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

Month: March 2013

Managers – Biggest Contributors or Biggest Problem?

An outstanding article got published today by Jim Clifton, the CEO of Gallup. If you have not noticed the transition of this company over the years, it has moved from its stereotyped base as a “polling organization” to one that is tightly focused on issues of workplace improvement. This article by Mr. Clifton appeared in LinkedIn and is mindblowing.

Jim CliftonYou can find the article here:

The data — 1,390,941 workers compiled into one database — says that of the 100,000,000 or so full time workers in the US, 30,000,000  (30%) are engaged and inspired at work and 20,000,000 (20%) employees  are actively disengaged. It’s that old Henny Youngman line, “…Take my wife. Please!” reframed to, “…Take my boss… Please!” in the case of the 20 million who – again – are ACTIVELY dis-engaged, un-involved and un-inspired.

Henny Youngman( See Henny Youngman perform on Ed Sullivan (1966). )

The point that Youngman makes is that he wishes things could be different (he is actually joking, and it is funny!). The point Jim Clifton makes is that leadership in management is a critical factor in employee motivation and performance, and that good managers are a lot different than bad bosses in how they impact the workplace and the US economy. He is not joking and nothing is funny about allowing things to simply continue the way things are…

As Clifton says,

Here is my big conclusion: A workforce of 100 million employees in America requires a 10-1 ratio of managers to teams. So, for the U.S. to be perfectly managed, it requires 10 million great supervisors and then 1 million great managers of those supervisors. Pick the right people for these roles, the ones who know best how to engage their people, and the country will rise up economically like never before.

But the problem is, given my 10-1 ratio, there are, in my estimate, only about 3 million great managers inspiring and motivating those 30 million engaged employees. That’s just not enough great leadership.

 We do NOT need 3 million great managers leading people; what we need are a few million fewer Bad Bosses un-leading them! In other posts in my blog, I discuss dis-un-engagement and the issues surrounding the unmotivated middle of the workforce. We can impact them in many ways. In my post about the seemingly unmotivated, I discuss my thinking on what we can do differently to make improvements. It is not rocket science. In my post about Pogo, it is about this simple concept:

“We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Like  Mr. Clifton, I believe that we must make changes in how people are managed. His approach is focused on engagement, and so is mine. He takes the position that the three key issues of importance, based on their survey results are:

1.     At work,  I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day. This is the single-best survey item you can ask an employee. If they score high on this, it means they have been assigned a job for which they have the talent to excel. Mastering this begins with companies identifying employees’ strengths and putting them in the right roles.

2.     There is someone at work who encourages my development.

3.     At work, my opinions seem to count.

I take the position that most people are un-engaged and un-involved and that every manager and supervisor needs to focus in DIS-un-engagement and the implementation of ideas — Engagimentation. It is a simple concept of facilitating ideas in the workplace and then working to implement those ideas by better managing perceived and actual roadblocks. The tools are simple and the approach is straightforward.

Reality of how things work SWs One

and the possibilities that exist for making the workplace a better place:

Rainbow Wagon green 70


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

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Scott’s blog on Poems and Quips on Workplace Improvement is here.

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“We have met the enemy and He is US.” Pogo, Leadership and Management

Early in my career, there was a popular quote popping around attributed to Pogo, a cartoon series by the late Walt Kelly.

The quote I love was published initially as an Earth Day poster in 1970. For me, this one representation of Pogo and the thought expressed so cleanly carries over neatly to issues of organizations, motivations, and management.

Background: Pogo was the title character of a long-running American comic strip created by cartoonist Walt Kelly (1913–1973) and distributed by the Post-Hall Syndicate. Set in the Okefenokee Swamp of the southeastern United States, the strip used some anthropomorphic animal characters who shared a wide variety of satirical comments on many aspects of life.

Three years before his death, Kelly penned Pogo into a poster for Earth Day, one that apparently first used the quote that became so universally known, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”


(If you look at Pogo’s feet, you will see a variety of trash and litter…)

For Earth Day 1971, Kelly did a two-panel expansion of his theme and included another of the characters of his comic strip (Porky) walking through a trashed swamp and shown below:


There are nice write-ups on the cartoons and their evolution in a number of sources, including this webpage and this site on wikipedia.

In 1998, at a PogoFest celebration in Waycross GA, organizers produced this brass plate on a wooden plaque:

plaque 1998

This latter framework closely reflects us, individually, as the enemy. Each of us creates and maintains our own issues and problems (while having all the solutions within us at the same time). Each of us is creative and motivated and human, and we can look to find those qualities that will make us contribute even more to the world around us.

The theme is not so much about litter and Earth Day, in my opinion, as about human potential. As leaders, we should be looking to see what we can elicit and support from the skills of others. If we do not work to optimize and maximize the performance of those around us, we are the enemy in that we are not effectively engaging, involving and/or motivating our people.

Maybe one of those plaques should be on each of our walls,

For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman, team building facilitator

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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Please note that all images are copyrighted by various sources including a 1982 Simon and Schuster book and other locations. Simon and Schuster produced 45 Pogo books over the years.

In November of 2011, Fantagraphics Books published the first of a 12-volume hardcover series of the complete run of Kelly’s works. In no way do I want my blog to reflect any issues of copyright infringement — I just wanted to use this illustration to illustrate a critical point and I refer any and all of you with any interest in this material to contact the publishers listed.

Thoughts on Hiring the Right Presenter for a large event

I have posted up ideas for improving large events and generating more participation and engagement in other posts in my blog. One of these builds on Ideas for Success for Off-site Meetings as well as others on speeding up team building events such as The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine and others that compare icebreakers to effective learning frameworks. There is one on using games versus exercises, for example. I also focus on using purposeful icebreakers in training and events in this post, looking to stimulate better or different ideas for getting more done in less time.

This present post was stimulated by reading an email in Promotional Consultant Today that shared some ideas of Joe Heaps and Dave Reed. the owners of I have no relationship with them, but thought some of their ideas and frameworks made a good place on which to build some thoughts. Their ideas were proposed as follows:

1. Outline the content and goals for the event.
2. Know your budget.
3. Cast a large net.
4. Start the narrowing process.
5. Make your selection.

My thoughts are somewhat broader than that of simply selecting a presenter, that your senior management involved in a large event need to know and clarify the precise purpose of holding that meeting.  This helps determine what you are trying to generate as desired outcomes and what results can be expected. The simple transfer of information or the generating of a spark of awareness are no longer good reasons for holding a meeting.

These days, so many things can be done through social media and webcasting that the thought of pulling together a large group of people for an off-site or even a within-the-building kind of event can be costly as well as time consuming. Even when it is on-site, it is hard to shut down a department and do an all hands meeting unless there can be backup for those attending. Also recognize that many people are fearful for their job security and do not want to do anything that would affect their performance results (like attend a training session or even take a vacation — click here for an article discussing that).

