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

Category: dis-un-engagement Page 2 of 5

If you aren't leading and engaging, what ARE you doing?

If you aren’t leading, involving, engaging and motivating people, are you just taking up valuable organizational space? We need Leaders in so many workplaces today and managers need to make choices!


A key issue in most teams in most sports is having leadership. It can occur everywhere. Sometimes, they wear a little “C” on their jerseys indicating to the officials that they are Captains and sometimes they walk to the middle of the playing field to watch the coin toss. Other times, they are simply the people on the field who the other look to for motivation or depend on for The Big Play.

This happens in every organization, too. Sometimes, people depend on one of their own to speak up at a meeting to express a common concern. Sometimes these are just those people who get others involved in what is going on, since every person in the tug-of-war lends something to the effort.

Paraphrasing on Henny Youngman standard one liner, the research by so many different organizational polling companies would suggest,

Take my Boss… Please.

Jim Clifton seemed to seriously suggest that the data from his Gallup polling would suggest a realistic situation were for about 7,000,000 managers to simply be fired because they repeatedly seem unable to lead, manage or get out of the way. So many workers complain that no one listens and no one cares and that engagement is a HUGE problem with most companies worldwide. (Find a link to some of his writings here.)

Organizations  tend to work like this, in the view of most people: Square Wheels One copyrighted V1 small

Wagon Pullers are seemingly isolated by the rope!

Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2014 Survey showed that leadership was a critical issue, with 86% of respondents rating it “urgent” or “important”. It also showed that only 13% of organizations say they do an excellent job of developing leaders at all levels — yeah, that is kind of noticeable.

But leadership is a big wide thing, with there literally being thousands of books on the topic. Most of us regular people would simply suggest that being trustworthy, involving and engaging are pretty important skills to generate everyday motivation. Feeling aligned to the goals and expectations and feeling appreciated seem to be pretty straightforward and understandable parts, too.

These Big Survey Consulting Companies like Gallup and Deloitte tend to offer up Very Big Solutions (you can read that as complicated and expensive). Me, I am more of a continuous continuous improvement kind of guy who thinks that everyone can make some improvements every day without requiring the extensive involvement of HR and Training & Development organizations — you know, the ones that always get their funding cut first because they are seen as costly to most senior managers (who do not get their development from them anyway, relying on outside groups like the Universities and Center for Creative Leadership and similar…).

There are a number of writings in the PMC blog around the issues of generating engagement and motivation, all of it simple and straightforward and all of which can easily be accomplished by any supervisor simply looking to improve their skills in motivating people.

– Here are thoughts on the problems of involving and engaging people– Here are ideas on Dis-Un-Engagement and issues of facilitating– Here is a framework for involvement and workplace improvement

As so many others have framed things, I believe that only some of the problems of leadership are at the top levels of the organization — senior managers may not be leading well or implementing strategies effectively.

But as Jim Clifton and others have shown, the real issues of organizational leadership and day-to-day motivation and performance occur at the interface of worker and manager – there are zillions of those minute-to-minute, hourly and daily interactions that might allow so many more people to work “more better faster” and that would help to involve and engage and align people to the expectations and goals. That is where organizations are failing their people.

There are no Big Silver Bullets out there to solve these issues. But there are bazillions of the Square Wheels, those things that work but do not work smoothly and that generate less than optimal performance. These are “artificial hindrances” in the sense that The Round Wheels are already in the wagon! There are all sorts of motivational impacts to be achieved when our supervisors do a better job of involving and engaging their people and our managers do a better job of involving and engaging our supervisors.

So many Big Solutions have been tried and have seemed to fail over the past 50 years. Sometimes, that exceptional leader like a Steve Jobs can get a good grip on things and have that major impact, but those cases are really rare (which is why Steve Jobs got all that press!).

Maybe it is time to try somelittle solutions. Maybe it is time to simply allow a bit more individual development and initiative in the workplace of the managers and supervisors so that they can more effectively involve and motivate their people.


It does not take a whole big bunch of money or time to actually implement some of the ideas of the team that would make the workplace better in some ways. People generally want to make things better and will work toward doing that. And that little effort has a big and cascading impact on people and morale:

cartoon by Dr. Scott Simmerman

It is important to remember that Nobody Ever Washes a Rental Car and that people want to have a sense of ownership involvement in things. Plus, it is also important to know that people do need to be involved and engaged in order to want to be involved:

Navajo Not possible to awaken


At PMC, we sell simple toolkits that allow a supervisor to generate actionable ideas from their people. We use these simple cartoons to get wheels rolling downhill, to show supervisors that involvement and engagement facilitation are not that difficult to accomplish and that these activities can be a part of their everyday life as a manager. It is easy to ask and to listen, to generate teamwork focused on implementing good ideas to make performance improvements.

People are creative and flexible. We can do simple things to remove or decrease frustration and deal with roadblocks to help motivate people. I call this process Engagimentation (or Dis-Un-Empowerment) and suggest that you consider taking such actions with your people to make some impacts on so many things. Let me know if we can help – we sell inexpensive and effective tools for communications.

Performance Management Company and Scott Simmerman

For the FUN of It!

square wheels authorDr. 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:
Scott’s blog on Poems and Quips on Workplace Improvement is here.



Possible Potential Possibilities and Continuous Continuous Improvement

Ron Richard, a quality consultant up in Canada, and I have been co-publishing some ideas and he is going to publish a short “eBook” called, “It’s Possible.” So, he sent me a draft and I bounced some ideas back and forth and we are now moving toward pushing out an illustrated book of ideas, poems and haiku around the themes of possibilities and choices.

So, from that conversation, I generated a quote to summarize my thinking about my thinking, and it comes out like this:

“Possible Potential Possibilities are like Continuous Continuous Improvement. They make us more better faster, if we only stop to reflect. Is that even possible?”

Illustrated, the above idea looks something like the following:

Square Wheels One Haiku outside the work teamand

Square Wheels One Haiku wagon not just empty

which is a thought on choice, which leads us to the idea of motivation and the recognition that comes from accomplishment:

Square Wheels Intrinsic Haiku Motivation Good Ideas

and peer support

Square Wheels Celebration Haiku good ideas

There are Lots and Lots of possibilities out there for personal and team and organizational performance improvement and change. The keys are to recognize that possibilities are actually possible and that continuous improvement is really a continuous process.

But it is critical that you, “Step back from the wagon,” in order to see the issues and the opportunities.

