Pathways to Performance: A Guide to Transforming Yourself, Your Team, and Your Organization

by Jim Clemmer


"To be good is noble, but to teach others how to be good is nobler and less trouble." - Mark Twain

A woman was asked why she was wearing her wedding band on the wrong finger. "Because I married the wrong man," she snapped. Before we make a commitment to spend time together, let's make sure this book is the right fit for you. If you're trying to change and improve a team, business, or large organization, then we're off to a good start. Where you are in the organization is less important than what you are. You need to be (or strongly aspire to become) a leader. Now that doesn't mean you must have a "leadership" job in the traditional management sense. Rather, it means you are trying to initiate and guide change and improvement in a team, business, or organization.

But before you try to change anyone else, you've got to change yourself. Self-leadership is at the heart of effectively leading others. Self-improvement is the beginning point to team or organization improvement. If that sounds as if I've been bungee jumping with a cord that was just a little too long, then we clearly aren't right for each other.

The primary objectives of this book are:

  1. Irritation. I'll do my best to get under your skin. I want to increase your dissatisfaction with your current approach to and rate of personal and organization change and improvement. I am assuming this book isn't recreational reading for you. You want to make yourself and your team, business, or organization better. Changes of the magnitude needed to excel in today's world are hard and uncomfortable. So I won't go easy. I will be in your face. I'll be part drill sergeant, part guilty conscience, and part nag (which my wife, Heather, and our kids, Christopher, Jennifer, and Vanessa, can tell you comes very naturally).
  2. Inspiration. I've tried to select a wide variety of inspiring examples, ideas, quotations, and illustrations. My goal is to energize and inspire you to begin or renew your personal and organization change and improvement process on parallel tracks. Of course, what I find inspiring you may find exasperating, and someone else might find amusing. So highlight, pluck out, or skip to those sections you find the most meaningful.
  3. Instruction. The road to higher performance is full of traps, pitfalls, and dead ends. I've watched people trying to change and improve themselves, their teams, or their organizations fall into many of them. And I've got the scrapes and bruises to show that I've stumbled into my fair share as well. So I'll point out as many I can along the way. But I've also seen and used many highly effective and very practical improvement tools and techniques. A big part of this book is dedicated to giving you a wide range of personal and organization improvement tools and techniques to choose from. You'll then need to tailor these to your circumstances, personality, and organization culture.

The Bigger Theme of Things

"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

This book is a result of my continuing quest to combine, compress, and connect the key principles and practices that lead to ever higher team, business, and organization performance. My first book (written with Art McNeil), The VIP Strategy: Leadership Skills for Exceptional Performance, outlined (and explained how to develop) many of the interpersonal communication, coaching, team, and cultural skills used by exceptional leaders to improve their organization's performance. My second book (written with Barry Sheehy), Firing on All Cylinders: The Service/Quality System for High-Powered Corporate Performance, outlined the strategic organizational tools and techniques of customer service improvement. After completing my third book, I debated its title with the Canadian (Macmillan of Canada) and U.S. (Irwin Professional Publishing) publishers. We decided to call it Firing on All Cylinders since the first edition was never published in the United States and the Implementation Architecture (or "cylinder model") still formed the book's central framework. However, the second edition of Firing on All Cylinders was substantially larger and broader than the first edition. It outlined in much greater depth the implementation tools and techniques of service/quality improvement, building a team-based organization, and process management.

Pathways to Performance cuts through the "labelism," jargon, buzzwords, and narrower tools of excellence, customer service, quality, benchmarking, continuous improvement, empowerment, teams, reengineering, process improvement, and the like to identify the underlying performance principles of successful organization change and improvement. The results of those efforts hinge on the leadership skills and personal effectiveness of the people leading and implementing them. So the book draws from and combines the fundamental principles underlying organization improvement, leadership development, and personal effectiveness.

Weaving the High-Performance Rope

Weaving the High Performance Rope

Many of the issues and principles I will touch on throughout Pathways to Performance aren't new. In fact, they've been with us for decades, if not centuries. But we continually need to rediscover them for ourselves, repackage them for our time, and make them relevant for today's circumstances or sets of problems. In writing this book, as in most of my work, I am not driven by what's new as much as I am pulled toward what works. When it comes to dealing with personal and people issues, the fundamentals of what works have remained fairly constant through the years.

