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

Category: Best Practices

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

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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

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 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

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Scott’s blog on Poems and Quips on Workplace Improvement is here.

Chickens, Teaching, Honesty, Thinking and Innovation – a story

An acquaintance who is always sharing stories and jokes sent me a good one. And the more I thought about it, the more convinced I am that it would be a good one to use in a leadership development training session.

Guess my thinking is grounded in the work I am doing around Strategy Implementation and how it is not the strategy but its execution and engagement of everyone in the organization to commit to doing things differently. It is not always easy and people think differently about things, which would appear to be problematic on the surface, but something that is critical for implementation success based on all sorts of research.

Anyway, the story goes like this:

My Favorite Animal

 Our teacher asked what my favorite animal was, and I said, “fried chicken.”

 She said I wasn’t funny, but she couldn’t have been right, because everyone else laughed. My parents told me to always tell the truth. I did. Fried chicken is my favorite animal. I told my dad what happened, and he said my teacher was probably a member of PETA. He said they love animals very much. I do, too. Especially chicken, pork and beef. Anyway, my teacher sent me to the Principal’s office.

 I told him what happened, and he laughed, too. Then he told me not to do it again.

 The next day in class my teacher asked me what my favorite live animal was. I told her it was chicken. She asked me why, so I told her it was because you could make them into fried chicken. She sent me back to the Principal’s office. He laughed, and told me not to do it again.

 I don’t understand. My parents taught me to be honest, but my teacher doesn’t like it when I am.

 Today, my teacher asked me to tell her what famous person I admired most, I told her Col. Sanders.

 Guess where I am now…

I thought that the story was cute. Did you? I definately took the position of the student, but then realized that there were other positions and other principles working here…

I thought of the different viewpoints of the student, the teacher, the parents and the principal and how it related to their thinking about what is important and meaningful. Each would of course have different ideas about what should happen around the situation.

Is anyone wrong in their reactions? What do the differences in roles make in how the information is processed? What is the real desired outcome of the whole activity, and then frame up the whole activity from the positions of the different parties.

Think about how this all relates to people working in organizations who are being asked about improving customer service or implementing a new way of getting things done or who are trying to innovate or develop new products. By nature, everyone takes different posittions based on their roles and how they perceive they are to influence and impact that student.

Which role do YOU take in educating others? I LOVE fried chicken, but so very seldom eat it. Do doughnuts have legs?

Have FUN out there!

Facilitation. Why? Ownership Involvement and Employee Engagement

As I was updating some of my orientation thoughts in some of the toolkits I sell, I got into thinking more about why I do what I do and why I think it is so darn important for organizations. Like everyone, much of my present-day thinking builds on my early experiences, so I think about how Dorothy Irons “beat” me into a great customer-service bellhop and how much I learned in my first organizational consulting experiences.

There have been other writings about Dorothy, but one simple thing she did every day was ask this new employee (me) what guests were coming to the hotel and how many in the party and what room they were in (we scheduled all that – we only had 65 rooms at the resort). It did not take me long to figure out that she was always going to ask me that and that I needed to look at the reservations first thing every morning. Simply put, that little bit of preparation allowed me to guess pretty well as who just pulled into our parking and allowed me to grab a room key and meet them at the car. And that pleasant little surprise (for them) got me Great Tips! Over the years, I taught that kind of service commitment in my consulting and training business.

My experience as a consultant (1978) was grounded in involving and engaging workshop participants to define the issues and opportunities in the workplace and then generate some working pilot programs to see if they could incorporate those ideas into improvements that had impacts on results. I did the workshops and then worked on the shop floor to help implement, MBWA, support, reinforce and correct things as needed.

Most of these pilot tests they implemented were successful and they linked to measured improvements ($$). The weakness was that I did not involve and engage the workers’ managers sufficiently to get them to want to do the simple things needed to maintain them. When I was no longer there, things often slowed to a halt (even with the measurable payoff!).

And the paradox of that continued — As my experience grew, I would often “short-cut” the engagement workshop process to save time, not realizing that this was also reducing the ownership-involvement of the participants. Even though making improvements made sense, “they” were not always interested.

Thus, I became very aware that ownership was a critical key to improving and sustaining effectiveness. And the resulting cartoon looked like this:

Pretty predictably, leadership will resist change if they are not INVOLVED AND ENGAGED in that change

So, you work hard to get the people involved and engaged in the theme of making improvements in the workplace and you get the wagon ready to start rolling downhill and what do the managers do? The feel the pressure at their backs and they dig in their heels. The resistance can take active or passive forms, but it is resistance, nevertheless.

