Performance Management Company Blog

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

Category: dis-un-empowerment

Teaching the Caterpillar to Fly

For 20 years, I have been playing with my Square Wheels cartoons and using the metaphor in a variety of training programs on managing and leading change, involving and engaging individuals and teams in performance improvement, and focusing on individual and team intrinsic motivation.

One of my most fun as well as powerful tools is around the metaphor of “the change from caterpillar to butterfly” and the paradox of how one might lead that change.

I start with the basic Square Wheels illustration and then, after I get those key themes and ideas anchored down, add in the storyline that there are two caterpillars sitting on the wagon. A beautiful butterfly floats by and the one caterpillar says to the other caterpillar,

“You’ll never get ME up into one of those Butterfly things!”

From here, it just gets crazy as I identify a whole series of punchlines to the joke, not the one that most people get and simply stop thinking about. And I discuss how this process of “stopping the thought process” is what often gets in the way of continuous continuous improvement at work and in personal development initiatives.

You can download a pdf file of the article, Teaching The Caterpillar to Fly, by clicking this link.

The article gets into my model for managing and leading change, talks about the use of the Square Wheels illustrations as tools for facilitating personal and organizational development and focuses on making improvements. Another document you might like is the poem about the transformation of caterpillars into butterflies

Teaching Caterpillar poem

This is a solid metaphor, and one where our Square Wheels tools work beautifully. You can also purchase a very extensive powerpoint-based training program on Managing and Leading Change here, which builds nicely on these metaphors and works to involve and engage people in the change process.

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 scott@squarewheels.com

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Your Brain – Use It! And some thoughts on how it works

It has been an interesting week and a couple of things prompt me to write a little bit about behavioral neurophysiology and perspective and learning /change.

Playing pool, one of the lower-ranked players was practicing by throwing balls on the table and making shots, while I had a couple of marks on the table and was taking the same exact shot over and over again, making the ball and putting the cue ball where I wanted it to go. The funny thing was that he was looking at me like I was crazy, not at all understanding that the brain learns through repetition and the body learns through motor memory and doing the same thing over and over makes it all come together. He continued to “practice” by doing a continuing series of different shots and strokes and speed.

Then, the conversation turned to some other things and he said the old, “We only use 10% of our brains.” Actually, we use ALL of our brains, but only use 10% of the capability, but do not hold me to the actual number. But the conversation did turn into one of, “How can I improve?” and I talked a bit about learning and structured practice and the like. I think he left thinking he thought differently — time will tell. It IS more fun to just shoot and pocket balls, but that will not improve your game nearly as much as some structured practice.

Then, I come home and pick up Smithsonian Magazine’s July / August issue and there is a one pager by Laura Helmuth called — and I think it is pretty funny — Gray Matter. (That is what we call brain tissue if one is into physiology, but I can never remember if it is gray or grey. Guess I will have to look that up one day…)

She gave some statistics:

  • 100 billion neurons in the normal human brain
  • 100 terrabytes of potential information storage
  • 1 – terrabytes of typical storage for a pc these days
  • 2 – the percentage of body weight of the typical brain
  • 20 – the percent of energy used by the brain (which does not even move…)

100 billion is actually a LOT of brain cells, and each of those is connected to a lot of others, so the number of possible connections is stupendous (and learning is thought to increase the number and type of connections between them, thus the notion of practice, practice, practice. Or, repetition, repetition, repetition if I can be more correct. But I repeat myself, I guess.

There is obviously something going on up there in the head of most people if all that energy and blood is going to the brain, even though nothing is apparently moving. The brain actually gets about 25% of the normal blood flow, and even more if the body is dropped into ice cold water, where the skin blood flow and much of the muscle flow is actually stopped or very much slowed.

Woody Allen called the brain his second most favorite organ.

And I thought that it was really funny to read that 10 is the approximate percentage drop in accurate recall of random letters when one is chewing gum! I knew that chewing gum really looks stupid, but there is a study at Cardiff University showing that it actually makes you stupid? Neat! That confirms a theory I have had for a long time!

Yes, actual research shows that chewing gum causes a 10% drop in memory!

(Here is another neat factoid — 50% of the time, human volunteers can successfully recall a sequence of 5 numbers presented briefly on a computer screen. A chimp named Ayumu can do that same task at 80%, but probably not when chewing gum…)

Yeah, I got one of those doctorate things in the mid-70s in that brain / behavior stuff and it has helped me to understand a little about how people think and how to improve their performance. I’ve spent a lot of time in the area of human performance results improvement, and like the things that are simple and useful, like this article on HighPerformanceTeamFlow — how you can structure an environment that better enables people to perform.

We deliver Square Wheels cartoons so that people can, “Step back from the wagon” and look to see what possibilities exist for personal and organizational change to occur. We deliver this in groups, so that we can generate both the ownership of the ideas as well as some peer support for improvement and collaboration. We mostly work on workplace improvement, since that represents a big opportunity for most organizations, and it betters the lives of people within those companies.

And we also do a lot with teamwork, getting people to better understand the choices they make and the alternatives that are available. By making things fun, we can engage some of the creative space that has been unused by so many people and also use that team support to increase involvement and dis-un-empowerment.

