Business lessons learned from Cuba
Roberta Matuson, CONTRIBUTOR, Fobes
Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
Did you know that the average Cuban earns the equivalent of $30 a month? I didn’t either until I spent two weeks in Cuba. You would think with those wages, service and quality of goods would be abysmal. Actually, I found the opposite to be true.
Cuba is a beautiful country filled with warm people, who have hopes and dreams like we do. In spite of some pretty tough times, they’re proud of their heritage, and remain hopeful. Here are some lessons I learned while touring Cuba, which I hope will be helpful to you as you look to improve yourself as well as your organization.
Pride, not money, is what drives people to do their best work. I experienced this first hand when our waitress at our hotel, provided us with service that was far better than what I often experience in the U.S. If I had to guess, I’d say she makes the equivalent of $20 a month. I placed a tip in her hand and thanked her for her service, and here’s what she said to me. “Please, this is not necessary. It’s my job to provide you with good service.” That may very well be, but I insisted she accept my tip.
Think about the last time you tried using money to engage an employee. Did it work? And if it did, how long were you able to sustain high levels of productivity? Hiring people, who take pride in their work, is a lot more effective and a lot less expensive than trying to buy the hearts and minds of workers. Give it a try and see what I mean.
Patience pays off. Many Cubans hope to be granted visas, so they can emigrate to another country. They know this process could take years, and that’s if they are successful. In the meantime, they go on and live their lives and prepare for the time when they may emigrate. They’re patient people and are not bitter about a seven to ten year wait.
How’s the mindset in your organization? Do people keep a positive mental attitude when things don’t immediately go their way? Are they willing to wait for the right candidate or are they simply filling jobs? Do they weigh out all options before proceeding?
Patience is a virtue that many of us lack. Lots of people take the “ready, aim, fire” approach, which often times results in them shooting themselves in the foot. Patience helps us to have the mindfulness to stop for a while and reflect on the present moment. By being in the moment, we can take the small and big picture into consideration, so we can make better decisions. Think about this the next time you’re tempted to "fire" without having thought through all of your options.
Necessity is the driving force behind inventions. Imagine paying $35K for an old car (as in a car from the 1950’s) and then not being able to find parts? If you’re from Cuba, you don’t have to imagine this, as this is your reality. No parts? No problem. People simply make their own parts to fix items they can’t afford to replace.
Everything in this country gets recycled, but not like you would imagine. Artists, who can’t afford or access art supplies, turn junk into art. We met a man who had recycled an old antenna and figured out a way to access the Internet for free. That might not seem all that remarkable to those of you who know hackers, but it’s quite a feat in a country where internet access is very limited. You know you’ve found a hotspot when you see a crowd of people clustering in an open plaza or a park face timing their loved ones.
Are you spoon feeding people and giving them everything they need, rather than allowing them to figure things out? If so, then stop this! There will come a day when these people will have to forge for themselves. Let that day be today, so that you’re freed up to work on more strategic projects.
A lot of what I learned from traveling in Cuba cannot be put into words. I hope that if you get the chance to go, you take it, so that you can experience life in a country that is ripe for change. And if you need any travel tips, please don't hesitate to ask!
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