HomeSocial Impact HeroesIrma Parone Of Parone Group On How Leaders Make Difficult Decisions

Irma Parone Of Parone Group On How Leaders Make Difficult Decisions

An interview with Maria Angelova

Determine the root cause of the problem.

As a leader, some things are just unavoidable. Being faced with hard choices is one of them. Leadership often entails making difficult decisions or hard choices between two apparently good paths. What’s the best way to go about this? Is there a “toolkit” or a skill set to help leaders sort out their feelings and make the best possible decisions? As part of our series about “How Leaders Make Difficult Decisions,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Irma Parone.

Irma Parone is the founder, and president of Parone Group. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and executive consultant focused on organizational development and customer loyalty, creating efficient, effective, and high-value service focus for employers and their teams.

Irma’s book, WINX — The Problem-Solving Model to Win Exponentially with Customers, Employees & Your Bottom Line, is an easy-to-follow 8-step problem-solving model filled with research and true-to-life stories. This book provides downloadable forms to easily follow the 8-step problem solving process.

Based on our reviews of her testimonials, the World-Famous Gallup organization twice ranked her business unit in their “World Class” category for workplace quality. Her innovative approach combines leadership strategies with organizational structure and simple processes. Irma is an expert at turning around customer and employee problems. Her results are proven, practical, and engaging. Irma is a graduate of Cornell University and an organizational development certified professional.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Of course! I spent over two decades in the service industry and loved serving my company, customers, and teams. My last role of fifteen years before forming Parone Group was as a Sr. Vice President for a security guard company. I lead a team of approximately 1500 employees covering the state of Florida. Unfortunately, my mother became ill with dementia after my father’s passing. She lived in Pittsburgh, and it became apparent she needed skilled help. I found a location 3 miles from me. Sadly, we had to move her from her home of nearly 60 years. As pleasant as she is, it was difficult and confusing for her, especially considering her illness.

Although this facility was very close to me, I traveled at least a few days a week for my job. Seeing Mom increasingly confused, I knew I had to leave that job. I called my boss and explained that I would give him whatever notice he needed, but I had to leave the company. Two months later, I was unemployed.

I was blessed to spend the last three years of her life by her side. I visited twice daily, helping her eat and spending time with her.

Soon after I left my job, however, I missed working. I was always a worker. The longest I had ever taken off was three weeks when I had my son. I loved my work, so I decided to start my own business and work part-time around my mother’s visits. It was the perfect scenario. That was why, and how, Parone Group began.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Oh my gosh, yes. There are so many people I am grateful for. First of all, my parents raised me with values and always saw the positive in life and people. Then, my boss, Jack, taught me to value our customers and employees. And my last boss Len, taught me the value of metrics, leading, and lagging indicators. There are so many more. I learned from everyone. Both good and bad (what NOT to do).

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

One of my previous bosses asked me to help with an extremely problematic account. Their customer retention rate was at 51.8%. In slightly over a year, we turned the customer retention rate from 51.8% to 93% and moved the branch ranking (including financials) from 2nd from the bottom to 3rd from the top of the entire division. There were many obstacles to getting there. As hard as I tried to find value in some office staff, they were all gradually replaced. Not only were they led in the wrong direction, but they also believed it. There was little to no concern for the customers, the company, or the employees. It was all “what’s in it for me”.

It was a large operation, and I could not do it all myself, so as I met with the site supervisors, I looked for raw talent who also had a heart. We started developmental training while problem-solving. We identified and added great staff and worked through the obstacles. We cared for the customers, the company, and the employees. Of course, we lost some customers along the way, but we built, grew, and excelled.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through challenges? What sustains your drive?

No. Period. I can’t really explain where I get the drive to continue through challenges. As many weaknesses as I have, I really love challenges — and never give up!

Leadership often entails making difficult decisions or hard choices between two apparently good paths. Can you share a story with us about a hard decision or choice you had to make as a leader?

