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

Month: February 2012

4 Hours for Innovation. What to do to optimize results…

As a consultant or trainer, let’s say you only have 4 hours to help a group of managers or executives become more innovative, what would you present and how would you present it to involve and engage them in the act of involving and engaging others? How would you rattle their cages enough to actually generate some behavior change? How could you influence them to do some things differently with their subordinates?

I would start by showing them a cartoon illustration of a wooden wagon being pulled by a leader and being pushed by others. It is rolling along on wooden Square Wheels. Ironically, the cargo are round rubber tires…

The key is to start thing off by asking them to consider an illustration, “How might this illustrate how things really work in most organizations?”

SWs One green color thin

After giving each person a minute or two to write their ideas on a worksheet, I would then ask them to pair up or group up and discuss their ideas, with a goal of generating a lot of different thoughts. Tabletops of 5 to 6 people are best at pulling ideas together and generating a lot of different anchor points to a wide variety of issues and themes. Then, one can allow the sharing of these different tabletop ideas with the entire group, either by allowing them to take 2 minutes to verbally share them or to spend a couple of minutes capturing them on sheets of paper and posting on the walls.

Either way, the goal is to generate some ownership and involvement and to get people thinking about all the things that don’t work smoothly and might be improved.

Starting with your general question about, “How this is like most organizations…”, one greatly reduces any possible defensiveness, while the very general nature of the illustration is such that people will project their ideas onto the illustration, much like they would do with a Rorschach or an Inkblot Test. People see themselves in the cartoon and they also see their organizations represented, as well.

The Round Wheels ARE already in most organizations — they represent Best Practices of Top Performers in many cases — and a key to innovation is to simply identify what these exemplary performers are already doing. Most systems and processes thump and bump along, working okay when something different might work much better. And the goals are set based on the organization’s history of work, which is often just like the picture above.

Another key to innovation is to dissociate from the reality of pushing and pulling and to “Step back from the wagon” to look for different ways of getting things done. Dissociation is a very common and powerful tool for counseling troubled relationships (and so many workplaces are troubled!).

People DO have ideas, but often those ideas are not elicited by the average manager (so says survey after survey of workplaces!).  People with some general idea as to what might be done can evolve and polish that idea in a discussion with others: synergistic ideationfrom Star Trek, The Borg (the collective consciousness of the entire group).

Most people in most departments in most organizations tend to do the same thing repetitively because the goals are set on the Square Wheel model of how things have been working and will be working in the future. By working together to identify issues and opportunities, you get the benefit of the divergent thinking of the participants, allow them to flesh-out some ideas that they might already have, and put it into the context of play.

Plus, you are adding a new language of continuous continuous improvement” into the workplace, a concept that says that change is a continuous process and that new ideas already exist and merely need to be identified and implemented. By a leader using the cartoon and the approach and asking for ideas, it helps to communicate to everyone that new ideas are needed / required and that discussing these ideas is an important part of long-term organizational success. And this approach will also help generate the required intrinsic motivation to make improvements.

Another reality is that,

“Nobody Ever Washes a Rental Car”

People who do not have a degree of ownership of ideas will often tend to resist them. By leaders working and engaging people in discussions of ideas and allowing input and consideration, resistance is often minimized and the likelihood of implementation is increased.

One must generate some level of discomfort with the way things are now, get a group of people together to add peer support and some perceived success to the discussions, and to build on what already works — I call that “continuous continuous improvement.”

Innovation is a process of, well, innovating. There are tons of different ideas that are already available for improvement. And when I work a group, I can often generate 10 or more pages of ideas and potential improvements in that 4 hours of play time.

One must also address implementation, since so many of those ideas for improvement just disappear… Most ideas cascaded down from the top will be resisted or ignored — most leader-led improvement and innovation initiatives fail because people are not involved or engaged.

So, give me 4 hours and let me involve and engage any group of people in the framework of “organizational improvement and innovative ideas” and I will guarantee a ton of ideas as well as ideas for implementation. But better yet, get one of the Square Wheels toolkits and do it yourself.

Active involvement and engagement and problem solving generates a commitment to make improvements, even with senior managers of global multinationals.

The beauty of using the illustrations is that they are really simple and bombproof. Once you see how the flow of the discussion works, you can use it easily with other groups or redesign it for different time constraints.

And that concept of Rental Car Care is a real one. People need ownership to generate involvement and motivation and the toolkits just use cartoons, anyway.

If it is to beit is up to me.

If not you, who? If not now, when? 

Just Do It, for The FUN of It!

