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

Category: motivation in the workplace Page 2 of 5

Training and Development spins downhill, it seems. Confidence Drops.

eLearning News had a short article on the dropping level of confidence among those people responsible for training and development in their organizations, reporting on a new study by  the American Society for Training & Development. I will reframe the information as,

It is not all bad, but not much is expected to change for the better.

Since learning and development are key motivators for most people in most workplaces, the feelings of those in charge of training does not portend well for much improvement in engagement and motivation. A motivated workforce absolutely contributes to long term organizational success — so much data shows that clearly. The data say that maybe things will continue, as if that means that things will be okay; it does not seem okay in so many ways…

After all, these guys probably have opinions and reflections on how things are working out for the average people in most workplaces…

Demotivated and dis-engaged people wishing things were different

The optimism and confidence about the long-term business outlook and performance impact expectations for training fell significantly in the second quarter of 2013, according to American Society for Training & Development (ASTD).

ASTD’s Learning Executive Confidence Index (LXCI) surveyed 350+ learning executives about their expectations:

  • ability to meet learning needs;
  • perception of the value of learning; and
  • availability of resources.

The 2013 Index for the second quarter was 65.3, down from 68.1 on a 100-point scale, in the first quarter. The second quarter drop is a trend. First quarter index measures in 2011 and 2012 also were high (67.3 for both) with dropping numbers in later quarters.

The report notes that by the second quarter of the year, organizations and learning leaders see a clearer picture of the year’s opportunities and budget. The outlook for people and performance just gets bleaker as the year goes on. And, as I have written elsewhere, there are all sorts of issues on people and performance that are driven by motivational factors like training and personal development. Many simply hold low expectations…

Good Old Days in the South

Key findings from the index for the second quarter of 2013 include

  • Expectations from Q1 to Q2 2013 declined, but optimism remains okay. The Q2 2013 LXC Index score of 65 is the same as the score the industry reported a year ago. One wonders what might drive it higher, like C-Suite commitment to people and performance, maybe?
  • The impact of corporate performance and the perception of the value of learning continue to be positive indicators, with 69.8% and 68.8% (respectively) believing that it will be moderately or substantially better in the next 6 months, a result that seems unlikely given many other economic factors.
  • Availability of resources needed to meet learning needs is the lowest index, with 57.0% of learning execs believing it would be the same or worse in the next six months.
  • More leaders believe that the perceived value and impact of learning in the organization will stay the same, and fewer believe that it will be moderately or substantially better. (Remember the excitement around Senge’s Learning Organization works? What the heck happened?)
  • Nearly one-third (30.5%) of learning executives predict that the impact of learning on corporate performance over the next 6 months will stay the same. Note that “the same” is different than, “better.”
  • Slightly more than half of learning executives believe that there will be an increase in workplace learning and development funding levels in the next 18 months and later (a 16% increase from Q1 2013). Time will tell on that, but it is good that they are at least optimistic for that.

Personally, I think that all of the data simply means that things will have to get done by the management without the help of any of the training and development organizations in their companies. The funding and access to training seems undependable. Mentoring and coaching must be LINE functions and not dependent on HR. And there are some simple tools available (click on the image below to see our $20 toolkit)

square wheels image of improvement

We know that many managers are actually quite good at developing their people. We need to have more of the managers doing those best practices and pushing their people toward higher achievement levels. We need more personal growth and development all around.

I THINK that managers can make better decisions to do things more effectively and really take hold of their people development, rather than depending on HR or some other department to get things done. There are too many examples of supervisors with involved and engaged people to think this is not possible.

If you are looking for a most excellent tool to re-energize and re-focus people on the issues of organizational alignment and collaboration, take a look at our flagship team building product,

Lost Dutchman Gold Mine Logo with three icons

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

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

Visit to read the full report.

Dis-Un-Engagement – Improving Motivation and Facilitating Workplace Improvement

Solutions to performance improvement are not always obvious and apparent and selecting an optimal approach often requires careful analysis and planning. Sometimes, the solution requires training of a skill while other times, it is simply about choosing an implementation strategy that is more effective in supporting behavior change.

In the case of workplace engagement, we are spending billions of dollars annually in surveys and training that is supposed to improve the feelings of involvement on the part of employees. Yet nearly every research study shows that many organizations and many people in most every organization, are dis-engaged and uninvolved.

In a 2012 Gallup research paper, involving 1.4 million people and almost 50,000 organizations, it clearly demonstrated the impacts of an involved workplace, studying 9 different performance outcomes. Here are the results when one compares the top 25% of organizations with the bottom 25%:

  • 37% lower absenteeism
  • 25% lower turnover (in high-turnover organizations)
  • 65% lower turnover (in low-turnover organizations)
  • 28% less shrinkage
  • 48% fewer safety incidents
  • 41% fewer patient safety incidents
  • 41% fewer quality incidents (defects)
  • 10% higher customer metrics
  • 21% higher productivity
  • 22% higher profitability

Many suggest that firing and hiring is the best solution to the issue of un-engaged workers. Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup, suggests firing the 7,000,000 managers who are toxic and are poisoning 70,000,000 workers. Others blame the workers for the problem and suggest that hiring new people is the solution. (Ironically, Sirota Research found that it takes about 8 months for new hires to regress to the average performance levels of the rest of the workers. So, it seems you have to accomplish a lot of things in a narrow window of time.)

Let me propose a somewhat different framework:

If you put a gun to their head, could people do things differently?

This is an old thinking test that is attributed to Bob Mager that I first heard of back in the late 1970s. It is at the core of the issue of whether training is required for some behavior to occur. Could managers do a better job of engaging if their life depended upon it? My thinking is clearly YES and OF COURSE. But it seems very evident, looking at statistics, that they are choosing not to do so.

