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Smart Employers Don’t Ask Multiskilled Employees to Specialize!

Written by Tayo Solagbade

Topics: Uncategorized

“Tayo, how come you do so many different things, instead of specializing?” Some fair minded people ask me that question, because they really want to understand. But many others never do. They just draw conclusions and pass judgement. Silently. And their unfounded bias blinds them to useful insights they can gain!

We cannot all be the same.

That’s why we have athletes who are sprints specialists, and those who are decathletes, heptathletes and pentathletes.

Being a multipreneur comes naturally to me. As long as I have more than a passing interest in something, I find that I am able to competently engage in it, for as long as I want to, even as I do other demanding work.

This ability made me very successful as a student in secondary school, as well as university. In the latter, I excelled in extracurriculars (e.g. handball, Students Farm Research Foundation etc) all throughout my 5 year studies in Agric. Extension Services, getting awards from the sports council, and holding an executive leadership position in the foundation.

Yet I still graduated top of my class, with a Cumulative G.P.A of 5.9 out of 6.0. 

After I left school, the same thing happened while I was employed in Guinness Nigeria.

All 7 years of my stay saw me deliver superlative workplace performances that earned me rapid career advancement opportunities from my second year. I got assigned to teams comprising senior managers while I was still a baby brewer.

As a result, I rapidly learnt company performance requirements way ahead of my peers. I was rubbing minds with top decision makers, and forced to think along with them to respond to their demands. Why did they pick on me, and not others? Well, it was my diligence.

We all went through the same training. But while I was in Ikeja brewery, I paid extra attention to my Training Manager, a young Scottish gentleman called Richard Chambers. He challenged me to push myself to the limits by learning everything there was to know about becoming my best as a brewer.

By watching Richard using Lotus 123 spreadsheet programming to develop an app for the company, I got interested in spreadsheet automation for real world problem solving.

Even though I had no IT qualitifications, I would go on to use my self-taught skills, to develop apps that were formally adopted for use in the company’s brewing department in Benin City Edo state, where I worked.

My apps allowed data entry of paper based records into ready to use spreadsheet tables and auto-generated reports.

No longer did they have to spend hours or days doing error prone manual calculations to get their reports out.

That boost in productivity was something every sane manager with a focus on results could not resist. As a result some managers from other departments approached me for help.

Wherever I went, I took my versatility – and knack for quick learning – with me…

Including when I was seconded to act as Training and Technical Development Manager (TTDM), first for one month in March 1998, and later that same year for 3 months.

By 2000, I was promoted to substantive TTDM. And by the time I quit to start my business in December 2001, it was on record that I’d again used my skill to the benefit of the company. That was when I created a Training Records Database that worked on the brewery’s Intranet.

My friends in the IT department had kindly granted me that level of access. The final ISO 9001 brewery certification audits were due, and we were headed for non-conformity. We needed to demonstrate that we had up to date and easily retrievable training records.

As Training Manager, this was going to be my head. Even though I did not create the problem.

So I took the bull by the horns and began working round the clock in the office on the app. It would be a temporary solution to be replaced by whatever the IT department could come up with later.

I got my Training Instructors to compile all employee training records, and got the Engineering Trainees to post entries into formatted spreadsheets. We worked weekends, as late as 10p.m daily for 2 weeks.

I bought refreshments for them, from MY OWN PURSE. That was how personal I took the challenge.

My team saw my commitment and that made them commit also, to the extent that even when I was away, they never stopped. And this was really why we made it before the deadline! (In case you did not know, THAT is how to make people work with you GLADLY.)

So,the skill I possessed, which had NOTHING to do with my job description helped me achieve major workplace success.

But the REAL credit for my career success in Guinness must go to the decision makers at that time…

I mean those who could have decided whether or not to stop me from doing what I was doing.

They were smart enough to see that telling me to focus on being a brewer would hurt them rather than help them. They could have told me to leave the development of applications for the IT department.

But they chose to think smart. And that was easy. What I was doing was giving them the results they wanted! The best part was that my work was not even suffering.

My job as a brewer did not suffer because I chose to use my spare time on "extracurriculars"

Some senior colleagues said as much. That I needed to focus on being a good brewer. One did so to my face. But years later I had proved them wrong by successfully delivering on my job while still using my spare time to develop apps for use. My appraisals always reflected my high performance, with great comments from my superiors!

It was not easy though. Here’s how I did it….

You see, I knew the thinking required to manage the people and processes very early on, from time spent with senior managers. Complex calculations of usage rates of various key inputs (bottles, crowns, maize sorghum etc) were things I did effortlessly because I’d worked with Richard Chambers to build the formulas into his automated app.

So, whenever I was on duty, I had a keen interest in checking the data recorded, and computing the KPIs to see what they looked like. And it was this interest that made me discover errors in the calculations for a certain KPI. That KPI always gave a value that I felt was a bit off.

