Stay Positive: It is Not the Mountain! It is the Grain of Sand!


Stay Positive: It is Not the Mountain! It is the Grain of Sand!

With so many disrupting events, how do we stay positive about the Parking Industry?


The answer to that questions starts with how will and does the industry respond to disruptions and challenges. Are we in avoidance – the classic stick your head in the sand, or do we deal with the disruptions that have and will continue to have an impact on the industry? Surviving the economic consequences of COVID is certainly a testament to the ability of the industry to withstand a tidal wave.


Who or what is stopping you from becoming an agent for change?


Generally, when challenges occur, you can be an observer or a participant – either like a pebble being pushed down a river, or the salmon swimming upstream to stay in existence. Being proactive enables an organization to have some control over its destiny.


Being positive requires an attitude.

One of my favorite expressions is: “It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you down, it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.” (Attributed to Robert W. Service) Each day you set your attitude. Do you want to dwell on the small, mundane matters or are you going to shed them? Are you going to wait for someone else to make a move or are you going to “Pluck the Day”? Carpe Diem!

Who or what is stopping you from becoming an agent for change and why should you become one? 


Why should you become an agent for change?

There are many naysayers and those that believe there is no real future for the parking industry- cars are evil and no one should have or need one. I will not venture into this philosophical debate, but part of it stems from the difficult part of the work- compliance /enforcement. In high school, we had two vice principals, one for academics and one for discipline. Guess which one no one liked? We know that enforcement is key to parking, but that does not mean anyone is going to say anything positive.

The work that is done by the parking industry is difficult. However, the work is important to commerce. Turnover, managing last mile resources and the curb have never been more important, especially with the explosion of e-commerce during and post COVID. I am confident that e-commerce is here to stay because it’s what consumers want. Consider the consumer attitude that the added costs of shipping a product are not considered by consumers because the actual cost, plus the lost opportunity cost of physically purchasing an item at a store, are outweighed by the additional transportation cost – it’s just not worth our time. This represents a dramatic change in consumer choices that creates a present challenge in curb management which must be addressed. Cities are reporting even slower traffic flows. I suggest that the ultimate model should be the way a dentist’s office is managed. At 9 AM, a section of the curb is no stopping (a root canal), and at 10 AM, it’s 2-hour parking (a cleaning). 

The point of this example is that one of the ways we stay positive is by focusing on the positive: the conveniences that consumers want. Enforcement is important to obtain compliance, but our mission has to be about more. Our broad goals should be enhancing customer convenience, safety for bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists, technologies that promote better traffic flow, and reduction of congestion and pollution. Solving the negative impacts and costs of searching for a parking space are well documented by INRIX annually and are an example of a measurable result of these broader goals. By focusing our industry attention on solving problems that people care about, we add value in the opinion of the broader audience of people and move attention away from the hated consequences of non-compliant parking.

Nature abhors a vacuum (Aristotle). Something will fill it. Being a participant in change allows change to be directed in ways that can benefit the industry. If change is inevitable, then being a by-stander or allowing others to direct the change will end in a result, but likely not the one that favors the industry.


How do you become an agent for change?

So now that we know why we need to be change agents to positively impact our organizations, how do we become agents of change?

Read books about effective leadership and emulate those leaders who are able to disarm others so that you can build trust and consensus. 

Read and understand the differences between organizations that are top-down driven versus bottom-up. Successful parking enforcement functions, by necessity, are often managed as top down – by a chain of command. It is difficult to effect change in this structure, whereas organizations that are bottom-up driven can implement change. Employees want to feel that they are part of an organization seeking a higher purpose.

Emulate effective leaders that fit your style. As a litigator, there were many litigators that I admired and were well accomplished. Some had styles that were too different from my own natural tendencies. Those styles would not have worked for me in the courtroom, so I adopted traits from those that were better suited to my style. 


How can we bring others to change?

The answer is any way you can. For me, I use two techniques – what I call quiet reflection and active brainstorming. 

My quiet reflection involves sitting by myself with some background music on, in a comfortable chair with a pen and paper. I diagram the problem and potential solutions. The process of diagramming helps me avoid negative thoughts that there are no practical solutions. On a piece of paper, all is possible. A pen can move through or around any obstacle you place on paper. I then focus on the pathways and determine which one is likely to be most successful. 

During this process, I focus on those goals and objectives that are widely accepted as worthy and think about the “coffee stains” of the organization. That is, the things that are seen by those outside of the organization as negatives, but are so familiar and comfortable to the organization that they are part of its fabric. The challenge is that the coffee stains may be so engrained in the organization that convincing others to adopt change can be very difficult. Changing an organization’s culture is extremely difficult, and you should not be deterred if you are not immediately successful.

Another technique I like is active brainstorming. The goal is to engage and sell as many participants as you can on the process of sharing ideas. You bring colleagues into a room without a written agenda. Certainly, you have topics that will be discussed, no announcement is made in advance. Most are very uncomfortable in meetings without a known purpose. 

The process begins with thought-provoking questions for the group. As an example, if you could change three things about our organization, what would they be? The more open ended the questions, the more that you hopefully learn about your team’s perspectives. The conversation will become more directed with a focus on how the team is going to move the organization forward. The goal is to gain consensus wherever you can. Listen carefully and encourage participants to speak. Watch body language. 

The goals of customer satisfaction, efficiencies, removing mundane tasks through automation and technology, increasing revenues while reducing expenses are certainly goals to remain in the forefront. The good news is that innovations for parking are here, and technology can provide these results. One goal that has an impact within the organization is the elimination of routine tasks, as doing so improves job satisfaction and reduces turnover. Gen X and Gen Z employees detest feeling trivial. For parking organizations, turnover is a significant threat – it is expensive and a morale buster. You never want your employees to hear from an employee that they are happier now that you left your organization because you failed to make their role important. It’s too easy to fix and is too costly to train replacements.

The parking industry is not dead, and in my opinion, will not die. Americans have always had an infatuation with the automobile and the freedom it provides. There are many parts of our country where a vehicle is absolutely needed to safely reach destinations, and there will likely never be another feasible alternative. 


Additionally, the industry has proven it will respond quickly to disruptions. Take the following example: there are those who think that autonomous vehicles and shared vehicles will become the norm. If that is true, those vehicles will fill nonpeak hours in off-street facilities. During the day, the demands of e-commerce that are currently choking the availability of on street spaces will flow over to off street facilities during peak hours. In this scenario, pricing would respond quickly to demand, resulting in a flip of today’s pricing with premium rates during the evening and lower pricing during normal business hours. This is an example of how the industry might respond to this particular disruption.


As you can tell, I am very bullish about the future of the parking industry. Staying positive is possible because of the opportunities on the horizon if we are willing to address and respond to change. On the flip side, if we do not direct the change by demonstrating our ability to deliver results that customers favor, we will likely be sent down a path that disfavors the industry. Let’s control our destiny by being agents for change.


Scott Petri, President, Mobility Parking Advisors, LLC can be reached at

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Scott Petri, Mobility Parking Advisors, LLC
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