Monday, February 20, 2017

Agita at Air Canada

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

We’re not happy, till you’re not happy – Air  Canada motto

I’m going to blow off some steam here.  I don’t like Air Canada – I don’t the management system or the ‘leaders’ who own it, who each day subject their customers and employees to entirely avoidable hell.

(I exclude the front line staff here, who are usually courteous, and helpful within their constraints.) 

I know Air Canada is not uniquely awful.  Colleagues assure me that United, American Airlines & others are just as bad.  (I’m sure you all have had hassles as bad or worse that the one I’m about to describe.)

A few years ago I boycotted Air Canada in favor of Delta, a carrier that has embraced customer service.  I have no regrets.

(A deep bow to Delta, Southwest, Alaskan and other carriers who put their customers first. Long may you run.)

Thing is, Delta and other excellent carriers do not have access to many Canadian routes – Air Canada having lobbied the Canadian government to limit competition.  (Entrepreneurialism, eh?)

Well, circumstances recently forced me, kicking & screaming, onto an Air Canada flight.  I was flying to Quebec City, the splendid capitol of 'la belle province'.

Two flights, both standard 'milk runs', repeated several times per day.  You'd think this is one route they could get right, no?

So what happened?

My outgoing flight was delayed more than two hours.  No explanation or apology. Moreover, there were hassles checking in, multiple queues and random last-minute changes.  But Air Canada was just getting going…

The return flight was delayed 10 hours – again with no explanation.  My fellow travellers were resigned.  "It's always like this," a young woman told me. "I hate them but I have no other option."

Then we boarded and sat on the tarmac for another 90 minutes, with no explanation.  Finally, Air Canada cancelled the flight.  For the record, the weather was fine – no snow, ice or major storms in the region.

By this time we were spitting out teeth like chiclets.  Then things got worse, as if Air Canada was saying, “You think that was bad? Well, watch this!” 

There was no agent on hand to help us rebook our flights, no hotel voucher or indeed any help at all.  Eighty beaten down passengers stranded in an isolated airport at 11:00 pm with no support at all.

My travel agent has followed up – no response from ‘Customer Service’.  Air Canada's customer feedback pages are a river of anger. How do AC's leaders react?  They ignore the feedback and lobby government to reduce competition.

Air travel used to about freedom.  Today it’s a series of indignities – queues, invasive searches, and suspicious questions. Then rogue carriers like AC take over and finish you off.

Why am I bothering to write this? Because villains should be outed.  You ought to know about Air Canada.  Avoid them as you would a rabid skunk.

As for me, it’ll be a long time before I allow wild horses to drag me on to another Air Canada flight.

Best regards,


Monday, February 13, 2017

Lean – So ‘Easy’, It’s Hard

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

Striking how ‘easy’ Lean is, no?

1.       Define Purpose clearly & communicate it tirelessly,
2.       Identify the main obstacles and/or enablers to achieving Purpose
3.       Treat people with respect and seek to involve everybody in improving the business
4.       Go see what’s actually happening regularly and with purpose
5.       Reflect regularly, openly & honestly on what’s working, what is not working, and why
6.       Keep going (until you die)

That last one is perhaps the most difficult, and, in my view, the sign of a great sensei. It’s how we transform a management system into a way of living and being, something that remains after we’re gone.

I think of George Kissell, the legendary St. Louis Cardinal minor league manager, teaching baseball fundamentals well into his eighties. Or Ed Deming still teaching, kicking butt and taking names from a wheelchair at the age of ninety three.

We’re fortunate enough to work with a number of faith-based hospital systems. I find it profoundly moving when they begin a day or a meal with a prayer for wisdom and humility.

I’m sure you can cite many more examples. Enduring excellence in sports, business and management, is based on bedrock principles (very much like the ones above), no?

The more you practice the easier – and harder it gets. Easier, because repetition develops muscle memory.   Harder, because we humans – or at least this one – are lazy, tricky and dishonest (especially with ourselves). 