Another simple elegant solution and organizational development framework…

Elegant Solutions

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

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Some Old Thoughts and Data on The Workplace

I’ve been collecting stuff forever, saving statistics and quotes and tidbits into computer files, so I have tons of stuff, old and new. And recently, I came across a paper document showing statistics from a Steelcase suevey done in 1991 and that got me looking at some old files and, well there you go and here we are…

It seemed that a trip through the archived data might be interesting, and if you like this, I can do similar things every now and again… These are just some factoids and some food for thought along the lines of how things change (and sometimes remain the same):

•  VW’s 243,256 employees – 57% who work in Germany –  get 6 weeks vacation a year – paid – and work 30 hour weeks.  The average earns $39 in salary and benefits compared to a US average of $25 and an average in Japan of $27.  Call this an infrastructure gap.  (From Forbes, April 7, 1997)

•  The number one issue of American office workers is that “Management provides me with the tools and resources to get my job done.”  Of U.S. office workers, 89% feel it’s “very important to them” and 51% feel it’s “very true on their present job.”  (Steelcase survey, 1991)

•  Most executives (88%) thought that employee participation was important to productivity yet only 30% say their companies do a good job of involving employees in decisions that affect them.  Only 38% of employees report that their companies do a good job of seeking opinions and suggestions of employees, which has dropped since 1989.  And even when opinions are sought, only 29% of employees say that the company does a good job of acting on those suggestions. (The Wyatt Company WorkUSA Survey, 1991)

• Towers Perrin surveyed 250,000 workers at 60 companies and found only 48% thought their bosses listened to their ideas or acted upon them.  That’s a 3 percent drop from 3 years ago.  And only 60% of employees think their bosses keep them well informed. (Charlotte Observer, 9/24/92)

•  The fourth most critical issue of office workers was that “Top management provides clear goals and direction for the organization.”  While 80 percent feel it’s “very important to them,” only 29 percent feel it’s “very true on their present job” — a 51 percent gap! (Steelcase survey, 1991)

•  A study of 4000 American managers produced the startling finding that only 46% give their best effort at work.  Only 36% feel challenged by their jobs; 52% have not attained their personal objectives; and more than 43% feel trapped in their jobs.” (Dale Carnegie & Associates, 1992)

• Chief executives from 150 organizations nationwide (US) say the skills they would most like to develop in members of their executive team are:

47%            Team Building
44%             Strategic Thinking
40%             Leadership
34%    The Ability to Motivate Others
(Source:  Manchester Partners International, Inc. Philadelphia — from Human Resources Executive, October 20, 1996  pg. 63)

• Thirty five percent of 1,885 executives polled nationwide are dissatisfied with their jobs and 78% have revised their resumes (compared to 68% in 1993);  69% have sent resumes to prospective employers (compared to 58%) and 64% had actually gone on interviews, compared to 53% in 1993. (from Human Resources Executive, October 20, 1996  pg. 63)

• The average tenure of CEOs has dropped to a new low level of 2-3 years with burnout tendency now at 85%,
• An average of 83% of employees are NOT engaged with their work and the problem isn’t getting better;
• 1/3- 1/2 are seeking employment elsewhere with the price-tag on these two issues alone reaching billions of dollars;
  (Above from John Keenan’s ILGE Flyer, 2011)

• In 1989, the Registration Accreditation Board was founded by ASQC to assure competency and reliability of ISO auditors and registrars in the US.  At the time, it was estimated that the pool of auditors would grow to about 300.  As of 1995, there were 3,397. Today, over a million international organizations are certified in ISO 9001 alone, and there are dozens of competing standards — no guess as to the numbers of auditors or the cost of compliance.

Many of the above stats have changed for the worst, from the kinds of things we can find in the literature. Ah, the good old days of things we could have done differently! If you like this, let me know and I can dredge out more of these kinds of factoids.

Active Learning, Reflection and Performance – Thoughts by Mel Silberman

My last blog was on debriefing learning to better impact performance and was stimulated by a discussion with Roger Greenaway in Scotland, who focuses on such things and writes very eloquently and succinctly. He shared a chapter of such information for a book to be published by Mel Silberman, an old friend of mine.

Searching for some old statistics on the workplace in my computer files, I came across a post that Mel had written back around 1996 – 1997 for a listserve we were both actively involved with (TRDEV) and I thought to share that post here, since I think it represents the kinds of things that Roger and I focus on and that might be of interest to anyone focused on learning and performance:

Over 2400 years ago, Confucius declared :

What I hear, I forget.|
What I see, I remember.
What I do, I understand.

These three simple statements speak volumes about the need for active learning.

I have modified and expanded the wisdom of Confucius into what I call the “Active Learning Credo.”

What I hear, I forget.
What I hear and see, I remember a little.
What I hear, see, and ask questions about or discuss with someone else, I begin to understand.
What I hear, see, discuss, and do, I acquire knowledge and skill.
What I teach to another, I master.

Why do I make these statements?

There are several reasons why most people tend to forget what they hear. One of the most interesting reasons has to do with the rate at which a lecturer speaks and the rate at which people listen.  Most lecturers speak about 100-200 words per minute.  How many of those words do listeners hear?

Well, it depends on how they are listening.  If the listeners are really concentrating, they might be able to listen attentively to about 50-100 words per minute or half of what a lecturer is saying.  That’s because listeners are thinking a lot while they are listening.  In this case, it’s hard to keep up with a talkative lecturer.  More likely, the listeners are not concentrating because, even if the material is interesting, it is hard to concentrate for a sustained period of time.  Studies show that people hear (without thinking) at the rate of 400-500 words per minute.  When listening for a sustained period of time to a lecturer who is talking up to four times more slowly, listeners are likely to get bored and their mind will wander.

It is true that adding visuals to a lesson increases retention. A picture may not be worth a thousand words, but it is many times more effective than words alone. When teaching has both an audio and a visual dimension, the message is reinforced by two systems of delivery.  Also, some people prefer one mode of delivery over the other.  By using both, therefore, there is a greater chance of meeting the needs of several types of students. But, merely hearing something and seeing it is not enough to learn it.

Our brain does not function like an audio or videotape recorder.  Incoming information is continually being questioned.  Our brain asks questions such as:

Have I heard or seen this information before? Where does this information fit?  What can I do with it? Can I assume that this is the same idea I had yesterday or last month or last year?

The brain doesn’t just receive information– it processes it.

To process information effectively, it helps to carry out such reflection externally as well as internally.  If we discuss information with others and if we are invited to ask questions about it, our brains can do a better job of learning.  For example, a group of researchers asked students to discuss at frequent intervals during the class with a partner what a lecturer had just presented.  Compared to students in a control class for whom there were no pauses for discussion, these students received up to two letter grades higher.

Better yet, if we can “do” something with the information, we can obtain feedback about how well we understand.  Learning is enhanced if students are asked to:

1. state the information in their own words
2. give examples of it
3. recognize it in various guides and circumstances
4. see connections between it and other facts or ideas
5. make use of it in various ways
6. foresee some of its consequences
7. state its opposite or converse.

In many ways, our brains are like computers and we are its users.  A computer, of course, needs to be “on” in order to work.  Our brain needs to be “on” as well.  When learning is passive, the brain isn’t “on.”  A computer needs the right software to interpret the data that is inputted. Our brain needs to link what we are being taught with what we already know and how we think.  When learning is passive, the brain doesn’t make these linkages to the software of our minds.  Finally, a computer cannot retain information that it has processed without “saving it.”   Our brain needs to test the information, recap it, or explain it to someone else in order to store it in its memory banks.  When learning is passive, the brain doesn’t save what has been presented.

What occurs when lecturers flood people with their own thoughts (however insightful  and well-organized they are) or when they rely too often on “let me show you how” demonstrations and explanations?  Pouring facts and concepts into people’s heads and masterfully performing skills and procedures actually interferes with learning.  The presentation may make an immediate impression on the brain, but, without a photographic memory, people simply cannot retain very much for any period of time.

Of course, real learning is not memorization anyway.  Most of what we memorize is lost in hours.  In order to retain what has been taught, people must chew on it.  Learning can’t be swallowed whole.  A lecturer cannot do the mental work for listeners because they must put together what they hear and see into a meaningful whole.  Without the opportunity to discuss, ask questions, do and perhaps, even teach someone else, real learning will not occur.

Further, learning is not a one shot event.  Learning comes in waves.  It takes several exposures to material to chew long enough to understand.  It also takes different kinds of exposures…not just a repetition of input. Even more important is the way in which the exposure happens.  If it happens to the learner, there will be little mental engagement by the learner.

When learning is passive, the learner comes to the encounter without curiosity, without questions, and without interest in the outcome (except, perhaps, the grade he or she will receive.)  When learning is active, the learner is seeking something.  He or she wants an answer to a question, needs information to solve a problem, or is searching for a way to do a job.  Under these active conditions, learning is qualitatively different from what occurs when the learner is passive.

Dr. Mel Silberman
1942 – 2010

Dr. Mel Silberman

I trust that you have found Mel’s thinking to be clear and relevant. Here is a picture of him from the internet and below is a picture of he and I back in 2001.

Scott and Mel Silberman, ASTD 2001

On Debriefing Learning – My experiential framework on performance gain

Just a short post here, with more to come. I think this issue of debriefing is a very critical one, one that connects the learning experience to changes in behavior back at the workplace.

People need to think and reflect in order to learn and change

I connected with Roger Greenaway a while back and he sent me an article that he published in one of Mel Silberman’s Active Training books.

(And I was very sorry to learn that Mel died in 2010, since we had been friends for 20 years. I think the training community will miss Mel, for sure.)

Roger’s ideas and frameworks greatly expand my perspectives on debriefing and it will be my goal to put a few of his ideas into the frameworks of debriefing Square Wheels as well as our different team building games. All of my games are designed to be “an excuse for debriefing.” What a good debriefing does is allow the individuals and groups to better understand how their decisions and planning impacted the play of the game — and then how those things relate to behavior back on the job.

For years, I have asked individuals to give “one minute of silent contemplation” to something like Square Wheels One. This to allow individuals to put their spin on what they see happening and thus they have more to say in any group discussion. I would then ring a bell and allow them 15 more seconds, and then ask them to work as a tabletop to put together group ideas.

Roger’s writings taught me a number of different, and I think better ideas. He also adds a good “conceptual context” for a lot of the key points. One concept he discussed was called, “1 – 2 – ALL” and added the idea of taking the tabletop and allowing paired discussions before moving to the full table. I had always leaped from individual to group.