Facilitation is the key. And having the supervisors and managers DO that facilitation is another key. This is one of the reasons why training so often fails: Managers are not supportive of the training and the new behaviors because they have no active stake in the improvement or they feel that they are observers and not participants.

Strategy Implementation so often fails because the Most Senior Managers generate the strategy and simply expect the supervisors and managers to buy in and take risks and learn new behaviors and all that.

That will work, right?  (No!)

Get my toolkit on Facilitation for $35 at the PMC website

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

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

A simple to use toolkit for coaching improvements

Progress is not all about Training. Motivation and Processes.

For a long time, I have played with a couple of cartoons that reflect my thinking about training and improvement. And I also believe that most people know the answers to most questions if we can ask the right question at the right time. The Round Wheels are already in the wagon, in my thinking.

A zillion years ago, the performance improvement consultants I worked with used to use the old Bob Mager (I believe) determiner:

•  “If you put a gun to their head, could they do it?”
(This was also known for the non-coercive types as,
       “If you gave them a million dollars, could they do it?”) 

That gave rise to an illustration I often used about Motivation and People and tended to reflect the either-or views of people and performance that are common with most managers in most organizations:

Beliefs about how one motivates people in the workplace

Many people believe that there were two choices – Rewards or “Aversive Control.” But the former generates a need to repeat / increase to get people re-motivated (and has all kinds of other negative side effects (see the work of Alfie Kohn and Dan Pink) while the latter has all kinds of other negative side effects (look at all the examples of it in relation to population control and policing). Aversive control generates compliance, when the people feel that they are being under that direct influence; remove the perception of control and behavior shifts quickly… There is a ton of research on compliance and punishment and conditioned helplessness that supports the fact that punishing kinds of things depress performance and motivation in all kinds of negative ways.

So, we come back to the issue of performance: Can the person DO the job or NOT? The “gun” test is merely a mental exercise: Does the person have the knowledge and capability to do the job right now? CAN they do it? 

If not, then is TRAINING one of the solutions?

(If there is a capability issue, that the person will be unable to do the job, then the alternatives are different and might include role changes or job aids. I will never be able to dunk a basketball and I have tried and tried. But provide me with a mini-trampoline and the situation would change! For a while, there was a professional roller-blade basketball league — can you imagine dunking on roller blades? There was also that trampoline-based basketball league. Yeah, baby!)

So, TRAIN THEM if they can do the job post-training. Training builds up personal strengths and capabilities, as shown below:

Training builds personal strengths and capabilities

But training itself is NOT the solution to most organizational problems. Training might help make incremental improvements as shown below:

Having more personal strength will improve performance, somewhat

But it will also NOT solve workplace issues and opportunities. In fact, management sometimes takes this opportunity to make other workplace improvements to generate more results:

Well, it IS an idea. But will it actually work?

Well, it IS an idea. But will it actually work? (Note: The wheels will not turn far before they hit the other wheels. But it looked good on paper!

The key to a lot of workplace improvement is engagement, involvement, process improvement, feedback about performance results and the sense of pride and teamwork that comes from celebrating successes.

We need to take time to step back from the wagon and to also celebrate our successes as a team. Peer support and positive feedback are key factors in motivating people.

I don’t know the solutions to most workplace problems.

But I do know that most people in most organizations know most of the things that need to be done differently to make significant improvements in performance while driving motivation at the same time. Involve and Engage. 

Marketing, Customer Service and People

One of my friends in India emailed me this morning, asking me for my thoughts about why companies seem to spend all sorts of  money on things like sales and marketing initiatives and then not so much on anything that relates to training for the people who actually service those customers.

Yes, it is an interesting paradox: LOTS of corporate expenditures are on advertising and sales training and marketing personnel while expenditures relating to customer service and people aren’t so apparent.

My reactions are complex but straightforward. One real issue is that “investments in people” have no visible impact on anything measurable on the asset side of the financial accounting processes. People and investments in training are simply viewed as a COST of doing business! They are not seen as a benefit.

GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) are the definitive source of accounting guidelines that companies rely on when preparing financial statements, presenting the details of a company’s financial operations. The impacts can be found in such places as quarterly balance sheets and income statements, 10-Q filings, annual reports and other online investment information. People are NOT valued in these things (although many will contain the pictures of the most senior management and some mention that, “people are our most important asset.”

Since management, analysts and investors routinely use these standardized GAAP metrics to gauge a firm’s financial health, those drive executive behavior. So, if people investments are not rewarded in how the investment community views a company’s prospects, senior managers are always under pressure to improve “results” by cutting expenditures on training and staffing.

