Performance Management Company Blog

Ideas on People and Performance, Team Building, Motivation and Innovation

Category: Metaphors for business improvement (Page 1 of 6)

Disruptive Engagement – 6 Blogs and 4 Illustrations

Engagement is anchored to empowerment, and organizations need dis-un-engaged and dis-un-empowered supervisors in order to optimize performance and productivity. I say this simply because supervisors manage workers and workers do all the work and because data after data show that un-engagement and un-empowerment are two main themes of so many workplaces.Disruptive Engagement and Empowerment Square Wheels image

As I thought about how corporate engagement is generally run, it seemed to me that more local control would allow more impacts, that more supervisor control at the workplace level might offer more opportunities to impact active involvement and actually involve and empower people. Too much seemed to be driven tops-down rather than bottoms up. So, I detailed my thoughts in an article about thinking locally:

Engagement – Think Local, Act Local

And that writing started me thinking about the whole negative reality of tops-down, corporate “engagement” that my 40 years of business management work has never shown to work very well. The thought was that disrupting this approach might be interesting.

Corporate Engagement Hasn’t Worked – Why not try Disruptive Engagement?

So, what IS Disruptive Engagement? Nothing fancy. It is simply about allowing the supervisors and managers to remove the things that their people perceive to be getting in the way of improving their workplaces. Often these are perceived roadblocks, more than real ones and Best Practices will show that the solutions are often already in place and working in isolated cases.

Disruptive engagement supervisors and motivation

Well, That got me thinking about what to actually do to accomplish this kind of initiative. The ideas already exist and it is more about developing a culture that does a better job of minimizing fear and optimizing discussions.

Disruptive Engagement, Supervisors, Empowerment and Performance Improvement

But a reality are the issues of allowing the supervisors the time and ability to actually do things differently. There is simply so much task interference from meetings and reports and measurements and other factors to really allow them the coaching time or the time to facilitate implementation of ideas.

FREE The Supervisor – thoughts on Disruptive Positive Active Engagement

and

The Hubcap Report – a note on Task Interference and Supervisors

What we need are good conversations and the improvement of facilitation skills to better actively involve workers.

Radical Candor and Disruptive Engagement

The solution actually does appear to be relatively simple and straightforward, if organizations really consider these issues of engagement, motivation, empowerment, innovation, and teamwork to be of importance. It sure seems like they are important, so why do we choose to not do things differently? We talk and talk and measure and measure and meet and meet but seldom have any direct contact or influence on the workers.

Disruptive Engagement and Radical Candor by Scott Simmerman

Why can’t we do this?

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+

You can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of Performance Management Company
LEGO® is a trademark of The LEGO Group

 

 

Managers – How Square Wheels can impact their workplaces

I got three fast notes from an HR director from an Indian company this morning. He and I had started chatting about organizational development and he wondered how my tools could impact the workplace, if they worked for managers, which one would be best and the difference between the downloadable and the LMS. And this happened in four successive short emails…

So, I started responding and realized it would make a good blog, since the focus is on helping managers impact organizational performance, and keeping things simple and straightforward.

So a few thoughts to frame this discussion:

  • All of my products are designed so that managers can deliver them without any support from Training or HR. That simply makes sense, given how isolated those departments can be from organizational reality. They are simply too busy doing other things of a higher priority to directly help managers.
  • Managers NEED tools to help them improve active involvement and clarify organizational alignment and deal with issues of people and performance.
  • Simple straightforward packages that do not require heavy train the trainer or psychological principles are much more useful than the complicated models that we often use in consulting or training. Simple tools to address real problems in straightforward ways are simply better, if they can be made available.
  • Tools to involve and engage workers for process improvement and innovation or to help actively involve and engage them in productivity increases are practical, and those that build teamwork and collaboration are even more important over the long run.

Managers need to be better motivators and workers need to be more innovative and productive and motivated.

But managers and supervisors are often incredibly over-burdened with other responsibilities and priorities that it makes their interpersonal communications very hard to accomplish. One survey said that managers have more contact with their remote workers than they do with the people who share office space with them.

What I have been writing about lately is the theme of Disruptive Engagement, with the premise that ideas coming from the bottoms up are so much more likely to actually occur than things driven from the tops down. You can read more about that in my other posts on leadership and innovation.

And managers have to be more actively engaged in their workplaces and with their people. To illustrate, Gallup found that managers working for engaged leaders are 39% more likely to be themselves engaged and that employees working for engaged managers are 59% more likely to be engaged, something they referred to as The Cascade Effect.

Of course this makes logical sense but the numbers are pretty startling if you consider the flip-side and the issues around working for UN-engaged leaders and managers. Gallup also reports that 51% of managers are not engaged and that 14% are actively disengaged. Scary.

With The Square Wheels Project, we offer an online training program that any supervisor can take to improve their group facilitation and team building skills and they also get a Square Wheels Toolkit of powerpoints and worksheet handouts to capture ideas and generate considered alternatives for improvement.

With the Stupidly Simple Square Wheels Toolkit, we offer a complete and easy to understand powerpoint-based training program, basically the materials supported by The Square Wheels Project but without the online training videos and other supporting modeling of delivery ideas.

The idea is to hold workplace meetings focused on identifying things that do not work smoothly for people and then identifying possibilities for improvement. I mean, what worker, where, does not have ideas to make things work more better faster? But nobody listens to them and few bosses seem to care, so those ideas simply languish. The beauty of Square Wheels is the generality of the metaphor – things thump and bump but Round Wheels are already in the wagon. Don’t Just DO Something, Stand There!

So, now that we have people talking, things can progress like this, with the first image representing a compendium of workplace realities, present day:

Square Wheels Project Motivational Reality in the workplace

But then we start talking and acting on ideas:

Active workplace improvement starts things rolling

And, if we follow through and keep communicating as well as involving and engaging other people (recruitment), we can see more of some things like this:

More weeks and more celebrations of improvements in organizational development

Idealistic? NO. There are thousands of examples of this kind of impact, person to person. While there is no silver bullet since organizational cultures and issues around trust and leadership vary so widely, the reality is that Ask and Ye Shall Receive actually works quite well when one involves and engages teams of people in the improvement of their own work environment.

Lastly, we need to upskill the workers and managers on their issues of Dis-UN-empowerment and Dis-UN-Engagement, which is otherwise called Roadblock Management. People need the tools to mentally manage the issues that appear when any kind of change process is happening and having peer support for improvement is a valuable factor. We have a simple toolkit and model for Roadblock Management, too!

Roadbloc Management Square Wheels Toolkit for Managers

As I said earlier, we do not believe that all this stuff is rocket science. There is an elegant simplicity in our approach, one that negates a lot of the apparent complexity that often prevents people from moving forward. Our tools are all about rolling forward more better faster.

My understanding, based on a doctorate in behavioral neurophysiology and early consulting work with people like Ed Feeney and Tom Gilbert and Ken Junkins drove me to believe that performance feedback is the breakfast of champions and that active involvement and ownership is what drives real motivation. Using Square Wheels® to create a perceptual gap between how things are and how they could be (Round Wheels) is simple cognitive dissonance.


