist on spending your money in this way, you will not prosper on the job.

Your vision should be your own prosperity. TD Jakes says; “prosperity is built upon progress and progress is measured from the point at which we started”. This liberating definition of prosperity means that we don’t all start at the same place and neither are we in competition with one another. It means that the rate of progress of a messenger can be faster than that of an executive director. All we have to do is ensure that our net worth keeps growing at every point in our career.  Prosperity is not how much you earn, but how you much wealth you create with what you earn. The Bible has a great deal to say about wealth, poverty, economics and prosperity. Deuteronomy tells us that; “… you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth”. That means that prosperity and wealth creation are in the power of God. It also explains the origin, extent and results of successful employment. .

There are five principles that will lead to prosperity on your career.
·         Many employees start work with no clue as to what they want from their jobs. Most people just work from paycheck to paycheck. If the paycheck is late, the rent will be paid late and so will all the bills and we may also be late to work. This is not visionary thinking. Those who understand the purpose of employment, plan and work progressively to achieve prosperity.
·         To keep a job we need to create wealth for the employer first and then for ourselves. This is not a popular statement. However, we must produce value if we are to be paid and perform exceptionally well if we expect to be rewarded. Work is the process of creating wealth.
·         Put in place important pillars to aid your prosperity. Some of these are owning a home, a good spouse and investments that multiply your income. Many employees do not establish these pillars until very late. Living in a rented house in a slum or living in a rented house in an upmarket estate adds no value to your net worth. Neither is it proof of your prosperity.
·         Nobody would think of running a successful business without a strategic plan. Yet many careers and families are run on a “as where is” basis. A strategic plan helps you manage income and prioritize projects that lead to prosperity. The plan does not have to be complex.
·         Finally, a job is one of the greatest personal development opportunities get in life. It gives you a chance to be creative, to learn and grow your capabilities as a person and get paid in the process. The biggest payback is that it gives you a chance to learn enterprise.

On your first job, you formulate a template for your working career. If you waste your money on your first job, it is likely that you will waste your income for a long time. For those who are past their first job, there is still hope, but you must work urgently and quickly to put things right to correct your vision.

·         The employment context has changed dramatically over the last few decades. The paradigms and promises of employment are not the same as they were 40 years ago. However, if this generation does not adjust its vision of employment to successfully tackle the new realities of the new world, then it has no chance of doing any better than the last generation…
·         The decline in the length of employment terms from beyond 20 to less than 3 years has seen a marked decline in ethics and the loss of values such as perseverance. Instead of doing an honest day’s work, some people try to make a lot of money, in the shortest time for the least amount of effort…
·         Short-term employees tend to be impatient, less loyal and perhaps unfaithful. Some are more interested in “leap frog” careers than personal development. They hold a job for only as long as they cannot find a better paying job. This has a devastating effect on career development…
·         It seems that the art of work has departed with the arrival of technology and automation. Unfortunately, employees are not willing to exercise patience and personal discipline to develop mastery. On the other hand employers no longer provide the time and training to develop mastery. They too, want instant results. This seriously compromises professionalism and quality of work…

Nelson Mandela, the foremost African statesman of our time, in his independence day speech noted, “the time to build is upon us”. It is time we as employees started thinking about economic independence by creating wealth to sustain us in, and after employment. It is time to implement a plan to prosper us today not just tomorrow. Make a pledge to save, invest and multiply 10% of your income today and you will not have to wait to be prosperous in 20 years time. The time to build is indeed upon us!

God Bless Kenya
Allan Bukusi