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The value of loyalty

 

There he is on the right.

The value of loyalty: What the story of a simple attendant at a fuel station can help us learn about building successful organisations

THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | On Tuesday January 8, 2019 I passed a Total service station in Luzira to load Mobile Money. Because there was no V-Power Petrol on all Shell stations in Kampala and I had a few minutes to spare, I decided to ask a fuel attendant at this Total station, a one Vincent Komakech, whether their fuel is fit for my car.

Komakech then proceeded to give me an elaborate explanation on how their petrol, Excellium, is better than V-Power. He said it cleans the engine more effectively than V-Power and yet is cheaper and more fuel-efficient i.e. gives user more kilometres per litre.

How do you know this, I asked him. He did not give any scientific explanation. Instead he answered that many of his customers who were previously using Shell’s V-Power and tried Total’s Excellium often tell him the Total product is superior and never use V-Power again.

I was not convinced. The little scientific explanations I had previously read online about the quality of different fuels made me doubt Komakech’s explanation. In spite of his confident delivery, he based only on the behaviour of his customers. But Komakech insisted I try Excellium; promising I will never look back.

I yielded and filled my tank – not because he convinced me but because of the energy and conviction in his effort of trying to persuade me to change from Shell and become a client of Total. I felt his effort should be rewarded. I paid for the fuel and gave him a commission for his good services.

I called Total headquarters and gave them his name and fuel station and suggested they recognise his good work; a request they accepted. I will follow up to see whether they actually met that promise. I took a picture with him and visited him the next day. I did all this because I was inspired by Komakech attitude and work ethic.

Komakech reminded me of a book I read titled “Identity Economics: How Our Identities Shape Our Work, Wages And Wellbeing” written by George Akerlof, a Nobel laureate in economics, together with Rachel Kranton. They argue that what defines a successful person, organisation, country or company is not incentive pay or professional skills. It is identity.

Akerlof argues that when a person makes a leap in identity and identifies themselves as a great plumber, teacher, journalist, lawyer, surgeon or engineer, they will seek to see great plumbing, teaching, journalism, lawyering, surgery or engineering respectively in his/her work. Such a person will want to see their great selves reflected in the results of their work.

Successful countries and organisations make their citizens and employees identify with the values and vision of the country and/or organisation.

A person may be highly paid but have little commitment to the goals of the organisation. Such a person will not do a great job.

Equally, a person may be highly skilled as a lawyer or doctor but does not share the vision of the organisation. Such a person will not apply his skills to the best of their ability to meet the goals and vision of the organisation.

This lesson is best illustrated by Rwanda. By all measures, Kenya especially, but also Uganda have much better human capital than Rwanda. By human capital here I am referring specifically to professional skills and experience – in both the private and public sector. Yet in terms of performance, less competent public officials in Rwanda out perform their colleagues in Kenya and Uganda. Why? Identity!

President Paul Kagame personally and his political party, the Rwanda Patriotic Front, generally, have articulated a vision of the Rwanda they want and have mobilised the population politically around a shared vision of national reconstruction backed by dignity (agaciro) in being a Munyarwanda.

Hence everywhere you go in that country public officials carry themselves with pride and purpose, and dedicate themselves to their work to realise the goals and objectives of the state. They identify themselves as “I am a Munyarwanda, I have dignity and I am rebuilding my country”.

They may earn less money and possess less skill yet work more with greater dedication. It is their identifying with the vision of the country that works and is producing better economic growth and welfare benefits.

 

The book by Akerlof and Kranton became an important turning point especially for its insight for a person like me who used to believe in professional competence as the foundation of success. I was always keen to criticise leaders who emphasise loyalty over competence. In an ideal world it is best to have people who are both loyal and competent. But if you had to choose between competence and loyalty, the latter wins.

Indeed reading Akerlof and Kranton reminded me of what Norman Schwarzkopf, a former American military commander of Operation Desert Storm, said in his autobiography: `It doesn’t take a hero’ that leadership requires competence and character. But if you are to have only one of these, it’s better to have character, not competence. Equally, in his book, `Winning’, the former CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch, said that leadership requires strategy and values. He added that if one is to have only one of these two, it is better to have values than strategy.

Komakech teaches us that you do not have to be the CEO or the manager or even supervisor to promote the interests of your organisation even when it is not your duty. The success of the company you work for, or the country you live in, is equally your success. You cannot prosper in a failing country or company. Having the right attitude individually and collectively is good for you and your organisation.

Across the world, nations try to inculcate nationalism and patriotism in their citizens in order to make themselves successful. After the failure of communism, China turned to nationalism to rally its people around a shared goal or national economic transformation. If Africa is failing, it is partly, if not largely, because we have less nationalism and patriotism i.e. we have little loyalty to our nations and their aspirations. Indeed, it is because we elites lack a shared or common agreement on basic national goals.

It is my hope that Total will reward Komakech in a public way to serve as an example for many other attendants at their numerous fuel stations. But most critically, it should be a lesson to our national and corporate leaders – that when you have citizens, partisans and employees who exhibit such loyalty, they need to be rewarded and used as an example to others.

****

amwenda@independent.co.ug

 

 

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7 comments

  1. Bogus. Turning what should have been an “internal memo” into a “publication.” Clean your house before you come to us. The is a difference between loyalty and attitude. I think what you wanted to “yap” about is “attitude”, because “loyalty” is “blind” to “good” or “bad.”

  2. ejakait engoraton

    ” I paid for the fuel and gave him a commission for his good services.”

    That in any language is a TIP and not a commission.

  3. ejakait engoraton

    ME thinks that the point of this article was not somehow to talk about the ethics of a one KOMAKETCH , but rather to make a detour and bring in a one PAUL KAGAME and RWANDA.

    And believe me if the person in question had been a one MUKASA or KAKYAMA, this article would not have seen the light of day.

    • Ditto. Or, he wanted to get back at his employees. A score to settled. Pay well your workers and not try to intimidate them through a funny publication. Is Komakech the best worker you’ve ever met? St….x

      • Mwenda will respond to both of you as follows (his words)”There is a guy called Omoros, when he is not angry, he always goes on The Independent website below my column and makes comments. I go there and only reply to him and a few others because he disagrees with me, but out of principle.

        But most of these who make these attacks… they are just demonstrating to me that they are stupid and therefore don’t deserve any respect from me. And I realized that they did not study well, perhaps they have very low levels of IQ, or they are not properly bred; because I should tell you that within the intellectual community within which I live, if a person makes an argument, whatever personal feelings that you may have, if you go personal, it’s considered beneath contempt”

    • PAUL KAGAME OYEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

  4. Really brilliant… Thank you sir.

    This makes for a great argument for the relationship between attitude and work identity but am not sure the word is loyalty here.

    By definition,
    Loyalty is intellectual and emotional commitment to a course of action or way of thinking.

    If I also had to step away from the beauty of dance between Andrew’s pen and paper, I’d further critique the article saying;

    Regardless of Mr. Komakech’s zeal and great service and Mr Mwenda’s desire to Illustrate deeper truths, the actual truth is in the results. Based on this, can he (Andrew) with greatest confidence confirm that totals excellium is pound for pound a better fuel than shell’s Vpower.

    Until then, Mr. Komakech should get his recognition for delivering great customer experience but Mwenda cannot sufficiently teach “strategy” off of this experience.
    The taste is in the pudding. Is it not?

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