See my slideshare program on change, caterpillars and butterflies by clicking on the image that follows:

Square Wheels Slideshare Teaching The Caterpillar icon

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

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





Square Wheels – NOT some simple model of organizational performance

An interesting telephone conversation this morning got me thinking that it might be a good thing to add some reality to my stupidly simple but effective model of

How Organizations Really Work

Many people have experienced a presentation using my Square Wheels One illustration, either something I have delivered or something from one of the purchasing users of my toolkits. The main anchor point is this illustration:

Square Wheels One image

What we suggest is that the presenter show the illustration and then allow people to play on a worksheet that asks them for their ideas on how the illustration might represent how things work in most organizations. We use “most” to keep it arms-length, but many people will use the drawing as an inkblot test and project their ideas about it onto the worksheet. We allow individuals about a minute of “silent refection” prior to working and sharing their ideas with others at a table for 5 to 6 people.

It all seems really simple. But using it over the years, I will admit to being shocked and amazed at how well this works as a projective instrument to help diagnose organizational issues. The very nature of the group interaction also lets other people frame and reframe ideas until the collective work is nothing short of amazing.

What we generally suggest is to allow the tabletops to select on relevant Square Wheel and then work on generating 3 round wheel potential solutions for consideration, with the idea that we will force some additional considered alternatives rather than the first thing that comes to mind. Those ideas can then serve as the basis for a strategy for implementation.

How surprising are the ideas generated? Well, I actually collected about 300 different ideas about the above illustration before it became impossible to sort the list; my guess is that I have heard 500 or so different thoughts on the cartoon. Some of them include:

  •  We’ve always done it this way
  •  Determined to use the old ways
  •  Organizations don’t think
  •  Solutions are in the wagon, already
  •  The solutions are available but not being used
  •  Old processes and information
  •  No trust in the people behind you
  •  No trust in the team
  •  Lonely at the front
  •  One person sets the direction
  •  One person has the vision
  •  Leadership is deaf
  •  Leaders see only what’s ahead
  •  There is no idea of where they are going or where they have been
  •  Support people are blind
  •  All of them are blind to the possibilities
  •  They can’t see the forest for the trees
  •  Round wheels belong to someone else
  •  We don’t use the tools that we sell
  •  Changing directions is very difficult
  •  We need to se the problem to find the solution
  •  Traditions die hard
  •  Inefficiencies are everywhere
  •  Need to change our paradigms
  •  People aren’t resisting change, they aren’t aware of possibilities
  •  People are choosing to be unaware of possibilities
  •  People work hard, not smart
  •  No mechanism for steering or changing direction
  •  Continuous improvement is possible
  •  Some work is just not much fun
  •  Don’t just do something, stand there
  •  We need to step back from the wagon to discover possibilities for improvement
  •  Resources are always available
  •  No vision of what is ahead from the back
  •  No use of resources
  •  Poor planning for resource utilization
  •  Lack of commitment to make real progress
  •  The rope is loosely tied, management may choke itself
  •  The answer is in front of us, we just can’t see it
  •  If only we mirrored our reality occasionally
  •  People need to step back every so often to look around
  •  Push, or get left behind
  •  Working together can get it done
  •  Jobs are designed harder than they need to be
  •  Human capital isn’t valued
  •  We like to overpower rather than reduce obstacles to get things done
  •  Not all technology works for you
  •  Not all the ideas are usable immediately
  •  Progress isn’t simply about working harder
  •  Tried and true still works — the Square Wheels still work
  •  Internal resources for improvement are always available
  •  Leaders get isolated from the realities of the wagon and the journey
  •  Workers have no vision of the goal
  •  People are too busy pushing and pulling to get a vision of the goal
  •  People are too busy pushing and pulling to make improvements
  •  Square Wheels are the status quo; difficult to change on the fly
  •  The team will probably meet its goals for productivity and cost
  •  Communications are always difficult when people are busy
  •  The manager may be too close to the work to see the possibilities
  •  The wagon is hard to start and easy to stop
  •  Stop. Think!
  •  People make things work no matter what
  •  Too busy with the work to focus on what will work
  •  A few people are doing all the work and others are going through the motions

The above bullets represent less than 2 of the 8 pages of thoughts and ideas that I have captured while showing the illustration. You can see from the above that there is a great diversity in viewpoint over something as simple as a line drawing. When you consider the complexity of the actual workplace, there are no simple views that are most correct.

And there have been a bunch of great one-liners, jokes and quips from session participants, including:

• Those who do have no clue, and those who lead can miss the need.

• If it didn’t go thump, thump, how would we know we’re making any progress

• We’re not like that! We push our wagon uphill!

• You should have seen what we did Last Year!

• The Pushers may have a wheely bad attitude

• Triangular wheels would be an improvement:
– You know, “One Less Bump per Revolution!”

• The Square Wheels may have been invented by a woman…
– but the men are stupid enough to push it that way!

The illustration is a wonderfully simple and unexpectedly powerful tool to generate involvement and engagement in identifying workplace issues and opportunities. The recent book, Thinking, Fast and Slow by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman attests to the need to anchor thinking and allow for group participation to generate the optimal understanding of opportunities. I reframed one of his key concepts thusly:

Square Wheels image of Daniel Kahneman


Our perceptions can be extremely limited, especially when one considers John Le Carre’s quote about a desk being a dangerous place from which to view the world. What we really need to do is actively work to involve and engage people in discussions about what things in the workplace need improvement. That engagement works wonders when some of those ideas can be implemented, as they usually can.

I have written extensively on the statistics and benefits of improving the active involvement of people. My blog is full of different articles around un-engaged and unmotivated people and ideas for making improvements. There are even articles on the issues and realities of sabotage that the actively dis-engaged people may take.

If you would like to read more about the Square Wheels tools for actively involving people and facilitating workplace improvement, click on the link below.

Square Wheels are simply great tools

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

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


Intrinsic Motivation and Engagement – Training is NOT the answer

“A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.”

I read that in an old John Le Carre novel 20 years ago and it stuck with me. It is just one of those quotes that just makes some sense out of why so many things can be improved. Using my metaphor for how Square Wheels really work in the workplace, we have something like this:

ideas are goodconnected with:

Square Wheels ideas are good implementation

A reality of organizations and training globally is something like this:

Square Wheels Engagimentation Progress 700Mand that also relates to:

Square Wheels Engagimentation Progress Down 700M

Engagimentation is my term for Dis-Un-Engagement, which is acting to remove the things that people perceive as un-engaging. It is simple roadblock management when you reduce to the ridiculous, but it can be done in a way that actually generates intrinsic motivation and the sense that the organization is listening.

I think that the typical Training looks like this, an attempt to build individual strengths:

Muscle Building yellow cartoon

The reality of going back to work generally looks like this:

SWs One Muscle Puller yellow © border

Because we cannot generally address organizational structural and process issues in much of our training, and because of issues like resistance to change and a lack of overall workplace engagement, we have a wide variety of performance based issues. Here is an article on the problem of how we manage people and here is an article about workplace intrinsic motivation from other popular blog posts of mine.