We all have parts of our brains that we don’t use a whole lot. But we can engage in more teamwork, thinking about possible changes and improvements, and generating better thoughts about how we can play in the future. Some structured practice, some fun and commitment, and improvements are possible, for sure.

Just give up on that gum chewing, will ya?

Written, just 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 scott@squarewheels.com

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Engage-Ability: Some thoughts on people and performance

There has been a lot of things being asked about engagement and involvement as well as issues around employee motivation in my various LinkedIn groups, with many of the posts proposing some pretty complicated stuff. For some people, the process of engagement is not a simple one in that there are lots of process steps and details to attend to and all that.

Sometimes, or maybe that should be “often”, a consultant or company will develop a specific process and flow to how the situation works based on their personal experiences. I think the motivation for this tendency to increase the detail and embellish the model is to have something that is recognized and rewarded by the learning community as unique, as well as something that can be sold to prospects. So, simple things tend to become more complicated and complex.

For me, I guess that would be my Square Wheels illustration tools and our team building games built around those cartoons as well as our team building games such as Lost Dutchman. Yeah, I have built those things to support organizational improvement initiatives and they are things we sell. One has to make a living somehow… And the products do tend to aggregate complexity and details.

At the same time, though, I recognize that there are a LOT of tools and approaches that work to impact people and performance. And it is often the simple and elegant that have the most impact. Keeping it simple keeps it useful and bombproof.

If you look out at the world, you will see really bad statistics about engagement and morale and individual motivation and wonder about what the problems really are. But is engagement really that difficult? I think that most people are engagable and that this is not rocket science.

I’ve been playing with Dis-Un-Empowerment for a dozen years — it is basically the idea of working and asking people what things get in their way (generate a list of things that are roadblocks or that are un-empowering) and then working with that list to better understand the issues (as well as the individual beliefs and concerns) and then working with individuals (coaching) and teams to help manage them. It is really pretty simple when done as a facilitated process — Yelling and Telling will generate completely unsatisfactory results. (I discuss in detail in PMC Newsletter Four)

Our model for understanding and dealing with roadblocks to performance improvement

Dis-Un-Engagement is a similar concept. We can look at what workplace things are causing people to be un-engaged and simply work to remove them. The issues and factors are usually pretty clear and survey after survey gives you lists of the most common things that people say need to be done.

  • If people report that management does not seem to listen to them, what would your solution be?
  • If people report that they do not know what is happening in the company and that no one keeps them informed, what might be done?
  • If people say that the poor performers seem to not get any attention and that the bad performance is not corrected, might we come up with an action plan to deal with that perception?

Engage-Ability is a simple little framework about how engage-able ARE people in the workplace. And the answer is REALLY – they ARE really engage-able if we work at it. But we tend to make things so hard.

Consider the new employee and this simple factor: 85% of employee morale sharply decreases after their first 6 months on the job.
–Sirota Survey Intelligence, June 2006

That does not take a lot of analysis or conceptualistic cogitation. We DO things to people that generates “regression to the mean” and the new, enthusiastic employee is brought down to the average of everyone else. And a LOT of those people just do not seem to care, anymore…

For most employees, the Pin will eventually hit the Balloon.

According to a November analysis of its database of 5,700 companies representing 5,000,000 employees, Aon Hewitt reported that engagement levels indicate the workforce is by and large indifferent to organizational success or failure. That should concern us. A November report from SHRM showed that employees were only moderately engaged at work, with an average score of 3.6 on a five-point scale. And according to Corporate Executive Board’s Human Resources Practice, only one in 10 workers were putting in high levels of discretionary effort in third quarter 2011.

My take on things is that workers are making educated and calculated decisions about their workplace and how they are treated. They are trying to be like everyone else, in many cases. They are looking to see if the management cares for them and values their efforts.

But managements are somewhat unhooked as to the realities of these issues and can be blind to some simple things that they could do differently. I think this statistic tells a lot, based on the results of 19,700 interviews completed by the Saratoga Institute:

  • Employers who think their people leave for more money: 89%
  • Employees who actually do leave for more money: 12%

People ARE engage-able. People can get more involved and committed to accomplishing things. People DO like to work in teams, when risks are minimal and the potential (personal and team) rewards are good. That does NOT mean money compensation, but it does mean that the intrinsic motivators are present.

And Trust is the Residue of Promises Fulfilled.

Making improvements will happen on an individual basis and be connected to the interface of supervisors and workers. Managers need to ask more (based on a lot of data) and tell less.

According to an article by Kenneth Kovach in Employment Relations Today, when employees were asked what they valued most about their jobs in 1946, 1981 and again in 1995, the top three things they reported remained the same:

  1. Interesting work
  2. Full appreciation for the work they’ve done
  3. A feeling of being “in” on things

And from the WorkUSA 2000 survey of 7,500 workers conducted by Watson Wyatt Worldwide, reported in T&D 3/2000, the 7 Key Factors that drive employee commitment:

  • Trust in Senior Leadership
  • Chance to use their skills
  • Job Security
  • Competitive Compensation
  • Quality of Product/Services
  • Absence of Work-Related Stress
  • Honesty & Integrity of Company’s business conduct

This ain’t rocket science, folks. It is basically about treating people well, giving them respect, providing training and fair compensation for their efforts and doing what we say we will do as organizational leaders. People ARE engage-able!