Being a member of the team, I had participated in running the process, and had a feel for what each reporting period had been like. So I was not surprised to find that error.

My one page paper proposing the correction was accepted. Later on I developed a formula for calculating brew house efficiency, testing it with data for about 5 years. The charted values made sense.

I wrote a one page paper with charts attached, and proposed my formula be adopted. My boss liked it, and sent it to the expatriate brewery head, who promptly signed on it and dispatched to HQ. That paper was discussed by top management for weeks at the Technical Review Meetings, and the Lagos brewery asked to also test my formula.

If anyone needed proof of my on the job competence, those results I achieved erased any doubts they had. Little wonder that I not only got promoted, but I also got assigned on secondment as Production Manager to the department I was promoted out of, less than 6 months after I left! Plus, I was nominated to attend a 6 week international course in the UK, organised by the UK’s Institute and Guild of Brewing.

This means that like others. I was competent…but I had something extra that was useful, but NOT required for my job: And others lacked it!

Had I chosen not to show it, I doubt my performance on the job would have suffered. However, I would not have stood out either.

But when I showed it, others who mattered, discovered it was so useful that they could not ignore it.

For instance, my fellow brewers enjoyed using the Lotus 123 macros driven apps I built from 1997 to 1998, so much (because it made their jobs easier), that when the company moved from Lotus SmartSuite to Office in 1999/2000, they demanded the IT department convert all my apps to Excel compatible ones.

Guess what?

The company arranged for my apps to be sent to the UK, where an Excel-VB consultant was engaged to do it. At the time I had no knowledge of MS Excel. 

But one year later, in 2001, in my new position as Training & Technical Development Manager (TTDM) I’d learnt enough to use Excel-VB to create a Training Records Database deployed across the brewery’s Intranet.

How was I able to achieve such high productivity you wonder?

Well, it’s the same reason I have been able to function as a Multipreneur, since 2002, providing a range of unique products and services to clients in different industries.
I am very highly disciplined both physically and mentally.

But I was not born this way.

Years of active involvement in competitive sports, and my passion for self-development helped me develop to be this way.

I played state level competitive handball from age 12, and captained University of Ibadan’s team to the NUGA preliminaries, before graduating in 1992. If you know anything about handball, you’ll know it’s a fast paced contact sport, that not for the weak.

This is why I strongly recommend a good physical exercise regimen, if you do not have time to do sports.

Now, with the right coaching/guidance ANYONE can function the same way I do or even better. You can train your mind and body to deliver the performance you want, WHEN you want it.

It all boils down to what you’re comfortable with. For anyone to determine whether or not another person should be doing something, s/he needs to check what results are being obtained.

I earn multiple streams of income from buyers and clients who relate with me based on mutual respect and consideration. A good number have done repeat business with me.

One recently renewed his web hosting with me for 2 years. Before now I built his first website, wrote 16 Web Marketing articles for him and also sold him one of my Excel-VB apps. He’s been my client since 2006, and as you will notice he’s benefited by NOT viewing my versatility from a negative perspective. In me, he has a ONE stop solution for those needs I have handled. I think he’s a very smart business owner.

Final Words: My suggestion to YOU

If you’re a potential client considering my services, emulate the client I Just mentioned above. And if you’re an employer, do what my bosses did back when I was in Guinness.

ENCOURAGE any employee you identify to have multiple skills which if carefully nurtured can help your company succeed better.

And for those who work alone, like me…

Sometimes one may not have money, and yet need something done. That’s when you start wishing you knew how to do it yourself.

Later on when you’re comfortable, you can get someone to do it.

But when you’re lean, keep yourself going by learning to do things yourself. Few people will agree to do stuff for you without getting paid – no matter how much they like you!

If you’ve ever experienced severe lack of money, you’ll understand what drives me to learn to DIY all key areas I need to keep my business dream alive.

 It is that ability that has enabled me grow my success year in year out, despite myriad setbacks!

A good recent example was when, on 4th May 2014, about 3 weeks ago, spontaneousdevelopment.com (my 9 year old domain) got taken over by Aplus.net, my former host. Without my self-taught web development skills, I could NOT have launched tayosolagbade.com within days, and moved my website into it!

I hope you find use for the ideas I’ve shared here – because they could make the difference between success or failure, for YOU!

[IMPORTANT: This blog's contents are being updated following the transfer to www.tayosolagbade.com from my former domain - Spontaneousdevelopment.com. As a result, some parts of it may not work properly for now. Quick Tip: If a link contains "spontaneousdevelopment.com", simply change it to "tayosolagbade.com" - and it should work. This applies to article links as well as image links. Work continues to update the links(in over 500 articles). Tayo K. Solagbade.]

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Tayo K. Solagbade*
Performance Improvement Specialist & Multipreneur
*Best Practice Farm Business Support Specialist
& Founder of the MS Excel Heaven Visual Basic Automation Club & Competition(www.excelheaven.biz)

 

 

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