So, my reframing question is a simple one:

Can Each One Reach One?

Can each supervisor reach one non-engaged person in their workforce and take some action to involve and engage them? Without waiting for extensive training done by some outside organization or Human Resources? Can every single individual supervisor simply choose to do something differently?

Won’t people in the workplace naturally coalesce around the simple theme of making things better? Don’t most people have issues they would like to correct and ideas for improvement? Don’t most people like to solve puzzles and problems?

My approach is anchored with an illustration and a process of involving and engaging people to share their thoughts and ideas.

Our first illustration (1993) looks like this:

SWs One green watermark

while our new approach uses this image:

Square Wheels One is a metaphor for performance improvement by Scott Simmerman

And the lead-in question is a really simple one:
How might this represent how most organizations really work?

Without detailing the very simple training around how to facilitate the discussion and process the ideas for identifying and prioritizing the Square Wheels or designing approaches to successfully implement the Round Wheels and celebrate the successes and impacts, the basic concept is that any supervisor can be taught the facilitation skills and frameworks to make such a discussion process easy and straightforward.

With a little bit of customization, one can easily align the most successful implementation strategies to the organization’s culture of best practices and optimal ways to introduce new ideas in the workplace.

With a little imagination, the approach can be linked to the existing feedback and measurement systems to generate sustained improvement and congruence with existing expectations and desired results.

The approach that I envision is to initially get the buy-in from senior management to use this illustration and the concept that the Round Wheels are already in the wagon to develop an online training course on facilitation skills using these illustrations.

The program can be targeted to specific desired organizational outcomes around process improvement, service quality improvement, team building, innovation, process improvement or it can simply be used to generate some clear understanding of the issues that are perceived to be un-engaging and frustrating in the workplace and to allow team-based organizational improvement.

We would customize worksheets for collection of the general ideas as well as specific ones that people would like to work to improve. Issues not solvable at the supervisor level can be collected for manager resolution or escalated to higher levels of the organization as well as across organizational boundaries.

From these discussions, it is easy and straightforward to collect Best Practices that can be shared across teams of people doing similar jobs. It works well for addressing inter-departmental issues, since the language of Square Wheels is easily understood as something that works, but that does not work smoothly and efficiently.

The conversations also set up the reality of continuous continuous improvement, since the Round Wheels of Today will inevitably and invariably become the Square Wheels of Tomorrow.

Solution: I envision that we co-develop a simple online training program that would take a supervisor about an hour to complete and one that would offer them some options for how they might use the illustration in their workplaces, with individuals for coaching or for team building problem solving and roadblock management.

Square Wheels are the protected intellectual property of Performance Management Company and we have two decades of experience in using them for a wide variety of organizational development purposes.

I do see this issue of Dis-Un-Engagement as a specific approach to dealing with the less than involved and engaged employees, a group thought to represent roughly 70% of all workers across organizations. Your best managers may have higher levels of engaged people; your worse ones have more opportunities for improvement.

We can improve workplace facilitation of ideas, generate higher levels of intrinsic motivation, and do a better job of innovating.

For the FUN of It!

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 at

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest:

Square Wheels® are the protected intellectual property of Performance Management Company and we have two decades of experience in using them for a wide variety of organizational development purposes. Please respect our copyrights and trademark.

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


Teamwork, Communications and Optimization of Performance

My friend Lou Carloni has been sharing ideas about people and performance for many years and a post I received from him this morning was one that got my full attention. The focus of it was on the issues of team communications, and, of course, I will add my normal spin around experiential learning and organizational performance.

Lou’s firm was hired to study communication needs in the Baltimore-Washington Region and they interviewed, surveyed, and held focus groups with over 1000 business professionals. The question asked was,  “If your organization had only enough money, resources, and time to perform training in one area of communications which area would it be:  Reading, Writing, Speaking, or Listening?”

  • Reading and Writing combined received 5% of the vote;  
  • Speaking received 40%;  
  • Listening received 55%.  

I agree with Lou on suggested solutions. One of them was to Get There In Person.

It is not just words, it is how those all come together to drive involvement and engagement, how the issues are framed and how possible solutions are discussed. It is really hard for most leaders to truly understand all the current issues faced by performers working to meet and exceed expectations of management and customers. It is just too easy to keep doing things the same way they were done before, what I always refer to with this illustration:

SWs One green color thin

The real impacts come from managers who get in front of people, asking about issues and opportunities. Lou suggests that words alone account for only 8-10% of the message in interpersonal communication; the spoken sounds account for 30-40% of the message; and the non-verbal elements account for 50-60% of the real message you are trying to send. While you might agree or disagree with the numbers, the presence of the manager up front, listening and supporting is the key.

We accomplish this with our Square Wheels approach and offer a variety of tools and toolkits to assist in the process of facilitation. I have blogged often about this in here and you can find inexpensive Square Wheels Tools on our website. We also support a variety of different team building exercises like Collaboration Journey and Innovate & Implement that are designed to involve and engage people in problem solving. All these products can be delivered by managers with their work teams.

Lou also talked about Gaining Power With The Person. To this I would also add, The Team, since people do work collaboratively in most workplaces. This connects to developing rapport and trust. One way to accomplish this with individuals, teams and groups is through our team building simulation, The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine. In this design, the Expedition Leader exists as a person interested in optimizing ROI and results.  The expressed goal of the game is to Mine as Much Gold as WE Can!

