Mar 062009

Why is it that leaders find it so difficult to make changes in their organizations? After years of conducting a couple-hundred-or-so operations reviews, I believe it starts when we try to make changes from the top down. We seldom ask our customers or our own employees who serve customers, and when we do, real change is never implemented.


We allow this top down pyramid approach to shape our policies in dealing with people, and it doesn’t work.   


How can business change things for the better by taking quality concepts to make them part of the culture and organization?


I believe it starts with Leadership– through integrity, innovation and intelligence. Leaders, no matter where they are in the organization, must ask some basic questions– What’s working? What’s not? What needs fixing? 


What’s working?

The best approach I find is to ask leaders to have a positive and open mind while looking for solutions to problems.  All companies and their staff have lots of things they do well. Giving people credit where credit is due is what leaders build on while trying to eliminate areas of weakness. ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it!’ The problem is that people, like things, are often taken for granted. Systems and procedures are implemented that threaten their effectiveness, and nobody seems to recognize that it is people who make organizations work. These leaders who lead by example are the real unsung heroes in companies. They’re the “20” in the 80/20. If management wants to find out what’s actually needed, they have to ask the very people that are making it work now.  This, supported by the leadership who encourages staff to be more than they thought possible, is a powerful combination.


So ‘what’s working?’ in leadership? It usually starts with people.



What’s not working?

If you get a group of staff together and ask that question, you usually don’t have to ask twice. They’ll bring up everything from lack of upward communication, management commitment, and leadership; to service quality, supervisory control systems, lack of individual training, high management expectation, low management support, poor staff motivation, and lack of teamwork.


And if you think that’s bad, just ask your customers– because if you don’t ask, don’t expect them to tell you. Studies show that less than 50% of all complaints are registered. Since bad news travels ten-times faster than good, customers gradually stop supporting a business and they’re not replaced. This leads to staff cut backs, which results in burned out service reps, poor service, poor sales, and more cutbacks.


Leaders must counteract this by earning the trust and respect of others by communicating a vision of service for themselves and others to follow. Martin Luther King Jr. said: 


Everyone has the potential for greatness not for fame, but greatness, because greatness is determined by service.


That’s what I believe leadership is:  to us, to our customers, to each other.    


Customers expect what we all expect from our suppliers. They want to be treated as individuals by companies that are responsive to their needs, reliable, empathic, look like they know what they’re doing, and convey the assurance that they will be looked after in times of trouble. This takes personal plus organizational leadership and responsibility. 



So ‘what’s not working?’ It usually ends when there’s a breakdown in leadership between the customer and service.


 What needs fixing?

The simple answer is to address all the structural, system and research issues mentioned previously. But unfortunately it’s usually not that simple. First, people have to be willing to serve and have the ability to serve. Management and staff must have the will, knowledge and/or skills to move the organization forward. Top leadership must ask of their people: What is it I can do for you – how can I help make the workplace more meaningful for you?


Secondly, top management leadership must use their power to ensure that a service-oriented culture exists– one in which office politics are discouraged, and all employees are encouraged and supported in their initiatives, even if they don’t always work out. Leaders in the front line (supervisors and workers) have to trust their staff, and be supportive of the new realities of doing business today– it calls for constant change. They can start by making complicated, new things, simple.


Thirdly, it remains for leaders in middle management, who are central to everything, to decide if they want to ‘join the party’– but they must be consulted by the leadership in upper management.  They often see things being done to their departments, without any input. They simply are given their ‘marching orders’ and ask to implement them, then they are asked to be transparent about measures which they (and their staff) know aren’t realistic. Obviously, this crushes any enthusiasm for company-wide change. How much better it would be if they, and their staff, were empowered to get results as a team?


Ken Blanchard, author of ‘The One Minute Manager’, says that to affect change leaders must align their values and purpose with their practices – so that their people can really see a difference.  (Let’s face it, if our dealings don’t result in a win-win, it naturally defaults to something else.) So how can we make a difference?


Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change.”

Fred Parry

Fred Parry

Mar 062009

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions(Part 3)



John Lennon reminded us in Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy):


Life is what happens to you when you’re making other plans.


This week ‘life’ happened with news of the death of Alexander Martinez – an adult student attending a college night course that I teach.


Alexander was a real gentleman and a genuine person. Originally from El Salvador, he told us, in a recent class presentation, how he had been a 3rd year law student who was forced to leave school in order to make a living.  


His life was a series of stories, with victories and losses but, being forced down, he came to succeed later. As he talked (needlessly apologizing for his command of English) I was able to see the picture of a man who was ‘worthy of his suffering’– choosing not to give in to defeat. 


I wondered how it was that a man like Alexander could find it so difficult to obtain meaningful employment in Canada. Was it his English? It certainly wasn’t his ability to communicate.


Nor was it for lack of effort, as I had first met him in one my classes some two years earlier, working hard on completing yet another college certificate.


The night I passed on the sad news of his sudden death to his fellow classmates, we were consoled in the memory of the spontaneous group exercise we did for him after his class presentation. Together, we conducted a brainstorming session to develop ideas that would help him gain employment. We listed these on large board sheets which we all signed, along with our best wishes.  Towards the end of our class, I glanced over to see Alexander re-reading those sheets. He seemed moved that we took the time to care.


Maybe that’s what Canada is all about. Maybe we should demonstrate that more often.


Good bye Alexander. And, on behalf of your classmates, thank you for choosing Canada!


Your life decision has helped reaffirm mine. Or, in the words of Marley’s Ghost from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol,


“Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

Fred Parry

Fred Parry


Feb 262009

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions (Part 2)



As I look back, I can clearly see the impact of certain decisions in my life.


The curious thing is, where I ended up as a result, was not as important as where I ended up next.