What we need are more of the management team willing to take the time to ask and listen and involve. Caterpillars can fly, if they would just lighten up!

You can see some of our tools for managing and leading and involving and engaging at our website by clicking on the image below.

Square Wheels are simply great tools

For the FUN of It!

<a rel="author" href="https://plus.google.com/u/0/114758253812293832123">Scott on Google+<a>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 scott@squarewheels.com

 

Dis-Un-Engagement – thoughts for impacting employee engagement in the workplace

A series of different LinkedIn posts in my lists have focused on the general theme of “employee engagement.” Some focus on asking about reactions to definitions of engagement, some focus on the relevancy of focusing on improvements and their relation to profitability and results, while others seem to just be information or publicity-focused and do not seem to add much value to people reading the post.

I saw one post today and two yesterday that I responded to and thought, well, what the heck, post something up in here. SO, here we go with Dis-Un-Engagement. I think it looks something like the illustration below:

Some people know that I have used a concept of Dis-Un-Empowerment for many years and I am thinking now that it actually has many of the same general applications to many aspects of improving workplace engagement.

We talk about and see a lot of data on engagement but most people are un-engaged.The statistics and surveys show that they are not actively nor emotionally nor behaviorally involved in the workplace on a regular basis. They are un-hooked and un-involved and seem to choose to be so. It is not like they have no opportunities because the same surveys show that some of the people in that workplace ARE involved and engaged. That difference is informative, actually.

No amount of banter will change their choices and a LOT of their behavior to become engaged may actually get punished or otherwise emotionally isolated by the management team in the way that ideas are put down or jokes are made about some people’s “contributions” and in SO MANY other ways in the workplace. Many people grew up being bullied or simply being average and our schools do not always do a great job of building the self-esteem of students. Then, they come to the workplace…

You cannot engage me just like you cannot empower me. I mean, go ahead and try; I will wait…

Okay, never mind. But please accept the reality that you cannot do something TO me that empowers me — it is about the choices that I want to make — internal stuff as much as the external stuff.

What we need to do is identify the things that are BLOCKING engagement and do things to remove them. A “non-ever-meeting-responder” might be asked directly for their thoughts and ideas on fixing a problem in a team meeting, for example. I do not have to generate that list for you. There are a zillion ways to get people MORE involved and some additional involvement will generally translate into a bit more engagement.

If you read the literature, such as the survey results from the Big Consulting Companies, there are some VERY Expensive ($$$$$) Tools and Techniques you can get from them to improve things measurably. If you read the Big Consultants’ sales materials, you will need to spend money hiring them to come in and evaluate the results of your corporate Engagement and Involvement Program and then do regular surveys to insure that you are making progress (I am not big on acronyms but should probably take the time to make up some funny ones like “Corporate Response Activity Program” or some such thing.)

OR, your company could choose to do something completely silly like ask the managers to ask the people for ideas for improvement and ask that each employee generate at least one idea about what might be done differently and do this in meetings as well as using some back-of-the-door posters in the bathrooms to collect those anonymous comments.

Yeah, this would improve engagement if it is done honestly. And yes, some disgruntled employees might share some ideas that show that they are disgruntled. But at least they would be engaged in sharing those ideas!!

This stuff all adds up over time. Ask and Ye Shall Receive (more engagement than you had before).

Then, work on the “Dis” part of the above and do things to remove the roadblocks and improve the choices…

That’s my 2 cents worth of stuff… I have written a good bit on dis-un-empowerment over the years so you can google that to see more on this general line of thinking along with some specific ideas for what you can actually do cheap ($).

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Nothing Made Sense… Who cares!

There was a post up in one of my LinkedIn groups about the fact that there is another definition of employee engagement and that people are getting more and more confused — essentially, the distinction is as follows:

Research from the CIPD and Kingston Business School’s Centre for Research in Employment Skills and Society (CRESS) proposes two new levels of employee engagement – the ‘transactional’ and the ‘emotional’.

And there were a few comments on the site.

So, of course, I added MY thoughts to this concept, and I thought to repost them here. Engagement is an important area of my general thinking about organizational performance improvement and I am not one that generally spends my time, “Picking fly specks out of the pepper.”

Here is what I wrote:

One of my favorite quotes is, “Nothing made sense, and neither did anything else.” I thought I read that in Joseph Heller’s Catch 22, but a re-read failed to pick it up again. And that is my reaction to a lot of this nonsense about employee engagement not being important.

Crap.

Okay, some people DO work for the money and only for the money. Think about those people who worked for MGM under Samuel Goldwyn, who was quoted as saying, “When I want your opinion, I will give it to you.” Okay, one would not expect a whole lot of job satisfaction from THAT employer.

But the numbers that these accountant guys collect clearly show that an engaged workforce is a more productive workforce and that this impacts the financials as well as things like customer retention. New customers come expensively — take all the advertising and divide by the number of NEW customers and the numbers are pretty shocking. OLD customers are retained and leave for price and dissatisfaction.