You need to have a solid case for why you are getting people together. Usually, that would have to include some interactive and engaging activity to help formally build teams or improve collaboration. You can do powerpoints right on their computers if you simply want to share information! But teaching some group skills and generating alignment and collaboration among the key players is hard to do with email; sometimes, engaging activities are more practical and effective. When we plan and help others to plan, we try to generate an interactive program that links directly to some desired group outcome, such as improving the planning process and leaving some impact:

Assistant LD testim 100

On the budget issues, you will have the costs of all the “loaded labor rates” of the participants plus the cost of the venue plus meals and maybe some overtime for some. If you hire a speaker, those costs can go off the roof. How some of these “professional presenters” can claim fees of $30,000 or more for standing there talking at your audience with little knowledge of how things work — something that everyone will surely forget a couple of days later — is way beyond my comprehension. But that is a reality.

(Big Name Speakers want first class travel and accommodations, in addition to Big Time Fees. And the speakers’ bureaus get a nice profit from the booking, also — they want commissions higher than the fees that we charge!)

One question you should ask is simple: Will they leave behind anything tangible that actually changes anything, or is the Big Name simply to appeal to the egos of the senior managers so they can share the, “Oh, we had XYZ at our annual retreat and I hit golf balls with him the next day!” with their buddies at the country club. Sure, that might be a neat thing to do, but at the cost of having everyone else’s salaries sitting there for the comments? (Years ago, I saw Joe Theisman present on customer service at a client’s Big Annual Meeting with Customers. Great. I not sure any of them chose to go to that meeting because Joe was presenting (he owned a restaurant) nor do I think anyone could remember anything an hour afterwards. And, I am not sure he hung around for golf the next day, either. I think he is still out there speaking…)

Heaps and Reed talk about casting a wide net for speakers and selecting 6 to 10 that might appear to be good matches. This makes sense since they run a speakers bureau kind of service with plenty of speakers from which to choose. I would suggest casting a wider net, looking for alternatives to simply having a talking head. There are many presenters and facilitators out there who can do interactive and activity-based things that actually generate involvement. I think that is a far different kind of activity than sitting on one’s seat and listening to some well-rehearsed joke.

moose color

You can get my Moose Joke, my best session closing story, by clicking here.

If you are going to hire a speaker, be sure to ask a lot of pointed questions to insure that his presentation is memorable and that it aligns greatly to your desired goals and outcomes. And remember that if you don’t know where you are going, any path will get you there. You MUST have a pretty tight grip on your framework in order to best evaluate a presenter or an approach that will work for your organization and people.

Checking for references is also a must, and you should ask for ones that were presentations years ago to see if there really was any stick. The CEO may remember the golf a lot more than the work that he paid for.

My approach these days is to talk people out of hiring me for presentations and workshops — they should do things themselves and keep it internal to save money and keep things really relevant.

A large insurance company had their Senior VP of IT go around delivering Lost Dutchman and to focus on interdepartmental collaboration. His role in delivery was Expedition Leader and the expressed goal of the game, “To mine as much gold as we can” explained his role in managing IT to support the operational groups. Who better to do this? And, he was also an engaging presenter, which helps even more. Being a real organizational leader, that kind of event leaves a lasting positive impression on everyone involved.

Herb LD testim 100








I think our materials work just great on their own without outside facilitation — they are designed for that — and we often will chat about who in their organization would be the best presenter for a session on Square Wheels or who could be the Expedition Leader for a Lost Dutchman game. Because I use cartoons and ask tabletops for their thoughts and ideas, the metaphors presented have a lot of “stick.” And even when I do wind up presenting, I will generally involve and engage the most senior managers to help me lead the debriefing and discussions of things to be done differently. After all, they can do that so much better than me.

Bala is the senior HR guy for a billion dollar retail conglomerate in India and he shared with me that we met at a conference in 1994 when I presented Square Wheels to an ISPI conference — I asked him what he remembered and he went through my course outline and key points of my presentation. (People tend to remember me a lot less than they remember the cartoons, which is perfect!)

We sell inexpensive Square Wheels toolkits containing speaker notes, powerpoint presentation files, worksheets and the like. We will rent our Lost Dutchman game for large groups, too. It is easy to deliver and bombproof and is designed for people to facilitate themselves. (We also sell the game for repeated usage).

Kyla LD testim 100

PMC is one of a gazillion companies offering solid programs for organizational improvement that can be self-delivered without a great deal of cost. Plus, you are presenting it with internal people and saving large “presenter fees.” Few presenters really care if anything happens as a result of their work. I find many quite polished and entertaining, but I cannot personally think of anything that I have gotten (other than some positive as well as negative teaching approaches) from any of those people.


Just Do it.

Don’t hire some famous basketball coach who thinks he can tell you how to run a large operation of adults when he supervises a small staff of people plus some athletes. Do you think a football coach and commentator can really give you or your people (or your senior executives) any ideas that are really useful and actionable? Don’t think that climbing Everest gives one any real insight into the motivations of a Gen X’er in your workplace. I did a 130 meter bungee jump, but I don’t think I actually learned anything from that! Does anyone think that my talking about that would have any impact, whatsoever?

Find a program that matches to your desired outcomes and look to see how you can do this yourself,

For the FUN of It!

Scott Debrief

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

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest:

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Workplace Motivation – “I Quit! Nevermind. Whatever…”

I Quit! Nevermind. Whatever…” is my anchor point for what seems to happen often in the workplace. It may be a sudden thing, where the pin hits the balloon and the worker finally snaps and decides that they are quitting — but often, before actually leaving, they will placehold their current work as they will look for another job. Or, it may simply be that the person burns out, gets totally blase about things and just does not care to try very hard anymore. Then, they will simply work to meet minimal expectations.

In this post, I excerpt some of the key thoughts and data points in my article about workplace performance. You can download a copy of the full article from by clicking on the image below:

I Quit Article Icon

What I will do herein is highlight some of the key points about how to engage the dis-engaged or to accomplish what I talk about as Engagimentation.

We can start with how it all starts, with a statement of how things are working:

imagine a workplace

Yeah, just imagine that! Let me know if you actually find one of those because they would be a good role model for the rest of them. I can imagine that things work pretty well there and that they are profitable. It is a nice thought. But research shows that it is far from the average workplace of today,  where surveys consistently show the majority of people as dis-engaged and only casually involved. Surveys of managers show that many think that people would be happy to just have a job (and they are); but happiness with being employed does NOT translate into productivity and performance results.

Stats show 85% of employees report their morale declines significantly after spending 6 months on the job (from Sirota Survey Intelligence) and 49% of workers say they constantly have their antennae out for new job opportunities — even when they are happy in their current position. Few feel their current employer is giving them a fair deal in terms of advancement opportunities (Kelly survey).

We start with an energetic, positive and committed new hire who becomes one of those people who simply disappear and are working to simply get by and noticing if something better might come their way. Focused on meeting the minimally-acceptable standards of productivity and quality, they seem no longer much interested in much. They are not the first person you call on when something needs to get done. And there are a lot of them in most workplaces.

The article has a series of statistics that back up the basic idea that the majority of people in the workplace are simply choosing to underperform because they are just not “into it.” They are not bad employees, they are just not giving what they could and it shows up in a variety of ways. Think of them as: Average. Middle. Muddling. Mundane. Un-exceptional. Un-engaged.