For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman 2016Dr. 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.

One of the best team building exercises in the world, as rated by his users, is The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, which focuses on leadership, collaboration, alignment and focuses on implementing the collective performance optimization ideas.

Connect with Scott on Google+

You can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com
Twitter @scottsimmerman

Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of Performance Management Company
LEGO® is a trademark of The LEGO Group

 

The Christopher Columbus Award for Leadership

We were playing around with ideas for “Leadership Awards” a few years ago and I had my artist, Roy Sabean, craft up one for me. Since that time, there have been a lot of pretty negative articles written about this guy and a lot of discussion about removing his name as a national holiday. You can get into the history of why that day was named with a simple search…

Anyway, we have this award that you should find humorous. And it could certainly be a common one for a lot of people, but that is up to how you think about things.

So, here is the trophy and award and here is a poem for your enjoyment and edification!

and the poem to support the thinking:

Oh, and there is also another pretty funny thing about all this. There is a statue erected in his honor completed in 1888 in Barcelona, Spain. The belief is that he was born in Catalonia and thus Spain could claim him. At the top of the tall monument at the base of las Ramblas, he is pointing. People say that he is pointing to America, but that of course is not true. He is actually pointing south-east toward the city of Constantine in Algeria. Even in statue form, he is not sure where he is, apparently.

(I was there; saw the statue. And I should have taken a picture, maybe… Ah well.)

Have FUN out there, and try to do something to clarify where you are going, why you are going there, and how others can support you on your journey. Take some oranges along, too, and prevent scurvy!

At Performance Management Company, we play with metaphors and experiential learning tools such as our Square Wheels® images and toolkits and our team building games. Very solid stuff, very high rated and impactful, and relatively cheap.


For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman 2016Dr. 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.

One of the best teambuilding exercises in the world, as rated by his users, is The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, which focuses on leadership, collaboration, alignment and focuses on implementing the collective performance optimization ideas.

Connect with Scott on Google+

You can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

 

 

 

Disruptive Engagement, Supervisors, Empowerment and Performance Improvement

I listened to a great presentation yesterday by Mercer on managing engagement, the need to focus on key metrics but the reality of driving behavior at the very bottom of the organization, which is what engagement is. Nicely presented, with great graphics. And I look forward to getting a copy of the information, statistics and related materials.

On the other hand, it seemed to have nothing actionable. It focused on senior managers and HR and organizational statistics and surveys and never once directly mentioned the Supervisors, to my recollection, as being involved in this “involvement and empowerment and engagement stuff.”

It is totally clear that workers and supervisors and managers are basically un-involved and un-engaged in so many workplaces.  And it is management effectiveness AND the workplace environment that is behind this problem. It is NOT a “senior management leadership issue” that can be corrected with more surveys and more executive development.

To illustrate:

Gallup:

  • only ONE IN FOUR employees “strongly agree” that their supervisor provides meaningful feedback to them, that the feedback they receive helps them do better work.
  • Only 21% of employees strongly agree that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work.

DDI reported

  • 87% of first-time supervisors feel frustrated, anxious and uncertain about their new role
  • Only 11% said they were groomed for that role through some developmental training or program.

Rick Bell shared some statistics in the March issue of Workforce magazine about how badly workers are being supervised

  • 35% of US workers would forgo a raise to see their boss fired
  • 44% of employees say they have been emotionally or physically abused by a supervisor
  • 3 of 4 workers say that their boss is the worst / most stressful part of the job

Again:

It is NOT a “senior management leadership issue” that can be
corrected with more surveys and more executive development.

The issue here is basic supervision, basic leadership at the front lines. People are uninvolved and frustrated, so the solutions are about Dis-un-engagement and Dis-un-empowerment. *

The solution requires involving workers in workplace improvement for both process improvement and more self-determination and personal growth. It is about demonstrating that the supervisor is actively listening and helping to implement ideas. It is about the workers and the management team removing roadblocks that are perceived to be operating that are blocking engagement and the ability to act empowered. Simply, it is about facilitation and feedback.

*Note – I do not believe that it is possible to directly engage or empower someone else. You cannot change their internal workings, directly. What you can do is address their perceived issues and determine what they think blocks their acting in a more involved manner. Roadblock removal is kind of like coaching, only it can be done in a group or team setting. It is accomplished by ASKING FOR THEIR PERCEPTIONS ABOUT HOW THINGS WORK and what they might try to do differently. Remember that “Nobody ever washes a rental car,” and that “Trust is the residue of promises fulfilled.”

The Square Wheels Project is a simple online training program focused on using the metaphor of Square Wheels® as a tool for communicating about issues and opportunities, and it is accomplished by teaching the supervisor basic facilitation skills and providing a simple and bombproof tool for leading discussions. It also supports these supervisors with peer-level communications about issues and questions and dealing with problems and politics.

The Solutions:

We do not share any silver bullets about how to fix these problems. You can see some additional thoughts around implementation in this other blog post. Every organization has its own blend of communications and cultural issues. But the removal of perceived roadblocks to implementing ideas for performance improvement is intrinsically motivation and a way to address common fears around implementing change. (See Dan Stones article about overcoming team fears here)

But, operationally, it looks something like this: Let people play with Round Wheels since they are currently operating on Square ones…

positive disruptive engagement and Square Wheels becomming round ones

So, without cost or training or doing anything but downloading two pdf files, go play with this idea. Below is the really simple explanation of how it works.

Print out the two card-based worksheets. (SWs One 2017 What Might Be Cards to Print and SWs One 2017 How Does Cards to Print)

Square Wheels card

 

 

 

 

 

Cut each of the pages above into 10 relatively similar-sized “business cards.”

1 – Give a “how does this represent how things really work” card (left) to each person in your meeting and have them discuss the image in small groups. Let them consider possibilities. Ask them to share their thoughts.

2 – After discussion, give one “what might be some of our Square Wheels” card to each person and then ask them for some of their thoughts.

3 – Process the ideas as you wish. Do not defend the status quo but consider these thoughts and ideas as possibilities. “What else?” is a good response.

If you like what you see, which might start out with some discussion about the problems of processes and leadership and teamwork and ideas in a general workplace situation and the transition into what some of the issues might be in your workplace, you will get some idea of the power of this metaphor for changing thinking, language and goal-directed performance improvement.

We have a variety of workplace improvement tools available for purchase, all framed around the idea of changing people’s perceptions and behavior, driving improved teamwork and communications, and generally working to disrupt the way things are and create a more positive workplace.

 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+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com


Scott’s blog on themes of People and Performance is here.

Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of Performance Management Company
LEGO® is a trademark of The LEGO Group

Disruptive Engagement and Radical Candor by Scott Simmerman


The Performance Management Company blog is found at www.PerformanceManagementCompanyBlog.com

The Square Wheels Project is found on Udemy, and you can access this online supervisory facilitation skills training program, complete with downloadable powerpoint slides, printed handouts and other support materials at www.TheSquareWheelsProject.com

Dr. Scott Simmerman holds a doctorate degree in behavioral neurophysiology from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is a Certified Training Professional through the IAPPD and a Certified Professional Facilitator by the International Association of Facilitators. His LinkedIn bio is extensive and found at http://www.linkedin.com/in/scottsimmerman

Trust in the Sand

My colleagues in Romania just sent me an email about one of their blog posts on leadership that had this image within it:

Trust is the residue of promises fulfilled

I thought it was pretty neat, and it reminded me of my friend and colleague Frank Navran’s quote that:

“Trust is the residue of promises fulfilled”

and how easy it is to simply wipe it away with some foolish behavior…

All it takes is a gust of wind to change things and we need to be reminded that trust is something we need to maintain, not just do once in a while.

Now Vio’s blog is written in Romanian, and even with translation services, I am not going to spend much time going through his key comments around the elements of trust; I simply reacted to his email and sent him the following:

“Trust is not just about writing in the sand. It is also about having perspective, moving about to see what is really happening around you and being willing to move about to potentially see things from other positions rather than from where you are standing. It is also about involving people with shared goals and acting collectively. I think it can also look like this:”

Footprints in the Sand and perspective on surroundings, by scott simmerman

We should also be reminded and mindful about the diversity of people within our organizations and about the reality that all of us know more than any of us when it comes to generating ideas and engagement for improving workplace performance.

Here at Performance Management Company, we sell simple tools for impacting teamwork (Vio at HumanInvest has our Lost Dutchman game in English and Romanian) as well as impacting innovation and motivation. We suggest that leaders work to actively involve their people in generating ideas for improvement and facilitating creative problem solving as well as generating alignment and collaboration.

We also have a simple online facilitation skills training course and toolkit (really cheap and highly effective!) at The Square Wheels Project.

Square Wheels - How organizations really work Metaphor organizational improvement

For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman 2016Dr. 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.

One of the best teambuilding exercises in the world, as rated by his users, is The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, which focuses on leadership, collaboration, alignment and focuses on implementing the collective performance optimization ideas.

Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of Performance Management Company
LEGO® is a trademark of The LEGO Group

If not you, WHO? If not now, WHEN?

If not you, WHO?
If not now, WHEN?

I love that short little quote about personal accountability and action. Of course, we can always wait for someone else or we can simply choose to wait, which tends to be the most common response of people to opportunities. Lots of statistics point to the small numbers of “early adapters” of new programs or organizational change efforts while the bulk of managers simply sit and watch to see the results.

But, if things are going to change, someone needs to make them change.

If it is to be, it is up to me!

Otherwise, things will just roll like they have always rolled., which in my view of the world tends to look like this:

Square Wheels One by Scott Simmerman at Performance Management Company

Things tend to roll along like they always have and why not. Things stay the same unless they change… And the continuous un-engagement of the wagon pushers is no surprise, since their view of the future tends to be, “boards and hands.”

Most wagon pulling leaders work hard, pulling the wagon and trusting that the measurements and expectations and performance appraisal mechanisms will insure that the people at the back are pushing instead of pulling. After all, what choice do they have? So, they simply keep pulling, hoping that things will always be okay.

But let’s challenge these assumptions. Let’s assume that day after day, month after month, year after year, all this gets really old and somewhat de-motivating. New hires become dis-engaged over about 6 months and regress to the average enthusiasm of the other workers even as their skill levels increase. And, the good workers will tend to blame their wagon pullers for a lot of the communications issues.

How bad is it? I share some stats in my post of a few days ago (here) but two that stand out are these:

• 35% of US workers would forgo a raise to see their boss fired.
• 3 of 4 workers say that their boss is the worst / most stressful part of the job.

This all begs the question of what might be done differently to generate improvements, basically, The Who and The When.

DDI recently shared some statistics that suggested only 11% of supervisors get management training. So, we can guess that support for skill development will not be coming soon from Training and Development / HR. Nothing new there… They simply have other priorities.

The reality is that people will continue to come into the workplace dragging. And if nothing changes, nothing changes. They are, for the most part (70%), un-engaged, un-enthused and un-involved, and the best predictor of the future is the past.

Spring Forward Monday should be engaging and motivating

So, who other than their supervisor can change things? How can that supervisor become a Draggin’ Slayer and choose to do things that might DIS-un-engage them and generate some active involvement around identifying the Square Wheels® that exist and the Round Wheels we always find inside the wagon?

Draggin' Slayer - What are some Square Wheels by Scott Simmerman

Which, when facilitated with active questioning and group involvement, can begin to break the ice around communicating about issues and opportunities. It is NOT instantaneous in some workgroups where there is hostility of a lack of trust, but it DOES work if we keep asking questions and responding positively to the initial ideas. The process itself is pretty bombproof.

Draggin Slayer Active Involvement Square Wheels LEGO by Scott Simmerman

Having been around corporations and other businesses for 35 years, I actually see NO real solution to the issues we face in motivating and involving workers other than through the direct actions of supervisors.

Operations have always been this way; exemplary performers doing things differently than everyone else and exemplary supervisors choosing to defend their top performers from “corporate bureaucracy” — and simply managing people better. The best managers have always gotten people talking about Square Wheels and playing with Round Wheel ideas for improvement.

Let's implement Round Wheels by Scott Simmerman

We simply cannot go #morebetterfaster if we continue to do the same things the same way and wait for help from above. It just is not going to happen! Our better managers ask questions and solicit ideas from their people, generating motivation and innovation. You simply cannot drive this from a tops-down approach since you can never reach the people who are doing the work.

Square Wheels Draggin Slayer Getting Motivation by Scott Simmerman

If you can share a more effective or impactful approach to involving and engaging people in the workplace, why not contribute a comment? Workers DO have ideas about improving their workplace and impacting quality and productivity. Working together can foster teamwork and peer support and many of the other intrinsically motivating aspects linked to accomplishments.

Building communications and trust between workers and managers is an important factor in employee retention and skill development and cascades into innovation and service quality and customer retention.

We offer a SIMPLE toolkit for facilitation skills development at The Square Wheels Project. For a tiny bit of money, supervisors can gain access to an online course and also the powerpoint and handout sheets needed to have a productive and engaging meeting (or meetings, actually) with their people about issues and opportunities for workplace improvement.

The Square Wheels Project marketing logo for facilitation skills

If we can encourage our supervisors and managers to think differently and go off on their own paths to improving involvement and engagement and motivation of their people, is there really any downside? I guess you could call this empowerment. But how else are we going to take advantage of our human capital and go #morebetterfaster? The managers should be the motivators.

Share your thoughts and reactions,

 

For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman 2016Dr. 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.

One of the best teambuilding exercises in the world, as rated by his users, is The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, which focuses on leadership, collaboration, alignment and focuses on implementing the collective performance optimization ideas.

Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/

Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of Performance Management Company
LEGO® is a trademark of The LEGO Group

Engagement – Think Local, Act Local

I was reading an article on adapting things like HomeKit and Echo into the way people interact with their homes. Alexa is pretty cool, but there are issues around its inability to recognize voices and there have been instances of voices on TV actually telling the system to order products online and the reality that a burglar could simply tell the system to turn off security alarms. The point that author Seyi Fabode was making was that one of our most basic needs is for security and safety, both at home and in the workplace where so many of us spend so much time and emotional energy.

MY thinking about his thinking was framed around a workshop I attended by Brad Thomas with my local ATD group yesterday morning. Brad was focusing on the implementation of full-company engagement systems and his excellent talk was anchored somewhat to these local issues but mainly focused on the corporate commitment to generating and acting on large amounts of employee feedback to frame up issues and opportunities.

In that Big Picture Corporate Model, things needed to cascade down from the top and that HR departments had to rethink how they focused so that they could actually bring human resource capital into play for their operational counterparts, that they could not simply remain the paper pushers they are in so many places. HR needed a seat at the corporate boardroom table to focus on the people side of improvement initiatives. It seems like an awful amount of senior management engagement and systemic change was a requirement before ANY actions could occur.

And when you have, as I once did, senior executives out there saying (or believing) things like this about people / engagement / involvement and being actively working to generate innovative ideas:

“That’s like asking the vegetables how to design a refrigerator,”

you pretty much KNOW that you are not going to be successful working from the tops downward forward. (And, yes, there are senior managers who could not care less about employee involvement and ideas — we seem to have one in the White House if you need an example.)

These two things clanged for me about an hour ago. Big Corporate Solutions trying to solve the issues of the worker / supervisor interface. What could possibly go wrong? Well, as results seem to consistently show, pretty much everything… Overall, statistics seem to show that OD things look pretty much like this:

Corporate engagement programs don't work well

From this month’s issue of Workforce magazine (3/17), Rick Bell shared some  statistics and anchor points. Supervisors clearly improve their leadership and engagement skills. Some tops-down corporate program to improve overall engagement will simply not get traction:

• 35% of US workers would forgo a raise to see their boss fired

• 44% of employees say they have been emotionally or physically abused by a supervisor

• 3 of 4 workers say that their boss is the worst / most stressful part of the job

Other statistics supporting the idea of local control / local influence include:

• “Communication and connection are the cornerstone of relationships – a quarter to a third of employees believe their managers seldom or never listen to them, understand their issues, seek their input and ideas, or help them to resolve the issues and challenges they face. This persistent gap presents both a challenge and an opportunity to leaders and managers.” (Leadership Management Australasia’s LMA survey, April 2016)

• Only about 1 in 3 US managers are engaged in their jobs, and about 1 in 7 are actively DISENGAGED. Employees who are supervised by highly engaged managers are 59% more likely to be engaged than those supervised by actively disengaged managers. (Gallup)

Bell and others share these statistics, however, so there IS opportunity here if we can improve the interaction between workers and their managers. A short list of opportunities and benefits looks like this:

  • Managers are the Number 1 way that people feel supported by their organization
  • Managers influence 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores
  • Close to 60% of Americans say they would do a better job if they got along better with their boss
  • Close to 70% of those polled said they would be happier at work if they got along better with their boss, with the breakdown equal among men and women, but younger workers in their 20s and 30s were even higher (80%)
  • Over half (55%) of those polled, think they would be more successful in their career if they got along better with their boss
  • Only 4 in 10 of Americans will thank their boss on National Bosses Day with most believing that their boss wouldn’t care enough to bother
  • About 10% said they would use the day as an opportunity to talk to their boss and improve the relationship

——————————————–

Try this:

Have a conversation with someone who works in an organization and ask about how they feel they are being managed. I had two such conversations with people in my pool league two nights ago. Absolutely eye opening!

——————————————–

So, what IS a viable solution? Understand that the Big Corporate Improvement Program Initiatives seem doomed to fail unless organizations impact that supervisor / worker interface and make it more supporting and effective. And you can probably figure out that working to engage workers working for the 1 in 7 managers who are actively DIS-engaged within their own organization is simply a waste of money and resources.

Throw some mud at the wire fence!

Break away from the Big  Corporate Program Mentality and do some Guerilla Engagement. Give some of your better supervisors the tools they need to improve their effectiveness. Allow them to improve their interactions with their people and to improve their facilitation and involvement skills.

The Square Wheels Project is an online training program designed FOR SUPERVISORS who need some training and some tools to improve communications. The Spring Forward Monday Toolkit is a package of tools (handouts, powerpoints, posters and instructions) to give supervisors the framework for a series of meetings and implementation action plans for simple ideas for workplace improvement and innovation, to allow more teamwork and active involvement.

Square Wheels - How organizations really work Metaphor organizational improvement

The Square Wheels Project is not THE Solution to anything, but it does represent a most excellent alternative to the initiatives that are generally not working very well, a step forward in the effort to improve communications.

Square Wheels Project Draggin Slaying Supervisor

But some facilitation skills training can certainly help your managers to become better motivators and better leaders. Help them lead on-site workplace innovation and improvement initiatives at the very bottom-most layer of your organization, where most things are actually happening. Do things differently and let them lead!

Solve the small problems in simple ways, keeping a sense of safety and security in place with your supervisors feeling a minimal amount of risk for doing something differently. Look for some “small answers” to local issues and build things from the bottoms up. Make real improvements where you can, instead of looking for Big Answers from a distance.

Addendum: Since initially publishing these thoughts, I have begun to focus on a framework of Disruptive Engagement, which takes in much of this thinking and adds more data and rationale. You can find those blogs by clicking on the two images below.

Square Wheels by Scott Simmerman of Performance Management CompanyDisruptive Engagement and Radical Candor by Scott Simmerman

 

Our stupidly simple tools are designed help any manager get some really effective, performance-focused improvement conversations going using better facilitation skills and our metaphors, plus our online help and networking,

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott SimmermanDr. 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.

You can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com
Connect with Scott on Google+

Learn more about Scott at his LinkedIn site.

Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of Performance Management Co.
LEGO® is a trademark of The LEGO Group


The two newer blogs can be found by clicking on the links above or by going to:

Corporate Engagement Hasn’t Worked – Why not try Disruptive Engagement?

or

Radical Candor and Disruptive Engagement

 

Facilitating Workplace Improvement: Herding Cats and Frogs

A couple of really good discussions on facilitation and implementation of strategies and innovation and some basic conversations about people and performance got me thinking again about The Issues of Workplace Reality:

Getting things done around here
is a lot like herding cats.

It is possible to accomplish that, but with me with an 8-month old uncontrollable and insane kitty and with me working on Robin Speculand’s Compass Model for workplace strategy implementation (and seeing lots of statistics around failures and challenges), I am once again reminded that the metaphor links to many issues of workplace engagement and alignment.

