Square Wheels, Change and the World of Work
— statistics and ideas and possibilities —

Part One of this series talks about the danger of knowing The Answer when it comes to working to manage and lead change and Part Two focuses on some of the realities of the change process, with factoids on caterpillars and butterflies. To support this endeavor, we have also added two different poems on the themes of transformation and change that I hope you will find interesting. Joan Simmerman’s poem is here and Fern Lebo’s poem is here.

The Third Part of this series has a focus on how we can use the Square Wheels theme and approach to better involve and engage people in this process of involving, engaging and understand the process of change itself. Here, we expand on some of the statistics around workplace attitudes and overall involvement. It is NOT a pretty picture of butterflies flying and more like a picture of boots crushing caterpillars.

This (Part 4)  is about Square Wheels, Change and the World of Work – What are the main issues?

The continuing and overwhelming global response to Scott Adams’ Dilbert cartoons indicates there exists a perception in business today that things do not work smoothly, that lots of mud exists and that few in leadership positions appear to be listening. And change and improvement are paramount needs.


The issues here are around involvement and engagement and communications as they relate to workplace performance. The caterpillars seem to be actively resisting the changes and transformations that are part of continuous continuous improvement. The people are not seeing themselves as butterflies and are not being involved or engaged in the processes.

Many statistics from a wide range of sources strongly support a real Square Wheels Workplace Reality when it comes to how things are rolling forward. My thought was to put a bunch of them all in one place:

A Fierce, Inc., survey found:

  • 86% of respondents blame lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures; similarly, 92% of respondents also agree that a company’s tendency to hit or miss a deadline will impact bottom-line results.
  • More than 70% of individuals either agree or strongly agree that a lack of candor impacts the company’s ability to perform optimally.
  • More than 97% of those surveyed believe the lack of alignment within a team directly impacts the outcome of any given task or project.
  • 90% of respondents believe decision-makers should seek out other opinions before making a final decision; approximately 40% feel leaders and decision-makers consistently fail to do so.
  • Nearly 100% (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.


  • An old study by IBM and the Human Capital Institute (HCI) shows that while 84% of organizations know workforce effectiveness is important to achieving business results, only 42% of those surveyed managers say they devote sufficient time to people management.
  • 83% of those high in self-awareness are workplace top performers while just 2% of bottom performers are high in self-awareness. High performers see more of their environment and do things to generate better results.
  • Just 36% of people possess an adequate amount of self-awareness, and 70% of folks are ineffective at handling conflict and stress.
  • Only 35% of workers characterize the level of trust between senior management and employees as favorable. Little more than half of employees will recommend their own company as a good place to work, according to a survey by Watson Wyatt. The perception is that other places offer better opportunities.
  • Only 23% of those surveyed by Gallop for The Marlin Company said they are “extremely satisfied” with their work.
  • In repeated Wyatt Company Work USA Surveys, they report that 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. (and we continue to see data like these)
  • Towers Perrin surveyed 250,000 workers at 60 companies and found only 48% thought their bosses listened to their ideas or acted upon them. And only 60% of employees think their bosses keep them well informed and only 32% feel management makes good and timely decisions.
  • Just 38% of workers said the information needed to accomplish their duties is widely shared and only 36% feel their companies actively sought worker opinions.
  • KellyOCR (2013) reported that 44% of people say they would perform at higher levels if the company compensation were tied to performance or productivity — in other words, they would do better if they were paid better!
  • Kepner-Tregoe reported that their survey showed that two-thirds of managers and hourly workers estimate that their organizations use less than 50 percent of their collective smarts and when asked to select the barriers to thinking from a list of 13 possible causes, both managers and workers cited the same three causes: organizational politics, time pressures, and lack of involvement in decision-making.
  • KT’s research also said that a little over half the hourly workers, and 40 percent of the managers, stated that frequent second-guessing of their decisions created a disincentive to spend a lot of time thinking up solutions to job-related problems.
  • Dale Carnegie & Associates 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.”
  • 59% of engaged employees say that their job brings out their most creative ideas. Only 3% of dis-engaged employees report this – Gallup
  • 49% of employed workers and professionals from across the globe participating in a recent Kelly survey (2012) say they constantly have their antennae out for new job opportunities — even when they are happy in their current position.
  • Booz (2012) found that just 43% of participants said they were highly effective in generating new ideas. And only 36% felt the same way about converting ideas to development projects. Altogether, only a quarter of all companies indicated they were highly effective at the front end of innovation.
  • Managers think their conflict-management skills are better than their employees think they are and this is calculated to be costing U.S. companies upward of $359 billion per year in lost manpower hours. Nearly one-third of all managers surveyed feel they’re skilled at dealing with conflict but only a fifth of employees believe their manager deals with conflict well:
  • While 31% of managers believe they handle conflict well, only 22% of non-managerial employees think their managers do a great job of sorting out disagreements effectively.
  • While only 23% of managers feel that they do not handle conflict as well as they should, fully 43% of the non-management employees feel that managers do not handle it as well as they should.
  • Among those who reported spending time dealing with conflict, 76% (81% in the U.S.) have seen desirable outcomes such as major innovations, better solutions, and increased motivation; 76% have seen conflict lead to a positive outcome; 41% have seen conflict lead to better understanding of others; and 29% have seen it lead to a better solution to a workplace problem.