Some Common Situation Causal Factors could include:

  • Being Restrained: One area of concern is around the mis-fit of policies, procedures, rules and regulations. They may become frustrated because they are restrained in how they accomplish things. They might want to be more helpful to customers or they may see possibilities of improvement that are either rejected as ideas or simply brushed aside.
  • Being Ignored: They may simply feel that they are ignored. They might not have feedback systems that provide effective information about their performance and those results may be invisible, in their opinions, to their management team. They might feel that they need training (or they are sent off to training for no apparent reason). And when they do extend forward, no one notices or comments; it changes nothing.
  • Not on the Team: Or, they may feel as though they are not part of the team or the in-crowd. People at the margins tend to become marginal. As part of a team, they often feel that their efforts contribute to the overall good. But with no sense of such involvement, they tend to become less involved, quickly.
  • Accidental Adversaries: Another factor was discussed by Peter Senge in his work on learning organizations and involved a series of small negative events that, in the bigger overall situation, would become more and more annoying over time. Repetitive small “pinches” could eventually be disruptive. There was not one event or one thing, just a bunch of little things that added up. It should not be surprising that these loops could be common between workers or between an individual and a supervisor and that, left unattended, they underpin a motivational problem.
  • Punishment, defined as a negative consequence that occurs following some behavior, is another issue in many workplaces. We are not talking “public disgrace” here or corporeal punishment; we are more often talking about little comments or perceived slights or the threat of negative consequences that could occur in response to behaviors.

When people are strictly following policies, procedures, rules and regulations, they will not be productive. (Yes there are situations like safety where strict compliance is important, but less so for customer service, manufacturing or similar kinds of activities). In fact, most work slowdowns are anchored in people following things overly precisely and carefully.

What do we do? How do we motivate these people?

Re-engage them. And understand that this will take time and effort. You cannot do this to them, but you can do it with them. Change and improvement take time, but the capability is there. Remember that, “Trust is the residue of promises fulfilled” (Frank Navran) and that you need to build your base moving forward.

Re-frame the solution into the simple context of Dis-Un-Engagement. This is the process of working with them to identify the things that are unengaging them and do things to remove those factor, in reality and in the perception of reality. The key is to be seen doing things differently. (I am not talking about faking it; I refer to the reality that many beliefs they might have are simply not true but if they feel that they have some control, these factors become less important.)

Dis-Un-Engaging is re-motivating by de-un-motivating!

Identify the past and present things that are currently un-engaging people and use facilitation and teamwork to identify those factors and issues that can be changed, added or reduced that will help to eliminate or minimize these performance issues and change the culture.

Actually, this is really straightforward and accomplished by:

  • removing the perceived (common) or actual (sometimes) things that are un-engaging people and teams, you serve the purpose of re-engaging and re-energizing them;
  • facilitating, you generate active involvement. You lead and engage;
  • creating a new sense of vision and mission about the future;
  • using teams to solve problems, you build the teamwork support, energy and resources needed to supply the peer pressure to improve and sustain.

Many believe that this is all there is to motivation:

How to Motivate People red color

clicking on the image will take you to another article on motivation

There are always threads in my LinkedIn groups focused on the above. Many organizations try to control people’s behaviors extrinsically, a highly difficult process fraught with all sorts of potential negative side effects. Money works, but there is a continuous need to increase its amounts to get the same results over time, and you will get a lot of competitive responses between people that have negative side effects and interfere with teamwork. Plus, extrinsic incentives will only motivate the top performers, in most situations.

In B, we will get performance. But it will be compliance-focused and not exceptional. And, do NOT turn your back, since various kinds of retribution and sabotage are common.

Recognize this simple reality:  People WANT to succeed.
We simply have to help them come back in and re-engage.

You can start with something easy like this:

Visioning 2019 Engagement

And simply listen for how people want their workplace to be. They will talk about the different problems that were fixed and the way they were engaged and involved to fix things.

After that works and you get a grip on the kinds of things that are seen as issues, you can help define how things work and get after those things that need improvement. Our approach has always been to ask for issues and opportunities using our Square Wheels illustration toolkits:

SWs One - How Things Work

But there are lots of things you can do and how you can do them. My approach is to use the above and then get them thinking like this:

Intrinsic motivation comes from feeling successful and wanting to continue to improve how things work.

Intrinsic motivation comes from feeling successful and wanting to continue to improve how things work.

We want the group to feel like they understand the issues and can deal with them effectively. The key is to implement some improvements and possibly use teams to help with that process. Do things differently! Success makes Continued Success more likely.

Engagimentation = engagement plus implementation

Doing more surveys without doing anything to involve and engage people tends to feel more like this:

Working hard, turning corners, working hard, turning corners, working hard...

Companies spent $700 million on engagement surveys. They got close to nothing in return – engagement is dropping most places.

Don’t just have more surveys and more discussions. Involve and engage the people in the organization — especially those in the middle — to improve performance results of all kinds.

You can download the complete article on workplace engagement by clicking this sentence. Your feedback would be appreciated.

Scott on CoachingYou can also find a 3-minute video on my YouTube page that explains the concepts around coaching and improving average performance and the idea of moving the overall performance curve to improve results at

For the FUN of It!

Discuss what you might do differently

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

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest:



Addendum – There is a really interesting “I Quit” letter going around, reportedly from a woman auditor who quits PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC) because of people, structure, culture, and job growth. She pulls no punches. You can find that, with a long series of comments from other people, at


Having an Off-Site Company Meeting? Ideas for Success

There are some good tools out there to optimize the success of an off-site meeting. The list of Don’ts is pretty obvious to most of us if we spend 2 minutes thinking back to either the “Most Memorable Bad Meetings” we have attended or try to remember all the sessions that we forgot – many of these corporate gatherings leave nothing but a hole in time. My goal here is to share some alternative approaches to this problem.

Gaining negative examples is especially easy and brainstorming with four of your senior managers on the Bad Ones might actually even be fun (if, and only if, none of them were directly involved in the “planning” of that event!)

LD Campfire

It is kind of fun to sit by the fire and tell stories!

In a nice blog by Bob Frisch and his team (see it here), they share a number of good ideas about Big Picture Planning for Events. The blog was a shorter version of an HBR article by Frisch and Chandler that expands things a bit more.

Their tips include the requirement that there be some pre-planning focused on desired outcomes and key goals for the meeting.

Typically, it seems like the CEO says, “Let’s have a meeting” and defines who will attend. A list of top leaders is generated and maybe an outside expert. Budget limitations define venues, numbers and activities. Golf gets expensive and bowling is too goofy. Airfares, room rentals, cars and meal costs add up quickly and there needs to be some ROI in order for this to make sense. And when all these things come together, the outcomes of the meeting should be apparent and the changes driven from the commitments should be meaningful.