If we continue to spend time together, you'll be hearing these core themes many times in the pages ahead:

  • Balance, paradox, and dilemmas. F. Scott Fitzgerald once declared, "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function." One of the reasons highly effective leaders are so effective is because they have well-developed judgment muscles between their ears. The balancing of hard, analytical management skills with those of soft, intuitive leadership is an example of a key theme you'll be hearing.
  • Constant improvement. You need to keep working in your job, team, business, or organization while you also work on your job, team, business, or organization. Most people strive hard to get their work done, keep their customers happy, meet their goals and commitments, and keep their business afloat. High performers develop the discipline to continually look at whether they are doing the right things in the best way.
  • Laughter and fun. You may have missed that recent study showing that suppressed laughter goes back down to spread the hips and produce gas. High performers often have a well-developed sense of humor, fun, and playfulness. I've consistently found that the amount of laughter (Laughter Index) found in a team, organization, or family is a good indicator of its health. So I hope you'll have some laughs in our brief time together.
  • Your true self. You can't build a team, business, or organization different from you. There must be an alignment between who you are personally and where you're trying to take your organization or team. An unimproved leader can't produce an improved team or organization. It's possible that some of the changes your organization or team needs to make will pull them closer to your true self. This can be especially true if you've inherited or taken over a group, business, or organization. However, chances are higher that you'll need to make personal changes parallel to the organization or team changes you're trying to make.
  • No quick fixes. Lasting and effective change and improvement come from moving beyond bolt-on programs to built-in processes. Many people are looking for what's new in quick-fix improvement programs. But what works are fundamental improvement practices that become a habitual way of life.
  • Taking action. My years of research and work with behavior-based skill development methods clearly show that we act our way into new ways of thinking far more easily than we can think our way into new ways of acting. Throughout this book you may find yourself nodding or thinking "I know that already. When's he going to get to the new stuff?" Whenever that happens, ask yourself "So what I am doing about it?" I'll try to nag, spur, inspire, prod, and otherwise move you beyond knowing to doing.
  • Blazing your own improvement path. There are as many ways to change and improve as there are people and organizations trying to do so. This is no one right path or approach to higher performance. What works for me may do little for you. What works for one organization may be impossible in yours. That's why I'll present an array of possible pathways, actions, steps, and routes. You need to pick through them and choose the ones that will move you farthest along the personal, team, and organization change and improvement course you're on. The most important thing is that you have an improvement plan or process.
  • Leadership as action not a position. I've seen outstanding leadership action come from people who weren't in key leadership (management) roles. I've also seen too many key managers fail to act like leaders. Highly effective organizations are brimming over with leaders at all levels and in all positions.

The themes just listed are expanded on in Chapters 1 to 4. Chapter 1 discusses the nature of change and how you might approach, anticipate, and welcome (but not manage) it. Chapter 2 lists the reasons improvement efforts often fail, reasons that reside in the misuse of tools and techniques for improvement. Chapter 3 focuses on leadership its task of managing paradox and on performance as a balance of technology, systems and processes, and people. It introduces the management-leadership balance found throughout the rest of this book. Chapter 4 provides the starting point of leadership self-leadership. Once these themes have been developed, Chapter 5 maps out the path the rest of the book will take.

Three Paths Converge

Experience is a comb that nature gives us when we are bald. - Chinese proverb

Pathways to Performance flows from three paths of my intense study and experience in organization improvement, leadership development, and personal effectiveness. A brief look at these will help you understand "where I'm coming from." You'll also understand the performance and improvement biases I've developed and tried my best to embed in this book.

My Personal Effectiveness Quest

I've often been asked how long it took me to write a particular book. This one has taken more than 20 years. That's when I first began studying and applying the personal effectiveness principles found here.

I was raised on a dairy farm in the 1960s near a town so small that its only heavy industry was a farm equipment welding shop and a 300-pound encyclopedia salesman. My father taught (and especially modeled) the values of hard work and self-sufficiency. He had an eighth-grade education and planned for me to take over the family farm, so learning, personal development, and higher education weren't important. But my mother nurtured in me a deep love of reading. I did well in grade school, but was a C student in high school until I completely lost interest and dropped out at the end of tenth grade, when I was sixteen.