The reality is that all of us know more than any of us. So we need everyone involved and engaged and participating. Ownership involvement is critical.

In my Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine game, we play with tables no larger than 5 to 6 people, so I am not sure if the advantages of the paired discussions are as obviously beneficial as it would be if I was having to deal with tables of 10. On occasion, I have been forced to do that for a large conference session where the room was used for more than just my session and where I would have no control as to table size.

So, I think that is a great idea.

I will elaborate on more ideas for debriefing for improved performance in the next week or so.

You can reach Roger at

UNC – Clemson Basketball – The Streak

Okay, I just can’t help myself…

My University of North Carolina basketball team beat Clemson University yesterday. Not a big deal, since they are like 126 – 20 in the overall series. The humorous and interesting aspect of all this is that Clemson has NEVER — that is the same as “Not Once Ever” or ZERO — beaten UNC at Chapel Hill.

That makes it 56 wins in a row at Chapel Hill, a streak that covers 15 different United States Presidents. The only good thing about a Republican winning the Presidential Election in 2012 is that it would allow Carolina to extend that streak to SIXTEEN different presidents. (Nah, let’s keep this at 15 for the next 4 years…)

Okay, why is this a big deal? Well, let me go back into the personal history a little, since it might help explain this.

I came here to Greenville, SC back in 1975 to teach at Furman University (The Purple Paladins). But this area was overrun with Clemson Tiger Orange, be it hats and t-shorts, painted tiger paws on the streets and highways, the sports part of the evening news all focused on CLEMSON. (Even now, there is still some remnant of this though the University has not accomplished that much in football in recent years; salaries for the football coaching staffs are exorbitant and among the highest in the country…)

And it was really kind of embarrassing, really. Danny Ford was the Clemson football coach and you can watch for yourself how well he intellectually represented Clemson in these videos. (One is about his selection of chewing tobacco – “Danny Ford’s Chaw” at and just his basic use of the English language (see for but one example).)

(Heck, y’all, the grocery store stock guy at The Nose in Pickens, SC, who quit school after 6th grade, speaks better English than Ford. And he is not representing a University of higher education…)

So, it was great that UNC would always beat Clemson at home. I mean always like a, “Before I was born and I am really old now,” kind of always.

Here are some factoids about the history (from

  • 1929 – Brooklyn’s George L. Pierce is granted the first patent for a basket ball. This is the same year the charging foul is introduced. At this point, Clemson had only played in Chapel Hill once, taking a 50-20 loss on Jan. 15 1926 to the Tar Heels, or White Phantoms as they were then called.
  • 1937 – The practice of having a jump ball after every made basket is abolished. The NCAA is still two years away from being formed. Clemson sits at 0-3 in Chapel Hill thanks to a 24-23 loss a year earlier.
  • 1944 – Goaltending is outlawed and unlimited substitutions are introduced. Also, it is determined that accruing five fouls results in a player fouling out. Clemson is 0-7 in Chapel Hill at this point after falling 52-32 in 1943. This starts a nine-year stretch in which the Tigers don’t even play at North Carolina. During this time, the NBA is formed.
  • 1967 – The dunk is banned. Clemson is still searching for its first win in 19 tries in Chapel Hill. (0-19)
  • 1976 – The dunk is legal again. Clemson’s losing streak at North Carolina now stands at 25 games. (0-25)
  • 1986 – The NCAA adopts a standard 3-point line, set at 19 feet, 9 inches. It doesn’t help Clemson in Chapel Hill as the Tigers are still winless in 32 tries.
  • 1992 – With stars like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, the Dream Team turns the 1992 Summer Olympics into a showcase for the game, expanding its worldwide reach. Closer to home, Clemson still can’t win in Chapel Hill, its losing streak standing at 38 games. (0-38)

It was nice to see that Brown finally won at Princeton in 2002 to end that streak at 52. So Carolina’s home win streak is now an all-time — and probably never to be “broked” (if I talked like Danny) — record of futility. (Is this another meaning for “homelessness?”)

I understand that Stephen Hawking is now starting to use this concept of ZERO as a anchor point for “nothingness” as it relates to the formation of The Universe. Even though it is referred to as, “The Streak,” that refers to the starting point as actually “being something” — but there is nothing there for Clemson at Chapel Hill in basketball…

Now, I still live in Greenville, SC and I do not every expect to see a lot of Tar Heel Blue on the downtown streets. There is an alumni association group here and one sees some blue hats and t-shirts on the street now and then.

Forever is not the same as Never. But in this case, they seem to mean the same thing.

“Zero and Forever” are equal to “Zero and Never.” Guessing Danny Ford will be proud of my math.

But The Streak sure is nice to think of every now and again. And, it sure has been fun. Will the fun never end?

Proof that meetings make you brain-dead!

Here is proof that meetings make you brain-dead and that un-engagement and un-creativity, as practiced in so many organizations today, is actually working to decrease corporate intelligence and impact performance for the future.

Scientists at Cal Tech and four other institutions studied brain function using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and paper and pencil tests to show that how one is treated in a workgroup directly affects oxygenated blood flow in certain areas of the brain as well as in their demonstrated intelligence.

