Pathways to Performance

A Guide to Transforming Yourself, Your Team, and Your Organization

Managers keep searching for the sure-fire change and improvement path. But following the trendy and popular routes often lead them over a cliff or into dead-end canyons. Cutting through the buzzwords and theories, comes Pathways to Performance — a guide to help you, your team, and your organization blaze your own successful way to high performance.

Jim outlines an array of practical ideas, steps, and routes that will inspire and instruct your transformation efforts. You’ll see why you can’t build a team or organization that’s different from you. You’ll learn how to pull together personal effectiveness, leadership development, and organizational improvement. Pathways to Performance is loaded with hundreds of practical how-to points (“Pathways and Pitfalls”) in two parallel paths — strategies for team or organization improvement along with their complementary techniques for personal transformation.

Topics include:

  • Wandering Off the Improvement Trail: The Deadly Dozen Failure Factors
  • The High-Performance Balance: Managing Things, Leading People
  • Self Leadership: It All Starts With You
  • The Big Picture: A Map to Improvement Pathways and Passages
  • Focus and Context: Vision, Values, and Purpose
  • Innovation and Organizational Learning
  • Establishing Goals and Priorities, Getting Organized, and Managing Time
  • Improvement Planning and Implementation
  • Change Checkpoints and Improvement Milestones

Pathways to Performance blends personal and professional experiences with extensive research, insightful quotations, dollops of humor, and simple conceptual models. This easy-to-read, comprehensive book shows you how to improve yourself in step with the changes you’re making to your team or organization — propelling you and your organization down the path of truly effective improvement.

Read Reviews

John Brom
Director Maintenance, Conair Aviation Ltd.


It was an absolute pleasure meeting up with you once again. Your morning lecture May 6th in Vancouver provided me with the encouragement needed to get on with change at Conair. I read Pathways to Performance and, as usual, could not put it down until I was at the end. As with Firing on All Cylinders, it now has lots of sticky notes in it. Please know that your spirit and enthusiasm is making a difference. You mentioned your family several times in this book, more so than in the past. Please let them know I appreciate the support they have given you — it has without question improved my family’s lifestyle.

Keep up the GREAT work!

John Brom

Myrna Scott
Director of Nursing, County of Bruce Gateway Haven

Dear Mr. Clemmer:

I just finished reading your book Pathways to Performance. I feel excited and overwhelmed at the same time.

I am the Director of Nursing at Gateway Haven, a long term care facility in Wiarton, housing a population of frail, cognitively impaired clients.

Over the years, I have increasingly blamed the system (political, unionism, administrative) for our organization’s dysfunctional culture.

I’ve made the mistake of allowing myself to become disempowered by these factors.

The advice I found most compelling in your book centred around the self-management/self-leadership concept. I see that in order to influence my organization, I have to work harder at changing myself. It’s encouraging to hear you say that leaders are made rather than born.

A number of key elements are already in place. There are many diamonds related to my job. I can bring ninety-six sparkling ones to mind very quickly – the clients/residents that I serve. I’ve always had a vision in the back of my mind with respect to the kind of organization I thought Gateway Haven should aspire to be. I believe that reading your book was the catalyst that will help me to make that vision a reality.

Thank you,

Myrna Scott

Cathy Morton
Insurance Company of British Columbia
Mr. Clemmer:

I am the leader of the legal department of a large insurance company in British Columbia. Until 1993, I was a regular staff lawyer in the department. Then, in 1993, a management position opened and I was asked to take it. Without much thought (and with absolutely no training or experience) I agreed. My training consisted of a 3-day course for new managers. During that course, the instructor happened to mention your book, Firing on All Cylinders, and said it was the bible of the corporation’s then president. That was enough to get me to go out and buy it. Thank goodness I did. Your book got me pointed in the right direction – and kept me there.

When Pathways to Performance came out, of course I had to get it. My mother bought it for me for my birthday (actually she ended up buying two copies – she started reading it herself and couldn’t put it down!) and I just finished reading it. I was definitely not disappointed! As you suggest, I spend a lot of time reading, but find many management books to be overly technical and/or uninspired. Your books are the only ones that make me stop, reflect, and write notes about what I am going to do when I next get to the office. If, by “irritating,” you meant “spurring into action,” then you definitely succeeded. (I have to say, though, that I didn’t find anything in the book irritating in the sense of arousing a negative reaction.)