This does not mean the generation of a list of characters who should be there because they are bosses’ bosses or that kind of thing nor should it simply be a list of people who do good PowerPoint presentations, because the reality is that much of that kind of content can be webcast or podcast these days and need not be part of the travel-time agenda. And also envision the normal glazed eyeballs and distracted looks in the dim room during the last session you attended…

After all, how many PowerPoints IS it possible to watch and survive?

(Some surveys say 3, but my personal experience is sometimes ONE. Yes, when I have a scheduled delivery of one of my team building experiential exercises, I will sit in on other presentations and will often observe participant reactions rather than listen to content. I can remember some good ones, but the reality is, “more are quite bad than somewhat good.” They don’t call it “Death by PowerPoint” for no reason, right? A search of “Death by PowerPoint” (in quotes) generated 346,000 results and without quotes, it was 27,100,000!)

powerpoint poisoning

Message: Fewer Lectures by Senior Managers without vetting for engagement and interest!

People can sit at their desks and review powerpoints either by going through the file, as a podcast or even a webinar. Why pay the costs of airfare and hotel and then have them sit basically isolated and hopefully listening?

What do you want them to Do Differently as a result of sitting there?

We look at such events as the only time that you can get these people into a room to interact and engage each other, to dialog face to face to build more collaboration and cooperation, or to solve real business problems and take away an impetus to do something differently.

The reality should be that we do a better job at the front end in designing the desired back end and the behavioral outcomes we desire. The program itself should be engaging, or have engaging components. People need to interact and develop a sense of ownership and commitment.

Let’s take the situation of the top management team that has developed a new strategy that needs to be rolled out. Who are the key players who will determine the steps to successful implementation and who are the people who NEED to know first-hand about the strategy so that they can begin communications? Who needs to attend to help us develop the roll-out plan and the timelines? Where do we focus and what do we need to change or eliminate from our measurement systems so that we can add some new behaviors that support the desired changes?

It is these kinds of questions (and more) that will help us define the plan and drive better outcomes.

Our approach looks more at involving and engaging participants to generate some ideas for innovation or improvement and doing different activities to teach and practice facilitation / motivation skills that the participants can use with their staffs or to do some team building to identify real ideas to improve collaboration or to design strategy interventions.

Other consultants and trainers in our network do sessions specifically designed to focus on Creativity or Leadership Development or Strategy Implementation.

But the goal and desired outcome is to enable change. This will not occur if you sit there and observe the scoresheet, any more than a basketball team will take practice time to sit and go through the Box Score of the game from two nights ago. Reviewing information is not going to improve skills or interactions and it is certainly not going to develop a level of ownership commitment needed to do something differently.

A couple of days ago, I got an email from a young engineer who is part of a planning team designing an event for 250 people. From the information I could gather, this was to include a one-hour interactive team building session for 1/3 of the group at a time and for tables of 8 – 9 people since this was how the rest of the program was apparently designed.

I referred him to my blog post on team sizes and optimal outcomes which basically reviews a lot of research that indicates that small groups perform much better than larger ones and that supports my 25 years of playing with tabletops no larger than 6 to drive behavioral change. Plus, devoting ONE hour to teambuilding at a multi-day conference was highly likely not to change one small thing, even. But at least they were looking for some experiential learning to accomplish this as opposed to doing DISC or something…

My suggestion to him was at the NEXT conference, they do something like our Lost Dutchman team building exercise, do it for the entire group, and spend half a day participating AND working on ideas for improvement and change. The desired outcome should be to generate some plans for doing things differently and for developing a followup plan to make it more likely that things will actually change and improve. It will not come from some senior manager standing at the front of the room talking about The Mission and The Vision and The Strategy. We need to paint the picture for people about where we are going:

Square Wheels View from The Front of the wagon image

The view at the front of the wagon, which is different than the view at the back!

Alignment will come from the active engagement of participants and the detailing of specific desired changes — and ideally measuring those improvements in a meaningful way.

After all, Nobody Ever
Washes a Rental Car!

People must have an ownership commitment in order for them to be expected to take care of things and do the maintenance and other tasks necessary to take care of the business.

What I do is designed to be an excuse for a targeted debriefing — all my activities are designed to generate perspective and discussion and engagement so that tabletops can reframe situations and generate ideas for improvement. The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine is a 2 hour game that we can debrief for days — seriously. If I am asked to deliver a session, I want 90 minutes for the debriefing and also the active participation of the Most Senior Manager, who I get to lead, What does Mining Gold mean for Our Organization (and what will we choose to do differently to mine more gold!)

If I use the Square Wheels as an approach, we will always get into a discussion like this one. (You can download and view a pdf version of the worksheet below by clicking on this link: SW – RWs worksheet) SWs-RWs Worksheet

There are many interactive games that you can use to teach collaboration skills (like Collaboration Journey) or creative, innovation and implementation processes (like Innovate & Implement). And lots of other vendors sell useful and effective products that can link to real behaviors and engagement.

Rent The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine team building game

Why have anyone sit and watch? What would YOU prefer to do?

The goal is to involve and engage people for some change in behavior. This is a lot easier to do at one large event with a focus on facilitating and involvement than to do one-on-one in rollout. Companies can deliver powerpoint show in many different ways at a lot less cost than at some venue.

Getting people off their seat and on their feet and involved with discussions of potential improvement or an analysis of the critical factors necessary to implement some new strategy is ONLY accomplished at such events.


This came from the Haines Center’s newsletter – Strategic Management Insights (April 25, 2013)). It added some solid additional perspective and ideas:

8 Tips for a Successful Management Retreat

Accomplish strategic planning, team building or simply have great conversations about the business, with a successful retreat. Regardless of the size of your organization, bringing senior managers together for a well-planned retreat is a smart business decision. Conducted properly, corporate retreats can be a great investment that helps move your company in the right direction. They can be a great opportunity for strategic planning that will enhance performance and foster overall growth. Follow these eight tips to assist you in planning a successful senior management retreat:

  1. Decide on the focus. Every organization has its unique dynamics, goals and challenges. Are you designing a retreat for strategy or just team building? Do you need to improve office morale? Do you just want to relax? Your agenda may vary depending upon the focus of your retreat.
  2. Find a suitable venue. Pick a location with comfortable accommodations, a variety of meeting facilities and easily accessible local attractions. Be sure to consider what your senior managers would benefit from. Aim to make your decision based upon the overall quality of the experience offered, not just the price.
  3. Select appropriate participants. If you fail to select the right players, your retreat will be unproductive. Identify key people. Consider the benefits of including executives, managers and top-performing employees. Invite only those that can actively participate in achieving your focus. No more, no less.
  4. Set an agenda. Customize your retreat based upon your key objectives. Be sure to fill each day with a well-balanced mixture of business and fun.  Distribute the agenda before the retreat so your managers can begin to think about the topics and prepare themselves to participate in any activities.
  5. Bring information. Before the retreat, ask your senior managers to compile a list of relevant information, data and research about your organization and its business environment. Use the list as a starting point for discussions and to promote the sharing of ideas.
  6. Begin with a group activity. Plan an informal event to kick off the retreat. Use this as a way to introduce new faces, minimize tension and encourage group interaction.
  7. Retreat now. Repeat. You will be amazed at what you will accomplish with a well-planned retreat. Repeat the events as often as possible to ensure that leaders don’t go ‘back to business as usual’. The investment will be worth every penny.
  8. Engage a facilitator. Find someone from outside the company to facilitate the retreat. Maintain your goals and vision, but allow a seasoned professional to manage the process of achieving them.

