Building capacities for competitive advantage
Published On January 17, 2014 » 3247 Views» By Administrator Times » Business, Stories
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lets talk careersBy SYCORAX TIYESA NDHLOVU –

HE way most of us manage our businesses and our careers might soon or later lead us into untold misery because we always assume that things will always be in our favour in our respective businesses or in our profession. This might not always be the case.

Today I would like to share with you a story that will help each one of us to realise the importance of being prepared for many challenges that might come ahead of us.

 This topic was triggered by this writer’s observations on bicycle transport business in Chipata district of the Eastern province; and what is happening in Lusaka and elsewhere as far as career development, business and life management in general is concerned.

The purpose of this article is to remind ourselves of the need to always work hard in our careers, business or in our lives regardless of the current levels of competition. This is because when we relax in our career, business or in our lives in general, competition always creeps in more than ever before to our disadvantage.

Chipata and Katete districts of Eastern province have the highest number of bicycles compared to any district in our country.

For some time, the youth and some elderly men in Chipata district used bicycles as a means of transporting people from one place to another at a fee. Later, Katete district youths and men joined such a business.

By that time, few young men were in such a business. Competition was low. It was a monopolistic market where bicycle riders could choose whether to carry that person or not.

Because these bicycle transporters were in monopolistic market, they raised what they perceived as a lot of money per day. Although Chipata township is a hilly place, the high returns from bicycle transport persuaded young men to work hard to transport people from one place to another. It was a lucrative business in Chipata and Katete districts.

Those who were in such a business used to have good meals per day.

Some even started grocery business where their wives were selling while others built good houses for themselves and some for rent.

Business continued booming. As a result, by 15:00hours of each day, most of them could say: ‘Zapaka lomba. Lekani niyenda kunyumba nikapumuleko’ (meaning I have raised enough money; let me now go home and rest).

As these bicycle riders were making such perceived huge sums of money per day, some people were watching how profitable such a business was.

With time, more and more youths including some elders men bought bicycles; and joined such a business. Eventually, the business of carrying people on bicycles became so competitive that those who started it realized that they were not making as much money as they used to.

And one of them told this writer that such a business has become so competitive that in most cases one cannot make the amount of money they used to make before.

It is reported that, in the past, some of these bicycle riders could refuse carrying some women who were perceived to be too stout to be carried uphill because they knew that someone slim and lighter would soon come looking for transport.

But nowadays, such customers are too scarce to find as competition is high; and raising enough money in this business is difficult. As a result, any person who comes, regardless of body volume, is transported on a bicycle to where that person is going to help a bicycle rider raise reasonable amount of money per day in this type of business.

Another similar story is about the old civil servants some of us found in public service in the 1980s.

Job opportunities were many at that time. The employment situation was so stable, predictable and promising that it was not even necessary for one to think too about the future per se. Life was milk and honey.

This is why some civil servants at that time didn’t work hard to further their education through training in colleges or in universities to build more capacities for a competitive edge. It was not necessary. Officers were promoted through the ranks with experience gained through number of years one worked in that organisation.

But most of the civil servants who didn’t go to school just because things at that time were conducive regardless of one’s academic and professional levels are facing some challenges now in their retired civil servant’s life. Those who improved their academic and/or professional levels and gained relevant experience and skills are able

to compete with others; and survive in such a cut-throat competitive labour market or business environment.

Have you been observant of what has been happening in other businesses?

While some Chipata and Katete districts’ youths bicycle riders were having ‘honey moon’ with their perceived huge sums of money from their bicycle riding business, even some restaurant, street vendors, second-hand clothes (salaula) sellers, wheelbarrows pushers (Zamcab), taxi and bus drivers, hardware traders, etc were also enjoying monopolistic market and profits.

As a result, some of them improved their businesses; and increased economies of scale for their businesses while some didn’t. Those traders or business persons who didn’t exploit the monopolistic opportunities thought that business will always be in their favour forever. They are now regretting that things have changed contrary to their expectations.

Some professionals also felt that as long as they have a diploma, a degree or an MBA in a certain field or have some experience, then the world will continue rotating on its own axis while revolving around the sun in their favour.

To some professional, this has been the case while to others no.

Things have changed for worse for them. For those who equipped themselves with sound professional knowledge, experience and skills, they are now enjoying the fruits of setting a vision, a goal and objectives.. They are enjoying the fruits of effective planning and implementation to achieve their vision, goal and objectives.

Even in other businesses, for those who thought life is always rosy, things have changed for worse. Competition has increased in restaurants, in selling vehicles, salaula, hardware, groceries, in transport business, selling goats, selling rastafalian materials, etc.

Few people were selling salaula. Now they are many. Few people were selling pairs of shoes. Now they are many. How many street vendors were selling all sorts of merchandise in Lusaka’s streets and elsewhere. Few. Such street vendors were earning huge profits at that time. How many street vendors do we have now? Too many to count. And competition in street vending is getting stiffer and stiffer. One management expert said the only thing that is constant on this Earth is change. Change is always taking place. And change can have positive or negative consequences on some individuals. Always prepare adequately in case change will have negative consequences on you.

Just imagine if someone woke up; and said: ‘No more street vending anywhere in Zambia now’. Most of the street vendors can suffer because most of them don’t seem to be preparing for any such negative change on their businesses. Most of them are just enjoying their revenue and profits from their businesses without thinking about any change that might have negative consequences on their operations.

What all such illustrations of various businesses, academic and professional fields warns us against is never to relax in life.

John Harvey-Jones in ‘Managing to survive: A Guide to Management through the 1990s’ advises managers and individuals to always assume that things will be worse tomorrow than they are today; and therefore to plan and implement things now to cushion oneself from the worst situation that might come.

Always assume that things will be worse for you tomorrow or in the near future. Change might be against your current capacity. Keep on improving on your career or on your business.

It is against this background that Harvey-Jones urges us to increase our knowledge, experience and skills to attain a highly competitive edge in our career or in our business. This is what this writer calls ‘insuring yourself for a better tomorrow’. Equip yourself with enough ‘shock absorbers’ for any tough turbulences that might come ahead.

But this is possible if someone has a clear vision, goal and objectives in one’s career or in business.

It is from such a background that recently, education minister, Dr John Phiri emphasised on acquiring relevant skills. Acquire relevant knowledge and skills in whatever you are doing.

Improving on your customer service for more customer satisfaction among your customer. In the process, ensure that your bank account levels are always rising; and not dwindling.

To achieve such, one needs discipline, hard work and focus on one’s career or business goal. You can be a farmer, a teacher, a grocer, a welder, carpenter, a tailor, a transporter, an electrician, radio or television producer or presenter, politician, a newspaper columnist, a street vendor, a clergyperson, etc the secret of managing yourself is the same. Always assume that things will be worse than they are now.

Strategise now. Do the right things now for a better tomorrow.

 • The author is Trainer and Career Coach.

For comments and ideas, contact:

Cell: 0967/0977 450151

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