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

Month: September 2011

Workplace Motivation Improvement – Easy!

It is commonly believed that the fate of many companies could be altered for the better if workers were more motivated. They do not blame the senior managers, who are all-knowing and totally dedicated because their earnings are all tied to performance. Companies and Managers blame the front line employees for not being motivated to delivery service or manufacture quality. Okay, maybe the people are also at fault, but is it really the fault of the workers?

(see a great article posted up on data from Gallup shared by Jim Clifton)

So, companies will often implement a climate survey and, sure enough, they find that the employees are dis-engaged and less than supporting. Gallop surveys on engagement show that only 3% of workers in Japan, where I write this, are engaged. And only 24% are enrolled. Fully 16% and 56% are dis-engaged and dis-enchanted with the way things are in their workplaces

So, when things are going wrong, the knee-jerk reaction is to blame the workers for their poor attitudes and lack of work ethic. But might there be some other cause?

Demotivators drive motivation away — they are performance inhibitors unintentionally built into the way most of us do business. One often hears of “unintended consequences” when it comes to changes that generate unanticipated results. The reality, though, is that there are few real Unintended Consequences when it comes to worker motivation – a bit of “due diligence,” like talking to employees, would quickly smoke out the foreseeable problems that might occur.

Sometimes, the workers feel that the managers are their adversaries, as opposed to their business improvement partners. This can generate a situation where Defense is one of the useful self-preservation strategies, as depicted below:

Workers WILL defend themselves from management

Workers WILL defend themselves from management attacks

Demotivators of all kinds have profound negative impacts on performance, yet they are often ignored because they are considered normal in the workplace. Sometimes, they slowly creep into an organization and become part of normal operations. A lot of the fear and anger, both expressed and repressed, that appears in organizations today is controllable, but not from a manager’s desk.

And, in most workplaces, we find that workers will say that they are choosing not to give work their full attention and that they could do a better job. But no one asks them to and they are simply allowed to de-motivate themselves over time.

They can result in negative behavior by employees and even affect their health. Some research has shown that 84% of workers say they could perform better if they want to and 50% of workers said they put forth only enough effort to hang onto their jobs.

To quote Dean Spitzer (“Supermotivating the Workforce”, 1996): “Too many managers underestimate the importance of what they consider minor irritations, not realizing how large these irritations loom in the subjective experience of employees. To employees stuck in the middle, these demotivators are not minor at all.”

Spitzer lists 21 demotivators. The list follows. The six most-troubling ones identified by Spitzer are denoted with an “*.”

*1) Politics;
*2) Unclear Expectations;
3) Unnecessary Rules;
*4) Poorly Designed Work; 5) Unproductive Meetings; 6) Lack of Follow-Up;
7) Constant Change;
8) Internal Competition;
9) Dishonesty (Being lied to and lots of executive “spin”);
*10) Hypocrisy (“Walking the talk”);
11) Withholding Information;
12) Unfairness (Perceived preferential treatment):
13) Discouraging Responses (to ideas);
14) Criticism (atmosphere);
15) Capacity Underutilization (of individuals);
16) Tolerating Poor Performance;
*17) Being Taken for Granted;
18) Management Invisibility;
19) Overcontrol;
20) Takeaways (of past entitlements./privileges);
*21) Being Forced to Do Poor-Quality Work.

Take a look at the list and ask youself if you could find some of those at your job or at a client’s operation. Ask yourself if any of those could be changed. These kinds of things appear as intentional slowdowns, careless mistakes, unsafe behavior, absenteeism or sickness-related job absence, tardiness and theft, among other things.

How do you deal with the de-motivators? Take steps to systematically remove them, one at a time. It is really pretty straightforward, so here are some ideas:

1 – engage everyone in conversations about workplace improvement, recognizing that everyone will have ideas about what could be done differently

2 – involve key leaders in the workplace in getting some things changed and improved, since they have a history of doing those kinds of things

3 – make sure goals and expectations are clear and install really good performance feedback systems. (I do not mean performance appraisals, I mean ways of allowing people to see the results of their actions)

4 – make sure everyone understands the overall mission and vision and knows how their work plays a role in getting things done. People DO want to do important work

5 – improve communications and allow people to share their ideas

6 – improve communications and allow people to share their ideas (yeah, I KNOW that I said that one twice!)