In 1974, after two years of working in a local grocery store, I took a job with Culligan Water Conditioning selling water treatment equipment. I was eighteen, and I discovered an exciting new world. The doors to that world opened when I took a Dale Carnegie improvement course and read Claude Bristol's 1950s bestseller, TNT: The Power Within You. I began to understand and apply the principles of personal development and visioning and many of the others you'll find in Chapters 4 to 9 and sprinkled through the rest of the book. I started my monthly subscription to Success magazine (which I still get today) and began studying personal development books by Napoleon Hill, Dale Carnegie, Zig Ziglar, Og Mandino, Wayne Dyer, and others. I listened to audiotapes by Earl Nightingale (and many others) in my car to and from my office and in between sales calls. I also took every personal effectiveness, communications, sales, and management course Dale Carnegie offered and began to help teach them.

At nineteen I became a Culligan sales manager and began studying and applying many of the leadership and personal development principles introduced in Chapters 3 and 4 and embedded throughout this book. The power of these principles, tools, and skills propelled me rapidly through a successful series of training and general management positions at Culligan. I continued my personal development through evening classes to finish high school and university business, writing, communications, and liberal arts courses.

Developing The Achieve Group

By 1980, I was running one of Culligan's largest company-owned branches with full profit and loss responsibilities in the same way the company's franchised operations were managed by their owners. The organization improvement, leadership development, and personal effectiveness principles I had been studying and applying worked so successfully that I began to look for ways to help others learn and use them. I started by researching the consulting and training field in my university's library. I then began a series of interviewing and exploration discussions with companies in the field.

Early in 1981, I connected with Art McNeil. He had just started a company he called "Achieve Enterprises." One of the first training programs he offered after moving from his basement to a shared office was SUPERVISION from California-based Zenger-Miller, Inc. I found the people skills, values, and practical approach offered by SUPERVISION powerful and exciting. It was a combination of that program, the opportunity to help thousands improve their personal and organizational performance, and the attraction of owning (Art offered to sell me shares in Achieve) and managing a company with such an exciting future that convinced me to get off my fast Culligan career track, take a drop in pay, and join Achieve.

From 1981 to 1991, when Art and I sold The Achieve Group to Zenger-Miller, revenues mushroomed and multiplied many times over. Using the principles and approaches outlined in this book, we had become the largest "strategic consulting/training" company in Canada. Many of our competitors either scaled back or closed down their Canadian operations, and many of their managers applied to us for jobs.

Achieve's growth is modest compared to that of the legendary companies that hit hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars in revenues within their first 10 years. But it was just successful enough to induce me to further develop my personal experiences and applications of the principles that have found their way into this book. We did well and built a strong organization. But during those 10 years we also almost went bankrupt, missed payrolls, lived off our credit cards, invested heavily in products that didn't sell, hired the wrong people, created a bureaucratic maze of interconnected companies, and made a bunch of dumb moves. So I've got just enough entrepreneurial experience to make me dangerous. In the pages ahead, I'll use some of those Achieve experiences to provide a few firsthand illustrations of the agony and ecstasy found in the concepts we'll be exploring.

Living through the sale and merger of Achieve to Zenger-Miller (which is in turn owned by Times-Mirror Training Group) helped me get an up-close and personal understanding of the challenges that mergers, acquisitions, and culture change bring. Watching the company you raised being managed differently by someone else is very difficult. It's probably like trying to live with one of your married kids. The dynamics of your control or influence in their daily decisions and the new life and routines they've developed are now very different. That's one of the key reasons I moved back out on my own and formed The Clemmer Group at the beginning of 1994.