Same with New Employees. They come because there are jobs and stay because there are benefits. And the costs of training a new employee up to above average performance is pretty high, since only half could even be expected to achieve above-average performance results!

So, when the good, high-performers choose to leave, the holes that need to be filled are pretty large ones. And expensive black holes for revenues…

Another definition? Who cares! Those just reflect words and I never did understand the meaningful difference between Missions and Visions and THAT argument has been going on for 40 years…

For me, it all boils down to one simple thought:

“Nobody Ever Washes a Rental Car.”

If people do not share a sense of ownership, if they do not have a sense of involvement and engagement, they can be expected NOT to care about the organization and the job. Their days are numbered and the countdown has begun.

The Pin will hit The Balloon, the blowup will occur, and the costs of hiring and training and all that will begin, again.

The Pin hits the Balloon and people do get upset with things…

Nothing made sense… The cost of actually engaging someone is really pretty darn low and I can describe it in three words:

ASK — ASK — ASK
   (and ye shall receive!)

The Customer sets the price for our Square Wheels Facilitation Toolkit!

Please note: We stopped this promotion a while back. People continued to pay our retail price for the toolkit, understanding it was a great value as is. Thank you for that and have fun out there!

We just sent out a Press Release on customers setting their own price:

Taylors, SC – (5/10/12) Performance Management Company is supporting collaboration with its customers by offering them an opportunity to “name their own price” for the Square Wheels Facilitation Toolkit. This complete training package normally sells for $49.95 and contains:

  • A Facilitation Guide with instructions for use
  • A PowerPoint Presentation containing 64 slides, notes, quotes plus illustrations / cartoons
  • A variety of ready-to-use handouts for generating involvement and engagement including:
  • –a Worksheet for mind mapping ideas generated by the main Square Wheels concept
  • –a Round Wheels Worksheet for identifying ideas and opportunities for improvement
  • –a Key Learning Points Summary Handout of Square Wheels themes for implementation
  • The “Teaching the Caterpillar to Fly” article by Scott Simmerman, focusing on managing and leading change for organizations and individuals

Based on the Square Wheels One illustration that is a proven, powerful tool for promoting a participative learning approach, it allows people to “step back from the wagon” and disclose their views about how things are really working, engage each other in a creative discovery process and use the diversity of ideas and perspective to generate thinking, innovation and communications. It’s a great facilitation tool for leadership development skills, employee engagement, team building and motivation.

Why use Square Wheels? Round Wheels aready exist!

Dr. Scott Simmerman, creator of the Square Wheels illustration series, believes that “Nobody ever washes a rental car” and that people become more engaged and motivated if they feel a sense of ownership in the journey forward. Therefore, Scott hopes that by your setting the price for this Toolkit, you’ll enjoy a keener sense of ownership/motivation for its use.

You’ll find the Square Wheels Facilitation Toolkit (an Asian version is also available with some of the illustrations more “Oriental” in appearance) on our website at www.PerformanceManagementCompany.com or go there directly with this link.

Scott J. Simmerman, Ph.D., is Managing Partner of Performance Management Company and has presented his Square Wheels Illustrations series for Organizational Improvement and Team Building Games such as “The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine” in 38 countries. The products are available at www.performancemanagementcompany.com

People basically liked this idea, thinking that we have really great and simple tools for engagement and performance improvement. The amazing thing is that so few people paid only a little — most people paid the full price and a couple paid even more for it! THAT was most surprising. Guess they had seen the tool and felt it was a really good value.

If YOU need a great tool for involving and engaging people, give our Square Wheels tools a try. Click here for more information.

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 scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/

Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of Performance Management Company. Materials copyright © PMC since 1993. All rights reserved.

Nobody ever washes a rental car – Thoughts on engagement and ownership

“Nobody ever washes a rental car.”

I’ve been using this phrase for dozens of years, since it elegantly and simply illustrates a very real opportunity for significant increases in employee engagement, organizational improvement, performance improvement and so many other aspects of improving organizational results.

It’s a really great anchoring statement and I have used it many times as the title of a presentation. But it also generates confusing reactions in some people.

It’s a metaphor! It is not a statement for Generally Accepted Accounting Principles or some Rule of Life. And it is funny — I have actually had people raise their hands in seminars to explain that they have actually washed a rental car in the past. Once in a while, they admit to being WAY overly compulsive and obsessed. More generally, they illustrate my key point…

The point is one of ownership — people do not take care of things they do not own. I can often illustrate this by asking participants if they have ever owned a rental property. Some of the tenants were exceptional and left the place better than before they rented it. But most share my experience: tenants at a house I owned nearly burned down the house with a chimney fire, pretty-much destroyed the wood floors, punched holes in the walls and left nail holes in nearly every wall. The rose garden and the camilla tree were gone, with the former used as for parking and the latter just destroyed (by motor oil dumped around it, apparently).

Ownership — If you own something, you tend to take better care of it. That is all I mean. Let me illustrate.

If someone in the workplace comes up with an idea and presents it to the manager and the managers enables them to try it, they most likely will, right? But, if the boss comes up and says, “Let’s now do things this way,” the general response will be for people to resist the change and generate reasons why it won’t work, right?

Statistics say that most executives believe that the most difficult aspect of any organizational improvement initiative is employee resistance.