The reality is that the tabletops do not plan well, do not collaborate and communicate with other teams, nor do they bother to ask the Expedition Leader for advice or assistance. The game leader, just like the workplace leader, exists to support individuals and teams, but the choices people make are more often to go it alone and not ask for help. In the game, and in the workplace, this measurably sub-optimizes results.

We sell a variety of different Dutchman games, at different price points, for repeated organizational use. You can find out more information about the Lost Dutchman game by going to our website.

Performance feedback is a critical component of good performers and good results, but my work with organizations has continually shown that a wide variety of improvements can be made to impact performance results. You can find a free Feedback Analysis Tool through this blog post.

Lou also talked about Skills versus Attitudes, and I am not sure that these two things are operating against each other or part of a series of competencies that are all important. I am working up an article on Flow for the blog and for the articles section of my home page. Skill is important and there is a continuum of them and skills interact with the perceived challenges people face. Flow is when these mesh together…

I will not reflect herein as to how I see differences between Lou’s thinking and mine on this other than to say that I prefer the way Bob Mager deals with the question. Lou’s website is:

Hope you found this of interest and use,

For the FUN of It!

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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Square Wheels – Going Viral on People and Performance

Jonah Berger’s recent book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On, is about why things go viral in today’s social media world. He is a professor of marketing at the Wharton School of Business and in 2009, his team conducted a study of the most-emailed articles in the New York Times over a 6-month period. Berger compiled those findings, along with other information research on building brand popularity, to generate 6 key principles for going viral.

So, the challenge is to figure how to roll out the Square Wheels. (Do I need to put Obama pulling with The Clintons pushing or what? Do I need to do some little graphic images that everyone can share around? Do we do a Square Wheels video game like Angry Birds, where workers can shoot down Square Wheels and bad bosses? Do I need a One-Minute-Manager book on motivation? How can we move this forward?)

Berger’s 6 principles are:

  • social currency (peer popularity of the idea);
  • triggers (daily reminders of the idea or product);
  • emotional resonance (how much the idea or product inspires a deep emotional reaction);
  • observability (high visibility of a product essentially sells itself);
  • usefulness (we want to share useful information); and
  • storytelling (a narrative surrounding the idea or product provides stickiness.) 

Sounds like we have a pretty solid anchor point with something like this:

Perception of how things work SWs One

And the theme certainly sets the stage for usefulness and observability. After all,

  • The Square Wheels really ARE Everywhere! and 
  • The Round Wheels are already IN the wagon!

We also have a good storyline around the perception that the above is like most workplaces, as shown by the lack of engagement by a majority of workers, along with their feelings that no one is listening to their ideas. Involvement is a key motivator, for sure!

RWs Sig File icon

or maybe a Haiku of some kind:

Discover the Road haiku

This IS a storyline around people and motivation, around involvement and engagement, and around continuous improvement of the workplace. It is about involvement and engagement and about intrinsic motivation and performance feedback. But it raises a question of reality:

Intrinsic Improvement Haiku

The cartoons are sold in simple-to-use toolkits at our website, complete with ideas for facilitation, handouts, powerpoints and all that stuff. You can also buy coffee cups and refrigerator magnets with the the message about possibilities for improvement.

After all, managers should see lots of performance coaching opportunities as they work to develop their people. They should be looking at potential as well as dealing with issues and opportunities for improvement, something that looks like this:

Mentoring Color Icon

We all can support, coach, mentor and try to support the caterpillars as they struggle to become the butterflies of the future.

Like this. Share this. Help me make these Square Wheels more visible so that we can try to put more Round Wheels into play around 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

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Simplicity – Thoughts of Da Vinci, Einstein, Rockwell and Simmerman

In a blog post “Simple Isn’t Simple” by Dan Rockwell, he said:

Any fool can create complex. Complexity leads to confusion. Confusion leads to uncertainty. Uncertainty produces cowardice. Cowards never take meaningful action. Simplicity: Longfellow said, “… in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity.” John Maxwell said, “The leaders job is reducing rather than adding to complexity.” (Chick-fil-A Leadercast 2013) Lousy leaders confuse – exceptional leaders clarify.

Dan’s posts often inspire lots of reader comments, mine included. So, it all got me thinking about organizational behavior, teamwork and intrinsic motivation. (Most things get me thinking of those things, actually!)

So, my posted response aligned pretty well:

My approach is to view pretty much everything through a simple lens: my Square Wheels One wagon.

Guy pulls with rope.
People push from back.
Wagon “rolls” on wooden Square Wheels.
Cargo of wagon: round rubber tires.

Most everywhere one looks, things thump and bump along. Most customer service transactions. Most company call directories. Most systems and processes.

Perception of how things work SWs One

Pretty much everywhere, there exists an Exceptional Performer, someone who simply does things better. They use Round Wheels in this Square Wheel World.

So, identify and clarify. Discuss. Share. Support. Implement more broadly if that make sense.

CONTINUOUS continuous improvement of best practices that already exist, which applies to personal leadership practices (modeling) and organizational performance improvement (team building, engagement, intrinsic motivation, etc.).

Issue: You will / should never be truly satisfied with anything. Get over it.

Have FUN out there!


The research I started on quotes led me to Leonardo da Vinci, who had a couple of good ones about people and performance:

The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.

It vexes me greatly that having to earn my living has forced me to interrupt the work and to attend to small matters.

Iron rusts from disuse; stagnant water loses its purity and in cold weather becomes frozen; even so does inaction sap the vigor of the mind.

But the one that was attributed to da Vinci in Dan’s blog is one that is disputed: Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. (There is apparently no source for that…)

And all that got me looking for one Albert Einstein quote I remembered and turned up a whole lot of different ideas that he had on the organization of all things. So, I thought to repeat some of them herein.