A Student of Organization Change and Improvement

In the early 1980s my attention was focused on establishing Achieve and carving out a presence in the very crowded leadership skill training market. In 1983, Zenger-Miller and Achieve worked with Tom Peters as his and Bob Waterman's book In Search of Excellence was gaining momentum. Our work with Tom to develop an executive action planning process built on the excellence principles was another personal turning point. I now had just enough experience with leadership skill development to understand how hard (nearly impossible) it was to sustain new behaviors if the culture didn't encourage or reinforce the new skills. The "Toward Excellence" process that emerged from our work with Tom introduced strategic keys to culture change, participation and involvement, delegating autonomy ("empowerment" later became the popular label), service and quality improvement, innovation, and system alignment. The excellence principles of vision, values, service, participation, and innovation also meshed with what I'd learned from my previous 10 years of work on personal effectiveness.

In 1984, the work with Toward Excellence kicked off an intense period of personal study, writing (dozens of articles, columns, and three books), and speaking on leadership development and organization improvement that continues to this day. I developed an extensive filing system to catalog and easily retrieve the articles I had (and continue to save) from Fortune, Harvard Business Review, Training, and many other magazines and newsletters. My expanding library contains hundreds of books I continue to use in the course of this ongoing research. I've given more than 1,200 presentations on leadership development and organization improvement. I've run nearly two hundred senior management retreats (usually two to three days in length), workshops, and seminars to help management teams understand and apply these principles and approaches. I get to see the inside of many cabs, airplanes, airports, meeting rooms, and hotel rooms. And some day I might even have half as much fun on one of these business trips as my family thinks I'm having.

This work is now my full-time job. It's coming dangerously close to being my whole life. But the main reason for telling you all this is to assure you that the principles, concepts, and suggestions contained in this book are well grounded in research and have been rigorously field tested.

How to Bend, Mutilate, and Otherwise Use this Book

We know by doing, but we don't always do by knowing.

As you'll soon discover, I've jammed as many "how to" tips and techniques into Pathways to Performance as I could without turning it into a tome that you need to put wheels on. But if all you do is read this book, I've failed. So let's start with a few suggestions for how to move this book beyond what I hope is "a good read" to a catalyst for action:

  • Like an oyster you can use the irritation this book provides to help you spin a pearl. If you think a section or suggestion is too preachy, impractical, or far-fetched, go ahead and put a heavy X through it. You might even give me a big raspberry (be careful not to get the pages too wet). But come back again later and look at the offending section. If it hit you that negatively, it probably touched an important nerve. There's potential improvement energy there. It could be a good place to start your pearl.
  • Read this book with pen and marker in hand. Make notes, underline, and turn down the pages. I once signed a second copy of Firing on All Cylinders for a highly effective service/quality leader who had worn out his first copy. That approach to learning was one of the reasons he had become a service/quality leader. Of course, the main reason was because he read and applied my book! If you send me your beat-up and worn-out copy of this book I'll gladly send you a complimentary, signed replacement free of charge (see page 298 for my address).
  • When I started my personal improvement quest back in 1974 I began by putting inspirational quotes on my car's sun visor and on my office and bathroom mirrors. Later I put them in my day planner on yellow Post-it notes. These have been especially helpful in my darkest times. I have become a serious collector of quotations (with more than 20,000 in a computerized database and dozens of books). That's why they're liberally peppered throughout my books. You may want to pull out the quotes that start each section of this book to inspire your quest for personal, team, or organization improvement.
  • Take a chapter or section and review it with your team. The management team of one company held a management retreat that used Firing on All Cylinders. Team members each presented a chapter, discussing what they agreed with, what they didn't, and what the team should do to improve in that area. Once each presentation had been made, the team summarized and set priorities for the areas needing attention, identified a champion for each one, and set 30-day action plans.
  • There is no quick-and-easy road to outstanding performance. If you're looking for shortcuts or sure-fire formulas, you've got the wrong book. I've tried to make Pathways to Performance easy to read and understand. But it describes a series of transformation and improvement steps and routes that, when added together, take years to turn into habits and routine practices. So use this as an ongoing guidebook; most of the work described here is never completed. Keep coming back to this book to review, assess, and renew the endless job of transforming yourself, your team, and your organization.

The turn-of-the-century French philosopher Henri Bergson implored us to "think like someone of action, and act like someone of thought." May this book help you to contemplate and reflect on your approaches to organization improvement, leadership development, and personal effectiveness. But most of all, may it cause you to act.

Jim Clemmer
Kitchener, Ontario