If you have never seen it before or need a refresher, you really ought to watch this great old 1-minute EDS commercial about the satisfaction gained from successfully herding cats:

Herding Cats - EDS Commercial“Herding cats. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s easy…”
“I’m living a dream…”

Funny stuff, for sure and worth watching!
(Clicking on the image above will open up in Youtube.)

My British friend, Barry Howell, used the phrase “herding frogs,” in a conversation, which got me into expanding my thinking. Not everyone in the workplace is a feline, which of course makes things more difficult to manage, right? Herding frogs seems to be a more common metaphor there, maybe because they aren’t so much into herding cattle as in the US.

So, what does herding frogs look like? Here is a video of The Great Frog Capture in California. Do NOT try this at home!

FrogsMetaphors!! I just love using those kinds of very visual,
kinesthetic phrases to anchor reality.

Then, I saw a link to an absolutely wild short video about stampeding ducks. Seriously. Click on the image and be amazed. And again, do not try herding ducks like this at home or at work!

Stampeding Ducks

Lastly, I thought to add a really beautiful video of sheep herding in New Zealand. This one is awesome! Courtesy of Tom Whittaker:

Herding sheep videoThe only issue that I would have with workplaces is that there would be little innovation and few people doing things differently. You would not have exemplary performers in any real sense. Plus, herding sheep is not workplace reality, for sure!

Trying to implement change and improvement and motivating people is not an easy task, as shown in the above examples. And while ducks will be imprinted to follow an individual or other ducks and sheep are naturally herd animals easily controlled with a few sheep dogs, managing people is simply not so easy. People ARE creative when we allow them to be. People are great problem solvers if they recognize something as an issue. And people need leadership.

There is one more graphic that speaks to getting things done and facilitating improvement and that looks like this:

Baby Elephant Teamwork Quote wordsWe need to have the time and energy, as leaders, to deal with the new baby elephants! We cannot simply add one more thing on top of all the other things and expect it to be given the attention it needs.

Most strategy implementations fail not because of a poor strategy, but because the implementation plan does not prioritize that implementation nor take into account all the time and energy needed to get things to be different. Plus, while it seems easier simply to tell people that they need to do things differently, that behavior generally results in active resistance by many.

We need to develop alignment, teamwork, collaboration and a sense of ownership, along with prioritizing the time and effort required, in order to move people to different performance places.

Cats, frogs, sheep and elephants.
Will Herding Zombies be next?

(Actually, the answer is YES, since my colleagues want me to get my Zombie Strategy Implementation Game into beta so they can mess with it. There do seem to be some Zombies among the very disengaged populations common in most places. Not all have turned, but some seem to have done so!)

Solutions are not simple. But you may find our approach to involving and engaging people for workplace improvement to be pretty straightforward.

We share some simple tools for involving and engaging people for improving workplace performance at The Square Wheels Project.

Using our Square Wheels images and themes and facilitation approach, you can generate alignment to shared missions and visions, ask about issues and opportunities and define strategies to implement and manage change. Check it out!

Scott Simmerman's Square Wheels Project for Performance Manaagement

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott SimmermanDr. 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+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/
Scott’s blog on Poems and Quips on Workplace Improvement is here.

Santa’s Square Wheels Performance Improvement Poem

A special Holidays greeting to you with the hope that an illustrated “Getting Santa Rolling” poem might add a touch of fun to your days.

Each year at this time, my little company sends out a seasonal greeting anchoring to either our Square Wheels illustrations around engaging people in making improvements or to our Lost Dutchman game about collaboration and teamwork. This year, it’s the Square Wheels theme that is the poem’s focus since after 25 years of using original line art we’ve transitioned to using LEGO images for a more playful representation of, “How most organizations really work.”

Since other mailings have gone out to my contacts in LinkedIn and to our subscribers, apologies if you get this twice. We would simply like to wish you the best for a great year ahead and for your having some positive impacts on the people around you. Here is what we had to say about getting Santa rolling this year:

A santa square Wheels poem

Getting Santa Rolling….
 Santa One
Things look too bumpy for Santa, his Elves and Reindeer!
How they’ll get flying with those Square Wheels isn’t clear.
Santa Performance Poem illustration in LEGO by Scott SimmermanSanta, ask your teams to stop & look in their “wagon”
As solutions exist there that’ll keep it from draggin’.Santa Performance Poem illustration in LEGO by Scott Simmerman

Then the Elves and Reindeer could quite easily share
Their ideas for how things could work better there.

Santa Performance Poem illustration in LEGO by Scott SimmermanBy Asking and Listening you’ll most surely generate
Engagement and motivation leading them to innovate!

Santa Performance Poem illustration in LEGO by Scott Simmerman
Their Round Wheel thinking will give them insight
into how to implement to make things quite right.
 Santa Performance Poem illustration in LEGO by Scott Simmerman
Then all will gleefully rejoice as Christmas time arrives
Knowing their Round Wheel ideas got Santa in the skies!
Santa Performance Poem illustration in LEGO by Scott Simmerman
Those Square Wheels exist everywhere, you’ll see,
But the Round Wheels are reachable—ab-so-lute-ly!
Santa Performance Poem illustration in LEGO by Scott Simmerman
Managers who involve workers with positive intent
Offer everyone involved a gift of empowerment!
Santa Performance Poem illustration in LEGO by Scott Simmerman

“Getting Santa Rolling” aligns with our mission to support Supervisors, Managers and Leaders with simple tools for facilitating improvements leading to a happier and better workplace.

If you’re interested in strengthening your facilitation skills, you can do that easily through online learning and support by joining The Square Wheels Project where you’ll receive self-paced learning and materials for making a positive difference in your workplace. Check it out here:

Scott Simmerman's Square Wheels Project for Performance Manaagement

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott SimmermanDr. 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.

You can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com
Connect with Scott on Google+

Learn more about Scott at his LinkedIn site.

Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of Performance Management Co.
LEGO® is a trademark of The LEGO Group

WHAM! The Square Wheels Guy sees a Round Wheel

I shared this story with a couple of associates last night and both said I should blog about it. The situation is where some guy (me) who deals in Square Wheels and Round Wheels finally makes an improvement because he finally sees something as a Square Wheel, something operating that way for almost a year. Seriously…

My house has one room set up as an image production area and we got some green screen cloth and used a 5 foot by 3 foot table as the base on which to set up our various Square Wheels scenarios and images. We have good lighting sources and a tripod for using my iPhone to take pictures. We even have a remote control so we can keep the camera still while we do some stop-motion movies. (We will start publishing some animations in January – an amazing fun way to be creative and get some key learning points across.)

Santa flying with elves watching and Round Wheels on the Square Wheel sled

Anyway, I thought that we had production down to what was a science. Simple set up, hit some light switches and get out the iPhone, with auto upload to the cloud and downloading to my computers. Neat!

But there were small problems. In some shots where we had wider images, like with Santa and the reindeer plus some elves at the back, we were getting the sides of the screen to come into view at the back. That resulted in me having to move LEGO more toward the back to control the angles and image quality.

On Thursday, Joan and I were shooting Santa shots (new poem will be published) and I sat there and heard voices in my head saying, “Why don’t we rotate the table so that it changes from 3′ wide and 5′ long to being a more usable 5′ wide and 3′ long?”

Why was it 3 x 5? Because the table fit neatly along the 5 foot wall to the left and we had a light box sitting on the table when we first started. But then we moved the table away from the wall when we went from shooting within the box to a back-screen open arrangement. We kept changing backgrounds, raised the height of the table and did other things but we never bothered to rotate the table. It worked as it was, but it did not work smoothly. It took 5 minutes to make a really useful fix…

My own Square Wheels metaphor winds up whacking me in the side of the head. A better solution has been there for MONTHS, but I simply could not SEE it because I was used to the way it was working, Neither Chris nor Joan saw it either, and Chris helped me with all the initial set up and has taken half the pictures.

Square Wheels Image production facility The Square Wheels Project

The message and key learning point is simple:

The Round Wheels are already in the wagon.

Improvement often just requires us to stop, step back, and LOOK for ideas to make things better, rather than simply doing the same thing over and over and somehow expecting better results.

I do TRY to live my own metaphor and look for those Round Wheels.
But apparently, “not always,”

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott SimmermanDr. 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.

You can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com
Connect with Scott on Google+

Learn more about Scott at his LinkedIn site.

Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of Performance Management Co.
LEGO® is a trademark of The LEGO Group

It’s about Perspective Opportunity, People!

Perception. Breakfast of Champions.

Or some such thing. Stepping back from the wagon to look for opportunities is such a more effective strategy than putting one’s head down and bemoaning all the things that are wrong.

What you see is all there is. So why not choose to look at things differently and go #morebetterfaster?

Daniel Kahneman quote on a Square Wheels image by Scott Simmerman

Our Square Wheels Project is designed to generate those ideas for workplace improvement from the wagon pushers. It is about facilitating different perspective ideas about issues and opportunities.

Check it out and let us know how we can support your performance improvement, engagement, innovation and motivational improvement initiatives,

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott SimmermanDr. 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.

You can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com
Connect with Scott on Google+

Learn more about Scott at his LinkedIn site.

Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of Performance Management Co.
LEGO® is a trademark of The LEGO Group

 

Innovation and Thinking – Cognitive Dissonance and Creativity

There are plenty of good tools out there for generating new ideas and momentum about innovating in the workplace. And I would like to think that our Square Wheels approach is one of the good ones. We set the situation that the people are pushing the wagon with Square Wheels but the cargo represent better ideas for improving the journey. There are all sorts of linkages and it is really easy to facilitate a discussion of real workplace issues and opportunities.

The main illustration has evolved to look like this:

Square Wheels Facilitationand we are implementing our training program to teach supervisors and managers how to facilitate discussions and to involve and engage people for workplace improvement purposes. That all comes together at The Square Wheels Project, which will also have a social media back-end to allow people to share their experiences as well as coach each other to roll forward #MoreBetterFaster.

My newest thought for how to illustrate the benefits looks like this:

Brains, Square Wheels and Round Wheels, an image by Scott SimmermanMy goal is to get people to step back from their wagons and look for new or different or better ideas to make improvements. Perspective is a key to choosing to do things differently.

Your thoughts on this would be great! You can also check us out at TSWP to see how we are rolling all this forward. It is new and pretty thumpy at the moment but your ideas and feedback will be helpful in smoothing all things out and making this truly effective as a tool for organizational improvement, coaching and simple innovation,

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+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

 

Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of Performance Management Company
LEGO® is a trademark of The LEGO Group

 

 

 

 

 

Bad Team Building Ideas for Trust and Performance Improvement

In the midst of redoing a game design that requires additional components for discussing workplace trust and issues of performance improvement, I spent last night looking at a variety of dynamics around generating and maintaining trust between individuals, trust among team members, trust between team members and ideas for accelerating the quality of trust and collaboration. I did get some new ideas and there was some creativity going on as I did it. At the same time, there is not a lot of stuff out there that is very helpful for game design.

Some are simply good discussions, like Kevin Eikenberry’s video you can see here:

kevin

I like Kevin’s work and thought his ideas were good but nothing really grabbed me for the design work.

SO, I went into Google and searched for trust exercise to see if there were any more ideas, frameworks or insights I might spin into the new simulation and Google popped me into a page of images. And all my good research intentions spun quickly downhill into these writings. I will admit that this was a fun one to put together, with a bunch of giggles! Yet, I also hope that this post will be illustrative of what I see are some real issues around doing team building activities with real people in real workplaces.

The first image that jumped out at me from Google’s images was this one:

trust 1

The image was attributed to Riana Green / flickr.com and the link was to Psychology Today and an article on Floating, Trust and Religion. I am not really understanding any of this but you can find the blog if you click on the image. Should the link to team building and trust escape you, let me simply note that it escaped me, also. But it DID get me looking at more images as my curiosity was piqued.

The wag in me said to myself, yep, a lot of the results of team building exercises
in corporate situations DO in fact look like the image above,
but then I quickly struck that thought from my mind. (grin)

Okay, the next picture that leaped out was this one:

trust 2

The image was from ashleylatruly.tumblr.com but the link no longer worked. Yeah, I am guessing that the activity underlying the above image did have some components of trust built-in although I am not sure what they were nor would I suggest doing this in any kind of corporate context with a mannequin much less an actual person. But who am I to judge, right?

Yeah, this next one is certainly around trust. It is also one that I would suggest not be done casually out on the organization’s front lawn. But, yeah, this would certainly build trust; I am just not sure it would translate all that well toward improved corporate performance. And I am still thinking of how to put this into a board game…

trust 3

That takes us to these other kinds of activities, so much fun for teenagers but maybe a little less appropriate workplace adult organizational improvement programs. I am reminded that US Department of Labor statistics that show about 1 in 7 women past the age of 65 are still working and by 2024, that is predicted to increase to almost 1 in 5 or more than 6,000,000 workers in total. I would think that doing any of the team activities pictured below might be somewhat problematic (and I note that there will also be six different decades represented within many workforces).

baaadteambuildingand trust 5

 

 

 

Both the above sure seem like fun, however there may also be that issue of “appropriateness” in relation to the various organizational cultures out there and issues of sexual harassment and similar. Just imagine the “most senior managers” nuzzled up with the younger female employees. Or the discomfort for any variety of ages of people or new hires placed in these physically close positions.

And, with this chair thing below, with 7 people standing on two metal chairs and two people UNDER those chairs and our general issues around obesity, what could possibly go wrong???

trust 6

I’m reminded of the Tony Robbins Firewalks and his related motivational speeches by this short segment on The (Stephen) Colbert Report (click here). This was prompted by the different events where people had burned their feet to apparently prove something to themselves. Frankly, I think kayaking offers the same kind of benefit but without the fire. But I digress…

Then, we get into the Trust Building Professional Level Activities, where people who are both fit and somewhat already down the road toward collaboration and teamwork show that they can take their professional and physical development to new levels in situations such as those pictured below. As toward being “low ropes” kinds of organizational development activities, you may also find them a bit out of bounds or out of reality!

trust 7

and

trust 8

Remember that ALL these images came from my Google search for trust exercise. I did not make this stuff up and remain merely the archivist for collecting and organizing these ideas.