One possible solution to these issues of ownership involvement and problem solving and intrinsic motivation would be better facilitation of ideas for performance improvement from the workers. We offer some simple cartoon-based tools for that purpose.

Square Wheels are simply great tools

Lastly, remember to have some fun out there!

See our poems and quips blog

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

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

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The Origin of Engagement in the breakdown of Appraisal and Control

Simply put:

We need stop doing such a lousy job
of motivating people in the workplace.

Stats show 85% of employees report their morale declines significantly after spending 6 months on the job (from Sirota Survey Intelligence) and 49% of workers say they constantly have their antennae out for new job opportunities — even when they are happy in their current position. Few feel their current employer is giving them a fair deal in terms of advancement opportunities (Kelly survey).

In a recent Forum Corp. survey, only 8% of employees report that they trust their leaders “to a great extent.”  But in that very same survey, 96% of employees say that it is, “extremely important to have a manager they can trust.”

I expand on a lot of issues of workplace motivation in this two-part post,

Workplace Motivation – “I Quit! Nevermind. Whatever…”
(Part One) (Part Two)

The data is clear. People are not involved and engaged in the workplace and these people, their managers, the customers and the company all pay a price for that un-engagement.

square wheels image

Solutions for this are pretty much everywhere. Improving leadership and its alignment to core values and an expressed mission and vision — one that is real and congruent to their behavior — is a good place to start. Improving teamwork and collaboration in the workplace is another good place to begin to re-engage people.

Here is a short 6-minute video on the engagement network
that frames up some obvious solutions.

Removal of the perceived roadblocks to good performance is basic and straightforward and you can read some of my ideas about managing that here.

There are some thoughts here on sharing praise and managing performance feedback, including a link to my Feedback Analysis Checklist. (Click here to see that blog post) and there is a long, two-part series of articles that get into a lot of ideas and information and statistics on managing performance here.

What we need to do is understand that passion and trust are critical factors in workplace motivation and that our traditional approach of performance appraisal and performance evaluation simply puts the worker and the manager into an adversarial kind of environment. The typical “reward systems” that are installed by HR and supported by the executive team are not working and will not work, serving very often to simply put the people into competition, which more often sub-optimizes the overall group performance a lot more than it motivates the top performers.

Best practices already exist in the organization, but developing the teamwork to help install them throughout the workplace cannot be done with competition as the driving force. The ideas for improvement already exist, but we cannot make improvements if we keep working like this:

Square Wheels One cannot expect improvement words

We need to do things differently
or we will continue to get the same results!

The change needs to be at the interface of the worker and the supervisor. All that other stuff is nice, but it is the manager that needs to change their behavior. We also can build on the natural tendency of people to work together on shared goals and desired outcomes. People are competitive, but teamwork does occur naturally.

We must put the power into the hands of the supervisor, not in the hands of some remote and well-intentioned HR Control Group that has little in common with the workers and supervisors and who do not share the same expectations, desired outcomes and goals, or rewards for good performance. Performance Appraisal and Evaluation — even if you improve it — will not do much to improve workplace performance. Simply because:

  • Fear is the Mindkiller (from the Dune books) — competition produces winners and lots more losers and no one likes to lose.
  • Trust is the residue of promises fulfilled. (Frank Navran)
  • Nobody ever washes a rental car. Ownership and hands-on involvement are critical factors in success.

Get them involved and engaged with you in your workplace improvement efforts and focus HR on human capital improvement, not performance appraisal and so-called incentive motivation.

We cannot become what we want to be

PMC has great tools for facilitating engagement and involvement and for building teams and teamwork, tools that work for supervisors interested in the improvement of workplace performance and motivating people. It is not rocket science — it is straightforward, simple and simply continuous…

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

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

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Getting More Done with More – Managing Performers, Slinks and Zombies

In my experience, 30+ years of working with organizations  the workplace tends to operate with a leader and some workers and it appears something like this:

SWs One green watermark

Every workplace has its share of involved and engaged workers, the wagon pushers who simply get things done and who often share Round Wheel Ideas for continuous improvement. But communications is often difficult and wagon pushers simply get tired of pushing and talking with no changes happening. Top performers keep pushing forward, but not so much all the others.

Leaders pull and expect their people to push, and every manager needs people who are in touch, involved and engaged in overall initiatives of rolling forward. However, a zillion different studies show that this is not a common happening and what does exist is a broad range of involvement and engagement levels among employees.

Un-engagement is a common phenomenon.
People get less involved and motivated over time. 

While top performers always exist, many or most employees will be only somewhat engaged and a few will be very dis-engaged. We can think of the latter as our Zombies – they walk around with minimal effectiveness, possibly infecting others with their attitudes and behaviors. You can probably identify these Zombies in your own workplace as they are not behind you and the wagon. They are usually not even in the picture!

Zombies in the workplace, though, are generally not bad people, in actuality, but they are also not really good employees. And it is not an issue of capability since they could do the job if they had a reason to do better.

So, what do you do? How does one manage to improve performance results? Let me share some simple ideas…

One, always recognize the performance of top performers. They have their own motivations and a key for you is to not get in their way. They sometimes bend the rules a bit, so let that slide or change your processes and procedures to generate more of these Round Wheels. They look to peers for recognition, so keep performance feedback flowing. However, do be careful about adding any extrinsic rewards to the workplace, since that can change the environment in negative ways.

The Zombies? You probably avoid them. You might try the old “transfer” strategy and pawn them off onto another company workgroup. You should change the performance feedback they receive and be sure that they can compare their own data to realistic expected results. Often, they don’t get that information in effective ways and feedback is what drives performance results.

 (You can find a Performance Feedback Analysis Checklist here)

Your real leverage comes from better management of the “Slinks.” Unlike Zombies, Slinks have not yet turned. They are simply in the middle of the performance and contribution curve and are the average employees. They are not those you immediately think to use as team leaders or project managers. Look to better involve and engage them, aligning them more closely to your goals and objectives to vaccinate them against “zombie-sickness.” Ask them for involvement on teams and give them opportunities to implement workplace improvements.

Basically, most people want to meet expectations and to feel good about their work. A few try to justify their poor results by blaming past occurrences or work problems, but they can be re-aligned and re-engaged with effective performance measurement aligned with realistic goals and objectives. Most people are rational and well-meaning.

Some Zombies may simply need to work elsewhere as they are too far gone to be healed by what your medicine can realistically do. The old joke is that research statistics find that one out of every three people has suffered from mental illness, so just look around!