Nothing corners better, handles bumps and speedbumps, treats potholes and curbs with disdain, accelerates faster and breaks harder than a rental car. (right?)

Who owns the idea? Not the employee, right? So, why wouldn’t they resist the idea? After all, they need to change, learn to do something differently than they have been doing it, have a higher risk of failure and will probably see a drop in their productivity in the short term. What’s to like about all that?

And there is another paradox at work, as shown below:

Leaders will resist changes they feel are done TO them.

On consulting projects in the past, ideas that I helped the workers implement were often resisted by the managers, who felt that things were not under control or moving too fast or similar. This happened less and less as my experience improved and I could generate a level of their involvement that would balance the issues of resistance on both sides of the wagon.

I’ve expanded on the issue of ownership elsewhere in my blogs such as here on innovation and here on leading meetings.

There are lots of ways we can do things differently to better involve and engage people in our needed improvement initiatives. But pushing and pulling is not the best of strategies. Sitting, talking, explaining and asking is often a much more effective way to get things rolling…

Put the wagon up on wheels for a while and consider alternative ideas generated by everyone.

Have some fun out there, too.

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 scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/

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Keeping Things Simple – Involving and Engaging

In the past couple of days, I have been involved in some really long and even somewhat convoluted discussions about motivation and innovation and engagement and leadership and workplace creativity.

And an associate of mine in Asia had asked for my ideas for implementing workplace improvement. So, I offered up some simple ideas about involving and engaging people and then thought to blog about it a bit, since it seems to be a very common organizational development issue.

And, I could get into my own convoluted pedagogical diatribe and gobbledygook on all things, I prefer to keep it simple and straightforward. That’s just my nature.

How do we involve, engage, and motivate to generate innovation and workplace performance improvement? Here would be my four key suggestions:

  1. Ask, Ask, Ask, Ask, Ask, and Ask
  2. Listen and listen and listen
  3. Let things happen! Get out of the way!
  4. Provide resources and support.

One asks, in my model of the world, with a visual image and some moments of silence. Ask people how this illustration might represent how things really work in most organizations:

SWs One How Things Work ©

You will find a variety of ideas about facilitation of conversations and idea generation in other writings in these blog posts. Basically, give them some silent time and then allow tables of 4 to 6 people to talk.

Note that we sell a really easy to use toolkit of illustrations in powerpoint and handout worksheets as printable files, plus speaking notes. The basic package on general facilitation you can find here — $50 and complete — and you can always chat with me to define and refine your approach.

By using the cartoon approach, what will happen is that they will eventually to talking about the Square Wheels they deal with and the Round Wheels that already exist. And the reality is that once something is labeled a “Square Wheel,” people will want to fix it. So, this simple activity will set up 2, 3 and 4 on the list IF

YOU JUST STAY OUT OF THE WAY
AND NOT MEDDLE WITH THEM OR THE PROCESS.

Most people in most workplaces have a fairly realistic view of their reality and history that management is more The Party of No than the people in power who will enable them to actually make improvements and get things done.

Is this because I have a biased view of supervisors, managers and executives? NO. (Well, partly). It is really just my experienced view and based on observations as well as based on survey after employee survey over the past 30 years — Big Surveys done on thousands of people in dozens of countries and little ones done informally within workgroups using only pencil and paper. (See this great article around Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup, and his views on this.)

Most surveys show that managers manage — they control and direct (and inhibit).

I was once involved with a Mission Statement for a large public utility and the Executives were asking if this phrase was a good one to include:

“We manage with uncompromising integrity.”

Well, the supervisors took one look at the above and quickly said, “No way.” They rewrote it to read,

“We manipulate with inflexible righteousness.”

So, my advice is to support where needed with resources, time, money, etc. but to get the heck out of the way and let the people play with the ideas until they can put them into an effective solution. It may take some trial and error (and look something like this:

Trial and Error. Do something and then step back from the wagon to see if there is something else that might be done…

If you are meddling, you will probably toss a Blame Frame around the above picture and generate defensiveness and an unwillingness to risk going forward. Blame Frames are really common in most organizations, and really easy to apply to innovations.

It is like the old Six Phases of a Typical Project Management Initiative:

  1. Enthusiasm
  2. Disillusionment
  3. Panic
  4. Search for the Guilty
  5. Punishment of the Innocent
  6. Praise and Honor for the Non-Participants
I suggest that you simply keep things simple. Look at what has worked in the past to generate improvements and successes and model your NEW initiatives around those old successful ones. Most crashes of small planes occur when the newbie pilot tries to control things too much — most small planes fly just nicely when you let go of the controls. Overcompensation is what causes the problems.
Have fun out there!
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 scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/

Defense is not good for Innovation – Thoughts on Engagement for Innovation

There was an interesting thread on the Innovation Excellence group on LinkedIn, one that talks about an Anti-Innovation Checklist posted by Holly Green. You can see that post at www.innovationexcellence.com/blog/2012/02/23/3/

In think her 10 bullets are good, but it feels like she missed the bigger picture of the reality that employee engagement is more all-encompassing. I think there is more to it.

