For a long time, I have played with a couple of cartoons that reflect my thinking about training and improvement. And I also believe that most people know the answers to most questions if we can ask the right question at the right time. The Round Wheels are already in the wagon, in my thinking.

A zillion years ago, the performance improvement consultants I worked with used to use the old Bob Mager (I believe) determiner:

•  “If you put a gun to their head, could they do it?”
(This was also known for the non-coercive types as,
       “If you gave them a million dollars, could they do it?”) 

That gave rise to an illustration I often used about Motivation and People and tended to reflect the either-or views of people and performance that are common with most managers in most organizations:

Beliefs about how one motivates people in the workplace

Many people believe that there were two choices – Rewards or “Aversive Control.” But the former generates a need to repeat / increase to get people re-motivated (and has all kinds of other negative side effects (see the work of Alfie Kohn and Dan Pink) while the latter has all kinds of other negative side effects (look at all the examples of it in relation to population control and policing). Aversive control generates compliance, when the people feel that they are being under that direct influence; remove the perception of control and behavior shifts quickly… There is a ton of research on compliance and punishment and conditioned helplessness that supports the fact that punishing kinds of things depress performance and motivation in all kinds of negative ways.

So, we come back to the issue of performance: Can the person DO the job or NOT? The “gun” test is merely a mental exercise: Does the person have the knowledge and capability to do the job right now? CAN they do it? 

If not, then is TRAINING one of the solutions?

(If there is a capability issue, that the person will be unable to do the job, then the alternatives are different and might include role changes or job aids. I will never be able to dunk a basketball and I have tried and tried. But provide me with a mini-trampoline and the situation would change! For a while, there was a professional roller-blade basketball league — can you imagine dunking on roller blades? There was also that trampoline-based basketball league. Yeah, baby!)

So, TRAIN THEM if they can do the job post-training. Training builds up personal strengths and capabilities, as shown below:

Training builds personal strengths and capabilities

But training itself is NOT the solution to most organizational problems. Training might help make incremental improvements as shown below:

Having more personal strength will improve performance, somewhat

But it will also NOT solve workplace issues and opportunities. In fact, management sometimes takes this opportunity to make other workplace improvements to generate more results:

Well, it IS an idea. But will it actually work?

Well, it IS an idea. But will it actually work? (Note: The wheels will not turn far before they hit the other wheels. But it looked good on paper!

The key to a lot of workplace improvement is engagement, involvement, process improvement, feedback about performance results and the sense of pride and teamwork that comes from celebrating successes.

We need to take time to step back from the wagon and to also celebrate our successes as a team. Peer support and positive feedback are key factors in motivating people.

I don’t know the solutions to most workplace problems.

But I do know that most people in most organizations know most of the things that need to be done differently to make significant improvements in performance while driving motivation at the same time. Involve and Engage.