Oh my yes. A potential customer wanted to hire my company to help him with his team. You see, he needed to improve his bottom line. Unfortunately, he was failing terribly (in his words) and considering drastic measures. He planned to reduce the pay rate of his employees to recover from falling revenue. When I looked at the data (his current pay rates against competitors’ rates), I knew that was a bad decision. I told him we could surely find other ways; I noticed a few immediately. However, he was persistent that he made his Decision and wanted me to help him work with him and his team to retain the employees. Although this business would have been a huge job for me, I was unwilling to make money and fail at the goal. My reputation was more important than the money. As a note, I checked in on him a few months after I turned down the job. He closed his doors. It was the right Decision for me.

What process or toolset can a leader use to make a choice between two difficult paths?

That is a really easy one for me. Assess impact. In my book WINX- The Problem-Solving Model to Win Exponentially with Customers, Employees & Your Bottom Line, I share a complete explanation of the model and interactive worksheets. The bottom-line answer to your question is that once you have identified your top few strategies, compare each to their positive and negative impact on your triangular view: the customers, the employees & the company. The answer should be obvious.

Do you have a mentor or someone you can turn to for support and advice? How does this help? When can a mentor be helpful? When is this not helpful?

I have a few people that I reach out to in my ongoing journey. I have worked for two past bosses I reach out to occasionally and special friends who are professionals and can guide me when I need help. Even though I am past the point in my life where you would think one may not reach out for assistance, I am always taking the next step forward, and I believe in continuous growth. These individuals are always there for me. The only time having a mentor is a bad idea is when the mentor does not understand their role.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader when faced with a difficult decision?

To ensure they are not making the Decision out of emotion but rather research and logic. To look at all sides of the issue and consider the long-term impact their Decision will have on their customers, employees, and company.

Do you ever look back at your decisions and wish you had done things differently? How can a leader remain positive and motivated despite past mistakes?

Unless one stays in a bubble, I can’t imagine anyone that has never regretted a decision. The advice I give is what I have learned throughout my years. Learn from it and fix it if you can. Regardless, move on. As I wrote in my contribution to the international best-selling book Voices of the 21st Century: Bold, Brave, and Brilliant Women Who Make a Difference “Life Happens!” Move forward. And, of course, as Maya Angelo said “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

What is the best way to boost morale when the future seems uncertain? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team during uncertain times?

Be honest and communicate openly but with hope. Also, include as many as possible in the collaboration and problem-solving stages. Foster a sense of purpose, recognize achievements (small and large), provide support and resources, promote innovation, lead by example, encourage feedback, and maintain morale-boosting activities. And lastly, remember that people react differently, so keep your eyes and ears open to give you the time and opportunity to provide individual support or guidance as needed.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses or leaders make when faced with a hard decision? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

Yes! The first mistake is not working on the correct problem. Most decisions are needed to solve problems or issues. Not working on the correct problem, and the root cause, is the biggest mistake.

The second one is failing to do the research. Difficult decisions can be very emotional, and you can fall prey to many bad mistakes without separating the emotions.

Third is not asking for feedback. Look for ideas from your team, and even customers! After all, they may know better than you what may work.

Fourth, is not evaluating options against the customers, the employees and your bottom line. It can’t be all about what works best for you because what happens when one or more of the three mentioned takes a big hit ?A disaster.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a leader should do when making difficult decisions? Please share a story or an example for each.

1 . Write your problem statement. For example, because I help leaders find solutions to their people problems, I am often called to work on this statement, “How can I select better employees”. When I dig into the data, including conversations with the employees, I often learn they do a pretty good job of hiring good employees. Their statement should be “How do I stop new hire churn”. Two different problems, taking them to completely different paths in decision-making. Choose the wrong direction, and your time, money plus a lot of energy will be wasted.

