Book Review: The Fred Factor

The Fred Factor: How Passion in Your Work and Life Can Turn the Ordinary into the Extraordinary

By Mark Sanborn

Hardcover: 128 pages

Publisher: Crown Business; 1st edition (April 20, 2004)

Price: $15.99

Review by Chris Wendel

What does one do when a book comes highly recommend, but ultimately disappoints? I’m not going to keep anyone guessing, I’m not a big fan of the popular book The Fred Factor, but that doesn’t mean that are some elements of it aren’t worth exploring.

The Fred Factor centers its premise on the Fred Shea, author Mark Sanborn’s mailman, who takes joy in his work and is willing to go that extra mile for the people he delivers mail to. Fred left such an indelible mark with his stellar performance that Sanborn wrote a book that eventually became a franchise of “Fred” bookselling and speaking engagements

Fred is an endearing character who exemplifies what is missing today from customer service positions but also in many business relationships. Sanborn’s inspiration to write an entire book based on Fred’s redeeming job performance results in a business fable book that reminiscent of Who Moved My Cheese or The One Minute Manager.

The story of Fred reignites the fire inside many of us that lose sight of the reasons we do what we do for a living. Fred looks after his delivery route like an overseeing angel, taking extra care with his interactions with the people he delivers the mail to. Instead of just delivering the mail, Fred provides a consistent, friendly attitude that is infectious with everyone he comes in contact with.

In addition, Fred is over the top with the service he delivers and looks for ways to exceed customer expectations. In one instance that Sanford well describes, Fred actually corrects an error made by his competitor (UPS) for someone he looks after on his mail route. Fred’s attention to detail and almost over-the-top involvement in people’s lives, reminded me some of Jim Carrey’s character Chip Douglas in the movie Cable Guy. I want my mailman involved, but perhaps not that involved.

The book sets forth a series of four straight-forward steps to become a “Fred”:

  1. The first step is to have the understanding that anyone can do things to make a difference in any set of circumstances and while interacting with just about anyone.
  2. Step two involves making strong efforts to build relationships that build on each other over time.
  3. Step three is to create something tangible that others can find true value in.
  4. The final step is to perpetually challenge and build one’s skills set.

Now that these steps help “build Freds”, the next logical thing to would be to find “Freds” within one’s organization using the acronym “Fred” broken down as F: Find, R: Reward, E: Educate, D: Demonstrate.

It was at this point in the book that I found that Sanborn was starting to take his “Fred” epiphany a bit far. Yes, I gained some valuable wisdom from Fred the mail carrier, and yes there is some useful information here, but the later chapters that continued the “Fred” philosophy, based on common-sense parables was not that compelling. In short, Sanborn uses the Fred the Mailman example repetitively to reframe new approaches one’s own work and for managing others, producing in the process, a book that seems to run out of steam after its early chapters.

The Fred Factor was written in 2004 and updated most recently in 2008. Sanborn at one point discusses how downsizing was the trend a few ago. An update to reflect across the board cuts by employers since our national economic downturn would have been wise. Sanborn’s one trick pony concept does wear thin, yet he does win points for creativity with applying the principal for a variety of workplace applications. “The Fred Report Card” at the book’s end serves as a useful tool for managing others, but all in all, more was expected from a book with such lofty accolades.

Chris Wendel is the Regional Director for the Michigan Small Business & Technology Development (MI-SBTDC) based out of Traverse City. The MI-SBTDC serves established companies and aspiring entrepreneurs with one-on-one business counseling, market research information, and small business training. For further information on the MI-SBTDC call 231.922.3780.

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3 Responses to Book Review: The Fred Factor

  1. Dylan says:

    For inspirational business books, I really enjoyed Rework by 37 Signals and Working Together by Michael Eisner

  2. cwendel says:

    Thanks Dylan. I read and favorably reviewed 37 Signals (will post the review to this site shortly). I’ll check into Working Together next.

  3. Dylan says:

    Rework isn’t for everybody but it’s great for people with a start-up mentality or looking for a fresh perspective to avoid waste. Working Together reviews classic business partnerships, uncovering how two people who compliment each other achieve greatness. The organizations that benefit from great partnerships rise to the top.

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