Your status in meetings or in the workplace can be dramatically hindering your intelligence and the smarts of others in your organization. Intelligence (as measured by IQ) is NOT a stable, predictive measure of mental horsepower and that situations will affect it. The research shows that social status and cognitive processing of information are related and interact directly. (Guess that is why some of us consultants appear so smart, right?)

Actually, this is GREAT information that confirms that using strategies and tools to generate interactive, collaborative and engaged teams of people actually can improve Corporate Intelligence by raising their self-perceptions of their effectiveness in generating ideas and being creative – the data by Cal Tech and other scientists sort of proves this.

Sometimes we just feel like we are working and working and not making progress

The research also shows that people will perform below expectations if we expect them to perform that way. Scores of low performers dropped 17 points during the course of the experiment when they were told that they were low performers. The work made them less intelligent, measurably!

(And the measured activity in the brain supported the fact that fear is an inhibitor — there are lots of research studies that support that conclusion (see Seligman’s work on conditioned helplessness, for example) ).

“The sensitivity to the social feedback of the rankings profoundly altered some people’s ability to express their cognitive capacity,” said one of the researchers. This negative social feedback generated “quick downward spiraling” of intelligence.

We need to look for better ways to improve performance and this data is so straightforward. It seems to say that treating people with more status improves their intelligence, so DO it!

It is not hard to show appreciation for ideas that will make impacts on how things work. And it is not hard to structure activities that involve and engage people in sharing their ideas about how things work and how things can be improved. And doing this as teams can and will affect that team’s intelligence, if they feel mutual support and appreciation from others. Peer support is a very powerful motivator of performance.

There are no dumb guys when it comes to ideas for innovation and improvement

Intrinsic motivation comes from a variety of internal processes. Extrinsic rewards often drive incompatible behaviors and can be something that creates winners and losers. So, look for practices that envolve and engage groups.

I bet that I can replicate this finding by using some of our team building and performance improvement tools (like my Square Wheels and Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine activities) but there are a lot of tools out there that accomplish similar things. By involving and engaging people in the generation of list of workplace performance issues and then engaging them in designing and implementing solutions for those ideas, we can have ALL sorts of positive impacts.

And we NEED to raise functional corporate intelligence!

See more about this at in an article entitled, Neuroscientists Find That Status within Groups Can Affect IQ.

I have not looked at the original research, just the detailed press release above.

Managing Attention in Discussions and Meetings

or, Managing for Engaging and Involving…

I’ve been lucky in that I have been able to share ideas and generate high levels of participant involvement for 20+ years, working with small teams of people in tiny offices, doing workshops in regular training rooms, and even doing large deliveries in huge ballroom situations. So, I wanted to share some ideas about controlling groups whereby your desired goal is to have them operate with minimal controls and only good directions and focus.

Engagement and involvement has always been a key driver of my deliveries, and every one of my sessions over 10 minutes in length would definitely have the participants talking and engaging each other in focused discussions about possibilities and ideas. Since,

Nobody ever washes a Rental Car,

you want them involved and engaged and sharing their ideas and participating in discussions with their peers or table-mates. (I try to have 5 or 6 people at round tables, but that is another blog post…)

At the same time, you want to have some control over time and it is hard to regain control (or influence on control) in many such groups. How do you do that with style?

Yesterday, an associate asked me my opinion about his use of a wooden train whistle for his workshops, which generated a rant from me about how much I dislike those heavy-duty intrusive kinds of things (yeah, I overreacted but was nice about it!).

I have used bells for this purpose and have collected quite a few different kinds. Metal ones tend to be best, especially if you travel, but put them in your checked bags because TSA people seem to have a hard time with the phrase, “If it looks like a bell, it is probably a bell.”(It is actually pretty funny when they open the bag and find a bell. I will often ring it for the benefit of all the other passengers!)

So, here are my thoughts on how to influence and control meetings without being obtrusive and interruptive of the flow of creativity and ideas. After all, their interactions are the key to generating any changes or success.

Here is the key, though:

For any session interruption kinds of activities, use the bell at that start of the session and, once you have their attention, tell them that when they hear the sound of the bell, they have 15 seconds in which to end their discussion and come back to focusing on you.

This is a nice, courteous way of avoiding The Blunt, Stop Immediately On My Order kind of autocratic thing that so often frustrates someone who is making a key point. (And the reality is that they will keep talking anyway!). So, you can nicely use the social pressure of “coming to attention” without being rude or abruptly stopping people.


I use very small tinkle bell for small groups or for communication between me and some of my associates who might be assisting me in a session. Little tinkles are quite noticeable but would not disrupt anything happening in the room. One can hear them across the room, in most cases. So much easier than yelling! They also work in small rooms like a classroom.

Middle-size bells work nicely for most of my training sessions, especially if I am using a mic and the sound of the bell can carry over the speaker system. Get one with a nice tone, Small “temple bells” work nicely for this and look good – I generally buy them used on eBay and similar places.