A successful senior management retreat will help you to gain a better understanding of your most important leaders. Contact us to plan the retreat that may help your organization to achieve superior results.

 You can reach Haines at


My personal experience with meetings and conferences extends over 30 years and 38 countries, a lot of it presenting and a lot of this listening to others. Like many of you, I have sat through 100s  of presentations of all kinds in all sorts of venues. Only a few are memorable. My positive and negative experiences plus a lot of research on experiential and accelerated learning have helped me as I designed some really great tools for organizational development and engagement. These engaging tools are all simple to use and highly impactful, guaranteed!

If you are interested in a large group team building event focused on organizational alignment and inter-organizational collaboration, my Lost Dutchman game is superb.

You can rent the exercise very cheaply for a one-time use or purchase it for repeated use in training or as part of an implementation program for strategy or change. SYou can also find some ideas for ways to cheaply run a large group team building event AND fully engage the senior management team on implementing strategy in this blog post.

Testimonial on Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine team building game

And with any rental or purchase, you also get my personal absolute unconditional free full support for dealing with your questions and challenges. AND, I will guarantee great results.

Email me for desired personal help. Or call me. I am more than happy to spend time framing up different approaches for improving people and performance, regardless as to whether it is going to generate a sale for me.


Discuss what you might do differently

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

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest:

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

Square Wheels are a trademark of Performance Management Company

Illusions and Management – Some thoughts about Reality

I posted up what I thought was a pretty fun blog last week, one that used illusions as the tool for communication. My initial intent on writing it was to use the illustrations as a metaphor for organizational innovation and creativity, but as I wrote, I poked a bit at management and leadership and perspectives. What bounced back were a lot of comments about the management themes that were mentioned. So, what the heck, go with the flow and all that…

Perception of how things work SWs One

In the cartoon above, which I use like an inkblot test, I can generate a lot of involvement and engagement with people seeing how their organization tends to work. Not so much that they see it that way  but more as how they perceive things to work. It’s useful, though, because it allows people to play and it gives them a language for how things work.

Okay, maybe things are different in Asia… Things there might look more like this:

Perception of how things work Asian SWs One

Square Wheels become “The things that don’t work smoothly” while round wheels become ideas for improvement and possibilities. The key is how to implement change and improvement and the workshop session stops the pushing and pulling for a period of time. Stepping back from the wagon is useful perspective, for sure. Perspective is good because it changes how we view things.

The reality is that many people in the workplace, as demonstrated by countless surveys and other research, actually see their time flowing something like this:

Reality of how things work SWs One

But I kid. Let’s move along to talk about how we think and how we see things and how our perceptions can influence our thinking. Take a look at this:

Moving hole in cube

Consider the circle

In the above, it you actually take a few moments and look at it, the circle should remain in the center of the box for a while and then move to the back surface as the image shifts from right to left. Or, it might start left to right for you. I actually have trouble keeping it in the same place the more I look at it — it shifts regardless of how I want to see it look. My brain makes it change. I think the same thing occurs when one views performance from different perspectives.

The person who takes a lot of time with customers may not complete as many transactions per hour but they may contribute more money to the organization, over time, because their average sale might be higher or they have fewer customer complaints that take up the time of others. The perception of performance will shift depending on what you look at. It gets more complicated when one considers the contribution to the development of other people or the willingness to train or innovate or help solve problems.

There are lots of examples of these shifting circumstances. And for some people, this illustration shifts around more easily to demonstrate the same effect.

reversing cubes 2

Then, we have the issue of how we perceive things in the workplace/

half full

Is that glass half full or half empty? And the answer to that may depend on whether you like to drink what is in there or not! It’s only half full of that cool, fresh water but it is half empty of that vinegary stuff the Nurse wants you to drink.

And performance can be influenced by perceptions. The Pygmalion Effect is one example. Basically, it suggests that people will perform as they are expected to perform. What you expect is what you get. Wikipedia does a nice job of detailing the early research on this but it is a commonly seen phenomenon in the workplace. If you expect someone to do well, that is what you will commonly find. Wikipedia says it this way: “The Pygmalion effect is a form of self-fulfilling prophecy and, in this respect, people will internalize their positive labels and those with positive labels succeed accordingly.”

Look at it this way:

Only 3 colors

Those of you with red-green color blindness (mostly us males — about 10% as opposed to 0.4% of females) will certainly see this differently than others. But take a look. How many colors are used to create it? (Answer embedded below.)

Observing and rating performance is often a difficult job, and that observance will spill over to how we motivate and reinforce. Some people we will invariably see as good performers and others as less so, simply because that is how we perceive them. May the heavens help us if our measurement systems do not really manage to track behavior in perfect alignment to company objectives.

So, what are those? Well, those might look like this to many observers:

parallel lines

You know, the funny thing is that all the lines are actually parallel to each other in the above. Yeah, LOOK AGAIN.

And I notice that it helps if you view the one above that as a smaller illustration, since the illusion seems to disappear. Funny how that works, eh? And it is caused by perceptions and how we look at things.

Only 3 colors

Yeah, there are only three colors in the X above. Your brain does crazy things, right? So who is your top performer? Who is the most engaged and involved in generating ideas for workplace improvement? Who is more motivated? Who gives the best customer service? Who has the most leadership skills and should be sent to a training program? Might be the same person as one of the people below? Which one of these is obviously bigger than the others.


Well, they are all actually just the same, and I would love to do this so that the “little one” is actually bigger than the biggest one — that would make it funner! It is the context of the positioning of the figures in the environment that gives the appearance of them being different. This same kind of illusion can appear everywhere in the workplace and it does get almost impossible to measure or observe everything that you want.

Some people are quite good at doing the design work to make things appear as they do. For example, we have:

Street hole tower

I mean, really? Or fabulous street art below:

Painted Wine Optical Illusion

These artists weave their illusions into their art intentionally to make amazingly spectacular art. These things look real. Yet some things, although they seem real enough, just aren’t going to happen. I think maybe a lot of people think that their organizations work something like this:


It all looks good until you try to actually build one. Or you can be challenged to simply count the squares…


(I can count 35 squares in this — there might be more)

Somehow, I had to simply work the following one in, not because it says that much about people and performance but just because the illusion seems to work so well. Not much square about this one, I guess… Do read the text at the bottom of the black border, though.


I will admit that it took me a long time to get that one…

Back to work!

Yep, there are a lot of issues of perception in the workplace and in the forest around us. We have to pay attention to performance results and we need to measure the right things and have solid performance feedback systems in place to make things operate smoothly.

I hope you liked the basic ideas included within as to how what we think and how we think about things does influence what we see.