7 – make sure that you focus on recognizing any improvements that occur, both individual as well as workgroup

8 – allow some natural teamwork to occur.

Square Wheels are everywhere. Ask people for their Round Wheeel Ideas!

Scott small pic

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

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For the FUN of It!

Simple thoughts on Innovation and Creativity and Change

We can find innovation difficult, especially when we are charged with helping to generate it in training or consulting initatives. To be effective, we need to balance our ideas and the ideas of others to insure that there is some shared ownership.

One of the things we can do: Step back from the Wagon to gain a more objective view about how things work and the issues and opportunities.

Creativity and Innovation are often part of a continuous continuous improvement process, combined with a bit of frustration about how things work and the belief that things can be improved.

And Perspective is another key: The view from within isn’t the same as the view from without, just like the View from the Back is not at all like the View from the Front. The past is generally strongly anchored to the present and thus we have a pre-determined future unless we start to think of things differently.

motivating performance improvement with missions and visions

The View at the Front is different than the View at the Back

As trainers and consultants, unless we help our managers and ourselves look at things from different perspectives, we will never observe those many “round wheel” things that can assist us to improve.

A few basics about how most adults learn:

• it is easier to learn in a non-judgmental environment.
• discovery is better than directives, activity-based learning is retained
and generalized than facts and general models.
• it is easier to take risks in a less-threatening environment.
• metaphors are more transferable back to the job than lecture learning.
• peer support and common, shared experiences are powerful components to
generating commitment and behavioral change
• mistakes and errors are more powerful learning paradigms for many people

And remember,
Have some FUN out there, too

Round Wheels and Godzilla influence Innovation

A long while back, I was senior VP of operations of a large retailer that HAD to make massive changes in how things worked to avoid bankruptcy and we did some incredibly creative things, like using a large block of stock as collateral for a loan that we then paid off with a 401K-based employee stock ownership plan. Everyone became an owner and we used that attitude to implement dozens of innovations and improvements in most every process we had. Results were fantastic – taking the stock from 2 to over 30 in 3 years and reducing manager turnover five-fold, etc. Amazing what the pressures of survival can do to push accomplishment — nobody thought that we had real issues we could not overcome! We had The Vision! And we shared it with everyone…

View Front color b

30 years later, they are bankrupt because they failed to keep up with the changes around them, as customer needs shifted and the retail industry transmoglified into what it is today. COULD they have survived? I don’t know, but they should have found some way to use the people power and the infrastructure they had to become something better. Continuous improvement should be continuous… (And I think they lost that!)

I think that innovation is not a skill issue, at least skill is not the primary problem when it comes to a lack of innovation and improvement on a personal and organizational basis. The acid test for this comes from an old book on performance by Bob Mager, who asked from a simple framework:

“If you put a gun to their head and threatened to blow their brains out,
could they do it (accomplish the job or task)?”

THAT is the simple mental test for skill versus attitude. If they could but aren’t behaving in the way you want, that is simply “Bad Choices.” It is not an issue that requires training (or coaching), which is the solution for a problem of skill / knowledge.

Results are never predictable, since we all learn that, “shift happens” early in life. We can deal with probabilities, but certainty is not very common. So, we need to look at the perceived situation from the perspective of the person involved.

My take on all this is around RISK and the perceptions we have about action and failure. Whereas some people might see something as risky, others will not. Gene Calvert wrote a book called, “High Wire Management” many years ago that I thought was quite good on the issues and attitudes around risk. Simply put, much of it is perception. (I should probably write on some of the things that he thought and some of the simple tests he constructed.)

Godzilla foot red

I did up a little animation called, “Godzilla Meets Bambi” that cuts to the chase and shares my perceptions about risk and innovation and leadership and organizational dynamics and personal histories and all that. You can see this at:

Godzilla Meets Bambi — innovation smushed!