Often, the entire workplace will breathe easier once a Zombie exits the stage. Everyone knows who they are and where they lurk…

Lastly, make sure that YOU are not in Zombie mode, wandering aimlessly and repeatedly doing the same things while expecting different results. Work to better involve and align people to shared goals, building trust by setting expectations and then meeting those commitments.

It reminds me of our Christopher Columbus Award

Christopher Columbus Award color

Remember this simple idea:

“Trust is the Residue of Promised Fulfilled.”
(Frank Navran)

 And make sure that your behavior as well as theirs aligns neatly with your desired outcomes, expected results, and defined expectations.

You can find more information about our tools to better engage people in performance improvement here:

SWs Facilitation Guide $50

And Have FUN Out There, too!

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

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

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Square Peg, Round Holes and Motivating and Engaging for Performance Improvement

This is a little ditty that Joan cooked up for an email to our customers and prospects and I thought it was really cute and well done. So, I thought to share it on Columbus Day, but it took us an extra day. Let me start with our Columbus Award, something which can be given posthumously (grin):

Christopher Columbus Award color

Know anyone who we need to send this to?

Okay. Back to business…

The title of the mailing is,


A “Square” Peg becomes a Round Peg!

Introducing Peg:

Square Peg Yellow

Peg is a workplace manager who thought she was managing well but usually came up short from her employees’ view. Many called her “Square” Peg because she always did what she’s always done. Prospects for change were bleak given as Peg did not communicate well and had no vehicle in place for others’ input and discussion.  

Her staff felt unmotivated and disengaged!

Peg’s View:

View Front color bPeg was pleased with and fully committed to her company’s vision of the future. However she felt that her staff didn’t have the same commitment and she had no clue as to how to get them on board sharing in her enthusiasm.

All was good from Peg’s view BUT it was only her view!

The Employees’ View: 

Square Wheels Image - View Back color redPeg’s staff described their view more like this. It was based on their not being keyed in on what was taking place. They were given no opportunity to give input about what improvements could be made and how they could be involved.

They were typical disengaged employees!

Square Wheels to the Rescue:  

Peg decided to set aside her square ways by using the Square Wheels Facilitation Toolkit as a means of reaching out to her employees. It sets up an interactive discussion of issues and ideas for improvement that really gets energy rolling.

Square Wheels Image simple thoughts

Everyone shares their perspective!

The New, Better View:

After their first Square Wheels session, the employees felt a change had occurred that left them feeling part of the vision, therefore, making them more motivated and part of the plan. They were given an opportunity to express their thoughts and realities about what was happening with their jobs and what could be improved.

Square Wheels Image with Mission

They became involved and engaged!

From a Square Wheel (Peg) to a Round Wheel (Peg):  

Round Peg blue donut yellowPeg was excited about the positive changes and feelings that stemmed from her going beyond her “square old way” of doing things and giving Square Wheels a try.

Staff morale was at a new high and even Peg enjoyed the result of being better connected with everyone, especially when she heard herself being called a “Round” Peg. A good thing!

Communication and motivation was filling the workplace!


If you feel your employees or your workplace could use some “Stepping back from the wagon” to get new ideas and inspiration in place, give one of our many Square Wheels Toolkits a try. Square Wheels is a simple, unique way to motivate and engage everyone in the workplace around organizational issues of communications, change, leadership, planning, performance improvement and other topics.


 square wheels authorFor 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

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

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 I came in contact with Square Wheels 13 years ago and since then I still have not found anything else quite like it. Being a trainer and facilitator in Singapore and regional countries, I’ve found that people of any culture would be able to identify with it. The Square Wheels One picture often helped to surface many organization and people issues and moved the session to a deeper level of open discussion and sharing. I highly recommend this very useful facilitation tool 🙂
Jason Ho, Singapore

Murphy's Law, Reframed

Murphy’s Law is pretty basic and to the point:

Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

As to its origins go back to Capt. Edward Murphy and his work at Edwards Air Force Base back in 1949. (You can read more about this on another post of mine.) The story goes that one day, after finding that an electronics component was wired wrong, he cursed the technician responsible and said, “If there is any way to do it wrong, he’ll find it.”  The contractor’s project manager who was keeping a list of similar “laws” added that one to his list, which he called Murphy’s Law. It then appeared in that contractor’s advertisement and the rest is history.

We’ve been playing with this basic concept for 20+ years, but just in a slightly different and more actionable context. It looks like this:

SWs One - Murphy and RWs

Recently, I posted up a couple of cartoons and one in particular merited a bit of discussion, I think, since it links up so well to the real world application of Murphy’s Law and how it impacts people and performance in the workplace.

Consider this illustration and caption for a moment:

Trial and Error Murphy's Law words

Note that I said Maybe. And DO think about the illustration itself for more than a minute – otherwise you will miss the key learning point.

The illustration is one that I call, “Trial and Error” and I have written extensively on the issues surrounding the common view of this by most managers and organizational leadership. You can find more on this theme here.

Murphy’s Law states that things will go wrong. That seems to be a pretty common occurrence. Tightly linked corollaries to The Law include:

  • Nothing is as easy as it looks.
  • Everything takes longer than you think.
  • If there is a worse time for something to go wrong, it will happen then.
  • Left to themselves, things tend to go from bad to worse.
  • Nothing is ever so bad that it cannot get worse.
  • Whenever you set out to do something, something else must be done first.

Viewed in the context of the above, many people looking at the illustration above will see all the problems and issues. They will point out the negative and what should have been done differently. But there is most certainly another side of this. There is the issue of continuous continuous improvement and the reality of how innovation really works.

Sure, the team might have done things perfectly the first time. And we can probably generate another four or five things that they could have accomplished in this iteration of the problem solving. They could have already put on some Round Wheels and they probably could have put the horse at the front. But consider the reality that they are now using a horse and that they have stepped back far enough from their wagon to see that the Round Wheels do already exist!

Now, they need to invent some device or some approach to actually mount those round wheels and maybe fill them with air and maybe adapt the axles to the tire rims. The Reality of Change is not that simple and elegant model that you think might work; change tends to actually operate more like this:

Reality of Change round yellow

Maybe they can find a different way to involve the horse and they can implement a way to thus steer the direction that the wagon goes. One broken Square Wheel can find one Round Wheel as a replacement and that may lead to other things as time goes on. Heck, maybe they can eventually hook up another wagon to the back and invent the train!

Innovation and invention is full of Trial and Error and probably many cycles of it. Understand that some people put a LOT of effort into helping to try or implement new things and make workplace changes and improvement. In many organizations, though, the reality of change is one of risk-taking and opening oneself up to criticism, disdain and derision.

