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

Month: January 2016

A Short Post on Human Resources and Livable Wages

My focus for the past 40 years has been on people and performance, often with productivity and quality as primary themes. So, I was interested to see a current situation that somewhat captures a variety of issues into one scenario. Maybe we can learn something about this as we move forward. I hope so…

The basic question might be framed as:

Should we be forcing sick people to work?

This happens all the time, but this might be the capstone for making changes in how the food industry works, with implications for every employer.

Chipotle Stock Prices

Chipotle has seen its stock dive from $750 a share to around 410 over the past three months, mostly because of an outbreak of illnesses associated with its restaurants but somewhat because how the situation was handled by the management team. Sure, food can be contaminated but the CDC found that sick workers caused the outbreaks in Simi Valley CA sickening 234 people and the outbreak in Boston that sickened 151. (Resource    Resource)  – This was found to be a norovirus, one that can come from people who do not wash their hands or who are sick but who come into work — and it is from these sick people that the virus spread to their customers, not from the sources of their food.

A couple of other outbreaks had “unknown causes,” while only the one  in Minnesota could be tied to food contamination: tomatoes and salmonella.

When you pay people survival wages that force them to have to work their hours to pay their bills (and you do not offer paid sick days), you can pretty much expect sick people to show up for work regardless of how they feel. Their illnesses can make their c0-workers sick but they can even sicken your customers. Generally, you will not see the impacts directly, but they can show up in the food industry if the illness is significant and severe.

Sales at Chipotle have dropped 30% in December and the brand’s “premium food” cache may be permanently damaged. Their “food with integrity” reputation has been visibly harmed and their premium prices will take a hit, decreasing their profit margins. Allowing sick people to work has been a huge and costly mistake for them.

A better policy around their human resource management might have been a better decision than this present and truly awful situation where the senior officers of the company are also facing shareholder lawsuits for their actions. That is not to mention that they made hundreds of people sick, costing them and their employers money.

And the ironies can be amazing. CVS Health — their Employer Summary on their website says: “When you join CVS Health, you join a company that cares about your financial and physical health. We provide a comprehensive, market-competitive compensation and benefits package that suits a variety of personal needs and goals.” – but they apparently do not offer sick days to their mostly part-time employee work base, not an uncommon behavior in the industry.

And it is the retail healthcare industry generally tries to avoid providing health care to its people by holding employment hours below 30 for the vast majority of its workers.

It is a complicated world, but I remain convinced that doing more for your worker team has positive short-term and long-term impacts on your business. It will be interesting to see the long-term impacts of the push to raise the minimum wage to $15 or more.

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games Scott small picand 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 themes of People and Performance is here.


Optimal Debriefing of Experiential Learning and Team Building

More than 20 years of working with organizational performance improvement and team building and experiential learning has taught me a few things, I think. So, I wanted to share some reflections around how to optimize the impacts on individual and group learning as it relates to generating ideas for change.

There has always been a discussion in the experiential learning literature about the need for focused debriefing versus the inherent learning that naturally occurs. After all, how much time needs to be spent talking about the obvious?

One might think that the experience itself would be sufficient for learning to occur and that no debriefing is necessary since the key learning points are all so obvious. The other perspective is that a focused discussion and reflection are paramount for learning to occur.

Overall, I think that the key is BALANCE. Key learning points should be discussed, with the reality that some people will learn more than others and that individuals within a group will each see different things, depending on their perspectives and experiences. But spending too much time in too much detail will dull the brain and cause a loss of interest and engagement.

I take the position that individual reflection and group discussion are integral to understanding from any event and especially for building a shared commitment to doing things more better faster
(or at least differently than before!).

Learning can occur within an individual simply as a result of some experience. But I also think that reflection and discussion generate much richer learning.

As an example, let me use my Square Wheels® illustration as an example. One person looking at the illustration may come up with 2 or 3 insights as to possible meanings, where another might find 10 to 15 learning points. Commonly, a group of people feeding off each others’ ideas and comments can readily identify 30 or more key points.  And, they will have more fun doing it.

How things work in most organizations = Square Wheels images LEGO

So, reflection and some discussion DO generate a richer learning environment and one that is more likely to generate some impetus for change.

My personal belief is that an exercise like Lost Dutchman is an excuse to do the debriefing and that the exercise is merely the platform for the group learning that will occur.

The authors of “The Annual Handbook for Group Facilitators” (Pfieffer and Jones, 1983) felt that it was “axiomatic” that the processing of the experiential learning program “are even more important than the experiencing phase”. These authors even urged facilitators to take care that the activity “does not generate excess data”. Rappelling a mountainside or descending whitewater in a raft with 5 others would be the kind of experiences which would “generate excess data.”  Too much, in fact, to capture and categorize, and not much real learning would occur.