For my larger sessions, I take a slightly different approach. For our team building sessions like in The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine or Seven Seas Quest, every 2 minutes I am changing the Weather and moving the game along. So, instead of me trying to shout over their noise but knowing that they want to know the information immediately, I use a loud large cowbell for the larger sessions. This is an interrupter by design, but they will look up and keep talking.

For my Very Big sessions, like presenting to an auditorium of 5oo or 1000 people — let’s say that they are in a heavy duty discussion naming some of the Square Wheels that they have to deal with in their organization, I use the Ting Sha kind of bells that ring (you bang them together) and then slowly, very slowly stop ringing. It might take 30 seconds for the sound to go away.

These are truly elegant in how they work. And people will often come up afterwards and ask about them.

Bob Pike and many of his associates use the clapping — “If you can hear my words, clap once” kind of announcement and participation, where some people get it right away and clap and that is heard by the others, who clap on the second announcement, “If you can hear my words, clap twice” kind of approach. I tried that, but like the bells so much more.

Shouting to get attention just doesn’t do it, in my opinion. The bells just work so much better, have a much prettier kind of “interruptive sound”, and show more style and preparation.

Find some you like and use them,

For the FUN of It!

Chickens, Teaching, Honesty, Thinking and Innovation – a story

An acquaintance who is always sharing stories and jokes sent me a good one. And the more I thought about it, the more convinced I am that it would be a good one to use in a leadership development training session.

Guess my thinking is grounded in the work I am doing around Strategy Implementation and how it is not the strategy but its execution and engagement of everyone in the organization to commit to doing things differently. It is not always easy and people think differently about things, which would appear to be problematic on the surface, but something that is critical for implementation success based on all sorts of research.

Anyway, the story goes like this:

My Favorite Animal

 Our teacher asked what my favorite animal was, and I said, “fried chicken.”

 She said I wasn’t funny, but she couldn’t have been right, because everyone else laughed. My parents told me to always tell the truth. I did. Fried chicken is my favorite animal. I told my dad what happened, and he said my teacher was probably a member of PETA. He said they love animals very much. I do, too. Especially chicken, pork and beef. Anyway, my teacher sent me to the Principal’s office.

 I told him what happened, and he laughed, too. Then he told me not to do it again.

 The next day in class my teacher asked me what my favorite live animal was. I told her it was chicken. She asked me why, so I told her it was because you could make them into fried chicken. She sent me back to the Principal’s office. He laughed, and told me not to do it again.

 I don’t understand. My parents taught me to be honest, but my teacher doesn’t like it when I am.

 Today, my teacher asked me to tell her what famous person I admired most, I told her Col. Sanders.

 Guess where I am now…

I thought that the story was cute. Did you? I definately took the position of the student, but then realized that there were other positions and other principles working here…

I thought of the different viewpoints of the student, the teacher, the parents and the principal and how it related to their thinking about what is important and meaningful. Each would of course have different ideas about what should happen around the situation.

Is anyone wrong in their reactions? What do the differences in roles make in how the information is processed? What is the real desired outcome of the whole activity, and then frame up the whole activity from the positions of the different parties.

Think about how this all relates to people working in organizations who are being asked about improving customer service or implementing a new way of getting things done or who are trying to innovate or develop new products. By nature, everyone takes different posittions based on their roles and how they perceive they are to influence and impact that student.

Which role do YOU take in educating others? I LOVE fried chicken, but so very seldom eat it. Do doughnuts have legs?

Have FUN out there!

Commitment to Employee Development is good! Engagement? Coaching?

In 2010, employers spent more on employees’ development than ever before: businesses in the United States spent $171.5 billion on employee learning in 2010, up from $125.8 billion in 2009, according to ASTD in their recent survey. Apparently, companies are seeing a benefit in investing in the development of their people and that there may be payoffs for that in terms of employee retention and improved performance.

Training can be good!

Companies need to invest in employee development

Numerous surveys are finding, however, that the levels of employee engagement are low and that many are ready to leave their present organizations should another job opportunity appear. Training may not be actually working all that well to improve results…

A Fierce, Inc., survey of more than 1,400 corporate executives, employees, and educators across industries found that poor communication between decision-makers and employees, which heavily impacts human capital ROI. Some findings include:

  • 86 percent of respondents blame lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures; similarly, 92 percent of respondents also agree that a company’s tendency to hit or miss a deadline impacts results.
  • More than 70 percent of individuals either agree or strongly agree that a lack of CANDOR impacts the company’s ability to perform optimally.
  • More than 97 percent of those surveyed believe the lack of alignment within a team directly impacts the outcome of any given task or project.
  • 90 percent of respondents believe decision-makers should seek out other opinions before making a final decision; approximately 40 percent feel leaders and decision-makers consistently fail to do so.
  • Nearly 100 percent (99.1) prefer a workplace in which people identify and discuss issues truthfully and effectively, yet less than half said their organization’s tendency is to do so.