Note that two other Murphy’s Law Corollaries are:

  • Any  problem can be overcome given enough time and money. But you are never given enough time or money.
  • All truth passes through three stages: first it is ridiculed, then violently opposed and eventually, accepted as self-evident. (Schopenhauer)

Improvement is about perspective, continuous ideation, constant trial and re-invention. It is about team support and celebration. It is also about getting the support of leadership, which often really requires money and time. It is about the celebration of all of the improvements made to generate momentum for future improvements.

Celebration key to involving me

So, that simple cartoon that we started with is chock full of a wide variety of different themes and messages. I’ll end with an old quote from the NLP literature:

If we always do what we have always done,
we will always get what we have always gotten.

As leaders, parents and managers, we need to support innovation and improvement, and sometimes that just happens when things break and we are forced to do things differently. It is much easier to criticise new ideas because we are sure that the old way works pretty much okay. And a desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world!


For the FUN of It!

Elegant Solutions

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant. 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest:

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The Illusions of Management and Leadership

Over the years, I have led many sessions on involving and engaging people and I have had a continued interest in brain function and thus the whole issue of illusions and how they work.

Illusions are interesting and they take many forms and operate in a variety of ways. Some simply trick the brain into looking for common and obvious patterns or they hide patterns in the background noise. The brain is wired to find meaning in things:

dog spot

and the brain makes assumptions that can change:

Good Evil

We also get the brain’s visual centers involved, those areas that process information. Those can be fooled because of “eye fatigue” and such to create motion from stationary images. You can find a lot of these online:


If you stare at any of these long enough, there appears to real movement, which we might think of as progress… (If you do not see movement, move closer or farther away and the illusion will start.)


smiley spinner

All of these lead me to my Learning Point. A lot of organizational behavior can simply appear to be an illusion. We might think that progress is being made, or that people understand our thinking. We might think that people are involved and engaged or that they do not need any training or that they are not interested in personal development or leadership training for their futures.

Consider this next image as a possibility:

SWs One Illusion of Workplace Improvement

Yep. Illusions are not real.

So here are 8 ideas about what you might choose to do differently:

SWs One - Things I need to do more celebrate 100

We have toolkits that can support your organizational improvement initiatives, things that are simple to use and really effective for you in involving and engaging people for improved work performance.

Have more fun out there!

scott tiny casual

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant. 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest:

 Note on copyright: I got these illustrations off a Bing search of optical illusions. They were not attributed. I do not assume “public domain” on these so if they are yours, please let me know and I will add the attribution or remove them if you prefer. Thanks. Good stuff!

Teaching The Caterpillar to Fly – Thoughts on Change – Part Five

This is Part Five of our five-part post on issues surrounding people and performance and managing and leading change. Included are some ideas about:

  • managing change and personal growth   
  • assisting change management initiatives
  • developing individual and organizational potential

Part One of this series talks about the danger of knowing The Answer when it comes to working to manage and lead change and you can click the link or the image at right  to go to the beginning of this article. 

(Here we briefly talk about a simple involving and engaging model for managing and leading change, something that meshes up neatly into our beliefs about involving and engaging people for workplace improvement. I will write more about the model in another post.)

For nearly 30 years, my associates and I have been working with a very actionable and understandable model for change, one that we prefer to do with the involvement of the people who are going through the change process. I feel that with them knowing and playing a role in the process, it makes all things a lot easier. It also helps to clarify issues and minimize misunderstandings and tension.

What we do in this post is focus on some things to consider in helping your organization roll forward. It is as much about HOW you do things as what those things are, it seems.

People will often appear to resist change because they are actually comfortable with how things are, right now. Getting them to change for no real reason is resisted…

By using the approach of our illustration to generate their active involvement, we help the change process by identifying Square Wheels and the possible Round Wheels. This elegantly serves to increase discomfort with the way things are now and this helps make change more likely since people now have some considered alternatives.

Four Simple Factors for Implementing Change

This relates to our simple Change Model, comprised of four factors which may only be somewhat related,

  1. The current level of discomfort with the way things are now and about how people feel about the environment and how things work
  2. The attractiveness of the vision of the future and whether they feel like they should invest in it.
  3. The individual or groups previous success with change — are they personally successful in making changes and improvements or were they recently unsuccessful and thus more reluctant to fail again
  4. The peer support for making a change occur — are the rest of the people for the change?

By increasing any or all of them, we make change more likely. We work to involve and engage people to help move these possibilities along.

Note that we have written extensively on my simple model for analyzing and managing Roadblocks, which also uses a facilitative engagement process and which PMC offers a simple and effective toolkit for addressing. There are four types of roadblocks, ranging from immovable (escalate those up) to “the ones you’ve heard of that must be true” that one can simply choose to fix. By allowing groups to brainstorm and list roadblocks and then analyze them, the group can decide which to escalate and which to handle.

To some degree, most people are un-empowered, allowing roadblocks that are real or perceived to get in their way. The reality, however, is that they expect things to change while they keep doing things the same way. My belief is that our tools and approach can help managers to remove those things that get in the way (dis-un-empowerment) and generate peer support for change and improvement and the sharing of best practices through improved teamwork.

The problem with performance improvement and dis-un-empowerment is that many people don’t “buy into the program.” Issues of trust and past history often factor into this causing people to feel that things really won’t improve or that their efforts may not be recognized and appreciated.

Many people don’t have a positive experience with attempts to make changes and improvements. And they do NOT get the support of others around them.

Let’s illustrate with a test that might be interesting for you. You could also try it with someone else. Take 2 minutes and consider identifying four or five key points in the following illustration:

Square Wheels image of trial and error

Consider the above – what is going on / what is this about. Think of some themes and ideas – maybe 6 of them before reading on…

DO pause here and consider the above…

The name of the cartoon is Trial and Error. And it is about how change and improvements occur. And if you are reading this without considering your reactions to the illustration, stop and please consider.

If you are like most people in our discussion sessions, you will generate a number of ideas about what is wrong and what they should have done and few about what they have done or are doing positively. The actual ratio of negative to positive is greater than 16 : 1 and we’ve tested this worldwide in all sorts of organizational cultures with very similar results.

Some of the common ones include: they aren’t working on the problem, the horse is before the cart, horses won’t push like that, they should see the problem but they don’t, they missed the Square Wheels completely, and they are about to run off and stop working.

Continuous continuous improvement is an ongoing process, is accomplished by trial and error and requires perspective and reflection. But, too often, we are quick to put a “Blame Frame” on things and presume, with our leadership and expertise, that we would not have made such simple errors and omissions.

square wheels trial and error

But horses will push carts when trained and motivated (hang a carrot in front of it!) and a great many potential ideas for improvement will always exist that can be implemented or modified.

As Max DePree elegantly said:

“We cannot become what we want to be by remaining what we are.”