If you want to see my thinking about performance results, consider looking at my Feedback Analysis Checklist. You can find it here: Analysis of Feedback

Square Wheels are an excellent metaphor for how things work in most organizations because they get people thinking about and talking about the things that do not work smoothly, with the understanding that people are better problem solvers than problem identifiers and that the ideas for improvement already exist. The metaphor also allows people to focus on the things that don’t work smoothly and the reality that we need to address systems and processes a lot more than people and performance.

We sell a variety of simple toolkits, complete with worksheets at

Things that get in the way are a lot more demotivating over time than most people realize. When things do not get addressed, people become de-moralized, dis-engaged and un-empowered.

The Square Wheels are Everywhere
and the Round Wheels are already in the wagon,


2 For the FUN of It!     Round Wheel for CJ gamesRound Wheel for CJ gamesRound Wheel for CJ games

Scott Simmerman

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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The Illusion of Innovation – Some ideas about creative thinking

Like everyone I know, I love to see those different illusions and to see how people so cleverly trick my brain. There are a lot of different styles and frameworks, not including the really neat stuff about how magic works and how the brain can only process one thing at a time because of its hardwiring. We have the different “gorilla walking by” and all sorts of slights of hand that are truly amazing.

But for me, it gets more pragmatic. How can we use our knowledge of how the brain works to improve the workplace, generate more intrinsic motivation and impact people and creativity. These things are all related, after all.

First, a bit of trickery and eye-foolery, since our world is often not how it seems:

circle and dot 1

Focus on the dot.
Then. move your head forwards and backwards.

I mean, we get movement in the above from what cannot be moving. (Maybe this is what is preventing senior managers from doing things, since they think things are moving, ya think?) Or maybe we can continue to do the same thing but have others think that we are actually making progress as we show both above as well as below!

Circles not spiral

And, similarly, take a good look at this one, above. Think things are spiraling forward toward the center? Think that things are getting closer and closer to The Singularity? Well, things aren’t. Those spirals are actually circles and it is the alignment of them that makes things appear differently. It is the same kind of paradox that happens when we set up Divisions and then expect collaboration. Ya think?

And here is one on headcount. The black dots represent people performing!

count the black dots

Yeah, those darn things just keep appearing and disappearing. Some things are just not easy, and HR often seems to have a hard time with this one. If performance is counting the black dots, go ahead and perform!

We can have some really good performers in our workplaces. And we can also have a lot of people who simply disappear. Finding and motivating people to perform is often a tough task, as shown below:



mottled horses

It is often the case that motivating and engaging people to perform is a pretty tough task, even though the boss says it is pretty straightforward, like eating an elephant, you know that old, “One bite at a time” one-liner. But finding that elephant and making sense of things just isn’t all that easy… Take a look and see what I mean:

elephant legs

And it is even tougher figuring things out if you have more than one elephant to manage:

elephant legs - multiple

Let HR do all that stuff. But, I digress:

What is that old joke, Managing things  here is a lot like mating elephants:

— It is accomplished only at high levels.
— It is accompanied by a great deal of stomping around, trumpeting and other noise.
— It takes two years to produce any results.
—   And then you have a baby elephant to take care of…

(Elephants, by the way, are the only mammal that cannot jump. Do not ask me why that is important, but it just is…)

Sometimes, we just think or simply hope that we can sail away from the problems of the workplace…

escher boat arch

A look back would indicate that we are pretty solidly anchored to the past. But, if only we could build our workplace world to be more circular:

escher ring

Yeah, just go ahead and build it! We can focus on doing the following, though when it comes to people and performance,  it takes some perspective and coaching to really accomplish:

LIFT black white

But for Me?

In reality, I use a very simple illusion to get people talking about what they perceive is happening in their workplace. I use this inkblot kind of reflection about how things really seem to be working and ask them to generate their ideas and thoughts about how things work and what Round Wheels might exist that might be implemented. It looks like this:

SWs One - How Things Work

The human brain is an amazing tool, one that can be incredibly creative and innovative if we allow ideas to flow and provide an environment of support and encouragement.

You can find another blog of my thinking on thinking here.

If I can get them thinking and talking and involved and engaged in creatively thinking about how things work and what might be done differently, I can generate the cognitive dissonance and the motivational thrust to push things forward more effectively.

For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman

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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Debriefing and Facilitating for Organizational Improvement – Games versus Exercises

Fun versus Value. Activity versus Learning. Age old mysteries…

Maybe I have been at this consulting and training stuff too long, but in a conversation with a prospect the other day, it really got me thinking about the reality of team building and organizational improvement and the VALUE of what we do. I have posted up before many of my thoughts on issues of impact and cost and time, from discussions about why I do not like icebreakers all that much in this article and in this one.

I have also shared a lot of ideas about outdoor training kinds of events, a few of which I like but many of which I view as problematic, such as a paintball game with a group of people who may have some physical impairments. One, on fun and learning can be found here. Another discussion is found here.

There have been a string of article focused on how to improve the impacts of training, such as this one focused on Motivation and Processes or this one talking about how training cannot improve work processes and thus performance.

And there have been LOTS of articles on engagement and dis-un-engagement and the process of involving people for intrinsic motivation and performance improvement purposes. If you search “engagement” on the blog, you will find more than 20 articles playing all around the theme, with statistics and ideas and frameworks.

My favorite post is on extrinsic motivation — in it, I link to an article that is called “I Quit! Nevermind. Whatever.” This focuses on the ignored part of the workforce, the quasi-motivated reasonably good performers who show up and put in time but do not perform to their capability — the 50% in the middle. You can download this article on engagimentation and motivation by clicking on the image:

I Quit Article Icon

What stimulated this post was a discussion with a prospect who has great experience facilitating teambuilding for organizations. His view was that a lot of companies do NOT want a fun learning event but would rather choose to simply do something fun. They do not want the session to relate to organization performance or work-improvement issues but simply want to throw some money out to a vendor to show their people that they care! The are looking for no ROI.

It is kinda like what I see when I look at the “Team Building Offerings” of a place like Dave and Buster’s. They actually frame this dinner plus play on the machines as Team Building. Apparently, they think that they can meaningfully relate that arcade games like slotball and shooting hoops and coupons somehow relates to workplace improvement and claimed that teambuilding is one of the specialties of our staff and corporate event planners. I mean, really?

Most of these activities are framed as competitions — and I will write soon about my thinking on the difficulties of turning competition into collaboration in any meaningful or substantial way. A client had me look into this for them and I saw it as fun, but not of much real value for the investment of time and money. Why posture and call it a team building? And what if someone falls down while running to exchange their coupons for “great gifts and prizes” before the clock wound down…

For me, I feel that if a company makes the investment of money, people and time into some event, there should be some impact. An internal HR person in Jacksonville summed it up nicely in a testimonial he sent to me:

Best “Learning Game” I have ever used…  We purchased Dutchman for an offsite meeting to discuss Resource allocation and Collaboration. It was a breeze to facilitate. The participants loved it and more importantly, walked away with lessons that they were immediately able to apply back at the office. The slides and materials allow you to guide the group in almost any direction imaginable. I am still getting comments weeks after the session about the impact it made on the business and the improved performance. A small investment that generates huge results.