You asked for feedback on the contents of the book. Oddly, the part I found most thought-provoking was the section on purpose in the personal context (Chapter 9). While I didn’t end up deciding to make any radical changes to my life, I went through some deep personal reflection in response to that chapter.

I was also impressed by the message that you have to change yourself before you can change anyone else, and that your organization will not reflect any attributes that you don’t have personally.

You convinced me of the values of decentralization and changed my thinking radically on some of my business processes.

I was also heartened by the Reward and Recognition section – I had been wrestling for years with the “employee of the month” concept but had never figured out how to implement it. Instead I simply used ad hoc appreciation and thank you notes, cards, etc. What a relief to find out my instincts were right!

In terms of possible improvements to the book, perhaps some examples/anecdotes drawn from the staff functions instead of the line functions, for those of us who operate service/staff departments as opposed to entire corporations.

Thank you for your books. I look forward to the next one!

Cathy Morton

“Jim Clemmer is an original. He walks in the shoes of Deming, Juran, Ackoff, and Senge, and establishes himself in Pathways to Performance as an important interpreter of the issue of quality in the modern idiom. His formulations and advice, though rooted in a thorough mastery of the theory and sciences of quality, are very much his own. He guides the reader with good humor, memorable examples, and careful logic, to new ways to view the challenges of leading improvement. We talk a lot about ‘changing cultures’ as an inescapable part of the search for quality. Clemmer gives the idea new life and freshness, and offers great ideas ready for action.”
Don Berwick, M.D., President and CEO, The Institute for Healthcare Improvement

“Through its clarity, humor, and deep insights, Pathways to Performance shows how to glue together the important puzzle pieces that lead to personal and organizational success.”
Stephen J. Frangos, author of Team Zebra, a book based on his turnaround of Kodak’s Black and White Film Manufacturing unit

Pathways to Performance is the first book I’ve read that successfully weaves together the high-performance rope out of the strands of organization improvement, leadership development, and personal effectiveness. Jim demonstrates what has taken him years of experience to learn, both as a successful entrepreneur and as one of the most brilliant and sought-after consultants in North America.”
Scott DeGarmo, Editor in Chief and Publisher, Success Magazine

“Jim Clemmer cuts through the rhetoric of fashionable organization programs and theoretical concepts to navigate the business leader on his journey to high performance and success in his company.”
Roger Staubach, Chairman and CEO, The Staubach Company

“This book is a powerful treatise on the relationship of leaders and the groups they lead — and the relationship between personal and organizational development. It combines the best of theory with myriad of practical tips and suggestions for making it happen. Don’t read this book as a novel. Read it with enough time to ‘chew on’ the considerable meat that’s inside. It is a blueprint for success.”
John H. Zenger, Co-founder Zenger Miller Inc. and President Times Mirror Training Group

Pathways to Performance is a must read for any leader or aspiring leader. It will inspire and instruct you to be a change agent for yourself and others.”
Ken Blanchard, Co-author, The One Minute Manager

“The benefits of laughter, the need for team alignment, the importance of working together to the same agenda, and the thought that there is no miracle path to high performance all rang bells with me. This is a thought provoking, practical, and useful book.”
Alan W. Stark, President and General Manager, Amex Canada Inc.

“Jim’s approach to vision and values is straight on track and is the highlight of the book. The promise made was fulfilled. It did make me think. It made me reflect on my own approach to leading and the many things I still have room to improve upon.”
Jon Slangerup, Vice President and General Manager, Federal Express Canada

“Jim Clemmer’s new text is in the forefront of today’s thinking about business excellence. His pragmatic approach, based on sound theory, will resonate with thoughtful business leaders everywhere. I would recommend it to anyone whether advanced in the quality journey or beginning to take their very first steps. It’s an excellent roadmap…. but more than that, it is illuminated by deep insights into organizational life and the challenge facing leaders in every endeavor.”
John Lynch, President and CEO, North American Life Assurance Company

“Jim Clemmer has integrated the spectrum of current management theories and practices into a pragmatic guide which will become the leadership handbook of our time. Much more than a good read, Pathways to Performance evokes a commitment to excel; to embrace and put into action the leading edge personal, team, and organization improvement practices.”
Jack F. Shand, President, Canadian Society of Association Executives

Pathways to Performance is an excellent follow up to Firing on All Cylinders. Jim Clemmer provides a challenging and inspirational guide for executives to stay on the path of improvement in both personal and organizational performance.”
Bernard J. Herman, President, Mercy Healthcare, Bakersfield, CA

