These days, my focus continues to be on people and performance, with more consideration around The Supervisor and their work to dis-un-engage and actively involve their people in workplace improvements. I blogged last week about the concept of Free The Supervisor.

If we want to improve engagement, the only people who will do this are the ones that have direct contact with the employees. All the rest is window dressing and no amount spent on surveys will accomplish anything without the vesting of those front line managers.

The reality is that so many things get in the way of them doing anything differently. And I am actively collecting data in this regard, trying to identify some of the things they do that block them from doing new things. And a conversation with David Zinger of the Employee Engagement Network this morning got me thinking of one of those classic examples of this kind of meaningless required goop.

The Hubcap Report

Note: This actually happens to you, if you are a manager, but you call it something else and the names and faces are changed.

I am working with one of the Bell operating companies working on the outside plant that supports the telephone wires and all that stuff. In particular, I am working with one of the supervisors and his manager and looking at ideas for impacting motivation and performance results. We have really good support from the management team to try to do some things differently and I have good access to the managers.

So, early for a scheduled meeting and sitting in the District Manager’s office and talking with his secretary, I spy what looks to be an interesting series of notebooks labeled Hubcap Report. So, I ask her about them and she pulls the latest one down. Inside are a series of bi-weekly reports from all 12 garages listing the trucks with a check mark if they have hubcaps. Years of reports.

Digging down, one of the former DMs in visiting a garage noted that some of the vehicles were missing hubcaps so he had asked the garage managers to get them fixed and to send him a report. That request became a process, done by each supervisor every two weeks, signed off by their manager and forwarded to the District Office where they were stored in this notebook. The current DM never even knew they existed and the secretary simply filed them, not knowing how silly they were to keep doing.

How many of YOUR supervisors are completing reports and sending them upward, with no clear purpose and minimal impact?

And, on meetings and time and costs in general, HBR had a report about an analysis of a large organization and the costs to prepare senior executives for their peer-group weekly meetings. Note that little actually gets done from these meetings, other than the sharing of information and the occasional planning of a new strategy. THESE ARE COSTS, NOT IMPACTS:

In this particular company, a total of 7,000 person-hours per year were spent in weekly executive committee meetings at which 11 senior staff members provided updates on the business to themselves. To prepare for these meetings, these senior staffers held 11 of their own unit staff meetings consuming 1,800 person-hours each, for a total of 20,000 hours per year.

To get ready for the unit meetings, a total of 21 managers working for the senior staffers held their own meetings, 21 of them, for a combined total of 63,000 hours per year. Of course these unit meetings, being important, required “prep meetings” themselves, often involving supervisors.

There were thus 130 prep meetings in total, consuming a total of 210,000 hours per year. T0 summarize, it looks like this:

  • 7,000 hours: Weekly executive committee meetings.
  • 20,000 hours: Weekly senior staff unit meetings.
  • 63,000 hours: Weekly meetings of the staff to the senior staff
  • 210,000 hours: Weekly prep meetings for the staff to the senior staff.


Help them to see out of the box they find they are in. Give them some perspective and even some hope that things may get better.

Roadbloc Management Square Wheels Toolkit for Managers

And look for simple solutions to some of the issues. Look at the things you can eliminate. Stop doing the things that do not have real impact. Maybe even BLOCK some of the extra-departmental information requests that will have NO positive impacts on YOUR team’s results. It is simply so easy for someone in staff to ask for information and so easy to take up your people’s time with those requests.

Start doing some active involvement. Start doing some team building — our Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine activity is fabulous. Take a look at the communications and engagement tools at The Square Wheels Project. But whatever you DO choose to do, do something that will improve motivation and performance!

Any kind of real collaboration and employee engagement at the front lines is likely being blocked by things that have little impact on your organization.

Use this process of facilitating dis-un-engagement to implement some real improvements,

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

Connect with Scott on Google+

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Also published on Medium.