While ASTD’s report found that the value of a highly skilled workforce continues to rise, companies are still missing the boat when it comes to training. Training will not solve the kinds of problems mentioned above. Skill training often seems to generate results that look like this:

Even with improved training-related strengths, failures to improve the workplace and involve and engage workers will not lead to great improvements in performance

Skills are important. But what are we doing to better engage workers in workplace improvement? Businesses with highly engaged workforces have many advantages over its competitors:

• On average, they rate 86% higher with their customers and build higher levels of customer loyalty, which has many positive impacts on sales and referrals, marketing costs, etc.
• They have 70% more success in lowering employee turnover
• They are 70% more likely to have higher productivity
• They enjoy higher profitability, have better safety records and deliver greater earnings per share to their stockholders

Senior executives seem to understand that a highly skilled workforce, and the continued development of those employees, can be a strategic differentiator in today’s competitive business environment. What they seem to miss is the issue of involvement.

While the expenditure per employee increased, learning hours per employee remained the same — the amount of training is the same, but the costs have risen. My guess is that they have downsized their training departments so much that they now rely more on outside vendors, spending more for each hour of learning content used. Some other key findings include:

  • Use of technology to deliver training, especially mobile learning, continues to grow – Fortune Global 500 companies set a new high of 40.1 percent of formal learning hours used being delivered via technology-based methods.
  • Managerial and supervisory training was the most offered content (12.8 percent) followed by profession- or industry-specific content (11.3 percent), and mandatory and compliance content (10 percent).

Sounds like same old, same old, right? For zillions of years, companies chose to not involve and engage workers. This tended to be a basis of the initial formation of unions so long ago (Read Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” for a view of how things were in the workplace around the turn of the 20th century).

People were trained to do the job at hand, but they were NOT a part of the company. They were cogs to be trashed when they were broken. They did not have any workplace ownership involvement and were not treated as humabn capital. They were a cost.

Now, look at GM and Chrysler and Ford and what they are doing with a more involved workforce (and a union). They have productive, skilled, knowledgeable, involved and let me say productive people again. If we treat workers well and involve them in workplace decisions and keep them aligned toward expectations, goals and the future, we can accomplish a lot more than by simply training them to perform some task, in my opinion.

The Round Wheels are already in the Wagon!

If we focus more on Managers as Trainers, and focus more on teaching more of the existing Best Practices in the workplace to more of the people in the workplaces, and we focus more on engaging and motivating the people in the bottom half of the organization, can profit-improvement be far behind?

We should focus more attention on coaching the below-average performers to improve. They have the skills to improve, but not the support

You can see a short video presentation on this on my YouTube Site — it is about coaching the below average performer for workplace improvement:

If we’re not getting more better faster than they are getting more better faster,
then we’re getting less better or more worse.

Facilitation. Why? Ownership Involvement and Employee Engagement

As I was updating some of my orientation thoughts in some of the toolkits I sell, I got into thinking more about why I do what I do and why I think it is so darn important for organizations. Like everyone, much of my present-day thinking builds on my early experiences, so I think about how Dorothy Irons “beat” me into a great customer-service bellhop and how much I learned in my first organizational consulting experiences.

There have been other writings about Dorothy, but one simple thing she did every day was ask this new employee (me) what guests were coming to the hotel and how many in the party and what room they were in (we scheduled all that – we only had 65 rooms at the resort). It did not take me long to figure out that she was always going to ask me that and that I needed to look at the reservations first thing every morning. Simply put, that little bit of preparation allowed me to guess pretty well as who just pulled into our parking and allowed me to grab a room key and meet them at the car. And that pleasant little surprise (for them) got me Great Tips! Over the years, I taught that kind of service commitment in my consulting and training business.

My experience as a consultant (1978) was grounded in involving and engaging workshop participants to define the issues and opportunities in the workplace and then generate some working pilot programs to see if they could incorporate those ideas into improvements that had impacts on results. I did the workshops and then worked on the shop floor to help implement, MBWA, support, reinforce and correct things as needed.

Most of these pilot tests they implemented were successful and they linked to measured improvements ($$). The weakness was that I did not involve and engage the workers’ managers sufficiently to get them to want to do the simple things needed to maintain them. When I was no longer there, things often slowed to a halt (even with the measurable payoff!).

And the paradox of that continued — As my experience grew, I would often “short-cut” the engagement workshop process to save time, not realizing that this was also reducing the ownership-involvement of the participants. Even though making improvements made sense, “they” were not always interested.

Thus, I became very aware that ownership was a critical key to improving and sustaining effectiveness. And the resulting cartoon looked like this:

Pretty predictably, leadership will resist change if they are not INVOLVED AND ENGAGED in that change

So, you work hard to get the people involved and engaged in the theme of making improvements in the workplace and you get the wagon ready to start rolling downhill and what do the managers do? The feel the pressure at their backs and they dig in their heels. The resistance can take active or passive forms, but it is resistance, nevertheless.

Facilitation is the key. And having the supervisors and managers DO that facilitation is another key. This is one of the reasons why training so often fails: Managers are not supportive of the training and the new behaviors because they have no active stake in the improvement or they feel that they are observers and not participants.

Strategy Implementation so often fails because the Most Senior Managers generate the strategy and simply expect the supervisors and managers to buy in and take risks and learn new behaviors and all that.