And the paradox is that the impacts of cuts will NOT impact short-term reporting results. It takes a while for the impacts of not investing in people to be felt in the financials… Those of us old enough to remember “re-engineering” will remember the huge cuts made to people that resulted in all sorts of long-term problems for corporate results. Those data were convincing — downsizing was NOT a good idea when it came to long-term company growth.

On the other hand, spending Really Big Bucks on some fancy marketing scheme can have an immediate impact on sales as well as an immediate impact on the investor and customer perceptions of that same company. After all, having a Super Bowl advertisement means that the company must be successful and growing, right?

Here is another aspect of this same situation to give one pause:  Investments in customer attraction versus investments in customer retention!

Take the total amount of expenditures for the acquisition of NEW customers. This should include all the marketing and advertising expenses, the amount spent on sales training and salaries of the staff and the allocated expenses of senior management that spend time focused on sales and marketing. Plus office space, retirement costs (yeah, right!) and similar.

Now, with that number, discover the total number of new customers actually added and divide to get The Average Cost of Acquiring ONE New Customer. (On occasion, you will find this number incomprehensible, like the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy or similar…)

And, now for an even more interesting adventure, try to find the expenditures that are made on behalf of retaining those customers you have acquired at such great costs. See if you can find an expenditure for “customer service training” or for some budget to spend to resolve customer complaints.

My point is simple: companies spend lots and lots of money (and they always have) on the acquisition of new customers. Often, they have to take them away from another company — and if the customers are dissatisfied, that is less difficult. But they spend little on retaining them with good service quality practices, investments in people and training and skills, etc.

With mediocre experiences, customers really do not have too many reactions. Meeting expectations does not generate much of a reaction. You will not get referrals, but most customers will also not complain.

For many, reactions look like this:

With mediocre experiences, people have bland reactions to service issues

On the other hand, poor customer service — even to loyal customers – will generate reactions, and often public ones.

To illustrate, read this very negative Forbes Magazine article on Best Buy and how they are being viewed (quite negatively, BTW, including my own negative personal experience years ago and my commitment to Never Again set foot in one of their stores, no matter what.):

Because of HOW they “handled” thousands of transactions and how their people were handcuffed to the back of the wagon and, thus, were completely non-responsive, they got a LOT of reactions. And it was not just me. The article has received over 2.5 million page views since it was posted and triggered over 1100 page comments (including mine), and has been tweeted more than 16,000 times. In short, this negative article hit a nerve and lots of people had complaints.

Eventually, the pin will hit the balloon and generate a strong negative reaction

My guess is that companies need to start (or restart) their focus on the development of their people and their skills. They need to involve and engage all the customer contact people (and their managers) to focus more on customer retention and employee retention. After all, an experienced customer service rep is just that: experienced.

Experienced employees have had some practice (and often some actual training) in how to deal with customers effectively and how to retain them over the long haul.  This prevents them from becoming a customer of your competitors in addition to giving your company their business.

Take a look at YOUR relative expenses on marketing and on retention and see if they are in balance.

Best Square Wheels Answers

Joan had asked me to do some writing around using Square Wheels® for some marketing videos, wanting me to show the list of 300+ different responses that I had put into a document while collecting comments over the period of a few months.

That is 300 different ideas generated from workshop participants looking at Square Wheels One and generating responses that they shared from their tabletops. I actually gave up collecting once it became so hard to see if a great comment in a session was something that I already had or not – the list became too long. (AND, I know that I still get a couple every once in a while that I know are not on that list, but I am simply too lazy to try to keep updating!)

It seems more than mind-boggling that a simple cartoon like this:

Square Wheels One – our main illustration

would be able to generate that much creativity and engagement. You have to try it to actually see it.

But this activity and the generative responses  shows the power of group processing and creative thinking. It is still amazing to me and a real reason why I love using these tools in training sessions.

Individually, the most creative people tend to come up with 5 to 10 ideas and then  stop, thinking that, “What more could there be?.” Putting together a few people at a tabletop and allowing them to think individually and then collectively might generate 20 or so responses. something that we often collect when I have them write / mindmap their ideas onto a sheet of easel pad paper.

The fact that we can collect so many ideas over time is truly mind boggling…

I thought to try to do a short poll and see what some of our readers think along these same lines. We got a few responses but I think we might do this again in the future.

I’d love to know what ones you think are the best or even get NEW ideas from you on this. Make some comments if you have one you think better! After all, the Round Wheels really ARE already in the wagon!