It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience. (from “On the Method of Theoretical Physics” The Herbert Spencer Lecture, delivered at Oxford (10 June 1933).

This is the quote attributed to Einstein that may have arisen as a paraphrase of the above, commonly given as Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler. or “Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler.”  The latter one is apparently not Albert’s; it is normally taken to be a warning against too much simplicity which is useful. DubbedEinstein’s razor, it is used when an appeal to Occam’s razor results in an over-simplified explanation that leads to a false conclusion.

I believe in intuition and inspiration. … At times I feel certain I am right while not knowing the reason. When the eclipse of 1919 confirmed my intuition, I was not in the least surprised. In fact I would have been astonished had it turned out otherwise. 

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution. It is, strictly speaking, a real factor in scientific research. (from Cosmic Religion: With Other Opinions and Aphorisms (1931))

Everyone sits in the prison of his own ideas; he must burst it open, and that in his youth, and so try to test his ideas on reality.
(ibid Cosmic Religion)

If A is success in life, then A = x + y + z. Work is x, play is y and z is keeping your mouth shut. (Said to Samuel J Woolf, Berlin, Summer 1929.)

Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving. (Said in a letter to his son Eduard , 5 February 1930.)

Yep. Have FUN out there and certainly keep things rolling!

SWs bicycle

Better yet, involve and engage a whole group to get rolling along in some other direction,

Bicycle Racers

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

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Managing The Mavericks – Caring for the High Maintenance Employee

Lisa Woods penned a really great article on managing the people who are the atypical and hard to manage high-performing and uncommon individuals.

Elegant Solutions

She starts her article with:

“The High Maintenance/High Value Employee.  They earn that name because they require a full fledged management program to reach their peak performance, coupled with an extensive maintenance program to keep them functioning there.  It sounds like a lot of work and it is, but when it comes down to results, if you want your business to stand out above the rest, these are the people that will help get you there, make your business more competitive and create a notable reputation in your industry.”

For me, this gets at a lot of issues and opportunities and, as someone who has found it hard to work in most workplaces, I resonated with a lot of what she has to say. I’ve now been running my business since 1984 and I am glad that I am not working at the Post Office or in some bureaucratic / administrative job somewhere…

Here are the 8 traits that identify these High Maintenance / High Value people:

  1. They are NOT great team players. They would prefer to do their own thing and make their own rules.
  2. They don’t care much for company policy. They know their own value and can’t be bothered by structure.
  3. They don’t like a lot of attention and public praise, for others or themselves.
  4. They are there to work, bring value and move on.  Office cheers and high fives appear very superficial to them.
  5. They are very willing to help others if asked, but do not follow up and maintain a working dialog with the individuals they’ve helped.  It is more of a on-off relationship.
  6. They typically create outstanding relationships with their customers, clients, suppliers etc.
  7. They have a reputation for getting away with things, going rogue, without recourse, because people are afraid of their emotional, sometimes angry, reaction.
  8. They show signs of greatness & creativity, but it is inconsistent, mostly occurring when a problem is brought to them, or when they went on one of their rogue adventures.
  9. They probably have notations in their performance reviews that indicate large swings of ‘outstanding’ to ‘needs improvement’.  At some point they may have been considered for termination because of it.

Yep. I can sure identify with that list. And I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working with some of those people over the years. You can probably guess, after reading Lisa’s article that she can also identify with that framework in some way.

Lisa also shares ideas as to how to support these people to optimize their continued engagement and high performance. Innovation and improvement will come from the edges of organizations and these people are often on the edge.

You can read her whole blog here – Caring For The High Maintenance/High Value Employee

Written by Lisa WoodsPresident

lisa5Lisa is a successful entrepreneur, world-class marketing strategist, and dynamic business leader with more than 20 years experience leading, managing and driving growth. Throughout her career, Lisa has been influential in integration techniques, organizational and cultural overhauls, financial turnarounds and developing employees into exceptional leaders, results driven managers and passionate team contributors.


Hope that you found the article of interest,

For the FUN (and benefit) of It!

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 at

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Innovate & Implement – an exercise linked to getting things done

We’ve been playing with the design of a package focused on innovation for a couple of years. Since creativity and innovation are not primary focuses of mine, this game languishes a bit in my development of it, even though it works really great. It is a full, developed, and effective program that I simply need to play more often with my workshop groups.

It is a board game playable by 3 or better 4 people. Each table is separate from the others in that there is no collaboration or that kind of framework, other than what the players at the table do. I tried to model the issues around common problems that teams face when they try to solve problems and implement ideas and, like most of my other games, it is loaded up with metaphors.

I&I Check it out words

We give each team the instructions and they have to pull together to develop a plan of action and coordinate efforts. As the game progresses, they get more and more efficient with their actions, and make more and more progress.

The goal is to move about the board and enter rooms and solve problems. Once they find the Round Wheels, they can then return home and end the game. Some measure of luck is involved, but it is more about efficiency and effectiveness. And while they can ask for help and find additional information “from a Training Class,” the work harder to avoid that than they do on learning anything!

You, as facilitator, can keep the players “tight to the rules and policies” or allow them to bend them a little to play better and faster. You, in a real sense, influence the Innovate & Implement game culture.

The debriefing of the game is excellent, and we package the exercise complete with our other Square Wheels tools to allow you to either integrate the game with your existing innovation or implementation processes or to build a complete program around the exercise with our other outstanding tools.

I&I Bundle Contents

And you always have Scott to assist. He freely offers his consulting and coaching time to insure that you have the product you need integrated with the learning that you want.