Experiential exercises offer the benefit of links to preferred information gathering and decision-making styles.  It can match with the kinesthetic, visual and auditory learning styles and confirming systems.  The various roles can also benefit when a team applies the different thinking styles to the information processing and risk-taking situations.

So, one of the benefits of an exercise like Lost Dutchman is the clean design and straightforward metaphors that allow for a relatively structured debriefing of individual and group experiences.  In all of our game designs, we pay attention to business issues and opportunities and thus structure our suggested debriefing approach to allow groups to focus on realities of the workplace as well as the applications for the future. The themes and relevance are designed to be obvious.

collaboration generates optimal results in Lost Dutchman

At the same time, shared experiences also allow the facilitator to link the program to their existing and preferred tools. Should someone be using DISC, for example, they might use the game at the start as a tool to set the stage for a discussion of possible styles or at the end to test out applications of others preferred styles toward themes of teamwork and problem solving.

If people are focused on strategy implementation, they can use the issues about confusion regarding the overall goals of the exercise – “to mine as much gold as we can” in the case of Dutchman — to discuss the reality that choosing to compete will sub-optimize overall group results, the main cause of why “interdepartmental collaboration” is an oxymoron in most organizations. The game experience helps link the choice in the game to the reality of workplace choices, helping to define what could be done differently.

a user testimonial about team building exercise

By taking the time to debrief the program, you gain the benefit of group perspective and individual learning. What you got from the game is thus less likely to be lost among the informational noise and data. And a team focused on how they handled risk, for example, will most certainly generate different insights than simple reflection by an individual; the nature of the discussion and the different viewpoints will allow more objectivity and perspective.

Years ago, I jumped a 130-meter bungee jump in New Zealand, the Nevis. It was risk-taking in some ways. But a failure to debrief on decision making and perceptions of safety and other issues did not occur and there was not a lot of learning that occurred, in reality. I see this same kind of thing in the actual learning from a lot of different outdoor adventure activities – learning will come from the debriefing and reflection and not simply from the experience itself.

picture by Robert Young

It is when the activity and its review are combined, facilitated and discussed among teams that the real benefit of the event occurs – the learning that occurs with possibilities for personal and social development. Future-pacing possible outcomes is also beneficial.

Dutchman creates a learning event which includes some interdependent elements:

  • new and challenging collaborative decision-making
  • new group team building events and
  • various learning modes related to decisions
  • various information processing needs

The challenge is to discover ways of merging these learning elements into real individual and organizational improvement. In the short term, a single element may dominate the experience, but ultimately this dynamic form of learning depends on the harnessing and intermixing of these many elements and learning that come from reflection and discussion.

The new, virtual version of the team building game for remote teambuilding

Newly Released is the VIRTUAL version of our team building simulation.

Please note that we are releasing the virtual version of Dutchman, one designed for use with remote work teams.


I hope that this is helpful and that you can apply it to your own learning and development events for building teamwork and improving people and performance,


For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman, Ph.D. CPF, CPT is still managing partner of PMC, but sort of retired…

Scott is developer of the Square Wheels® images and the board game version of The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine

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

You can reach him at and you can see his profile at LinkedIn


Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of Performance Management Company
LEGO® is a trademark of The LEGO Group


Improving Engagement and Workplace Efficiency to Motivate Performance

In today’s workplace, we are asking for more better faster results from our people yet often not doing what we might to optimize engagement — we tend to be doing things TO people rather than WITH them, an approach that often generates resistance. Pushing generates push-back. And, it is common that when we are asking for changes, we are often adding more tasks and responsibilities to people who already have plenty of responsibilities and tasks. So, doesn’t it make sense that we look for things we can choose to eliminate and do it in a way that motivates?

Who out there among us does not have too many meetings or too much “paperwork?” And you can find lots of examples online of ways to decrease meeting time and make them more effective.

Logically, we can improve morale and motivation by doing a bit of best practice management and workplace simplification along with improving engagement. It is often simply a matter of keeping things in balance.

Balance Easy Peasy poem

From workshops and performance improvement programs, we all know that there are some good ideas in your workplace about how to make lemonade out of lemons. Top performers know how we can improve effectiveness and impact and improve organizational effectiveness since they are already doing things differently. It is not about inventing new solutions but about understanding the issues and the opportunities.

Here are a couple of ideas from my experiences on organizational improvement that you might adapt to your own purposes. Let me start with an example from my own experience; while the details would be different today, the overall situation should be familiar to a lot of us.