2 . Determine the root cause of the problem. Let’s stay with the scenario in #1. Now they have the correct problem statement, but what is the root cause of the new hire churn? Many organizations focus on pay rates, and although that is accurate with some of my experiences (if they are far under competitive pay rates), it is not the typical reason. My biggest discovery in my research was that they needed to give employees a reason to stay. Specifically, these new hires often are still floating their resumes once they take a job. And speaking to them, they would have gladly stayed if they felt more welcome, included, and confident that the team was there to help them succeed. Regardless of the problem, determine the root cause.

3 . Get feedback! Pull your most engaged employees in on your efforts and look at options from all levels of the organization. Employees who feel safe to have meaningful debates and discussions can identify ideas you may have never thought of. I once had a new employee when I was in the nuclear security industry. My team and I had been brainstorming for a solution to a difficult problem. He was not only new to the company; he was new to the industry. He blasted out an amazing idea. We were all stunned. Sometimes we know so much about our industry we get stuck in the same thought process. You may also consider asking some of your trusted customers for feedback. The broader and more diverse your problem-solving team is, the better the chance of finding creative, innovative ideas.

4 . Compare alternatives. Often when making decisions, we focus on ‘what I need’ rather than considering the customers, the employees & the bottom line. Take each of the two or three top ideas and run them through my comparing alternatives interactive form from my book WINX, or create your own form. The bottom line is to identify how each of the solutions or potential decisions will impact (positive and negative) the customers, the employees & your bottom line. The best solution should easily stand out. I had a prospective customer who wanted to cut salaries because his business was bleeding money. His pay rates were already too low. I suggested we find another way and he refused to consider other options. I did not take the job because I knew it would fail based on the data. His emotions took over. He cut pay rates, lost staff, and closed his business within six months. He failed to consider the impact.

5 . Implement the decision. The process is never over once the decision is made. There are assignments, planning, organizing, follow-up, and communication to ensure everyone is on the same page and moving in the same direction. And once the decision is implemented, be sure to schedule a ‘shake out date’. Put that date on the calendar now for 3/6 or 12 months later to revisit the decision and make any tweaks necessary. I’m sure like me, you are aware of many decisions that never happened, or follow up that fell through the cracks because of lack of planning.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“One team on the same train, moving in the same direction, is a powerful force!” — Irma Parone

Unfortunately, some years ago, I managed teams in a labor-intensive environment where “union” and “management” were divided. No one could win under those circumstances. However, once we started really breaking down barriers and working together, everything was possible. I don’t know how I came up with that quote, I just said it one day in a challenging meeting, and it stuck. I have used it ever since!

How can our readers further follow your work?

They can learn more about Parone Group on my website They can also find me on LinkedIn by searching for Irma Parone. My book WINX — The Problem-Solving Model to Win Exponentially with Customers, Employees & Your Bottom Line can be found on Amazon or my website. The audiobook version can also be found anywhere audiobooks are sold.

Photo by Warner-Prokos Photography

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.

Thank you for the amazing opportunity!

About The Interviewer: Maria Angelova, MBA is a disruptor, author, motivational speaker, body-mind expert, Pilates teacher and founder and CEO of Rebellious Intl. As a disruptor, Maria is on a mission to change the face of the wellness industry by shifting the self-care mindset for consumers and providers alike. As a mind-body coach, Maria’s superpower is alignment which helps clients create a strong body and a calm mind so they can live a life of freedom, happiness and fulfillment. Prior to founding Rebellious Intl, Maria was a Finance Director and a professional with 17+ years of progressive corporate experience in the Telecommunications, Finance, and Insurance industries. Born in Bulgaria, Maria moved to the United States in 1992. She graduated summa cum laude from both Georgia State University (MBA, Finance) and the University of Georgia (BBA, Finance). Maria’s favorite job is being a mom. Maria enjoys learning, coaching, creating authentic connections, working out, Latin dancing, traveling, and spending time with her tribe. To contact Maria, email her at [email protected]. To schedule a free consultation, click here.

Irma Parone Of Parone Group On How Leaders Make Difficult Decisions was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.