I mean, the fact that it links to the workplace issues and that it apparently motivated his people to choose to do something differently is why I designed the game in the first place! And why I think it is a much better tool that so many of the other activities out there. (See a comparison of my Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine game to one of the most well-known games in the team building marketplace by clicking here)

LDGM 1 80

But there is another reality that I wanted to mention, and that is the post-game debriefing activity that should connect the play to the real world of organizational improvement. Yeah, fun is good and all that, but how do we help people make the connections and help them to make better choices in the future.

I have always talked about my exercises like Dutchman and Collaboration Journey as “excuses to debrief.” I want the game design and embedded metaphors to directly link to clean themes for improvement. Turbochargers become a metaphor for Best Practices, for example, and, “The goal is to mine as much gold as we can,” is really focused on the WE and optimizing overall success, rather than focusing on competing to win. Where there are winners, there are many more losers!

So, I absolutely LOVE it when people say things like this:

The feedback from the participants was fabulous.
I led the Dutchman’s Gold Mine game for our Store Manager development as part of their annual conference.
During the game, there were a few “aha” moments but what really brought the point home was The Debriefing. There was a lot of great debriefing material to use and I focused on how the game paralleled our business and how much better the results could be if we collaborated better as an organization.
Scott was extremely supportive and was always available to answer my questions or give me suggestions.  I recommend this game to anyone that wants to build collaboration among and between teams.  It is fun and effective!
After renting the game to initially test it with two large groups, we bought the Professional Edition to run this company-wide

This feedback was from Kyla, a trainer with a large retailing organization, who is rolling out the exercise through her whole company. That is really cool! For $8000, their cost of delivery is about $1 a person…)

So, I like HARD questions that focus on the organization’s future. I like discussions that relate to choices people make in the game and then in the workplace. When I ask about what energizes, I relate it to what the managers could do differently. When I focus on Gold, I focus on choices to make improvements in results. The game was about maximizing ROI — that comes from optimizing communications, sharing resources, and working together.

Dutchman Debrief Triad

I would love to hear responses to this, both on the question of fun versus fun learning, as well as on the issue of debriefing activities. I often find so many of the latter so lightweight, so devoid of connection that all comments will be forgotten as soon as the next activity starts. I know that the facilitators think they are doing a great job because there are often smiles all around, but it also seems like nothing gets done after such sessions. One client long ago did one of those firewalking events — a couple of years before the Burger King fiasco * — and people DID talk about doing it. But it was always focused on doing the firewalking and never on anything that happened as a result of that BIG expense to the company…

*Firewalking done by Burger King back in 2001, with 100 marketing employees participating in a “team building and personal growth” session with 12 getting burned and Burger King generating a great deal of publicity — yes, even Dave Barry poked fun at them in an article of his. (you can read more here.  (Dave Barry’s really funny article is here!)

Games are fun and I like games. I like fun. I like to kayak and play pool and all that. But I think that a corporate learning event should be just that, a learning event. I like Dave and Buster’s food — I am just not sure of their impact on organizational improvement. Frankly, I think the teambuilding programs where you actually cook a dinner would be more impactful than simply playing, but the home page of D&B’s says that they have conducted thousands of these events.

For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman

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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Is HR the Puppet Master or the Puppet?

There was a great post this morning by Dan Rockwell on his blog, part of which I reproduce here simply because it is a great subject as well as a target of some of my cartoons.

Dan wrote (some snipped):

My worst experience with HR is a broken confidence. She smiled and listened and within an hour violated my trust.

Human Resource personnel are among the most criticized people in business.

HR is criticized for:

  1. Treating humans as resources.
  2. Not understanding positions they’re filling.
  3. Managing paper better than people.
  4. Subservience to policy and procedure.
  5. Defensive, CYA postures.
  6. Lack of operational experience.
  7. Working for the C-Suit, not the people.

New potential:

HR matters because people matter.

“I don’t know about you, but I love HR.” Dr. Vik (Doc) in “The Culture Secret.”

“They are underrated, over-criticized, and underutilized.” Doc says, change the name from Human Resources to Human Empowerment (HE). The job of HE is, “Maximizing human potential.” Doc goes on to say, “HE could be the single biggest champion of your companies Culture.

New ideas for HE:

  1. Focus more on development.
  2. Become more human. Since when does serious work prohibit smiling?
  3. Sit in the seats of workers and do their jobs.

My take is that HR pretty much does what the C-Suite instructs it to do. I wrote:

Well, as they say, “Good Luck with all that.”

It is NOT HR’s fault, it is the C-suite that does to them what it wants and focuses them on the psychopathic side of running a business. Our Generally Accepted Accounting Practices treat people as a cost on the ledger of life. That crap all cascades down.

Over my 30 years, I have seen some attempts to address it in one company or another. The average company will SAY something like, “Our people are our greatest asset,” but then go look for some of that.

Because senior managers like extrinsic rewards, the whole operation works that way. Because senior managers like golf, they do teambuilding around a golf resort. Since people are often disposible, they treat them like paper tissues (I will go no further in that description).

I once had the CEO of a company at a retreat with his top managers blurt, “Asking employees for ideas is like asking the vegetables to design a refrigerator.” (He was not trying to be funny…)

Executives are SO far isolated from the workers that they have little clue as to who they are or what they do. Why should they treat them with respect?

How can a chain of 5000+ retail stores operate with none of the workers qualifying for any benefits — no health care in a company that labels itself a pharmacy?

Look at the people on minimum wage – 80% work for billion dollar companies that are profitable. Some even help their new hires apply for Medicaid and other government benefits designed to help the poor — and these are the new hires.

Let’s not place all the blame on HR. Lots of guilty parties making a lot of financial decisions to support the stock prices, not the people. Are there good exceptions? Surely.


Addendum: It is about Money. That means it is about Taxes and reducing costs. Does that really seem like a good base for building people skills and investing in organizational development? Any wonder why “Re-Engineering” took off and the focus changed from improving the processes to reducing headcount.

I always liked this: “How long can we go lean and mean until we become gaunt and dead?” (source unknown)

to which Dan responded:

Seriously, I think you’re nailing an important component of this issue. It seems to boil down to the idea that HR is the “puppet” of people at the top. We know people are reluctant to give up power once they have it.

I think that many organizations run something like this:

Puppet Master One color yellow

and larger organizations tend to look more like this as the control cascades down from leadership:

Puppet Master Two color yellow        Puppet Master Three color yellow

And things can get really crazy as top managers try to gain even more control over how things work and who does what when.

Puppet Master Four color yellow

So, what is the role of HR in all this? Is it to simply help senior managers control the behavior of the employees or is it to help the employees generate a sense of self-worth and to create some engagement and involvement in what happens in their workplaces? Is HR there to help the corporation control “all things people” or simply to help keep costs under control and manage “Human Resources,” you know, the people who do ALL of the Actual Work in the organization?

