Mar 212009

When I look back on my favorite people, they all have a different story … with the same message.


My Uncle Jim & Aunt Mamie, Grandpa Coll, Grandpa & Grandma Parry, Uncle Lyle (just to name a few), and Bob the mechanic.


Bob, as my mechanic for over thirty years, has taught me a lot about cars; but a lot more about life.


In all the time that I’ve known him, I’ve never seen him loose his temper; and as a younger family man, I remember how hard that was when you’re trying to balance family responsibilities and job pressures.


One day, I asked him about it. He told me that the secret was to only work half days.


Half days? I didn’t get it. I mean, over the years I have always dropped off my car off to him for repairs before 7AM, took his loaner car and left. I also knew that he worked well into the evenings, as well. He looked at the puzzled expression on my said, “Well, like I said … half days … that’s 12 hours isn’t it Fred?


That Bob… he was the funny one!


Another time, my wife gingerly drove our car into his extremely busy corner garage – with parts of the muffler system dragging on the ground. She said that Bob stopped everything that he was doing, took her car in, fixed it all up and sent her on her way, in no time at all.


A few days later, when I dropped in to thank him; I asked him how he was able to just stopped everything he was doing like that when his shop was already full of cars he and his staff were working on. He simply said that if it had been his wife who was in a similar situation; he’d like to think that some other mechanic would do the same thing.


There are many other examples of Bob’s philosophy on life – like lots of folks – but saying it and living it, are two different things.

Mar 212009

Some of My Favorite People

(Part 2 / Grandpa Parry)


My paternal grandfather was quite a character. And, from a very young age, I could always remember him as a happy-go-lucky guy – always laughing, with seemingly nothing getting him down.


 For Grandpa, it was all about attitude. He was always smiling, whistling while he worked and was always busy ‘doing’ things. He was an entrepreneur … could take any business from nothing and make it into to a thriving enterprise. At one time, he had a restaurant, hotel and grand home at a very popular summer resort. My Grandmother ran the day-to-day operations and was very happy living there.   


 He was also very industrious. He could take a run down house and with a little paint, wall paper and carpentry, turn it into something much better … all on a shoestring budget resulting in frequent trips to the thrift furniture store.


Volunteering his time, he would visit the kids at our local Sick Children’s hospital, and hand paint their room windows with their favorite cartoon characters. The kids just loved him!

A successful salesman, selling ‘pots & pans’(as he like to call it), he sold to commercial kitchens; and in later life, before his untimely death, he started up a Dry Cleaner business  – his idea of today’s Retirement Savings Plan.       

He often used his great sales skills on me too, a typical non-compliant teenager, as when he ask me to help him clean up our house. Initially, I rebelled against this, as I could see no reason why I shouldn’t be doing nothing like my friends. Grandpa saw no future in that; so he used his considerable charm and pulled a ‘Tom Sawyer’ on me. He said,” Freddy, look at how fantastic it’s going to be seeing the whole house with all those windows shiny in the sun!” And, just like Tom Sawyer, who got everyone else to paint the fence for him, I got hooked too.


And you know he was right! Looking back, I can still feel how proud I was when I had finished. Teaching by example, that was my grandpa. 

Grandma didn’t always appreciate his efforts though because Grandpa, who was good at getting things started, also got tired of things just as fast. One example that stands out in family lore is when he had this blinding inspiration and decided to sell their resort business and home for cash, which got stuffed in an envelop and tossed into the car’s glove compartment.


I can’t tell you if it was a lot of money or not; but I do know Grandma had to leave the home she loved and in a very short period of time. All she knew was that Grandpa was tired of it all  … got the itch to move on … just like that.


I was only a toddler at the time; but some years after my Grandfather had passed away, I asked her how she must have felt?  She just smiled and said at times he drove her crazy; but then she sighed and said, “I miss him Freddy”, as we all did. 


His personality and love of life was contagious.


When my Grandmother passed away, and we were settling the estate of her rather humble home, I noticed something written on the old shed door that I hadn’t noticed before. Grandpa had written (he was always writing), ‘Man is closest to God in a garden, than anywhere else on earth’.


That pretty well sums it up. He was the gardener of our lives – pruning here, nurturing there. When he died, it left a hugh hole in our lives, where a great … not perfect … man once lived.


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