Scott and I&I w title

The simplicity of this exercise would allow your supervisors to play it with their people to involve and engage them and generate the intrinsic motivation and teamwork to go forward and identify and solve their workplace issues and then develop an effective plan of action for implementation.

This package is a great value at $495 and you can see more information about the exercise at our website. Click here or on the game board icon below:

I&I gameboard 20

This is a fully developed, completely supported package of excellent tools!

I&I Game Folder image

For the FUN of It!

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 at

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My short rant on HR and relevancy…

On one of my LinkedIn group discussions, I contributed a post a week or so ago and then just completed what even I would refer to as a rant. I did it with good intentions, but I am just so tired of seeing all these REAL problems with people and engagement and motivation and then seeing these issues addressed with seemingly little or no importance by the people who should be actively working for the people to support performance. Arghhhhhhhhh…

The discussion question was:

Hi, We are planning to start a initiative where one full day is dedicated to listening to employee problems. As this is a HR initiative I am looking for some catchy names. Any suggestions?

I think this was asked with some serious intention, but many of the responses felt a bit goofy and lightweight so I posted up this on Friday:

Scott Simmerman, Ph.D. • Catchy Names? How about “Ideas about Improving our Organizational Reality” or “A Desk is a Dangerous Place from which to View the World — We NEED your feedback and thoughts.” 

The issue is that people talk but no one listens. Since Trust is the Residue of Promises Fulfilled (Frank Navran), the reality is that all that talk generating no ACTION is a deadly thing. Engagement has been reported to have dropped from 23% to 14% in one year because people are only talking about it. 

HR cannot do this. HR cannot IMPLEMENT squat. People are tired of talking about problems and seeing nothing change. 

VERY tired.

Since no one actually seems to look at the posts in any detail to get the good ideas — and there were some good ideas — the lightweight stuff continued. So, with the Pin hitting the Balloon,

Motivation and Employee Dissatisfaction

I just now posted up this:

Scott Simmerman, Ph.D. • Most of these are very softball names for what is a hard-core problem. They SOUND like they are coming from HR and that is great if that is how you want to position it.

But if YOU are an employee who feels that you have been treated badly and your ideas for workplace improvement are not listened to and you are under-trained and under-paid and that your Boss is an idiot who should be fired and you have no clue as to what you do helps the company accomplish anything and you think that you sell a bad product to stupid customers, do you REALLY think that these are good names for this initiative?

  • Hear we are! 
  • HR Hears!! 
  • E-day 
  • You speak, We respond 
  • Ear 2 Hear 
  • Do U Want to Say Something

(I do NOT mean to pick out anyone or any particular examples, only to make the point of the SERIOUSNESS of this issue / opportunity to the people working and the Most Senior Managers (who generally do not have a clue as to what people really think).

We have people who feel that they are working in awful situations and personally frustrated. Use the Chinese manufacturing examples where the workers are jumping off roofs because of how they feel and you are going to use “Ear 2 Hear” as the name of the program designed to SOLVE THEIR PROBLEMS?


“A Desk is a Dangerous Place from Which to View The World.”
   (John LeCarre) 
and there are Most Serious Issues and Problems out there.

I posted up some thoughts around this a year ago: 

and I have some other thoughts on engaging and motivating the middle 50% here:

This is a Most Serious Situation for millions of workers, so do not treat this as some sort of “HR issue” and come in thinking that nothing is wrong with how most organizations really work. That is clearly NOT the case.

(Sorry for my rant, but I am tired of HR being continually seen as irrelevant, bureaucratic paper pushers for most organizations.)

I will simply let that stand on its own, with no additional comments. But I am seriously concerned about how organizations motivate their people and listen to their ideas and HR could do so much more in so many organizations. Wish that would change…

Scott Simmerman, team building facilitator

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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Collaboration and Teamwork and dealing with Mud

People and Performance — Here are some simple poems and frameworks to get people thinking about issues and opportunities. The goal is to generate one good thought or insight into doing things differently.

Let’s start this with a simple poem to embellish the theme with a bit of my thinking about how things often work. So, here is an image / poem which stimulated the overall design of an illustrated article. Isn’t that how innovation really works for all of us? Anyway, here we go:

Mud Jeep yellow poemThis cartoon image comes from our team building exercise, The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine and is an integral part of our debriefing package. Players must deal with all sorts of mud to generate their successes.

In the game, mud on one of the selected routes to the mine causes teams to use extra resources and energy, just as it does in the real world. They know that it will cost that extra Fuel, but they are surprised by that nevertheless. Mud is the glop that people have to deal with so often in the workplace, taking the form of bureaucracy, politics, culture and the other things that do not support innovation and improvement. Mud simply bogs one down and costs extra energy to deal with it.

Mud also occurs when people choose to compete rather than collaborate, since one group will often create problems for another group that shares the same overall goal. This happens clearly in the Dutchman game. It also happens all the time in organizations — we call it Interdepartmental Collaboration! Mud is a pain to deal with — some might find it to be cement while others find it to work more like grinding paste, that grit that wears things out.

So, that first poem then got me working on the next few little ditties:

Alligators and sharks totally wired poem

They are out there too, like Spectator Sheep:

Spectator Sheep poem

So, things can then look something like this when it all comes together:

Mud Jeep RWs Alligator Sheep poemWe can make improvements. We must make improvements. Solutions abound. Ideas are everywhere. We just need people to consider other alternatives and choose to collaborate and cooperate and look to do things differently.

