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

Tons of Good Writings, so why is improvement so hard? Part One

This is the first of two articles that hammer on the issues around supervision and how they affect engagement and performance. Spending billions for decades, why can’t we actually make improvements in organizations?

I’ll admit to being a pack rat when it comes to articles and interesting ideas. Next to me in the den is the January 1982 issue of Management Review with articles about how FEAR is common in management approaches to people and performance (Machovec and Smith), one on team management and motivation (Littlejohn) and another on closing the gaps in human performance (Bolt and Rummler).

1982 – and a rereading of them shows the articles highly underlined (this seems to be before the invention of the highlighter!) and all the key learning points are really solid. No surprises. On my floor is a 2002 article about collaboration and team building and how organizations need to improve alignment and focus more on collective intelligence — “All of Us know more than Any of Us.”

Like many of you, I have a few hundred books, going back to include Tom Gilbert’s Human Competence (1978 and since republished) and so many other great books by so many authors like Drucker and Peters. Thousands of old articles, and now, thousands of new blog posts, websites, eBooks and all that. Guess I go back the dinosaur age but I sure feel younger than that…

Google ChromeScreenSnapz001 So, what is so darn hard about managing and leading people? Why are companies spending two hundred BILLION dollars every year on newer and newer training programs, blended learning, computerized personality surveys and assessments and all this other stuff? (I outline some of the statistics and some of the issues in an older blog post you can find here along with Part Two of this thinking in a separate blog.)

My older blog article starts with:

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.

It goes on to talk about some of my thinking about training and coaching and generating commitment. I do not see all this as being all that hard. One supervisor being coached and mentored to teach and support one front-line worker at a time. Sure there is all that technical stuff to teach, but so many basic statistics point to the reality that employee turnover is high due in large part because they do not feel as if they are effectively managed.

I mean, you can find some really elegant stuff out there. Amazingly well designed, logical, superbly crafted training and development programs. But like executives trying to implement strategy, 90% of those initiatives are viewed as failures by the people within the organization and they generally fail to generate any real results. (Am I being too hard here? Maybe, but $200,000,000,000 is a lot of money to find engagement of workers to be less than 30%. Ya think?)

We are spending tons of money on “outdoor team building adventure training” and not seeing any real improvement in business results. (I write my thoughts about why in a whole series of blog posts)

Wouldn’t you agree that you could structure a workplace environment that would involve and engage ONE person to improve their performance? I mean, some combination of improving the feedback they get from their behaviors (see my article on feedback and an analysis of high performance feedback systems) and do the mentoring and coaching needed to fully involve and engage them in making improvements in results?

Can’t you get ONE supervisor to accomplish that change and get ONE of their people to improve their performance? And couldn’t they do that more than one time, like maybe 10 times?

Collaboration. Instead of running around outside solving problems with strings, balls, sticks and buckets, or shooting at each other with paintball bullets or walking on ropes or hot coals or getting soaked on a full-day trip onto some whitewater river, couldn’t you spend half a day in a training room with an exercise that clearly demonstrates the benefits of resource management, strategic planning, project management, alignment, involving leadership and coaching, and collaboration between teams?

We got one of those in The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine. We sell these to companies and consultants with a one-time cost. And I will guarantee that you will get results and that the program will match your desired outcomes. It’s not cheap, but it IS one of the best values in the world of training and development.

We’ve been selling this game for organizational improvement initiatives for 20 years. We’ve had one game returned and no negative comments (that return occurred because the trainer did not get permission to deliver the planned training course.)

When it comes to people and involvement, why are we not simply asking people to be more involved, to share their ideas for what needs to be improved? We do not need a lot of surveys — a simple brainstorming session will produce a lot of the real perceived issues and opportunities for management to act on.

Like Rodney King said so long ago,

“Why can’t we all just get along?”
Why can’t we work on shared goals and objectives
and support better performance?

Celebration plane color green

The Round Wheels are out there!
They are already in the wagon.
Step back, identify and implement.

You can find Part Two by clicking here

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:


Also published on Medium.


Tons of Good Writings, so why is improvement so hard? Part Two


Lessons from The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, a game on teamwork and collaboration


  1. Milan

    I have attended any number of Executive Development Programs including those where you throw balls and even climb ropes. Yes,they were very entertaining. However, I wanted learning not entertainment. Getting entertained at a price of training is a wee bit expensive ,isn’t it ? I have spent 32 years in the biggest corporation of India including eleven years in training and the only redemption I had was when I attended Scot’s ‘Square Wheels’. It actually wiped away the sins of wasting invaluable time in shallow entertainment masquerading as training( and making you pay through your nose). This was one program that challenged and compelled me to think and rocked me out of my comfort zone. The impact was so devastatingly transforming. Suddenly, my reputation as Trainer touched a new high and enabled me to create that needed transformation in my participants. Thanks Scot. Those who do not know ‘Square Wheels’ do not understand their deprivation yet!

  2. Some days, one grinds away and does not feel that one makes any impacts or contributions to the world around us.

    And then a comment comes in that makes one feel like the efforts are all worthwhile.

    THANK YOU for sharing this thought. I too feel that these simple illustrations work elegantly well and I hope that we can all share them over time and generate a bit more dis-un-engagement.

  3. Nice points Scott. I agree with all that has been said. Too much training is entertainment, disguised as training unfortunately. The team development I do is based on open and honest discussion, not ropes. Team members need to learn more about each other, truly understand one another, create norms, share honest dialog and create clear goals. I look forward to looking through some of your stuff. Thanks.


  4. Greetings Square Wheels Guy!

    Found your latest over on the EEN, replied there too. I haven’t counted all of them yet, but you raise about a badgillion highly relevant and essential-to-resolve issues (“infinity times infinity!”…name that advertiser). For starters, we must acknowledge that whatever it is we’re trying to do while blowing that 200mil+, for the most part it’s not working. To me, at least part of the issue is that we really don’t know going in what the very clear, tangible, and measurable desired outcomes are of all that t & d. But upstream from that, we haven’t clearly framed what the real issues are that need to be resolved.

    When there is no vision, the training budget perishes (Proverbs).

    Or, as someone else has so eloquently framed this…when you fully understand and admit to your Square Wheels, it becomes much easier to identify the appropriate Round Wheels that you’re tripping over with your nose so close to the ground.

    A classic comes to mind. Too many training “programs” utilize the Charlie Brown methodology…

    Charlie Brown was practicing archery in his back yard. Instead of aiming at a target he would shoot several arrows at the fence, then walk over and draw a bulls-eye around wherever each arrow stuck.

    Lucy walked up and said “What ARE you doing, you blockhead? That’s not archery!”

    To which Sir Charles replied “But this way I never miss.”

    I’ll come back later when I have more of a chance to think about this!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén