How can we motivate people when we make them defensive? How can we expect innovation and process improvement if we are not actually encouraging people to share their thoughts and try new things?

Attack creates defensiveness; and appraisal and constructive criticism can certainly represent an attack in the perception of the workers:

Defense with © Square Wheels Image

If we ask managers how they manage, they tend to give all the right answers. But is that really their tendency to act and perform in reality?

Maybe. In the “Keeping Things Simple – Involving and Engaging” blog, I shared this cartoon that we call, “Trial and Error”.

square wheels image of Trial and Error

When we ask them to comment on the illustration, they tend to focus on what is wrong, rather than what else might be done, The ratio of negative to positive is about 8 : 1 and, if anything, the peer support appears more clearly in reactions to the different negative themes.

In other words, eight comments focused on the negative and what they did wrong for every one good thing the managers might spot, such as they are stepping back and looking for more improvements and that the horse, will in reality push a wagon.

Mothers usually call this “constructive criticism,” but I am not sure what good purpose it serves to continually point out what people are doing wrong, “even if it is for your own good.” as we so often hear as kids and teenagers (and workers, in so many instances!).

What the managers tend to do looks like this:

and this will not serve to improve motivation or make things better. If anything, this blame frame will make innovation harder and decrease the likelihood of people trying to be involved and engaged.

Note they this work team added a horse to the situation — more horsepower, as it were — and a definite paradigm shift. And YOU probably have not considered whether this might actually work. What if the next step simply looked like this:

ALL of us need to focus more on the innovative steps to improvement and the reality that change is a requirement in the workplace. So is support and encouragement — every book on leadership will comment on that but that is not congruent with the behavior of many managers.

Improvement is a continuous process, one that requires celebration of what is accomplished and continued reflection on possibilities and potential shifts in resource utilization. One might think that there is a train in their future?

Note – clicking on the images will take you to some different, related posts.

For the FUN of It!

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

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest:

<a rel=”author” href=”″ a>