For example, deciding to go to ‘the big city’ for a career change made it possible for me to land a better job back in the same small town which I had left, and a career that lasted 24 years. That whole decision process started with me throwing a stick in the river: my decision based on where it ended up.


And now I wonder if it’s déjà vu – all over again?


Years after raising a family, paying off a mortgage and filling an old farmhouse with a lifetime of memories, we have arrived from there to here, alone, as ‘empty nesters’. It’s not bad; it’s just different.


So where do we go from here when my heart says “go”, but the economy says “woe!”? (I don’t think throwing a hundred sticks in the river is going to answer this one.) It’s like driving a car with one foot on the accelerator and one foot on the brake, at the same time. Going nowhere costs a lot.


If you have a real purpose in mind, it’s easy; but what if you don’t?


A wise old Chinese proverb advises, “Above all things, guard the purity of your vision.” Where is that vision now? Maybe there’s a glimmer of hope in the belief that we’re here for a reason. Regardless, songwriter Bruce Cockburn says,


“You have to kick at the darkness, till it bleeds daylight.”


Asking is the first step. I think something deep inside is starting to stir already.

Decisions, decisions, decisions                (Please see Part 3)



Fred Parry

Fred Parry 

Jan 142009

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions (Part 1 of 3)


It had been about two weeks now since a friend told me about a new management opportunity opening up.


He knew that I had become increasingly unhappy in my present job, but the pay was good and it was only a twenty minute drive from our home. Unfortunately I was working for a store manager who made it increasingly difficult to enjoy my chosen profession. Up to this point I had enjoyed retailing, starting out as a manager trainee in a large department store and quickly working my up to my present position of sales manager. I was now in “big box” mass merchandising.


When I worked in a department store there was the grace of personable service and personalized selling.  Now there is a new breed of retailers—greedy, ambitious and obsessed with giving the multitudes what they want: more and more cheap stuff, easily disposed of and easily replaced with more stuff. Whoever came up with the phrase, ‘The end of one sale is the beginning of the next’, wasn’t kidding around. That’s all there was! Price had become everything and quality was… well… Fortunately for me, not everyone was in favour of a price-only approach to retailing– at least not yet.


Of course, with the staff caught in the middle, I knew my philosophical clash with my manager could not last. Something had to give; but was this new job opportunity ‘it?’  


The prospect of the new retailing job was not without its problems. For one thing, it meant moving to Toronto – some 2 hours away. It was for an Assistant Manager position; a step up, but for a vastly smaller enterprise and initially for less money. However, it held out the prospect that I could someday work my way up to an excellent position as a Store Manager – great paycheque and full participation in a company profit plan. Before that could happen, I had to commit to working 12 hour days, 6 days a week.


The big question: Did I dislike my present job bad enough to go from working 37.5 hours a week to unlimited hours a week? Did I have any choice?


That’s how I found myself at the park where we had played as kids… to clear my mind… to resolve my dilemma. It was a big park with public swimming pool, swing sets and acres of grassland for walking trails and biking paths. The park itself was nestled against a gently flowing river that meandered around the southern edge of the river banks which were graced by century-old willows trees whose branches gave in to the soft, warm, gentle breezes of a sunny afternoon.


This day found me looking down at the swirling waters, a foot or so beneath my feet, at the midpoint of a narrow footbridge. The bridge was built to provide safety for children, as it traversed the river at a narrow point, where the river’s normally placid state actually picked up speed to form rapids.


With the precision of a core of army engineers, what the city had done was create this 100 foot pontoon bridge, using scores of empty oil drums. It was as practical as it was ingenious – using board planking atop these brightly painted drums, with enough room for two people to walk side by side. It was ribboned on both sides with simple stout steel cabling to grab hold of.


Where normally there would be lots of people enjoying the park, I was the lone solitary figure, as far as I could see. Seemingly left alone with my thoughts, my restless mood seemed in stark contrast to the summer calmness all around me. I wondered how things (and life in general) could have gotten so complicated.


When I discussed this with my wife, she simply had said that since it was my career decision it was up to me. You would have thought that would have relieved the pressure I felt. It didn’t.  And, although it meant leaving family if we moved, she would trust my judgment for both of us (actually for three of us as we were expecting our first child in just days.) So, if there was to be a decision, it had better be soon. 


I never had this problem as a kid. In those days, if we wanted to do something, we would just do it, oblivious to the consequences. Like the times we would scale the pool fence at night, and take a free swim, undetected in the darkness. Or when we would build our homemade rafts and take to crossing the rapids. Life seemed so carefree then.


Praying? Yeah, I tried it before… why not? When I was young, I remember talking (is that the same as praying?) to God all the time. As the only child of a divorced couple, I was by myself a lot and until I grew up there was no one to tell me how weird that was. As I thought of it further, I didn’t even know how to begin… stumbling through the Lord’s Prayer, I managed to mix it up with the 23rd Psalm – something I had memorized at Sunday school.


Losing hope and feeling more perplexed than ever, I threw the stick I had been holding into the water, just for something to do. I watched it drift further away from me; it picked up speed as it skimmed the surface of the rapids. It was then that I noticed, for the first time, the tiny island just a minute downstream, where the rapid waters swept by each side. Just as swiftly I devised a solution to my predicament! I decided that if that stick went to the right of the island, we would stay; if it went left… we would go. 


It wasn’t scientific, but I was feeling desperately inspired. So, you couldn’t believe my surprise as the stick neither passed the island to the right or the left, but got stuck on the island itself!


Stuck right in the middle, I thought, what the hell! Now what?

Prophetically, although I didn’t know it at the time, that turned out to be my one escape route, relieving me from all my burdens. But that’s another story, and I don’t know if I’m the one to tell it.  Decisions, decisions, decisions. (Please see part 2 and 3)


Fred Parry

Fred Parry