If everyone is focused on what people should have or might have done, this feedback to others will be seen as non-supporting and negative. The effort that was taken to try to do things differently would be punished rather than rewarded and, therefore, we make change less likely.  This “constructive criticism” is not constructive and will not support continuous continuous improvement.

A team approach generates the pooled, collective knowledge needed to solve real problems as well as provide the synergy and consensus as to where to generate results. Peer pressure can be focused on improvements if we can engage the team in a bit of reflection. Leadership provides the power and support to the implementation — but they must follow through and do something to recognize any improvements.

Quality, for example, is a people thing. A cross-functional team with a few skills, a mission and vision, and a bit of empowerment from management can generate the objectivity, perspective, collective knowledge and support to make real improvements in systems and processes, the root solution to the quality issue. And by getting people involved in the solution, they become equity owners of the process and we do things with them rather than to them.

Improving service quality is often an issue of leadership and recognition. Organizations have a real need to implement change. But the dynamics involved are complicated, and yet simple. You would all agree that motivation comes from people who take pride in results, with pride being a strong natural reinforcer of behavior.

The impact of putting The Blame Frame around less than perfect attempts to improve will stifle improvement. We naturally generate defensiveness or defense instead of change and we punish innovation while we demand improvement. And then we wonder why people do not feel self-actualized and intrinsically motivated. All of us can support improvement of others!

Intrinsic motivation, then, looks like this (in a haiku-type poem):

Most people already have the Round Wheels within their grasp but, because of negative self-talk, constructive criticism, past performance evaluations focused on the negative and other typical work dynamics, we may not recognize them. Getting a test back in school, for example, was an experience of seeing all of our wrong answers highlighted and marked in red.

You can read more about intrinsic motivation, as I have blogged about it extensively. This takes you to a summary page.

This focus on the negative does not work to bring out the positive. Focusing on the negative only brings out more negative!

Performance coaching and personal improvement should address the many positives of the situation, seeing that continuous improvement is continuous. There is a need for objectivity and perspective combined with management support. But because of people’s focus on personal issues, politics and pettiness, many do not get feedback that focuses on the things that could be done to correct and improve our results.

We can’t really focus on developing human capital and achieving highest potential if we treat people in ways that diminish self-esteem and limit opportunities. The only way to achieve high performance is to engage the best energies of the people within the organization. And they already exist — the challenge is to unleash them from within.

So, if we want people to fly, we’ve got to look at what influences their initiative and performance and get them involved and engaged.

We need to allow people to try new things and experiment with the systems and processes. By hooking things up in a new way, we can often generate that creative spark and innovation that will make a long-term fundamental improvement. Consider what you can do to have more fun and generate new ideas for change.


Change is inevitable. So why not make it both easier and fun? Involve and engage people in the changes that they think are needed and see if things do not roll a lot smoother. And remember that caterpillars can fly, if they would just lighten up!

Hope that these ideas help you some,

For the FUN of It!

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 a very experienced presenter and consultant, having presented workshops in 47 countries and currently living in Cuenca, Ecuador.

You can reach Scott at


Square Wheels, timing and rhyming on issues

Yes, viewers, Scott goes off on another creative tangent. I am hoping that you will find these fun, because it WAS fun to create these illustrated poems on the workplace, motivation, change, innovation and improvement. How things really work and possibilities for improvement are my focus – people and performance.

I am putting a whole lot of these together on a Pinterest page, should you want to see more of the “Completed Works on Square Wheels.” You can find this Pinterest page here:

So, here are a few that were stimulated when I read a few Dr. Seuss poems for inspiration. I will start with a couple themed to Square Wheels One to set the stage and then go off into some of the other illustrations and thoughts. Your feedback would be great and feel free to LIKE this page and hit me on Google + also.

This got me going, I will admit.
These cartoons may give a fit.
They’re meant to give you some ideas,
but maybe all you’ll do is sneeze.

(A quick check shows I have 113 illustrated poems!) Let me start with this Square Wheels One illustration, one that I used in yesterday’s blog.

SWs One all the things you won't see red

And then we move on to some other thoughts

mud job pay different way poem

balloon in the air share poem

Desk better way poem

Desk substitution one less bump per revolution poem

Intrinsic less wheel of wagon shake poem

or there is this one along similar lines:

Intrinsic places we'll go poem

Celebration plane horse game poem

My thoughts are around involving and engaging people, and allowing them easy ways to identify issues in the workplace and to design approaches to solve problems, build teamwork and improve workplace performance.

Part of the issue is simply recognizing that things could be done differently. It is about the choices we have and the choices we make. It is about discussing possibilities and identifying ideas for increasing involvement.

SWs One - what you see is all border

So, I think that is it for this post. But I will keep on playing, throwing mud at the wire fence until I am sure of what is sticking where. Hope you LIKE this stuff,

For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant. 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest:

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Poems and Cartoons on Performance – Engaging Ideas

Since 1993, I have been using cartoons as tools for conversations. The illustrations are simple and the concepts are straightforward, but the impact of these are pretty mind-boggling.

The main illustration that sets up all these themes and frameworks is called, Square Wheels One and it looks like this:

SWs One green watermark

My general approach in using it is to give people one minute of silent contemplation about their ideas and perceptions, framing it as, “This is my model of how organizations really work.” Okay, if you have not seen this before, give it a minute of your time before reading below.

The methodology of using this is anchored to the Rorschach Inkblot kind of process, where people project their beliefs onto the illustration. Different people focus on different aspects of the cartoon, and there are no boundaries. After that one minute of individual silent contemplation, I then allow the tabletops of 5 to 6 people to discuss their ideas, freeform. Sometimes we collect them on easel pad paper (which slows down the process dramatically) and sometimes we just allow the conversations. I say that they have 5 minutes for the discussion, but I only stop it when the murmur and laughter subside or if I am under real time pressures to move on (like in a 30 minute workshop).

15 years ago, I tried to collect the different ideas that came up from the different groups that were in my workshops:

Microsoft PowerPointScreenSnapz001

And there were lots of different responses, for sure:

Microsoft PowerPointScreenSnapz006

I actually collected 13 PAGES like those above before I quit collecting. It became a huge mental issue of sorting and the activity became somewhat pointless — I had proved my point about ideas and the projective nature of thinking. And I will admit that even today, I still occasionally get a response that I had never heard before. Amazing.

Some of them are a Real Hoot, that I collected on this page:

Microsoft PowerPointScreenSnapz004

The Big Idea here is that people have an amazing amount of creativity and perspective if we can only allow them to express it. If we can direct that same energy to workplace improvement ideas and build teams and teamwork around those things that they want to address, we are way down the road toward building involvement and engagement.

SWs Facilitation IconWe sell simple toolkits for Dis-Un-Engagement and the involvement of people in solving performance issues in their workplaces. And I can readily customize materials for special and specific uses and users.