That will work, right?  (No!)

Get my toolkit on Facilitation for $35 at the PMC website

Metaphors as Tools for Organizational Improvement

Ah, LinkedIn. Sometimes, a post in there just triggers some good thinking on my part (or at least makes me generate a response which I can then use as a blog piece…). This time, it was a post on the Power of Metaphors.

A lot of what I do is all about metaphor – it is about using my Square Wheels One cartoon as an inkblot test to generate perceptions and also about using a facilitation process to elicit and process ideas for organizational improvement and personal development. Call it “facilitative coaching” or some such thing…

Here is what I said in my response:

‘We’ve been playing with a metaphor of a wooden wagon being pulled by a guy with a rope and being pushed from behind by people who cannot see where they are going. The wagon rolls on wooden “Square Wheels” while the cargo of the wagon is round rubber tires.

The metaphor resonates in all kinds of different situations, from boardrooms (where the rope is very very long) to the shop floor (where the View at The Back is very common among workers and supervisors) to situations of counseling and coaching (where “stepping back from the wagon” is most helpful, to the situations where people need to discuss the best practices that already exist and put the wagon up on blocks for a while to play with different ideas.

The pretty darn consistent message that I get from people is that they will remember the workshop many years later. In December, I met a senior manager at a company in Mumbai who remembered a session I delivered in 1994 at an ISPI meeting. I don’t mean that he remembered attending a session that I delivered, I mean that he remembered the cartoons I used and the issues and opportunities that I discussed.

Metaphors are most powerful, and especially when one uses them in a way that is active and not simply the passive receipt of the story. I tell a Moose Joke (you can get the slides free) to close many of my sessions and that is well received. But few people will remember it.

When they sit and contemplate the Square Wheels One cartoon, and generate ideas as a tabletop of participants, and then list the Square Wheels that they perceive are operating in their workplace or their situations and then generate some round wheel possibilities and share them amongst the others to find some Best Practices, those things are remembered really well.

And having fun playing with ideas is important. After all, caterpillars can fly if they would just lighten up!

If only I could remember how to swing a golf club that well…

For the FUN of It!”

Yes, I DO think that we can use storytelling and other kinds of metaphorical interventions to allow people to think of new ways of doing things. And you must know that “their ideas are always better than your ideas.”

By that, I mean that they can come up with ideas that they own and with that ownership, they are much more likely to actually DO something differently regarding that situation, rather than simply nod their heads and pretend that you have their commitment. It is why the issue of commitment so closely ties to the issues of involvement and engagement.

I think metaphors are a great way to lead people forward and to generate the ownership and peer support that will more effectively drive intrinsic motivation toward mastery and improvement.

We can help people move forward by involvement and engagement and new perspectives

Or maybe this one would be a better depiction:

Leaders can lead and involve and engage and implement

Have fun out there!

(see our tools on coaching at

Coaching: All the Managers, All the Time

In one of the LinkedIn discussions I participated in recently, the theme was about why coaching is not occurring more in organizations.

I naively chipped in with my comments about coaching and that it should not be something special but something that is a daily kind of responsibility by all the managers, all the time. Coaching for improved work performance is what generates high performance, performance improvements, the sharing of best practices among a work group, etc. Coaching can help generate the intrinsic motivation and the focus on mastery of a skill. Coaching can also help the people in the lower half of the organizational performance curve improve; after all, those who are generating below median / average results probably have the most opportunity for improvement.

But the conversation never really clicked on that kind of thinking.

It turns out, I think, that when non-managers talk about coaching, they are talking about that Certification Thing, that coaches need to go through some kind of paid professional development package to get the certificate and that coaching can only occur if one is a coach and the other is a manager or executive. They are not talking about the skill and behavior of the manager / supervisor, it seems, but that of the income-generating activity of the Professional Coach and the corporate client.

I guess those kinds of gigs are much less common than they used to be. It would appear that companies are not lavishing money on the outsiders who take it as a benefit that they know nothing about how the company operates or the kinds of workplace improvements that exist — already — within the company.

For me, I think the best coaches are the peers and bosses, who can provide some really specific support in getting company goals accomplished and results improved. For me, the coach is the person with the best feel for what needs to be done throughout a team, not someone who sits in the stands and watches the person who is directing the action to provide them with feedback.

Sure, I like to watch Roy Williams as he reacts to the play of my beloved North Carolina Tar Heels basketball team. But I think that his support of them would always be a lot more important than my support of him.

My coaching materials are about performance improvement, not the improvement of the coach. I offer the managers some tools for discussions of what needs to be improved and what might be done differently. My kind of thinking is that if we can improve the play of the TEAM, we can improve results.

But I guess that is not what most people discuss when they talk about coaching — at least that is how it appears… (And I was in a conversation with a consultant trainer who said that her executive coaching program took 12 weeks of one half-day session per week to complete — I did not ask her what the cost was!)

For me, coaching is cheap and easy. It is a natural part of leading and engaging. And we share some simple tools for improving its effectiveness.

You can see my coaching bundle at

A simple to use toolkit for coaching improvements

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