It is an interesting paradox, for sure.

manager puppet poem

BIG manager puppet poem

For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman, team building facilitator

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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How Gullible are we? Why education is important for our society.

My inclination is to make this a political post, one that focuses on the importance of education and information. And I am really pleased to note that I read that the State of SC’s Ways and Means Committee just agreed to increase funding by $149 million for next year, what everyone thought was an impossible task.

Over 1600 emails and 500 phone calls caused those on this committee to consider this refunding. South Carolina has “led the nation” in cuts to education over the past two years (even exceeding Mississippi, supposedly!). We need to educate people so that they can make better decisions and contribute more to our society, their work, and those around us.

Anyway, I came across this work in some old files, went and researched it, and it stands up. So here is the Study on Gullibility, along with the proof that we need to educate more people on more things to allow us to make better decisions on things like climate change, genetic engineering, and environmental science in general:

A freshman at Eagle Rock Junior High won first prize at the Greater Idaho Falls Science Fair in 1997.  He was attempting to show how conditioned we have become to alarmists practicing junk science and spreading fear of everything in our environment. 

In his project he urged people to sign a petition demanding strict control or total elimination of the chemical DHMO or “dihydrogen monoxide.”  And for plenty of good reasons, since it can:

  1. cause excessive sweating and vomiting
  2. it is a major component in acid rain
  3. it can cause severe burns in its gaseous state
  4. accidental inhalation can kill you
  5. it contributes to erosion
  6. it decreases effectiveness of automobile brakes
  7. it has been found in tumors of terminal cancer patients

 Google ChromeScreenSnapz001

DHMO is used as an industrial coolant and solvent, it is found in nuclear power plants, it is used in producing Styrofoam cups, it is a fire retardant, it is often used in animal research and drug production, it is used for distribution of pesticides and it is additive in many junk food products.

Nathan Zohner, then 14, asked fifty 9th grade students if they supported a ban of the chemical after describing the above conditions.  Forty-three said yes, six were undecided, and only one knew that the chemical was water.  The title of his prize winning project was, “How Gullible Are We?”  He feels the conclusion is obvious.

In March, 2004, the California municipality of Aliso Vieho (a suburb of LA in Orange County) nearly fell for this hoax after a paralegal there convinced city officials of the danger posed by this chemical – it got so far as to having a vote be scheduled for City Council for a proposed law that would have banned the use of foam containers at City-sponsored events because they contained DHMO, this substance that could threaten human health and safety.

(Check it out for truth at

If you haven’t quite figured this one out, DHMO or dihydrogen monoxide is also known as H2O or something we commonly call water!

And it surely does all those things listed above and many many more. It IS one of most powerful solvents known, since it is able to dissolve so many things, many more than chemical solvents like gasoline or alcohol. It is one of the very few substances that expands when frozen (converted into its solid state) and it is also one of the few solids that will float.

We also commonly see it in all three of its chemical states, a solid (ice), a liquid (water) and a gas (water vapor or steam). Life as we know it could not exist without water (although we are just now discovering some life that does not require oxygen to survive, all need water).

We can convince people that water is dangerous by telling them SOME of the information and presenting it in a particular fashion. It is the same way we can rally people around being against gun control legislation or being for “clean coal” or for objection to more available healthcare for people.

We can share data that says that Social Security or the Post Office are damaging our country’s existence. The list goes on and on. Only education and critical thinking will help us battle those who have their secret agendas or their claims that Austerity or tax reductions for the rich will boost the economy.

 Get all the facts. Make good decisions for yourself, your family and your people.


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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. 
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Ideas and Engagement – Building a Culture and Engagimentation

A LinkedIn discussion thread started with:

What do you think are the main barriers for an employee to come up with a new idea?

Some of the comments were spot on, I thought:

“Great question! My answer: Layers and layers of management from C-Level to Micro-managers, more layers and layers of processes intended to create productivity but actually reducing it, politically – the ever present need for everyone to include their thumbprint of ownership of an idea and finally, FEAR: “if it was such a good idea, someone would have done it already”.” (Jerry Braccia)

“Context and clarity would be the main two. Context in terms of employees understanding and being encouraged to participate in creative and innovative thinking in something more than just the ‘suggestion box’. Clarity in terms of understanding the ‘where to from here process’ for new ideas, and knowing each idea simply needs to benefit the organisation, and not necessarily be an industry changing world first!” (Brad Kerwin)

But then some leaned toward putting the blame on the employees and the workplace climate of not sharing and the wasting of time focused on rumors and money or trying to get the favor or the boss. Blame was even focused on the issues of perceived respect or the lack of training.

Me, I have a different approach when it comes to gaining the ideas of employees so I posted up this response:

Don’t think about an elephant!

That work?

The premise seems to be that people are somehow choosing not to come up with an idea in some of the posts. If YOU are working at a job and some aspect of it does not seem to work smoothly, how can you NOT come up with a better idea as to how to make things work more smoothly? The elephants are all around the workplace.

But it is NOT the issue of there being no ideas, the issue is that no one seems to want to listen to them. People will “rumor” about good ideas just as much as they will rumor about workplace crapiola.

I use one of our tools and show them a wooden wagon rolling on Square Wheels. The cargo are round rubber tires. And nearly everyone (including most senior managers) seem to agree that it is how things really work in most organizations.

The Square Wheels represent “things” so the discussion tends to lean far from the issues of personality. The round wheels simply represent “ideas”. Not all of them are good (the wheels do not have rims or there is no air in the tire). But there are LOTS of ideas when one uses group processes to involve and engage people.

The issue is that everyone is too busy doing things like they have always done them and there seems to be no time nor resources to do anything differently. Or, the issue is an interdepartmental one and we know how well interdepartmental collaboration works (an oxymoron, for sure, in many organizations.

It is NOT a dearth of ideas (even for new product development), but an issue of engagement and implementation of those ideas. I call it Engagimentation and it involves generating a vision / goal, managing resources and expectations, and allowing the people to try the new ideas in a low-risk, high support kind of context.

That is just how I see things, and that view has held up over 20+ years and 38 countries and counting…

For the FUN of It!

My thinking is that the supervisor can work with the people to design case studies around problems and value and help people focus on roadblock management and collaboration. We accomplish this with the use of our Square Wheels illustrations along with our team building tools.

SWs One - How Things Work

Generating a culture of collaboration and innovation and defining the best approaches to implementing ideas in the workplace is pretty straightforward, in my thinking. People want to be involved and be asked to participate. Peer support can be a powerful motivator of collaboration and engagement. Engagimentation is a pretty simple thing, really, but you have to stop pulling and pushing to allow people time to see what is happening and talk about alternatives. You can read more about it here in my blog.

But if we keep doing the same things the same way, you can pretty much expect the same results.

Addendum – I came across a good infographic with a nice way of showing a lot of data and ideas and information. Check it out at:

Here is a small part of the graphic:

Google ChromeScreenSnapz001

Check it out! Engagement is not rocket science — it is actually quite straightforward and can be accomplished if the culture is supportive of these kinds of initiatives. It MUST be seen as VALUABLE.

For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman

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

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest:

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