Square Wheels has been incredibly more impacting than I had ever envisioned when I started playing with this back in 1993. I hear people tell me all the time that they have seen the illustration in a training program or a college class or in a textbook or that they have attended a session that I have done.

My goal is to use this and our other simple tools to make a real difference in the workplace, making managers more able to involve and engage people in workplace improvements and to generate different ideas for how to get more things done better.

Have FUN out There!  And support your people in generating new ideas for getting more better faster.

Brainstorming easel pad green


Visit our website for inexpensive, easy-to-use and bombproof tools.


Muscles slide in background

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

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest:

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PRIDE – Issue or Opportunity?

One of the illustrations I have used over the years to focus on organizational paradoxes is this one:

Pride in Work is a good thing. But is Pride focused on Performance? How do these things relate?

I use this to get tabletops to discuss, “What is happening here?”

So, what IS happening in the illustration above?

One thing we can do is allow people to “polish things up,” but does that really pay any dividends? Does a clean break room refrigerator actually translate to results that will sustain the numbers of people in the workgroup and to performance improvement?

Maybe. But I think that too few organizations take that motivation of Pride and translate that into teamwork and workplace results. Too often, the group is focused only on the group and we sometimes see HIGH levels of pride translate into something that looks like this:

Interdepartmental Collaboration often looks like this. High levels of My Team, My Team can generate too much focus on MY Teams success and not enough on the organization. Really. Seen this too often…

What is happening here is why the term “Interdepartmental Collaboration” is so often seen as an oxymoron in most organizations. Oxymorons are words that do not really fit well together like Jumbo Shrimp, pretty ugly, free love, Great Depression and my personal favorite, religious tolerance…

The issue is that one team, wanting to win and generally succeeding, will not make another team’s journey any easier if they can have their way. Sharing success is seen as counter to succeeding and being seen as successful.

Teamwork and collaboration between teams are key issues in organizational improvement and generating optimal results. Our team building exercises are nearly all focused on generating competitive behaviors and discussing the choices that people make to compete rather than collaborative performance optimization.

Working together and sharing ideas can improve performance of ALL the wagons, not just the one in the lead.

Work together, Have FUN!


Scott small pic

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

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest:

The Elephant in the Room – Line Managers are the Trainers (All others fail)

More and more, I am  convinced that the KEY training people in organizations do not reside in the HR or Training Departments –they are the ranks of the line managers.

Managers are responsible for performance. Managers are responsible for quality and service. Managers are responsible for productivity and results. And, more and more, the continued budget cuts in these “training departments” are now more focused on issues of basic skills training, orientation training, and similar kinds of outcomes.

So, what are we doing to provide managers with the skills they need to function as organizational performance improvement consultants, coaches for identifying best practices and communicating and implementing changes and improvements? Are most managers involving and engaging people, or just wasting time and energy?

This could be brainstorming and an action to involve and engage people in workplace improvement. Or, it might represent another “Yell and Tell” training session.

My belief, as so much data shows, is that people are NOT involved and engaged by the acts and actions of most managers — sure, the BEST Bosses are good at leading people forward, building ownership and engaging people in teamwork and process improvement. But it is still true, in most organizations, that BOSS spelled backwards is self-explanatory (email me and I will explain privately, if this euphemism is not immediately understood!).

What do they need to do to shift the energy of these meetings from negative to positive? One solution is to use better tools and an approach that is facilitative rather than confrontational.

Asking is a much better approach than Telling. Engaging is a much better approach than generating resistance to change. Generate SMILES, not frowns.

For the past 20 years, I have been developing simple but powerful tools for involving and engaging people and generating ownership and performance improvement. If you have any questions, drift around randomly through the PMC website and generate your own thoughts on how people can be more intrinsically motivated and build a better sense of team and US.

SWs - Why use SWs RWs

People have ideas for improvement and supervisors can do such a better job of asking and engaging and implementing, don’t you think. Could people simply choose to do things better and more efficiently?
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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

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Motivation? It is feedback, not extrinsic motivators, the drive performance

I think the biggest opportunity to improve performance is through good, positive, immediate Performance Feedback, and that we can decrease all the focus on the addition of extrinsic rewards. I think the biggest mistake we make is in thinking that you can simply ADD THINGS to motivate people to do better work.

Dan Pink has gotten a great deal of publicity for coming out against extrinsic reward systems and exposing some of the shortcoming of how we normally support performance in the workplace, building on the older work of Alfie Kohn. Good book, though, his “Drive.” And there is a great video presentation (search for “Dan Pink RSA – millions of views!!) that was published based on his TED presentation.