But progress forward requires employee engagement and involvement, leadership perspective and a team effort. We simply have to get the conversation rolling forward smoothly, along with shared goals and teamwork:

Spring of improvement and change poem

(Yeah, I do have fun with this stuff!)

For the FUN of It!

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

You can reach Scott easily at

Training and Development cannot fix performance problems – Some Square Wheels

Companies spend money to improve results. They spend BILLIONS on doing surveys on organizational engagement and they spend BILLIONS on training and development classes. Often, they call these kinds of training “hard skills training” because they are focused on job-related skills and show immediate impacts.

Hard skills are often defined as those that produce immediate and tangible results – measurable stuff. The desired results are well-defined, visible, and instantly obvious and usually involve a human being gaining mastery over an inanimate object such as a machine or a computer system.

This as opposed to “soft skills” like leadership development or facilitation / engagement skills. You know, those “easy” things that may not have any impact. Team building or creativity / innovation might not be measurable, so it might have less value to an organization, seems to be the rationale…

The reality of most kinds of training, though, is that they focus on skills and not so much on how things really work. I can teach you some skill and improve your use of it. The idea is that you will immediately perform better or with more power. Let’s say, for example, that I do some weight training to improve one’s capacity to move our wagon forward. I will expect some measurable gains from that training and development and I can measure things like body mass or number of bench presses made possible.

Training builds personal strengths and capabilities

Training builds personal strengths and capabilities

The reality of that training, then, should be expected to look something like this:

T&D Before After square ©

(I think you can see where my thinking is headed.)

I believe we need to involve and engage the whole performance team in some discussions about issues and opportunities. The issue is one of Engagimentation, using soft skills focused on employee engagement and then focusing on removing roadblocks and aligning the organization to actually implement changes and improvements. It is this collective effort that will better impact results.

Training (and by definition, Human Resources) cannot really impact a lot of the realities of how organizations really work. All they can do is set the stage for improvement. It is the direct action of the management team to generate change and install those good ideas. You can read a bit more about this in another blog post you can find here.


For the FUN of It!

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

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Simple thoughts on Extrinsic Motivation

Sometimes, I am not sure what triggers the motivation for me to pop into here and write up a blog. This one was triggered from “the holiday spirit” + some advertising on TV + a new LinkedIn discussion post on a similar topic + some of my own diabolical thinking and critical reflection.

This one is about motivating people through extrinsic rewards. Or, more about how that stuff actually demotivates people.

Extrinsic Motivation. What might make it effective? When might it not be effective and why? We really do know a lot about rewards, reinforcement and behavior and extrinsic rewards can control behavior in many ways — but some of them are somewhat surprising.

One is struck by all the ads on TV that suggest that viewers of football games and other TV shows will simply go out and buy someone a Lexus as a surprise gift for Christmas. I mean, really? Just hit the auto store and get that new car for a person who might be your wife or girlfriend simply because it IS Christmas (add theme of Jingle Bells here). (And you see the same kinds of ads for diamonds and other expensive jewelry — you are not a worthy person unless you spend lots of money on that other person on an extravagant or useless gift.)

Small Rant – Diamonds are always presented as a “very worthwhile investment.” one that holds its value. The gift that keeps on giving and that kind of thing. It is CARBON, people, and labs now can churn out truly flawless chunks of clear carbon (or colored clear carbon effortlessly)! The industry even suggests you give up 3 months of salary to get a “representative stone” for your marriage. Three months for a rock of carbon? Four years of car payments to demonstrate you are worthy? (Yeah, I rant…But how many people make money when they resell those things?)

Behind those ads, there must be some kind of hidden behavioral motivator that would cause one to want to buy a new expensive luxury car — I mean, most of us are not at all that altruistic, are we? So, what behaviors of that other person are you trying to motivate by getting that expensive gift?

There exists an extensive literature on BF Skinner’s concepts around the development of Superstitious Behavior, finding that a reinforcer following some random behavior will tend to make that random behavior get repeated. So, if the wife is washing dishes on Christmas morning when you say, “Honey, look out front!”, getting her a new car will reinforce her washing dishes… (More likely, she is sitting on the couch — remember, you made this choice of timing!)

A reality is that not all extrinsic rewards are rewarding to all people. That is one of the problems with using the to improve organizational performance. Generally, only the top performers actually get the rewards. And it is even worse than that. Bersin, in its “State of Employee Recognition in 2012” survey, reports that nearly 75% of organizations have a recognition program  — despite the fact that only 58% of employees think that their organizations have one.

Obviously, corporate programs, which represent 1% of total payroll on such extrinsic programs, are not getting much bang for the buck. But remember that it is the “winners” of these programs who get selected to be supervisors and the winners of those jobs get to be managers and the winners among them become their bosses. Gee, winners are the managers and who makes the decisions to keep these programs to reward the winners in place?

Why not simply focus on the bottom 80% of all the people, many of whom are disengaged and un-involved.

I share some statistics and thoughts on involving and engaging the mass of workers through something I am calling “engagimentation.” It is a program on Dis-Un-Engagement. It builds on teamwork and on involvement and can help to generate intrinsic motivation, which is much more effective.

You can download a pretty detailed article on engagimentation and motivation by clicking here: I Quit! Nevermind. Whatever…

You can read a bit more on the situation there. Personally, I think that the best motivators are not extrinsic and are not given to employees with a goal of improving results of some kind. Why? Because they don’t always work. For an example, let me illustrate with a puppy. I mean, is this a cutie or what?


So, here is the deal: Make a comment on this article and I will find one of these little puppy guys at a nearby animal shelter and give it to you, free. I will reward your comment with a dog that you can take care of for the next 10 to 15 years! What could be better than that? And this particular one is a Saint Bernard, a lovely little guy who will get bigger and bigger (and bigger). If I cannot find you one of those, I am sure that there are some Great Danes and other ones that you would surely enjoy in your place of abode.