1 – Accountability and Priorities

Working in an organization as the top operations guy with a very supportive new president, we focused on improving organizational results by focusing on people and performance. We had 126 retail stores with all sorts of problems and a horrible overall culture under the deceased former owner — one indicator was that our store manager turnover was more than 250%! We had inventory problems, service quality issues, bad morale, high “inventory loss” problems, etc.

In talking with my store managers, it was clear that they felt overburdened with things. They received WAY too many forms and “immediate priorities” from the corporate staff. They were focused on paperwork a lot more than actual store results. They did not even know if their stores were profitable (and many of them were not, for a variety of reasons.

As Senior VP Operations, my first priority was to improve operational effectiveness and I saw our very young group of 13 District Managers as our leverage point — the challenge was to make them effective. The first thing was to change their perceived role as forensic accountants into performance facilitators and coaches.

Lou started with a clandestine investigation — he started collecting every single bit of information sent from the departments to the stores, filing it by Department and by Day. Two binders quickly filled up and we saw that there were inches of paper going to stores every week, each having something or other to do with operations. But if everything is important, than nothing is important.

This data collection got us a strong grip on the amount of paperwork sent each day to our stores and the nature of corporate demands being made of our store managers for reports, etc. Few people really understood how many things a manager had to read and do.

The resulting “All Department Head Meeting” that Lou directed was “most interesting.” This was the first time that anyone saw how much stuff we actually sent out to managers — it was literally inches every week. Some was simply “policy information to read” from personnel or marketing. Some was requesting information of one kind or another, and always under “need it now” deadlines. Some were sent to all stores asking that only some stores respond. Anyone at corporate could type something up and send it to EVERY store.

Our product group might send out a half-inch of paper a day — some was industry news and what’s hot kind of stuff. It was eye-opening how many of these missives were three or four pages long.

New Policy: One Page Memos, tightly written:

Things sent out needed specific reasons for being sent and people not needing information were not to get lazily copied. Random document reviews kept the focus and prevented slippage. If the memo needed more than one page, it required special senior management approval to send (there were few of those, as a result!).

The impact was amazing and virtually overnight. Stores were being unburdened by “things to do and stuff to read stuff” and managers could now find time to actually look at what was happening, manage store inventories, train new hires on best practices, and actually focus on customers! Manager morale went up immediately!

Note: This obviously occurred BEFORE today’s email systems were established and, in today’s world, the onslaught of being overly burdened with too much email happens all of the time. Therefore, whether it was paperwork needing attended then or email needing to be read and responded to today, it can all be better managed and the volume turned down.

Suggestion: Do some MBWA and have some simple and direct conversations with your staff about what kinds of things distract them from accomplishing their jobs, their MAIN jobs. Minimize distractions and allow focus on primary issues and opportunities. Clarify the vision and generate alignment.

2 – Responsibility

Team building with the top management group of a manufacturing operation in Texas, we asked Department Head staff what kinds of things prevented them from doing their jobs most effectively. A bunch of things were discussed, with some Best Practice solutions offered by their associates. Many of them were unintentional inter-departmental kinds of collaboration issues that one normally sees.

The most interesting were the external influences.

A year before, their operation had been acquired in a merger and there were new “executives back in Cleveland” who were asking for things. A Department Head might get a memo asking them to complete some data analysis within three days, for example, some unexpected thing that required a scramble to get done and distract that manager from the job at hand.

With the Plant Manager listening, the complaints about this kind of thing were from most of his staff. So, he made a pretty surprising policy decision. From that point on, any request from Corporate that was not an obvious priority or that was not aligned with the plant’s goal of Producing Product was secondary to plant operations and could be ignored or rejected.

If a corporate person justified the importance of the request and gave a reasonable deadline that did not interfere, fine well and good. But any “stupid request” should be forwarded to the Plant Manager and tabled. After all, the goal was production and not production of paperwork! The operation was accountable for results, not reports! The Plant Manager said that he would handle the politics and that Corporate would need to develop relationships with the Department Heads to build some teamwork to get some of their requests handled.

A year later, I checked back and this change actually worked extremely well, helping to realign priorities. Requests for information could get answered, but only if there was a reasonable timeline and some rationale for it. If they were just “making some report” and the information would interfere with production, they needed to do more than send some letter. The Plant Manager, after all, was responsible for generating operating profitability and not “reports for some clerk,” as he put it!

Suggestion: Look closely at what Staff requests or requires from Operations and be sure that there is an alignment to the Mission and Goals for all of that. Staff needs to support Operations and not vice versa.

Square Wheels Toolkits are a simple and effective way to generate discussions on what things are not working smoothly and what ideas exist that could make improvements in the journey forward. Check out our performance improvement support products on the website and sign up to receive the blog posts at the right.

Most of all, have some FUN out there!

Scott small picDr. 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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