I DO believe that there ARE some things that we can do to build more trust and collaboration in the workplace, but they are just not like these pictured.

What strikes me the most about the above pictures and situations is my uncertainty as to whether everyone clearly understands all of the issues around doing effective organizational development including the regard for employee comfort and also avoiding lawsuits and other things detrimental to profitability and to the collaborative cultures we are trying to build. There are #baaadteambuilding things going on out there that make some of us simply shake our heads in wonder about who thought that up and who agreed to it?

Better alternative ideas do exist to what has been shown here! If you need some, connect with me,

 

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott SimmermanDr. 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+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/
Scott’s quips and quotes on Poems on The Workplace is here.

Note: These might all be excellent activities and exercises, but I try to write on themes of organizational development and team building and collaboration, and most of the things I share above are meant to poke fun at people who do not seem to truly understand issues of organizational culture and diversity and issues of age and personal preferences. I try to never make anyone uncomfortable with the kinds of things we choose to do as group activities. I have been in some that I did not like, whatsoever, over my years of experience.

Innovation and Change: BIG Sale on Square Wheels!

A conversation turns into an idea and then an illustration is produced. That seems how creativity and innovation flow around here. A comment about buggy whips and top hats becomes an image about change and survival. Take a look at this simple illustration, but do take a moment to actually consider the realities.

BIG Specials on Square WheelsDO take a moment and consider what is happening…

The two stores on the left are closed because the business simply disappeared. Somewhere, someone is making buggy whips because there are still a few horse and buggy wagons rolling around. Heck, one company makes LED whips for your off-road vehicle so it can be seen in the dark! Another “buggy whip store” sells men’s clothing in Nebraska and they do not even have a website but only a FaceBook page. So it looks like that business buggy whip business has kind of disappeared…

Scan to the right and you will see The Big Sale going on at Harry’s Square Wheels Wagonry Store. Harry has been in business for a long time, has a great inventory of new wheels in a variety of colors. He can probably even order you chrome ones!

But note that his former employee, Susan, has opened up a new store, one selling tires. Susan and her partner Sally have limited inventory and small volume at this point. Susan and Sally got the idea one day when at work, and they decided to act on their idea and make these things more available. (Yeah, Harry has met Sally, finally.)

Square Wheels LEGO Intrinsic sitting stop

It was actually a big moment for the ladies, and they thought that they could capitalize on that idea and make round tires into a business. Personally, I have to wish them a LOT of success, because the idea is great, but having the ability and resources to implement the idea is what is important. Asking questions and generating involvement is a key success strategy for implementation.

We offer The Stupidly Simple Square Wheels Facilitation Toolkit for a meager $25 and we are nearly ready to launch our LMS MOOC to share some ideas and frameworks for how to use these simple illustrations and this direct approach to involve and engage people for workplace improvement.

Click here to read about Presenteeism, the reality that about 50% of most workers in most workplaces are “In, but Out” when it comes to their active involvement or the thinking that their boss listens to their ideas. It has been a workplace statistical constant since I started in the people and performance business in 1978.

The ONLY way to address the issues of un-engagement of the majority of a workforce is to involve and engage the Supervisors in the involvement and engagement process of their people to align to organizational visions and values and to focus them on improving their own workplace. I have never seen even a single workplace where people did not have good ideas for improvement.

It is NOT within an HR capability to fix this, nor one of Training and Development. It cannot be addressed with a survey or a videotape of the CEO talking about these things. LOTS of things can be done, but the rubber meets the road where the supervisor sits with the people.

It is a simple concept of providing them with bombproof tools and asking them to ask for ideas. Why not?

For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman 2016Dr. 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+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/
Scott’s blog on themes of People and Performance is here.

Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of Performance Management Company
LEGO® is a trademark of The LEGO Group

 

The Neuroscience behind Square Wheels: Behavioral Neurobiology

The Science of Brain and Behavior, explained through LEGO and using Square Wheels images for anchoring ideas and concepts

Neuroscience is “hot” right now in the leadership development and organization improvement literature and I got one of those “doctorate thingies” in behavioral neurobiology* from UNC-Chapel Hill a long time ago, before this “brain science stuff” became popular as a solution to business and training problems. The basic reality and an insight to some training people is that the brain is actually involved in learning and memory and a variety of other human behaviors. We have actually known this for a long time… 😀

Scott Simmerman quote on neuroscience (grin)

Wikipedia defines Behavioral Neuroscience, as the application of the principles of biology to the study of physiological, genetic, and developmental mechanisms of behavior in humans and other animals. The American Psychological Association publishes Behavioral Neuroscience®  for original research articles as well as reviews in the broad field of the neural bases of behavior. They are seeking empirical papers reporting novel results that provide insight into the mechanisms by which nervous systems produce and are affected by behavior.

Me, I don’t publish many empirical papers these days… I design team building games and use cartoons and I blog and try to publish readable, actionable thoughts on people and performance issues. But I DO study behavior and I do know about the brain and so I thought to elucidate a couple of understandable pedagogical conceptualistic  frameworks that underpin my use of stupidly simple illustrations and how they relate to things like communications, engagement, learning, facilitation, creativity, change and quality. My one word to describe the underlying key principle is “perspective.” Change perspective and you change a lot of things.

Generating change is a complicated thing to accomplish and there are some great books written about it, with “Immunity to Change” by Kegan and Lahey (2009) being a really solid work and a good read. I think that perspective is also key to Daniel Kahnemann’s book,”Thinking, Fast and Slow.” And I still like the elegant simplicity of Peters and Waterman’s “In Search of Excellence.” All these books (and so many others) work by generating a more objective view of behavior and the working environment around it, much like what behavioral counseling is designed to accomplish (“Please, tell me about that…”).

Let me use LEGO to show you how the brain works:

First, we have a whole big bunch of input from all of the senses, information that comes in all at once with little structure or organization. It looks a bit like this:

LEGO Neuroscience 1 - How the Brain Works using LEGO

If that looks too complicated and confusing, maybe flipping it upside down will make it clearer?

Scott Simmerman LEGO Model of NeuroscienceWhatever…

Anyway, what all that electrical activity you have heard about really does is to allow different areas of the brain to add some structure and pattern and “brain-shape” to the information, prioritizing some information and ignoring other input. It uses the brain’s learned preferences, along with some innate / cognitive biases, for putting things into categories and cubby holes and relating one thing to another, something we call categorization and association. Memory storage is based on link new information to old and creating some blocks.
(Note: biases and storage link to lots of explanatory info on Wikipedia, if you want to click through…)

Structuring looks like this, which is not so confusing:

A LEGO Model of how the brain sorts information

Once the brain has learned a few things, which actually happens pretty early in life and which continues for most people their entire lives  is that we begin to see some patterns in things. Alzheimer’s, dementia and some other cognitive disorders are generally disruptions in information storage and retrieval, where these processes no longer work smoothly. Over time, more and more gets linked and related based on personal experiences and memories. This is normal learning; over time, more and more things get linked and the flexibility of sorting information decreases as these biases filter out more and more. Their behavior becomes more rigid and some tunnel vision can affect their perceptions.