The list is about what is wrong and not about what to do to address the issues and make improvements. She talks about “unrealistic expectations” in the sense on management looking for “a killer product” while I think that performance improvement is more about having performance goals and objectives that do not allow much thinking, much less alternative thinking.

Consider the customer, which we should all be doing all of the time anyway. The customer calls with an issue and the position of the employee is so often one of defending the turf rather than listening to the problem for some idea as to how to improve the product.

For the past 4 days, I have been having what are apparently a series of different problems with U-Verse and my TV and internet and wireless connections here. Five different technicians have visited the house. And a wide variety of different phone calls to various places around the world.

I can test the connection, but I am limited to running a “speed test” — they show me various computer screens that give them a LOT more data about the connection and such information including history. All I can say is “the TV locks up and un-synchs” or “Safari pauses and locks up.” One would think that someone might develop some application or process that would allow ME to make a more informed phone call to Victor in India, right?

Customer-driven innovation? NO way — they are too busy to meet their performance numbers to listen for better ideas as to how to do things… There is no real mechanism for making improvements. They are too busy solving the problems at hand.

As I so often write, my view of how organizations really work looks like this:

But maybe things more realistically look like this in most workplaces:

SWs One How Things Work ©

How things REALLY work in many workplaces

And how things REALLY work in many workplaces

and when we add senior management, maybe this is more of a normal reality:

It is the perception of how things work that is most important.

It is the perception of how things work that is most important.

A logical result of the situation generally depicted above will often then look like this:

People will circle the wagons and defend themselves…

and continued attacks also generate more predictable results:

That thus reminds me that I wrote up a poem about this:

Square Wheels Defensive wagon poem

And that reminds me of a quote from Dante that many might think should appear over the door of the buildings in which they work:

What to do? I don’t have one of those 5-step or 10-bullet lists. Mine is one pretty simple one, although there are five rules:

ASK — ASK — ASK — ASK — ASK

Ask for ideas for improvement. Allow people to get involved and engaged and to share their ideas. Support them as they try to implement improvements, recognizing that many have long histories of failure or punishment linked to their attempts to make things better. Recognize that they cannot be empowered and that many are un-empowered.

So take actions to dis-un-empower them. Form teams. Share ideas. Act as if their ideas are important. Let them generate their own intrinsic rewards for making things better.

We sell a simple toolkit for facilitating involvement and engagement. Click on the link below to see how it works:

SWs Facilitation Guide $50

 

And, if you would like to see more about our outstanding team building exercise, we offer a slideshare overview here:

Slideshare Dutchman icon

The key idea in all this is for leadership to get out of the way and let them make improvements. Let people play with the wheels…

Square Wheel Playing haiku

 

Give them hope and support. And ask for their ideas,

For the FUN of It!

square wheels author

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 scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/
Scott’s blog on Poems and Quips on Workplace Improvement is here.

Metaphors as Tools for Organizational Improvement

Ah, LinkedIn. Sometimes, a post in there just triggers some good thinking on my part (or at least makes me generate a response which I can then use as a blog piece…). This time, it was a post on the Power of Metaphors.

A lot of what I do is all about metaphor – it is about using my Square Wheels One cartoon as an inkblot test to generate perceptions and also about using a facilitation process to elicit and process ideas for organizational improvement and personal development. Call it “facilitative coaching” or some such thing…

Here is what I said in my response:

‘We’ve been playing with a metaphor of a wooden wagon being pulled by a guy with a rope and being pushed from behind by people who cannot see where they are going. The wagon rolls on wooden “Square Wheels” while the cargo of the wagon is round rubber tires.

The metaphor resonates in all kinds of different situations, from boardrooms (where the rope is very very long) to the shop floor (where the View at The Back is very common among workers and supervisors) to situations of counseling and coaching (where “stepping back from the wagon” is most helpful, to the situations where people need to discuss the best practices that already exist and put the wagon up on blocks for a while to play with different ideas.

The pretty darn consistent message that I get from people is that they will remember the workshop many years later. In December, I met a senior manager at a company in Mumbai who remembered a session I delivered in 1994 at an ISPI meeting. I don’t mean that he remembered attending a session that I delivered, I mean that he remembered the cartoons I used and the issues and opportunities that I discussed.

Metaphors are most powerful, and especially when one uses them in a way that is active and not simply the passive receipt of the story. I tell a Moose Joke (you can get the slides free) to close many of my sessions and that is well received. But few people will remember it.

When they sit and contemplate the Square Wheels One cartoon, and generate ideas as a tabletop of participants, and then list the Square Wheels that they perceive are operating in their workplace or their situations and then generate some round wheel possibilities and share them amongst the others to find some Best Practices, those things are remembered really well.

And having fun playing with ideas is important. After all, caterpillars can fly if they would just lighten up!

If only I could remember how to swing a golf club that well…

For the FUN of It!”

Yes, I DO think that we can use storytelling and other kinds of metaphorical interventions to allow people to think of new ways of doing things. And you must know that “their ideas are always better than your ideas.”

By that, I mean that they can come up with ideas that they own and with that ownership, they are much more likely to actually DO something differently regarding that situation, rather than simply nod their heads and pretend that you have their commitment. It is why the issue of commitment so closely ties to the issues of involvement and engagement.