I mean, would this not be a great motivator one could give to everyone who had good performance?

(Me, I do not want a puppy at the moment! One cat is more than enough!)

Get a reasonable gift for those you love during this holiday season. And remember that you wife probably does NOT want a new electric drill or leaf blower.

And when you think about rewarding workplace behavior with extrinsic rewards, recognize that “not everyone wants a puppy” and that you just may be rewarding behavior that you do not really want to re-occur. You give someone a cash award after they return from a sick day and you may be rewarding them not to come in to work!  Or, your timing is such that they just told a customer to go away, so you might be rewarding that…

Better to look for intrinsic ways to reward performance. Look to improve feedback systems and improve peer support of change and improved results.

Oh, if you like this post, you could buy me a new Tesla Model D. Ya think?

For the FUN of It!


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


It’s Not My Fault – Why Engagement is Not Working

Some really scary stuff is how much money companies are spending on Engagement Surveys and how little is happening as a result. Bersin & Associates came out with a  report this year entitled, “Employee Engagement: Market Review, Buyer’s Guide and Provider Profiles,” (yes, it can be yours for $995) and here is what jumped off the page for reporter John Holton:

The research shows that organizations currently invest approximately $720 million annually in engagement improvement, including both outsourced and internally developed programs. Only 50 percent of the potential market has been tapped, with half the organizations stating an interest in engagement programs actually investing.”

Frankly, if one adds in all the time spent by people reviewing the numbers and the reports and generating ideas and “action plans,” the number would be a LOT higher than a billion dollars.  Organizations are trying to improve employee engagement and getting data about how they are doing — Bersin projects that the costs will eventually be a LOT higher — $1.53 billion. And if things simply continue, companies will have little to show for the spending other than a check-box on some Human Resources Management Competencies List that they have asked for ideas or some such thing.

Employee engagement has actually significantly DECLINED
from 24% down to 13% in the past two years
(Mercer, 2012).

Obviously, there is little visible impact from all this spending so this “engagement fad” should be doomed to go away. What is worse than that:  What truly lousy messages does all surveying and meetings send to the base of employees who feel they are underpaid and ignored? Employees KNOW that these surveys cost a big bunch of money and they SEE that year after year, their input gets ignored while the company does not have the money for any pay increases…

So, what do we actually do? Well, I am sure that precise solutions will vary. But you can pretty much rest assured that doing nothing differently will guarantee you the same results.

You may remember The Six Phases of Implementation:

1 – Enthusiasm for the initiative
2 – Disillusionment with initial results
3 – Panic as things fall apart
4 – Search for the Guilty
5 – Punishment of the Innocent
6 – Praise and Honor for the Non-Participants

This is how many people view how organizations respond to teamwork and the implementation of improvements. Obviously, that changes when people are asked to go through such a process the second time!

But let me suggest a pretty simple and straightforward concept:

  • Ask people what is un-engaging or needs to be done differently
  • Give them a model to deal with the different kinds of issues, because there is not one solution for all kinds of problems
  • Allow them to prioritize what needs to be improved in terms of themes like impact, timeliness, cost, difficult to accomplish, etc.
  • Allow them to individually solve problems that they can solve individually
  • Allow them to form teams where group thinking and peer support would help them move forward on particular issues and opportunities
  • Recognize efforts, successes and accomplishments
  • Look to alternative approaches toward redoing things that are perceived as unsuccessful
  • Focus on continuous continuous improvement

I call this Dis-Un-Empowerment and I look at the overall situation as one of Engagimentation. Functionally, it looks like this:

Engagimentation = engagement plus implementation

Make people feel successful and work as part of the team to implement their ideas — and let them feel that they are contributing to the overall success of the organization and their co-workers. Build a sense of collaboration and teamwork.

At the same time, look up! The horse represents an even “more better” way to approach the situation and the cargo jet represents the future. There are always improvements that can be made and people will feel accomplished if they are allowed to be part of the idea and implementation team.

Implementation is the key, and an analysis or review of your best past practices with implementing change and strategy will probably give you good ideas about what kinds of things work best within your culture. Looking at failures can also provide you with good information about what things do not work.

This improvement requires the active involvement of the managers in the identification of workplace issues — not just from a survey where not everyone will be candid or involved. It then requires them to engage people in defining what can and should be done differently, not just holding a meeting and going back to doing the same stuff…

Doing Nothing poem

We need to start really working to involve and engage our people in meaningful workplace improvements.

Engagimentation Rat Cage

Or not.

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

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Engagimentation = Engagement plus Implementation

Continued writing and reading and writing has been pretty interesting as I bounce different ideas off different people. A couple of conversational threads in LinkedIn, some emails to old friends, some unexpected reinforcement and the like has bumped my thinking once again. So I thank all for helping me work through what I think are some grounded ideas about actually impacting people and making improvements in the workplace that generate results.

I have completed the article,
I Quit! Never mind. Whatever…
Please leave me alone and let me work!

Download the article by clicking here:  I Quit Never mind Whatever

And I like how it flows. That is the anchor point for my new toolkit, since it is helping me to frame up issues and opportunities and thus guide my toolkit development and instructional materials. A friend emailed me asking for the final copy of the article and my response was that things are never final in how I work which is one reason why the toolkit is not done. Continuous continuous improvement is a double-edged sword in that one never quite seems to finish something. (I sent him the most recent final draft.)