Basically, Dan gives exposure to the reality that these added rewards often get in the way of supporting the behaviors they are supposed to support. At the same time, people in the workplace are USED to having them around, thus there is sometimes a short-term, “Where is my reward?” that occurs. Generally, rewards causes more problems, in my opinion and experience.

But I do think that he gave short shrift to Alfie Kohn’s classic books like, “Punished by Rewards” — Kohn shared lots of research on how rewards do not drive expected behaviors and why extrinsic rewards seldom work as desired. There are LOTS of unanticipated and often negative consequences (Think Wells Fargo Bank and the scandal about the unauthorized opening of customer accounts).

What we need is more self-directed positive feedback.

LONG ago (1979?), I came to the conclusion that most corporate feedback programs were awful when it came to supporting performance improvement.

Here are 5 of my 14-point checklist. Most people report systems that support less than half of these kinds of features:

1.  Information on performance is based on actual measured accomplishment and not on estimates or opinions about how results were accomplished.

2.  Information highlights areas of performance that have quantifiable value to the organization rather than more general areas of preference

3.  Performance information routinely goes to the people who do the work, rather than mostly to management.

4. People see summarized results

Yes, there are basic needs and all those requirements. But so many people think that motivation is driven extrinsically.

Yeah, maybe, but we sure better be careful. Extrinsic rewards are what Managers like to say motivates people. The irony is that these people ARE motivated by extrinsic rewards in many cases — they LIKE those incentives and thus respond well to them, for the most part. SO, that should mean that everyone wants rewards, right?

Well, maybe. Tell you what. I like dogs, so I might promise to give a St. Bernard / Labrador mixed breed puppy to everyone and their two neighbors who respond to this post.

Ya think?

And how, precisely, is that going to support teamwork and improvement or improve my leadership?

Have fun out there, but please consider looking at your performance feedback systems and processes. Or write to me and I can share more about my Feedback Analysis checklist.
Page one of a Feedback Analysis Worksheet for Performance Improvement

You can download a 3-page pdf file of the Feedback Analysis checklist
and notes by clicking on this sentence.

Hope you find this useful and comments and suggestions are most appreciated.


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.

You can see his new training materials at
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at


Beware Best Practices, They Can Kill Productivity, Innovation and Growth – Adopt Facebook, Linked-in, Twitter

REALLY?? Best Practices can KILL productivity, innovation and growth?

Someone wrote that as an article in Forbes (online) — it tries to make the point that access at work to Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn will be the kinds of things that will allow organizations to excel. He says, in part, on “The Best Practice myth” that “… companies continue using “best practices” as a tool to stop technology, and productivity improvement, adoption.”

Not using “best practices” is what will save us from poor long–term organizational performance, apparently. It attempts to make the link to the issues of using PCs in the 1980s and that companies that used best practices stayed behind the curve on improvement… The use of “Best Practices” in this article is just so limited and constrained, not at all what most of my peers in our old “behavioral performance management and productivity improvement” groups would even remotely label as such.

When there was that Big Push for ISO 9000 and the like, the drive to document everything was a real impediment to any kind of workplace innovation, since the requirement was viewed as keeping all processes uniform — the irony was that quality was NOT a requirement, just consistency. It was a real dead duck in regards to improvement and innovation and large forces of internal accountants were driven to keep control.

It is like that old ISO 9000 joke about the guy and the dog and the automated factory… The guy’s job was to feed the dog and the dog’s role was to keep the guy from touching anything…

I think that a workforce focused on using real behavioral Best Practices would be continuously and intrinsically motivated to keep looking for new alternatives for improvement. Innovation will come from understanding what the exemplary performers are doing differently than all others and rolling out those behaviors to the rest of the workforce. THAT is a Best Practice, I think. Not resisting innovation. People have always been looking for innovations where they work:

People have always been looking for better ways to do things

People have always been looking for better ways to do things

The old Quality Guys used to talk about having done Continuous Process Improvement.

The irony of that was that they focused on COMPLETING that job. I would rattle their brains by always reminding them to do Continuous Continuous Improvement, that advice from The Department of Redundancy Department.

Continuous improvement of any kind should be a continuous improvement. Using behavioral Best Practices should mean that there are always new Best Practices around for people to integrate into their performance repertoires to improve results.

In my cartoon vernacular, we talk about the reality that the Round Wheels of Today become the Square Wheels of Tomorrow. Ya gotta just keep on putting round wheels on the wagon to keep making progress forward…

See some cartoon stuff and some articles and my Godzilla Meets Bambi animated cartoon on innovation at


For the FUN of It!

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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.

You can reach Scott

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest:

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