I think that ANY workgroup can be innovative and that any company can find hundreds of little ideas about things to change and improve. Continuous improvement can become continuopus if the people within the organization feel that change has personal positive impacts on them. There is definitely a WIIFM kind of thing that operates, balanced against perceived risk.

And it helps to make innovation fun. I use the Square Wheels cartoons to generate ideas and opportunities — the Round Wheels are already out there!

Perception of how things work SWs One

Let us share some simple and inexpensive Square Wheels tools with you that I will guarantee you will find effective and of high impact.


See our ideas about The Illusions of Management by clicking on this link.

For the FUN of It!

Scott small pic

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.

You can reach Scott at

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest:

Managing Big Groups Interactively

A post in one of my lists asked for ideas about running large groups, but did not share anything about specific desired outcomes, just that the group was more than 100 people.

So, I posted up these general ideas around what are a zillion possibilities.


We have been doing large group interactive team building events for 20 years, so there are a lot of ways to make this work.

I focus on doing fun things, with direct links to business improvement. It is about engaging people in the process and giving them a sense of ownership that makes these events stick in their minds and generate the possibility for actual behavior change down the road.

large group teambuilding fun

Giving people the chance to participate is engaging

People do want to interact and share their ideas, rather than casually watch some powerpoint presentation while processing their email on their cell phones (if they can get away with it). I have seen very senior executives sitting at a front table actually processing their US Post Office mail while “attending” to someone on their staff’s presentation (really!).

Without knowing anything about desired outcomes, let me make a few general suggestions.

– Round tables of 6 – anything other than that will sub-optimize results. More people = less interaction and an increased likelihood that one person will dominate a discussion. Square tables unconsciously generate seat dominance for a few people — you cannot get around it.

– Interactivity and tabletop discussion as part of the design.

- Capturing ideas on paper and posting on the walls. With large groups, it is hard to allow much “shout out” and you just capture a tiny bit of the discussed content. Paper postings allow more information to be shared and later captured.

– Forced Browsing of all ideas by all people — we use “Dot-Voting” whereby each person gets 3 or 4 colored dots that they need to use to vote on best ideas. They cannot vote on their own work…

…and frameworks like that. I will commonly facilitate sessions of 150 to 200 people and have done these same things with groups as large as 600.

Mostly, I use my Square Wheels® cartoon illustrations and my team building games like “The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine” for generating active involvement.

Remember the simple concept that, “Nobody ever washes a rental car,” and that creating a sense of ownership involvement is a critical component of a successful interactive program.

Do you have any ideas you can contribute to this question?

Selling Lost Dutchman – some discussion tips

The Search for The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine is about mining goldWe have a lot of users of The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine worldwide, and many people are really good at connecting the play of the game and the team building dynamics it generates to the issues of organizational improvement of their clients and prospects.

But people have been asking me for some tips. Some key words and phrases might include:
• Improving employee engagement
• Focusing on collaboration to optimize overall group results
• Measurable behavioral outcomes
• Debriefed to business goals and objectives
• Leadership is explicitly there to help teams be successful
• Played worldwide with top management as well as front line workers
• Memorable and engaging, Colorful and Fun.

But remember, Dutchman was designed not as a fun game but as a business improvement simulation / exercise to generate discussions about the issues of workplace competition and the benefits of collaboration between operational units to optimize overall results.

It is much different than one of the little “ropes course” kinds of “team challenges,” not that those are bad, but they are not really all that good when trying to tightly link to organizational improvement, in my direct experience.

Firewalking – a team event?
Paintball is goofy for team building – why not use real guns?
Acid River and the Spyderwebs and The Wall and similar are nice little problem solving exercises, and fun to solve, but
• Do they have real connections to work and workplace improvement?
• Do they have measurable outcomes?
• Do they focus on how to motivate people?
• Do they link to any sorts of skill improvement or improving decision making or strategic planning?
• Do they link to organizational risk-taking?
• Do they tightly focus on what people can do to optimize company performance?
• Do they generate ideas for changes in culture or motivating teams?
• Are they really worth the cost of taking people away from work?

We use Lost Dutchman as an experiential business simulation. The design makes it easy to link to performance improvement.

Hope this helps.

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