Wheel Playing haiku
The ideas are there. The Square Wheels are everywhere. What can we do to simply get our people focused on identifying the things that need to be changed, playing with new or different ideas, and then building the informal teams needed to implement some solutions.

We can get them to do things with each other, instead of generating resistance to change from what our ideas might be. We can let these activities reinforce achievements and drive internal motivation. We can remove the things that they find are un=engaging.

Engagimentation Future


So, I started playing with some cartoons and slogans and poems and Haiku to play around with the ideas that we can make improvements. Here are a few around Square Wheels One:

SWs One Today was good today was fun

SWs One They're everywhere

SWs One Nothing is NOT


SWs One brain in head feet in shoes

SWs One all the things you won't see red


Yeah, and more to come!

For the FUN of It!

scott tiny casual

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant. 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest:

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Teaching The Caterpillar to Fly – Thoughts on Change – Part Four

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


people –

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. He is a CPF and CPT and holds a doctorate in behavioral neuropsychology from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Scott is co-Founder of The Square Wheels Project.
You can reach Scott at

Scott’s blog on People and Performance is here.

Square Wheels® are a registered trademark of Performance Management Company

Teaching The Caterpillar to Fly – Thoughts on Change – Part Three

Teaching The Caterpillar to Fly – Thoughts on Change – Part Three

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.

Here is the third part of this series, with 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.

Ideas about:

  • managing change and personal growth   
  • assisting change management initiatives
  • developing individual and organizational potential

Rolling forward… Some thoughts on Square Wheels and Change
Part Three of Five

Another reality is that we do not have to constantly invent ideas and frameworks. That takes energy and sometimes results in failure. On our journey forward, there are already others who may have done what we want to do or changed what we want to change. It is less about invention and more about discovery. With that in mind, let me share another metaphor and framework that others have found useful and that might be of benefit to you.

The framework is one of identifying the ideas that already exist and modeling the behavior of others. If we can identify the things that others are doing that may work for us, it might be a lot easier to make some improvements. No sense reinventing the wheel and learning through errors and mistakes if we can identify better ways that have already been proven.

To address some of these perceptual problems, let’s use my most useful metaphor, called Square Wheels One. Many people work like the people below. Take a moment and consider this illustration:

So here they are, working hard and thumping along on Square Wheels. Note that the Round Wheels already exist in the wagon. However, they continue to plod along as they have always done because their Square Wheels do work and they have worked in the past and will work in the future.

After all, how would we know that we were making any progress
if things didn’t go “Thump, Thump?

Some common thinking about this illustration:

  • The Square Wheels can represent many things, including traditions and habits. Organizationally, they may represent processes and practices that do not work well or inter-departmental conflicts. They are the shared experiences of any organization that does not move smoothly forward. They increase costs of doing things and are inefficient and ineffective.
  • The person in the front pulls forward but also gets isolated from the wagon itself and may not feel the thumps and bumps nor hear the talk at the back. Communication is hard. The view from the back is not very motivating and the pushers are somewhat blind to the future. The wagon can do the job, but it’s difficult to turn; changing direction is always hard.
  • Individually, the Square Wheels might represent the things we are so used to doing. They could just be preferences in how we approach job or home activities. What we have been doing works, but there might be more effective ways of doing things. But it is sometimes hard to see this. After all, we are making progress!
  • And there is another paradox: We set our personal and organizational goals based on Square Wheels. And we can meet our goals if they are set this way! Lastly, over time, it becomes increasingly hard to stop and step back to look for new possibilities for doing things because we are working so hard to meet these goals!

And to illustrate the power of diversity of thinking as we did with the caterpillars and butterflies, in our use of this image over the years, we’ve captured almost 300 different thoughts and themes about this one illustration! Some additional points include:

  • Trust among team members is important for motivation and focused effort
  • Communications between pullers and pushers is an obvious opportunity for improvement
  • Shared visions and goals are crucial for shared effort and motivation
  • Most organizations have difficulty in changing direction
  • There is a constant need for teamwork and collaboration
  • Continuous improvement and measurement of progress must occur because the round wheels of today will become square tomorrow
  • Issues of cost and performance are always present
  • Ideas for improvement already exist within the wagon

As we roll forward on our Square Wheels, we become accustomed to the Thump, Thump of our journey. Yet change and improvement tend to be inevitable for most of us and for our organizations. The key is choice and perspective. The risk comes from not changing, from trying to maintain our status quo in the middle of a rapidly changing world.

But we’ve also learned that many organizations may operate, in reality, more like this — up their axles in glop.

Lots of times, we work to make progress but we seem to be stuck in the ditch. And it is hard to really get a grip on what is happening to us. Progress is most difficult.

In other words,

Things are this way because they got this way and unless things change,
things will continue to remain the same.

Recognize that in organizations, this “yellow gooey sticky mess” is similar to the politics, systems, processes, bureaucracy and general goop that commonly seems to get well-intentioned effort bogged down. The same things tend to occur in our family and personal lives, where our past experiences, expectations and cultural context seem to slow progress or people feel they have no alternatives.

The wagon sinks up to its axles in this stuff, with the added reality that, “It may not be a yellow gooey sticky mess – it may be cement.”

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation
and go to the grave with the song still in them.”


Yet this gooey mess is also at the core of the reality of transformation and change. It represents a problem as well as an opportunity. How?

There are people around us who are not bogged down and who are already doing things differently and better. In organizations, these exceptional performers work in the same environment but get much more accomplished than the average performers. These “Mud Managers” have different models and frameworks — behavioral, mental and strategic — that simply allow them to operate more efficiently and effectively. They have made choices that are different than most.

One key is getting out of the ditch and up on the road. It is not about doing things the same way and expecting to make improvements. It is about making different choices and transforming ourselves to match with our potential.

What we need is vision, objectivity and perspective about where we stand and what is happening.

And people do have choices:

“We could be standing at the top of the world instead
of sinking further down in the mud.”

Meatloaf, from his song, “All revved up and no place to go.”

 In the transformation of the caterpillar into the butterfly, the caterpillar constructs a cocoon and then undergoes an astounding transformational process, where the old “caterpillar” molecules actually chemically transform into “butterfly” molecules. They have to stop being caterpillars before they can possibly become butterflies — and they actually become that yellow gooey sticky mess. But then they reassemble and become more than they were. They realize their inherent potential, something that all of us can do and something that most of us can support in others.

It involves accepting that we have potential…

“Caterpillars can fly, if they just lighten up!”

