November 7, 2017 Sujeev Shakya

Unlocking potential – If we can create progressive changes in the Nepali working environment, we can take on the world

On a recent Qatar Airways flight from Washington Dulles to Doha, after completing the safety briefing, the Senior Cabin Attendant came over to speak to me and welcomed me on board. She was Nepali. We had a brief conversation and she told me she had been working with the airline for ten years. This was not the first time I had met a fellow Nepali in a similar position. And the reoccurrence of such events has set me to wondering why it is that we Nepalis perform so well in other countries, but not in our own.

Professionalism from the top

There are generally two types of organisations, one that is owner driven and the other, where owners entrust professional management to run the organisation. In Nepal, it is rare to find the latter and even when the owners have left the operations to a professional team, the performance is limited to the imagination of the person who is driving the organisation.

In Nepal, in both types of organisations, a huge gap can be observed. Nepalis who have world class talent aren’t trained to deliver world class services, so their talents are essentially wasted. When the same Nepalis are picked by global airlines, financial institutions, hospitality chains, medical service providers, infrastructure companies, etc., they are able to deliver world class services. Nepalis hold positions as General Managers across hotels in China, Europe and the US. There are Nepalis who are at the helm of infrastructure companies and service providers like railroads in the US and irrigation systems in Africa. And there are Nepalis who are seen as the best performers in service provision at global airlines, and are also the most sought after medical service professionals. This shows that Nepalis can accomplish all manners of things if they get adequate training and exposure.

In Nepal itself, we see that the quality of services has plummeted. This is mostly due to the limited understanding of professional managers or owners. For example, in the case of banks, we see bank directors, owners and key senior management folks who don’t use online banking. This sets us to wonder how they would know whether or not their online banking platform is performing at an optimal level. An example of this lack of understanding can be seen in the government sector as well. Ministers and key government officials tend to utilise VIP channels in almost everything they do, so they do not know the plight of the common people. When they go to an airport, for example, they do not have to struggle to find their luggage in the baggage claims section.

Therefore, it is important to have good management at the top to change the way people are trained and service is delivered, be it in an organisation that is owner driven or professional management driven. In Nepal, in the early 1990s, the entry of global firms in advertising, market research, banking, insurance, manufacturing and hospitality changed the way that Nepalis worked. These global firms trained the Nepali workforce to become global resources, and some of the people who were trained during those times are now leading global firms.

The politics of destruction

With the entrance of global firms, the political parties started getting nervous. They felt that a better trained workforce would result in the erosion of the influence of political parties. So they all ganged up to form unions and disrupt operations; they created a work environment where politics came before productivity and performance. This also forced many productivity oriented people to leave Nepal in search of global opportunities. Who would want to be working in an airline that is dependent on union politics when one has the opportunity to work for the best airline in the world?

With the elections nearing completion, there will be a ruling alliance and an opposition alliance. We hope that they will not turn to the same tactics that they are employing in other areas, and that they will refrain from stirring up the labour force to reverse economic development.

Self-development is an investment

In Nepal, when we talk about training, people ask what they will be given in return for attending training programmes. Training should be regarded as an opportunity to learn new things, but now, the multiple NGOs and their funding agencies have converted training into something that people hope to get monetary benefits from instead. Training programmes are conducted to tick the boxes off in log frames and planning documents. When people are paid to attend trainings, what will be the value proposition of the trainings to them? This is absurd. It could be compared to a scenario in a restaurant where customers not only get free food, but are also paid to eat.

We need to change our thoughts on what self-development is all about and why it is important to take investments seriously. We have turned training programs into events to get certificates. People are interested in attending training programmes only if these are held outside the country, so they can convert these trips into junkets.

Individual potential

With artificial intelligence ready to compete with human minds, the humans that continue to evolve are the only ones who can take on the future. These humans understand the need to get better and stay on the cutting edge—and are willing to invest time and financial resources to do so.

Nepal has great potential in the fact that half the population is under the age of 25. These youths can be moulded to take on the world. They need the right intervention and guidance. If Nepalis can be trained to be productive global workers elsewhere in the world, our own firms too can take on the challenge of shaping young Nepali minds that can help our companies take on the world.

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