Decades of consistent survey results indicate that there are wheely many problems at hand in most workplaces and that an improved sense of involvement and engagement would pay great dividends. Workers feel isolation and non-involvement with the things that impact them directly. Many people feel that management just does not care and are going through the motions…

Many wagon pushers feel the problems at hand but few get the satisfaction from having things improved. But there is often little incentive for taking risks and making improvements. And it is not obvious that leaders in the organization are always listening to ideas or always willing to implement change. Those perceptions can be addressed — they are merely perceptions of reality.

Ask, and Ye Shall Receive!

We need leaders to take the time to discuss the possibilities for improvement and engage the energies of all of the people. This is a two-way street as we can ask for feedback as well as share ideas and best practices. It’s not rocket science; it’s about involvement focused on improving the task at hand. It should seem clear that the potential for improvement already exists, that there is a butterfly within each of us.

The Round Wheels are already in the wagon.
Caterpillars can fly, if they would just lighten up!

But some workers just may not see the potential for improvement or the need for change and some managers may not see their role as one of developing people and innovating performance improvements. The statistics consistently show, however, that most people feel that improvements could be made if others would be more open and asking about the possibilities for improvement.

The Square Wheels are everywhere!

A few more key learning points:

  • Knowing “The Answer” will prevent you from seeking out other possibilities and ideas, limiting possibilities. (see part one)
  • Groups generate better ideas than individuals — do things in teams of 5 to 7 people. Allow groups to mutually support the others around them to optimize peer support for any change initiatives.
  • There are more ideas available than one might initially think. Play generates creativity and innovation. Pressure doesn’t – Pressure only generates resistance.
  • Not all the good ideas are immediate or even obvious until a problem is discovered and discussed. The Play is The Thing.

Another learning point is that a focus on the things that work but don’t work well takes clear objectivity and perspective from leadership. We must stop pushing and pulling in order to get far enough away from the work to see possibilities for improvement. This is especially tough to do when one’s goals and objectives don’t allow for much development time or arms’ length perspective.

By paying attention to the Square Wheels and then paying attention to the perceived possibilities for improvement, we create a bit of cognitive dissonance or discomfort caused by a gap between the perception of how things are and how they could be. By becoming less comfortable with the current processes and more aware of what might be done, we are more likely to initiate changes and improvements.

There are no bad people in companies; there are just good people doing clunky things in poor systems. When you put people into a poorly functioning process, there is little chance that they will perform well. We must address the operational and motivational systems to engage and motivate people. And the people who have hands on experience only need perspective and support.


My goal for this section was to elaborate a bit more on the problems that organizations face but to add a framework that the existing issues can be somewhat straightforward to address. People are not involved and engaged, so take steps to involve and engage them. People do not feel as if things work smoothly and they have ideas for improvement, so allow them to share their ideas. People feel that managers are not paying attention to the people in the workplaces, so change that perception and listen to them.

Square Wheels image of making improvement


For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott Simmerman CPF, CPT is still managing partner of PMC

Scott is developer of the Square Wheels® images and the board game version of Lost Dutchman

Scott has presented his concepts in 47 countries and collaborates with consultants and trainers worldwide.

You can reach him at scott@squarewheels.com and you can see his profile at LinkedIn


Scott’s blog on People and Performance is here.

Scott’s blog on Poems on The Workplace is here.

Square Wheels® are a registered trademark of Performance Management Company

Also published on Medium.