“Anyone reading Pathways to Performance must give pause to reflect if he or she has truly made the commitment to be an outstanding leader. The book is a rich review of the many elements that make up effective leadership which — as Jim points out — can be accomplished by anyone who thinks through the process and is willing to make the effort. As I read each chapter our organization’s leadership behavior became clear to me and what will be required by our leaders in the months ahead came into focus.”
Gordon Canning, President, Blue Mountain Resorts

“Jim’s timely and inspiring book reinforces that managing organizational change and improving quality starts when we decide to change the way we think about ourselves and the impact of what we do on others. Pathways to Performance provides a much needed roadmap for personal quality improvement.”
J. W. Perry, Vice President Reimer Express World Corp. and Vice President, National Quality Institute

“Jim has put his finger on the dark secret of organization change and improvement — most attempts fail because senior managers are unwilling or unable to change their behaviors. His book made me feel uncomfortable (a good sign) because he ruthlessly exposed a number of deficiencies in my leadership style. Pathways to Performance very explicitly prescribes for senior management hubris. It is the most comprehensive guide to leadership skill development that I have read. I will be buying copies for my senior managers and profitably rereading it myself it for several years to come.”
Drew Yallop, President, Canadian Tire Petroleum

“The concept of personal, team, and organizational levels of change is important. Jim Clemmer’s sharing of personal experiences in all three areas is powerful … and unusual. Many people are not comfortable with personal disclosures as a tool for learning from others.”
Mary-jo Hall, Professor/Special Assistant for Quality, Defense Systems Management College, Fort Belvior, VA

“Pathways to Performance chronicles very personal elements critical to organizational improvement. An important commentary for those who are willing to accept accountability for performance.”
Duncan J. MacIntyre, President and CEO, National Quality Institute

“Jim Clemmer has written a book for thoughtful leaders who learned long ago that doing more of the same will not bring about sustainable change. He addresses the key issue of our time: that the fundamental, and necessary reconstruction of our organizations that will prepare them for the twenty-first century can only be achieved from within, and even then, only one person at a time.”
Lance Secretan, Business Consultant, Author of Managerial Moxie and The Way of the Tiger

“At a time when managers are common and leaders are at a premium, Jim has woven together the basic principles that provide the foundation for increased personal effectiveness and successful organization change. Regardless of the tools used — total quality management, reengineering, installation of teams, continuous improvement, empowerment — the very practical `pathways and pitfalls’ that Jim provides will help managers successfully lead their organizations in new directions.”
Bob Sherwin, President and CEO, Kaset International

“Jim Clemmer identifies the indispensable qualities that will define the next decade of exemplary organizations. To read Pathways to Performance is become captivated by the possibilities for personal and organizational achievement. Entrepreneurs and leaders will be inspired by Jim’s very personal challenge.”
Doug Snetsinger, Executive Director, Institute of Market Driven Quality

“Being a military officer, I was particularly interested in the thoughts on leadership and management. In my career, I have played both roles; sometimes simultaneously. It is very important to understand the differences and to know when to play each.”
Claude M. Bolton, Jr., Brigadier General, U. S. Air Force

Pathways to Performance does a great job of demystifying all the quality and organization improvement buzzwords. This book is an excellent guide to performance improvement for organizations of all sizes and in all sectors whether they be public companies or government services.”
Tony Johnston, Vice-President, Employee Development and Quality Improvement, Canadian Airlines International

“If all you read is the introduction, the book is worth the investment. A bugle call to action.”
Peter Jensen, President, Performance Coaching Inc. and author of The Inside Edge

“Jim, it’s been my privilege to recommend your wonderful book, Firing on All Cylinders, to my audiences. It is the best book on customer service I’ve ever read. With Pathways to Performance, you’ve done it again. This book is a star in the sky to help lead people and organizations to real change, positive values, and lasting relationships. Thank you for the gift you’ve given to those of us who care deeply about people and performance.”
Maurice O’Callaghan, professional speaker and former telecommunications executive

Pathways to Performance provides a valued sense of direction and reference for those struggling to behave differently and lead more effectively. Jim pulls together the many facets of leadership and management and shows how they fit to make the whole. It will become a guide for all our Team Leader/Managers.”
Philip C. Hassen, President, St. Joseph’s Health Centre (London, Ontario)