If people start using a new model or framework through which to filter information, we can change how things are viewed and sorted. If they learn the metaphor of Square Wheels, for example, new information sorting can take place. Square Wheels can be framed in a metaphor about things that work but that do not work smoothly. Now, you can see them scattered among the blocks below, representing some new categories for how information can be filtered:

Square Wheels LEGO model of brain functioning

For those of us that are focused on process improvement and doing things more better faster, we will also look to identify some best practices or other choices that we might then label Round Wheels. Generating peer-level discussions of issues and opportunities and resorting and re-categorizing can refresh the learning process and generate more active involvement and engagement.

When there is something that is thumping and bumping along as a Square Wheel, most of us will think about ways to improve it. Seeing the gap between the way things are and the way things could / should be is motivating for most people, who will consider ways to close that gap. Leon Festinger discussed this kind of approach in his theory of Cognitive Dissonance. That might then look like this as they begin to consider some Round Wheel possibilities:

Round Wheels already exist

Now, obviously, your brain is not built from LEGO, at least for most of us, and I am being relatively simplistic in my descriptive model of basic neurophysiology. There are underlying structures in the brain that handle information in different ways, adding speech and comprehension and motor skills and all other sorts of output processes to the input of information.

But the basics DO apply, in that people’s brains focus on repetition and patterns and things that mesh in with past learnings are more readily integrated into what we know — ideas that are radically different are paradigms that are simply ignored. (See Joel Barker’s work video on Paradigms (from my pals at Star Thrower), based on the research of Thomas Kuhn and published in the 1960s.

Okay. Enough already on The Brain. How about some ideas on people and performance and how all this applies to the workplace!

Okay. The use of my Square Wheels images is really well-grounded in a variety of principles of learning and thinking that you might find interesting. So, I will try to share some of the underpinnings as to why such a simple approach can be so powerful and effective. Think about it!

NeuroLinguistic Programming (NLP) is a tool that helped me understand more of the links of behavior to how the brain handles information. My training took me to the Master Practitioner level and I led ASTD’s NeuroLinguistic Network for a couple of years a long time ago. It shares some interesting tools, like the Information Sorting Styles approach to thinking patterns. NLP focuses heavily on using dissociation as a tool to generate perspective. I call it, “stepping back from the wagon” in my simple approach and frame the concept of collecting ideas and generating participative involvement like this:

Don't Just DO Something, Stand There

Only by stopping the action and looking at how things work can you possibly identify new or different ways of doing things. By dissociating from the current reality, it is possible to see new relationships and gain new perspectives. Plus, if this is done with a shared approach, with more than one person adding ideas and viewpoints, the impact can be more better faster and the ideas can have more breadth and depth.

Dissociation and perspective also serve to decrease the emotional aspects of managing and leading change. In counseling, being able to simply view the situation without all the heavy emotional hooks is a desired outcome. The same thing occurs in the workplace. Talking about the THINGS that do not work smoothly is much less emotional than addressing issues that might be taken as a personal attack and thus generate defensiveness and active resistance. This is another reason why using Square Wheels as a metaphor is so effective.

Most of you are familiar with inkblot tests, properly called Rorschach tests. The visual has no reality but people will project their ideas onto that image based on their own information processing. (Look, a squirrel!) A related psychological test is the Thematic Apperception Test, which has situational drawings and people are asked to tell a story based on what they see happening. Both of these tools push people to put personal viewpoints and frameworks onto the images, which have no “internal construct” of their own. They are not pictures, but images that allow for differing perceptions and interpretations.

We do the same thing. Heck, this LEGO block is not even a wheel; it is actually a window! But it works for us as an image to use on the wagon, and if we calONE Yellow Square Wheel SWs LEGO 70l it a wheel, it must wheely be a wheel, right? (And I remember the time when I presented the illustrations to a software development group, who identified the Square Wheel as the Windows platform they were programming on! That was a hoot, as well as a surprise…)

Perception is a key to understanding. And people benefit by having a language on to which they can hang ideas. If the word for it does not exist, it is really hard to categorize it. That is another reason why Square Wheels work in the workplace, since they give everyone a common anchor point against which to pull and push around ideas for improvement. By its very nature, it could and should be improved and something that gets labeled a Square Wheel sets itself up for improvement.

“The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend” is a relevant quote from Henri Bergson. Having an image against which to overlay systems and processes allows for a better understanding of the issues around performance improvement.

There are two other aspects to perception that link to the theme of motivation. One is that having some vision, preferably shared with others is important. Knowing where you are going is beneficial. The second is ownership, in that having a sense of active involvement and engagement is important. I can illustrate with another of the Square Wheels images along with one of my most favorite organizational development quotes.

The View at the back of the Square Wheels wagon

The View at the back of the wagon is not motivating

and

SQUARE WHEELS LEGO IMAGE OF MOTIVATION 

Metaphors such as the Square Wheels / Round Wheels dichotomy are easily remembered and incorporated into workgroup language. The simple basic concept of a Square Wheel, something that works but that does not work smoothly, combined with the perception that the Round Wheels already exist in the wagon sets up a motivation for continuous continuous improvement **

Stepping back from the wagon allows a sense of decreased emotion while expanding perceptions, and often “considered alternative choices.” The latter are critical in order to conceptualize a different future. If you cannot see alternatives, you cannot choose from them. Simple.

Daniel Kahneman Illustrated Quote with Square Wheels and LEGO

and

Square Wheels LEGO image ALl of us know more

My goal was to present our simple concept of organizational involvement and transformation, the Square Wheels theme, which is general and flexible and adaptable to a wide variety of personal and organizational development situations. People have a generally favorable memory of LEGO and play, and the links to the issues of combining different perspectives on issues and opportunities lend itself to improved communications.

I will switch to this metaphor to close this out:

Caterpillars can fly lighten up round

I think we can all improve all things if we just take the time to lighten up and look at things from a different perspective,

 

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott SimmermanDr. 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+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Scott’s quips and quotes on Poems on The Workplace is here.

Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of Performance Management Co.
LEGO® is a trademark of The LEGO Group

* back before we became enlightened, we called it “physiological psychology.” Heck, the whole department is now called, “The Department of Psychology and Neuroscience” even though the website is still psychology.unc.edu so go figure… I might as well try to move into the mainstream of popularity.

** Idea from the Department of Redundancy Department and the concept that the Round Wheels of Today will, invariably, become the Square Wheels of Tomorrow. Failure to continuously improve is a design for disaster. Think of land-line telephones and MySpace.

 

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