Each of us must be sensitive to our surroundings and look for things we might choose to do differently. And our friends, associates, coaches and leaders should be looking for opportunities to involve and engage others in gaining perspective and objectivity about their behavior and their organizations to make improvements occur. We need to ask questions, challenge “whee-ality” and search for a never-ending supply of Round Wheels to implement.

From a leadership perspective, it is a lot more about asking than it is about telling. It is more about collaboration and engaging than it is about being The Boss.

Round Wheels are also a paradox, since they already exist within the wagons and yet not all are usable, since some may not have rims or tubes. And we also have to actually stop making progress, momentarily, to discover and mount the wheels that will work for us. In organizations, implementing improvements also causes shifts in resource utilization and systems and processes; as the wagon moves forward faster, it causes other pressures in other operations.

 Don’t Just DO Something! Stand There!

In order to begin replacing Square Wheels with round ones, it’s important to “stop being a caterpillar” and let change happen by first stepping back to gain perspective. Give people a chance to express what it is that they see, from their own special perspective, what could be done differently. By getting these ideas out, you’ll spark innovation that can make the wagon move forward more easily by implementing some “round wheel” ideas.

Go directly to Part Four – Statistics and Ideas for Change – by clicking here

If you would like to see more information on our powerpoint toolkit for managing and leading change, click here or call me at 864-292-8700

Have FUN out there!

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, currently retiring (and still working) in Cuenca, Ecuador.

You can reach Scott at


More on “Workplace Motivation – “I Quit! Nevermind. Whatever…” “

In March, I posted up a blog on workplace motivation and the issues that surround performance in the average workplace. The subtitle was,  “I Quit! Nevermind. Whatever…” to reflect the reality that so many people are just not into and aligned with the goals of the organization. This can be caused my many different factors but the end result is the same.

You can view that blog by clicking here

De-motivation seems to happen often in the workplace. It depresses results and has a wide range of side effects on attendance, quality, service, innovation and creativity. For an individual, it may be a sudden thing, where the pin hits the balloon and the worker snaps and decides that they are quitting. Some may resign and walk out right there — like the airplane attendant who grabbed a couple of beers and popped the emergency door to make that spectacular (and illegal) grand departure. Some simply decide that they will continue to show up for work but not quit —  first they will find another job. And sometimes it is simply that the person burns out, gets totally blase about things and just does not care to try very hard anymore. Many managers think it is simply a cost of doing business.

Pin hits balloon sabotage words red

click on image to redirect to zen koan on engagement

In that other blog, I excerpt some of the key thoughts and data points from my longer article about workplace performance, which you can also access. Basically, my solution is to facilitate more involvement and engagement in fixing thing that people commonly see as issues and opportunities for improvement.

Involving and engagind Drawing Board words

click on image for haiku about motivation

I wanted to re-post about this theme of “quitting while working” because I saw an interesting email to me this morning from Leadership IQ. I do not know those people but found that this post seemed to offer good, and slightly different ideas about dealing with this workplace intrinsic motivation issue. Here is what they said:

Middle performers comprise about 70% of your workforce.  Yet they get the least amount of development and consideration.  Managers spend most of their time trying to fix low performers, or enjoying the company of high performers.  So middle performers generally get ignored.There’s also a myth that middle performers are just ‘maxed out’ and can’t become high performers.  While that’s true for about 10% of them, the rest have other reasons for not becoming high performers.What are those reasons?They Don’t Know How
On our employee surveys, only about 40% of employees say “I know whether my performance is where it should be.”  That means about 60% of your folks truly don’t know, and that’s because expectations aren’t clear, there’s not enough (or poorly delivered) coaching, etc.  How can middle performers become high performers when then don’t know what that means?

They Lack Confidence
In some companies, high performers can be placed on a pedestal so high that their accomplishments seem out of reach of mere mortals. Even though many middle performers possess the skills and attitude of a high performer, they simply do not see themselves as having what it takes to make the climb to the top.

Costs Are too High
A common misconception among some middle performers is that being a high performer goes hand-in-hand with being a chronic workaholic. It may be that they have been witness to a few high performers that compulsively feel the need to work, and who, in doing so, embrace long hours and weekends at the office. It may also be that this group of middle performers does not fully understand what the expectations of high performance are, and so imagine that the only way to move to the next level of performance is to trade personal life and outside interests for increased work time.

Benefits Are Too Low
These are the folks that have the skills and attitude of a high performer, and who would be happy to do what it takes to move up to the next level, if only they could see the tangible benefit of doing so. They question each possibility of advancement, and if they foresee no favorable return, suspecting instead that the “rewards” will be factors such as a minimal pay increase, added hassle, and little to no promise of promotion, they turn away from making high performer efforts.

So what can you do? Join us at our upcoming webinar called BRINGING OUT THE BEST IN YOUR MIDDLE PERFORMERS.  

This 60-minute webinar will show you:

  • The 4 types of middle performers in your organization and how you can unlock the potential for each unique type
  • 2 changes you need to make to your leadership style to better unlock the hidden talent of your middle performers
  • How to discover whether a middle performer has “maxed out” their talent or if they’re just not giving 100%
  • 3 psychological factors that cause middle performers to give less than full effort
  • 5 step Career Map that gets your middle performers excited about their career potential
  • 2 ways to set goals that inspire middle performers to grow and develop their untapped potential
  • Why the typical way of praising a middle performer can actually demotivate them and cause them to exert less effort
  • How to give constructive feedback to middle performers in a way that motivates them to strive for superstar performance

I’ve blogged a lot about issues of people and performance. Heck, that is what ALL my writings are about. I think that the knowledge requirement is not one of more training, but of modeling best practices. People in the workplace can choose to help themselves improve if they were more engaged. I write extensively about that and you can see some of my thoughts on improving feedback systems to support higher performance, with a checklist, here.

I am less enthused about doing more skills training than I am on building self-managing work teams who focus on peer support and sharing best practices as an approach to improving results. You can also read some of my thinking on the issue of high performance in this post on Flow. This also addresses issues of confidence and if you design that individual or team’s workplace better, you can generate better performance results.

I am going to sign up for that webinar to see what tools they bring. I am not into the idea that doing a survey is what is needed, since a simple honest and open discussion about issues and opportunities can readily bring out that information as well as generate ideas for improvement. That is what our Square Wheels toolkits are designed to do and they do it well and inexpensively, plus they generate ideas for action.

You Make The Call Pin Balloon Drawing Board

So, I hope that all these ideas are useful to you.

We need to do something differently if we are expecting anything to improve.  At PMC, we sell simple tools with powerful impacts on engagement and innovation. They work because people generate their own ideas and solutions and the simple reality is this:

Nobody ever washes a rental car!

Square Wheels and teambuilding games by Scott Simmerman

Have FUN out there!

Elegant SolutionsDr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Elegant solutions to complex problems.

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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