“In Pathways to Performance, Jim Clemmer provides readers with an inspirational guide that will help anyone improve leadership abilities. It is clear that by following these pathways, great personal benefits will follow. And, of course, I loved the humor!”
David Chilton, author of The Wealthy Barber

“I found Pathways to Performance fascinating reading; particularly with our company going through a heavy growth period, some of the advice, information, and examples of how to literally view the organization really hit home. For me, the book created a great deal of thought and generated a continued emphasis on continually reviewing the objectives and priorities of a company.”
Sam Poole, President, Maxis

Pathways to Performance is engaging, challenging, enlightening, inspirational, and (most important!) very entertaining. It is an essential playbook for leaders in every field and at every level.”
Dick Lehrburg, Executive Vice President, Interplay Products

“The wealth of information you share in Pathways to Performance is priceless. Your authenticity, sincerity, dynamic leadership, dedication, and extensive knowledge, is apparent with every page a reader absorbs. You have impressed upon me the importance of taking action. I have been using your book as a blueprint for my continuous improvement. I thank you for the motivation. Your book has been a light on my path. I would enjoy hearing your autobiography. Your life story of success, hard work, dedication, persistence, action, and follow through would be a fabulous bestseller.”
Jara Traci Weiss, Personal Coach

Table of Contents


Changing, Learning, and Improving


Wandering Off the Improvement Trail: The Deadly Dozen Failure Factors


The High-Performance Balance: Managing Things, Leading People


Self-Leadership: It All Starts with You


The Big Picture: A Map to Improvement Pathways and Passages


Who Are You and What Do You Want?


Picturing Your Preferred Future






Pinpointing Your Customer/Partner Performance Gaps


Tomorrow’s Markets and Customers: Exploring, Searching, and Creating


Innovation and Organizational Learning


Establishing Goals and Priorities, Getting Organized, and Managing Time


Sketching Your Pathway to Performance


Infrastructure, Process, and Discipline


Process Management




Skill Development


Measurement and Feedback


Structure and Systems


Education and Communication


Reward and Recognition


Change Champions and Local Initiatives


Review, Assess, Celebrate, and Refocus


Change Checkpoints, Improvement Milestones, and Ringing True to You



Foreword by Scott DeGarmo, Editor in Chief and Publisher, Success Magazine

Foreword – by Scott DeGarmo, Editor in Chief and Publisher, Success Magazine

There is an ancient story that has enjoyed endless variations. The one I know involves three wise but sightless men who chance upon an elephant. The first wise man gets hold of one of the elephant’s legs and cries out, “Why, it’s a magnificent mansion with huge columns!” The next wise man, feeling the elephant’s tail, retorts derisively, “It’s nothing of the kind. This is but a very strong rope.” The last wise man, feeling one of the elephant’s tusks, says with equal certainty, “You are both wrong. What we have here are some of the most fearsome sabers you can ever imagine.”

I tell you this story because it reminds me of the endless discussions concerning how to build a successful company. There are those who insist that successful organizations come out of personal effectiveness if your people are effective, then your company will also be. Others insist that it is simply a matter of good leadership with the right leader, any organization will thrive. Others, however, swear with equal fervor that the measure of a successful company lies in the effectiveness of its organizational structure.

Like the experiences of the three wise men, each of these points of view is right in a limited way and wrong in its incompleteness as a total philosophy for corporate improvement. The truth lies in the fact that these three views combined create the necessary vision to build a successful organization. Here, paradox becomes paradigm!

Jim Clemmer’s Pathways to Performance is the first book I have read that successfully weaves the high-performance rope out of the strands of organizational improvement, leadership development, and personal effectiveness. Here you’ll find no quick fixes; Clemmer correctly believes there are none. Rather, he demonstrates what has taken him years of experience to learn, both as a successful entrepreneur (as you will soon read) and as one of the most brilliant and sought-after consultants in North America.

This is no dry tome. Jim’s understated humor permeates every part of this book. The style is breezy and accessible. Yet, he is dead-on accurate in pointing out some of the amazing inanities that underlie the way we go about trying to effect change. He may irritate you, and I know he will challenge and perhaps even madden you. But he will make you think!

So, keep your mind open and your ego in check. You’ll be richly rewarded!

– Scott DeGarmo, Editor in Chief and Publisher, Success Magazine


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:

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).

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.

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

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

Chapter Summaries