I was chatting with a like-minded soul on LinkedIn about the issues we have both seen on the themes of empowerment, that the word acquired all kinds of bad associations about doing things to people, rather than acting on their needs. So, I shared some stats on this engagement work that I am doing and that gave me a new word:


No longer will we simply do “engagement surveys” and ask people for what is wrong since there is an overwhelming amount of data showing that nothing is accomplished but talking. (Employee engagement has actually declined from 24% to 13% in the past two years (Mercer, 2012) which is surprising since billions of dollars are being spent on the surveys!). Obviously, there is little visible impact from all this spending so this “engagement fad” may be doomed to go away.

The reality, though, is that this engagement stuff can really work — the issue is about implementation.  People have solid ideas about what can (and should) be done differently but it is the isolation of the leadership that often creates the problems. Call it courage, if you will, but most senior leaders refuse to let go of the rope and understand how things are really working at the back of their wagons. It looks like this:

And appears to the people in the workplace more like this:

The above may not be reality — it may be that the supervisor / Wagon Puller may feel that their hands are tied by the isolation of their managers and, thus, feel un-empowered and roadblocked to try to do things differently even when the managers and the survey both say improvement and involvement are needed.

Engagimentation is not a difficult concept. It is about generating and collecting the people’s ideas for what can be done differently and actually acting on those ideas in a way that generates visibility. Trust in this process can build up over time, but it is the residue of promises fulfilled.

I plan to share a lot more ideas about this but the article is a reasonable place to start. The crazy thing is that the solutions are not all that hard and simply require the active involvement and participation of the managers and supervisors to make change. The changes do NOT look like this:

Have fun out there and jump in if you have any comments, ideas or suggestions.

For the FUN of It!

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

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Motivation and Dis-Un-Engagement

I got engaged in a discussion on LinkedIn, on a discussion page for HR professionals, where the question focused on, “How one can keep an employee motivated.”

The comments, again from HR people, focused on motivating employees through appreciation and recognition, having “a good environment,” having good morale where motivation, environment, management and employee relations affect things – and also having monetary benefits, having a speech to inspire them (and that they cannot always be motivated), and that they should be happy to work for your company (I am not sure if the latter meant that they should he happy to have a job or that they should be happy while working for your company).

The contributors also thought that one should also analyze each person personally and be sure that the employee is properly placed according to their strengths and expertise and that they should be assigned, “challenging work that would keep the passion burning.”

Lastly, I thought that this was also an interesting comment:

“Motivation sparks from self. A self-motivated person enjoys everything in life. Other people can just inspire the person. A person who enjoys his or her work can only stay motivated. Money, appreciation, recognition, environment along with work & personal life balance are some factors which helps only after the person is self-motivated. Its my personal view.“

All this is fine well and good. And it makes sense. BUT, will any of these thoughts actually impact work and productivity or quality or anything? My response was as follows:

There is a really great short video by Dan Pink on the theme of defining INTRINSIC motivation — it is animated and 11 minutes long and you can see it here:

So, motivation is one thing that is actually pretty well understood. The issue is that organizations tend to focus much more on EXTRINSIC (applied) motivators rather than create a workplace that is engaging. Much of this comes from the work of BF Skinner on animals during the 60s and 70s and those who followed him (like me). It got into schedules of reward and all sorts of things, including superstitious behavior (blowing on the dice to roll a 7, for example).

People like Alfie Kohn (Punished by Rewards, etc.) showed many of the downsides, but businesses today spend about 1% of revenues on such extrinsically driven “reward systems” that half of the employees do not even know exist. Obviously, there are mixed levels of effectiveness.

A better approach is to focus on improving the workplace to do a better job of NOT de-motivating workers. Much of my recent writings have been on themes like Dis-Un-Engagement and Dis-Un-Empowerment, focused on getting “leadership”  involved to do more to REMOVE those things that workers and work teams find de-motivating.

This kind of initiative can help generate alignment and teamwork and motivation and engagement / involvement to make things better for each and all.

The research shows that people are not engaged, in general. Spending money on a survey that tells you that you have a problem seems a bit foolish — if I were to ask four or five people the same questions, the dis-engagement would be obvious (either theirs or that of others they work with).

A LOT of this stuff ain’t Rocket Science and HR ain’t gonna fix it.

Some things need to be accomplished locally, at the interface of worker and manager; only there will improvements be made. (The exception might be if the feedback and measurement system were changed, since that helps drive behavior. Feedback drives results.)

YOU simply cannot MOTIVATE ME or anyone else. People motivate themselves and offering some “reward” for improvement is going to be a very short-term solution for maybe half of the workers.

As a joke, I could also offer them 10 cents if they were to reply, just to see if I could make my point!

A lot of people think that this is how things work in the workplace, insofar as motivating people for performance:

Needless to say, it might work in the former case until people want and expect even more, and it will certainly work in the latter (until the boss turns his or her back). The latter also generates Compliance, which translates to “very average” performance and there is no motivation to excel.

What we need to do is to remove the things that the people see as getting in the way of them excelling. Almost everyone WANTS to succeed. Let them.

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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Even Dilbert Understands this Engagement Stuff

In one of my groups, a reference was made to one of Scott Adams’ Dilbert cartoon strips that focused on the 12 simple elements of engagement. As you are aware, having a sense of involvement and ownership and feeling appreciated and all that stuff does have some significant positive impacts on worker productivity.

And engagement is really pretty easy. The cartoon strip does not go through ALL the stages but it does share enough that even YOUR manager might learn something from it! (grin)

See it at

Somehow, it sure appears like “directness” is sometimes more valued than “correctness” or “leadership.”

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.
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at

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