We think we can outfox the fundamentals, that we can ‘get away with it.’ The more success we experience, the more lazy, tricky and dishonest we tend to become. As a result, success corrupts, just as ‘power corrupts’.

Greatest senseis throughout the ages have adopted various countermeasures to our innate vulnerabilities. The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, the world’s most powerful person then, meditated on death every day.  St. Jerome kept a human skull on his desk.

(My daughters, knowing my respect for the afore-mentioned, gave me a skull replica, which sits on my desk as I write, wearing my Green Bay Packers cap. Needless to say, I am no St. Jerome…)

Our Toyota senseis countermeasure was to check frequently and severely. “Target, actual, please explain!”  “Your activities have no meaning, Pascal-san!”  “This is NOT countermeasure!”

They were right, of course, and I felt like the village idiot for a long time. Good thing too – how else could I unlearn the rubbish I’d learned engineering and business school?

(Don’t want to be misunderstood – I learned plenty of good stuff in professional schools too. But often it’s mixed in with rubbish, no?)

In summary, Lean fundamentals are really life fundamentals – simultaneously easy & hard. Seek them out, practice and keep going.  Very good things will happen.

Then, remembering Marcus Aurelius and St. Jerome, double-down on humility.

Best regards,


Monday, February 6, 2017

Stories, Poems & Strategy

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

I write stories and poems for fun and to record my adventures around the world.

But stories & poems also keep my strategic thinking sharp. Articulating a story entails deeply grasping a situation, a person or group of people, or an organization.

We’re hard-wired for stories. At day’s end our ancestors on the African savannah sat around the fire and told stories. They didn’t show PowerPoint slides.

Day’s end for me often means sitting in a restaurant somewhere, scribbling and doodling in my note book.

With luck & time I’m able to boil my impressions down to a few words and an image or two, which are the door to a deeper understanding.

I studied chemical engineering and business. My electives were literature courses. I love Walt Disney and his splendid invented word: imagineering

Reading a chessboard, a story or poem, a business situation – it’s all the same. The pros in every profession know this in their bones, do they not?

I’ve met a number of great CFO’s – they’re were all good at articulating the story behind the numbers.

So let me challenge my fellow propeller-heads. Crack open a book of stories or poems now and then.

Good for the mind, good for the soul.

Best regards,


Monday, January 30, 2017

Strategy is Not About Doing What’s “Important”

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

Be willing to make decisions. That's the most important quality in a good leader.
General George S. Patton

Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide.
Napoleon Bonaparte

Plenty of misconceptions about this one.

We seem to think that developing our strategy entails asking each member of our senior team for their ‘laundry lists.’

Result? An overflowing project hopper, a pipeline that’s turned to cement, and a confusing message to team members.

Strategy is about choosing. “Here’s where we’re going, and these are the activities that’ll get us there. All these others are good ideas but they’re not our priority, so we’re going to put them in the Parking Lot for now.”

Of course, as noted in my earlier column, there is no ‘right answer’ in strategy. So, we articulate our hypothesis with the understanding that we’ll adjust it based on what happens.

Quick adjustments depend entirely on a strong management system that allows us to detect changes, and adjust and deploy our ‘emergent’ strategies.

Strategy is about deciding and about accepting the responsibility therein. ‘Deciding’ is the leader’s most difficult job.

Napoleon Bonaparte and George Patton were clear on this. (George W. Bush, perhaps dyslexic, was less elegant: “I’m the decider and I make the decisions.”)

Deciding means we’ve grasped the situation on the chessboard, and have articulated a plan. The ‘story’ behind the decision is an important test of the plan.

Does the story make sense? Is it compelling? Can we communicate it to our management team and organization?

Thus strategy is also story-telling. I write stories and poems for fun and to record my adventures around the world [Reflections of a Business Nomad].

Stories & poems keep our strategic thinking skills sharp. They help us read the chessboard - and decide.

Best regards,