I think metaphors are a great way to lead people forward and to generate the ownership and peer support that will more effectively drive intrinsic motivation toward mastery and improvement.

We can help people move forward by involvement and engagement and new perspectives

Or maybe this one would be a better depiction:

Leaders can lead and involve and engage and implement

Have fun out there!

(see our tools on coaching at http://www.performancemanagementcompany.com/Square_Wheels_for_Coaching_p/17.htm)

Coaching: All the Managers, All the Time

In one of the LinkedIn discussions I participated in recently, the theme was about why coaching is not occurring more in organizations.

I naively chipped in with my comments about coaching and that it should not be something special but something that is a daily kind of responsibility by all the managers, all the time. Coaching for improved work performance is what generates high performance, performance improvements, the sharing of best practices among a work group, etc. Coaching can help generate the intrinsic motivation and the focus on mastery of a skill. Coaching can also help the people in the lower half of the organizational performance curve improve; after all, those who are generating below median / average results probably have the most opportunity for improvement.

But the conversation never really clicked on that kind of thinking.

It turns out, I think, that when non-managers talk about coaching, they are talking about that Certification Thing, that coaches need to go through some kind of paid professional development package to get the certificate and that coaching can only occur if one is a coach and the other is a manager or executive. They are not talking about the skill and behavior of the manager / supervisor, it seems, but that of the income-generating activity of the Professional Coach and the corporate client.

I guess those kinds of gigs are much less common than they used to be. It would appear that companies are not lavishing money on the outsiders who take it as a benefit that they know nothing about how the company operates or the kinds of workplace improvements that exist — already — within the company.

For me, I think the best coaches are the peers and bosses, who can provide some really specific support in getting company goals accomplished and results improved. For me, the coach is the person with the best feel for what needs to be done throughout a team, not someone who sits in the stands and watches the person who is directing the action to provide them with feedback.

Sure, I like to watch Roy Williams as he reacts to the play of my beloved North Carolina Tar Heels basketball team. But I think that his support of them would always be a lot more important than my support of him.

My coaching materials are about performance improvement, not the improvement of the coach. I offer the managers some tools for discussions of what needs to be improved and what might be done differently. My kind of thinking is that if we can improve the play of the TEAM, we can improve results.

But I guess that is not what most people discuss when they talk about coaching — at least that is how it appears… (And I was in a conversation with a consultant trainer who said that her executive coaching program took 12 weeks of one half-day session per week to complete — I did not ask her what the cost was!)

For me, coaching is cheap and easy. It is a natural part of leading and engaging. And we share some simple tools for improving its effectiveness.

You can see my coaching bundle at http://www.performancemanagementcompany.com/Square_Wheels_for_Coaching_p/17.htm

A simple to use toolkit for coaching improvements

Funny Thoughts and Ideas on “Teaching the Caterpillar to Fly”

Some thoughts of mine on how I work around some of the issues of managing and leading change.

One of my approaches is where I show a cartoon with two caterpillars sitting on the Square Wheels wagon and talking about a beautiful butterfly floating by…

The one caterpillar says to the other caterpillar:
     “You’ll never get me up in one of those things…”

Over the years, I have been playing with this theme and using the joke to set up a discussion about how to deal with resistance to change and how to involve and engage “the caterpillars” in a discussion of possibilities for improvement. But I also learned a valuable lesson when presenting one day many years ago in a workshop in Hong Kong.

People did not laugh at the joke, which proved to be a great learning lesson for me when I finally realized what had happened and what was happening. Now, I set the story up with the following slide, which I use to communicate that the participants are now about to receive a learning lesson:

I set all this up with a simple slide from one of my favorite athletes, who was quoted in Sports Illustrated in 1990. On losing to Tim Mayotte, he said:

When I told the joke, people did not laugh and I thought it might be a cultural issue (their English was excellent but they were primarily Chinese) so I asked them to talk about it at their tables for two minutes, which they did with an increasing amount of animation and laughter. Only when I asked them for the answer did I learn something VERY important:

What happened to me happens to everyone. I read the joke one day in a Reader’s Digest magazine and linked it into my presentation. The punchline to the joke HAD to be: “The caterpillars are resisting change that is inevitable.”

What I found out in Hong Kong is that my assumption was most assuredly NOT correct and that there are a wide variety of creative and innovative thoughts on pretty much any situation. People do NOT view things similarly. And that diversity of opinion generates a great deal of possibilities.

The correct answer to most performance improvement situations is to say, NO when someone asks you if you know something. That way you generate a possibility for a new idea that you had not considered.

Dr. Ted Forbes was at Darden School of Business in the 90s and he and I were chatting on the phone. He asked me if I knew about caterpillars and butterflies and I said, “NO” even though I knew a great deal about lepidoptera (moths and butterflies, the scientific name):

Ted said,

Thus, by listening to his thoughts, I got a new one liner, one that links up wonderfully to my metaphors around the Square Wheels Wagon being up to its axles in mud. Mud is that mess we all get in with the bureaucracy and overall “gooeyness” of how most organizations really operate.

Similarly in a conversation with Diane Mashia, then with PayChex:

The possibilities for improvement are limitless, but generally limited by our thinking about how things are, not about how they could be if we made different choices and had different alternatives.

