A few years ago I worked under a very meticulous and committed boss who taught me a number of important things about how to take work seriously. He told me a story once about the impact of a simple ATM to real life. I will repeat the story here but I will extend the thought for the purposes of this article. A fellow we shall call Kwaku rushes his wife to a hospital somewhere in Africa on a Sunday evening and the nurses refuse to attend to her emergency until he makes a deposit of let’s say GHS250.00 (about fifty dollars). The woman is dying and after arguing with the nurses, the callously insist that he must pay something before his wife can be given a bed. They point to him an ATM machine about four blocks from the hospital and he rushes out to try the ATM paying he still has enough money in his account. The ATM delays for several minutes when he enters his PIN and finally responds with the familiar message “Your Financial Institution is currently unavailable“. He gasps and looks around while pulling out his ATM card.
Kwaku rushes over to a Mobile Money operator by the road side attempts to withdraw the GHS100 had left on his phone. Maybe the nurses would listen to him if he had part of the money. The Mobile Money Operator looks away and insists that she had closed for the day. He begs her stating he had an emergency at the hospital and she replies “Please, don’t make your problem my problem! I have closed! Go to the ATM over there!“. She hurriedly closes her kiosk and Kwaku sights the second ATM belonging to another bank. He tries the ATM but is disappointed with another message: “… temporarily unavailable to dispense cash”. He calls al taxi who takes him to another ATM about five hundred meters from the hospital and returns with the money but by that time his wife is no longer breathing. AT the sight of GH250.00, the nurses rush his wife to a free bed and begin trying to attend to her. She is confirmed dead twelve hours later.
Who should be blamed for the death of Kwaku’s wife? There are many responses which the various players in this story can give to this question:
Nurses: “This is hospital policy. We cannot attend to anyone without assurance that the person can pay. Do you want me to lose my job?”
Server Admin: “I have worked all week and you also want me to be bothered that the Core Banking System is down on a Sunday evening? Please we will look at it tomorrow. Today is Sabbath!”
Mobile Money Operator: “How is that my problem? Am I the only Mobile Money Operate in Accra? Let him use the ATM na”
ATM Custodian: “How many people live in that area by the way? How can they be exhausting the money in the ATM every few hours? Please I am tired! Let them come back tomorrow? What are they buying this evening. Don’t they rest?”
This reminds me of another example given my Dr. Mensa Otabil regarding the building of a cathedral. Three masons are asked the same question: “What are you doing?”. One answers, “I am laying bricks!” another, “I am building a wall” and the third, “We are building a cathedral. It will seat 10000 worshippers. The structure is designed to last one hundred years”. You see all three were masons but one had much deeper understanding of what the team was doing and what his role was. That understanding did not come from his pay cheese, it must have come more from his attitude. And I can tell you, one way or the order, attitudes can change pay cheques but pay cheques are not guaranteed to change attitudes. You know it’s easy to turn this on another person but take a step back and think like a customer waiting thirty minutes on the queue at a bank because the system was slow. You start yelling at the teller forgetting you just advised your brother who works at the Tech Company that supports that same bank that he needed to slow down and not work so hard!
How do you understand your role at work? Do you understand the full impact of your day job, whether you work for yourself or for a large company? Do you understand how your skills affect the lives of others? Are you just earning a living or are you actually making a contribution to life? It’s simply a way of thinking. I hope you can embrace it.