In another post, I will ask for some reactions to some of the different punch lines from, “You’ll never get me up in one of those things!”

Hope you like the concept. You can read more about the whole concept in the article, “Teaching the Caterpillar to Fly.” (Click here to download)

Have FUN out there!

Dis-Un-Empowered Government Employee – Scott to the rescue of the citizens!

If it were not so sad, it would be funny.

With a friend and parking in an Asheville, NC downtown city-owned parking garage, we get back to the car only to find everything backed up and nothing moving. Maybe one car seemed to actually exit in the first 5 or 10 minutes. In front of us is a white truck with an amber spinning warning light (off) on the top, that I walk past as I stroll toward the front to see if I can find out anything…

As I pass the door, a guy gets out of the truck and I can see, “Parking Authority” on the door, so I suggest that he give me his keys and that he go up past the 15 or so stopped cars to check out and see if he can solve the problem. Well, after 15 minutes, there is maybe one car leaving every 5 minutes (and hundreds left stalled, since the downtown art fair ended and everyone was trying to get home, it being 4 PM on Sunday.

Now, being in charge of this truck, I ask the woman in front of it and the guy ahead of her to scrunch up a little so I can get by and put the truck into a Handicapped Parking place and get it out of the way. (There are now LOTS of spaces beginning to open up so handicapped access was no problem.) Cars are now slowly getting out – 1 every 5 minutes or so. We have now been stalled for about 30 minutes.

I then walk up to the front and watch the guy for a moment. He is taking the parking entrance cards and then manually processing what should be an automated exit since the processing machine was not working. It is taking a long time. People are getting upset. People are wasting gasoline. This is not working well…

I go back to the car and we eventually get to the guy and the machine. I suggest that he simply help the city to avoid a LOT of bad will and complaints by simply allowing the cars to leave smoothly and without paying — he should just open the gate. After all, everyone now has been overcharged an hour and they have wasted a great deal of their time.

What is funny is that he says, “Wait here and I will go back to my truck and get the pass card.”

So, with US NOW APPEARING TO BE BLOCKING THE EXIT, he walks back up the stairs to where I parked his car and gets the card and walks back and uses the card to let us out (without paying). I am guessing that he “cost” the city a few hundred dollars, since there were cars backed up on 5 levels of this full parking lot. But I think he also saved the city a good bit of grief in having to respond to a lot of pretty disgruntled people who wanted partial refunds on their fees.

One wonders this: Why did he not take the card with him when he walked up there the first time? Why did it take 30 minutes of additional time for him to get the idea of simply letting people out?

(He also called someone on his cell phone, which he also apparently left in his truck) on the way back to the gate. Probably his boss, to ask permission.

We did not pay to park. We were the first ones – the other 15 cars that were ahead of us all paid!

Wheeeee. Guess he was simply choosing NOT to do something to fix the problem by his actions. He was simply trying to process the transactions. He did say that he was concerned that he would get into trouble because his truck was parked in a handicapped space!! He could have made a lot of different choices than he did, but he probably felt that he couldn’t…

Yeah, sometimes one just has to step up…

 

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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. 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott atscott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/

Empowerment, disempowerment, un-empowerment, and Dis-UN-empowerment

I’ve been playing with the notion of empowerment for a long time. Heck, my first speech on this concept at an international conference was in 1995 or so… People talk about empowering others, like they could make the choice and pull people around on strings or something. Well, it just isn’t that easy.

Pulling the strings to empower someone

So, I learned how to do a simple thing with a really funny name that works pretty well. Let me explain…

Many if not most organizations have talked about “empowerment” as a motivator. They embed the word into their mission statements. They talk as if they can actually accomplish this and implement improvement and change simply by “empowering our people.”

Sorry, but most people are UN-empowered. Statistics show that maybe 30% of employees are actually engaged, defined as being actively and emotionally involved with their work and the company. It is obvious that the situation should be emproved (intentional spelling error).

(I posted up a solid article on ideas for engaging the unengaged here)

The good thing is that it is EASY to talk about empowering others. But go ahead– EMPOWER ME TO DO SOMETHING. ANYTHING. You just cannot do it. It is not your choice and you have no influence on me. One person cannot empower another. (Heck, I did have two teenagers years ago — I was going to say “different teenagers” but I realize that the phrase is redundant).

So, leaping toward the actionable and intuitively non-obvious reality, I proposed that one of the roles of any manager — and one of the things that they can do and that has a wide variety of positive impacts on people and performance — is to do something I call:

Dis-Un-Empowerment

If so many are un-empowered, what actions of a manager might serve to remove or modify that situation so as to remove those things that people think or choose to allow to get in the way of them acting empowered?

My approach is to focus on Roadblock Management. Identify the different kinds of roadblocks so as to enable people to use APPROPRIATE strategies to deal with them.

You can find a pretty simple explanation of my approach to this on my informational website: http://www.squarewheels.com/scottswriting/roadblocks.html

You can find a simple toolkit with the resources and powerpoints and all that at:
http://www.performancemanagementcompany.com

Have FUN out there, dis-un-engaging people and feeling the benefits of a more involved and engaged workplace.

 

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 atscott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/

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