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

Tag: dis-un-engagement

KISS – Keeping It Stupidly Simple – A Square Wheels Poster on Team Perspective

Conversations keep reinforcing the idea that everything is getting increasingly complicated these days. We have the paradox of training programs and assessments and similar tools being more and more complex and nuanced while, at the same time, none of us have much time to learn anything new. Where we used to be able to find three days for an off-site training program to learn and practice new skills, these kinds of development activities are now done online in 2 hours.

As I capture with some data and supporting materials in a blog linked to the icon below, managers are most definitely working increasing hours because of our continuous electronic connection to the workplace. Realize that almost half of us check email going to bed or at the dinner table.

working while not working

So, it is my intention to put up a number of posts and illustrations and posters reinforcing the theme that we need to start looking for some SIMPLE solutions instead of increasing the increasingly complexity. So here is a simple idea on the need to STOP working and take a simple look around to see if any new ideas or improvements might exist.

LEGO POSTER - Team Perspective with SWs

If you want to see some ideas and access some bombproof simple tools for improving intrinsic motivation and involving and engaging people in the workplace, clicking here will share some of my posts on the stupidly simple theme of Dis-Un-Engagement:

dis-un-engagement

At Performance Management Company, we continue to sell simple tools and recommending simple approaches to generating involvement and motivation for continuous improvement in the workplace.

For the FUN of It!

Dr. 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 scott@squarewheels.com

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

Square Wheels are a trademark of Performance Management Company

 LEGO® is a trademark of the The LEGO Group

 

The Actual Impossibility of Engagement – An Organizational Reality

Check me on this if you can, but we keep talking about improving workplace performance by the active involvement and engagement of people doing their jobs. There are lots of reasons as well as lots of data that support this as a REALLY good idea because of the widespread impacts on results.

Just back from ASTD and after conversations with colleagues, both there as well as in a variety of email connections, it seems that this engagement idea is a non-starter and doomed for failure in so many organizations. In a simple illustration, let me anchor down my thoughts:

Square Wheels Supervisor leads teams forward Rat Cage words

Does anyone really think that HR is going to be able to do some kind of training event or lead some kind of organizational improvement initiative to involve and engage all the workers? Maybe, and I can think of a couple of organizations that have the culture to pull that off. But the day-to-day reality of the supervisory environment would suggest that improvement generated by active involvement and participation is a high-risk activity for most supervisors in most organizations.

After all, are they not already busy right now? Are they not up to their eyeballs in tasks and reports and meetings and reports and tasks? Do we simply expect that they would be motivated to do some “public speaking” and set up meetings where they involve people to share ideas about workplace issues and problems (and then expect some resolution and improvement) or is it a lot safer just to continue to do things the same way.

What is the Reality of this (from their perspective)?

Lee Ellis popped up a nice blog post here that I summarize:

Three strong indicators of an unhealthy organization are:

• A lack of trust leading to poor teamwork and alignment.
• A lack of clarity about mission, vision, and values.
• A fear of conflict. People are not allowed to say what they really think.

A healthy organization, alternatively, has management who:

1. Build Trust
2. Clarify and Over-Communicate
3. Create a Safe Environment and Encourage Debate
4. Are Courageous

All this stuff is fine, well and good, but anecdotal conversations continue to support the very basic idea that supervisors are incredibly busy with what is already expected of them (they do not even take all their earned vacation days, it seems and they work while they are off the job with emails and calls, etc.).

So, can we really expect them to add the risky activity of asking about the problems that their people feel exist and be expected to implement some solutions? Sure, they could implement teamwork, but that is a whole different set of worms…

Do most of them really want to start up performance improvement teams and use up even more of their time and the time of their people? And, a lot of supervisors are fearful of teams because of the potential loss of control that they perceive might occur. Plus, they often need the support of their managers and maybe even HR.

So, is engagement of people for workplace improvement even a reality for most organizations doing things the same way and expecting things to change and improve?

I think that there are good possibilities for change and improvement and we sell some very simple tools to generate ideas in a pretty safe and effective manner with our Square Wheels toolkits. This one on basic facilitation is cheap and easily used.

An organizational motivational reality might look like this:

Square Wheels One poem Always Do Pretty Rotten

And thus, my basic suggestion is pretty simple:

Square Wheels One Don't Just DO Stand red border

Make things happen. Your choice.

For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman, creator of the Square Wheels images and toolsDr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

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

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

We also sell a powerful team building simulation, The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine. You can view a slideshare overview of the exercise here:

The Search for The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine prices

Implementing Round Wheels to fix the Square Ones

People often talk about things that do not work smoothly in their workplaces, the things that frustrate them and lower productivity. And this frustration and dissatisfaction about improvements causes all sorts of negative spins to impacting intrinsic motivation. It can send the message that what the workers see is important and what the management sees as important are two different things — that is most likely not going to lead to any sort of workplace engagement and performance improvement.

But the problem is often related to how the problem is presented.

Reasons include:

  • People do not fix or care that much about ideas that are not their own.
  • Bosses are busy, or at least too busy to spend time listening to ideas
  • Improvement may not be measured by the company
  • The improvement is not related to your job or their job
  • The value and impact of the improvement is not thought out or defined
  • Everyone has different perspectives
  • The idea not well presented or framed as a business proposition
  • The idea not seen as cost effective
  • Some interdepartmental collaboration may be required (needs IT or another department or something similar to implement)

SWs One Dis-un-engagement choice

What we suggest that supervisors and managers do is to ask people for ideas. But first, we want to engage and involve them and get them to “step back from the wagon and think out of the box” a little. We do this by using the a general projective tool, the SWs Brainstorm Sheet:

Square Wheels One Brainstorm worksheet

What we do is show them the main illustration and ask small tabletops of 5 to 6 people to brainstorm a bit. What they do is project their beliefs onto the illustration and the group process gives them lots of personal involvement and support and lends itself to more creative thinking and brainstorming. The idea is to get them actively involved and working together around ideas.

You can read a bit more about this theme by clicking on the worksheet icon above to go to another blog post on possibilities thinking.

What we want to do is move the discussion from the general ideas about how things work to some specific issues that they see in their workplace and to then brainstorm more about potential solutions that might be implemented. We eventually move toward a worksheet like this to take specific Square Wheel issues and generate some round wheel possibilities:

Square Wheels to RWs worksheet

Once we define the issues and opportunities, refine our thinking about how an improvement would impact people and performance, and do some discussion about costs and timelines and the required involvement of people, processes and procedures, we can make a good case for change. It is that kind of detailed thinking that needs to be cascaded upward in the organization. People can earn the right to do more as they roll down the road…

The key is to get the wagon rolling downhill a bit!

Square Wheels image Intrinsic feel really good PGHope that helps,

For the FUN of It!

square wheels author

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

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

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

Sabotage, Defense, Engagement and Workplace Collaboration

Here are some issues and statistics and framework around the issue of employee workplace sabotage, which can take many forms, and some relatively straightforward solutions. Overall, the issues of teamwork and peer pressure can work for you, ideally, or can work against you as we frame up below.

The Situation:

Research says people are uninvolved and dis-engaged. Numbers show people are unappreciated and not motivated by extrinsic rewards. Many feel ignored and stagnant, not getting training or feeling that anyone cares. Writers talk about people whining (which I think is because they are not focused on doing anything they think is important) and that they won’t even take all their scheduled vacation days because of job security issues (other post on that here).

Yeah, it sure must be fun to work in a lot of places these days. Plus, we are seeing a lot fewer full time jobs and jobs with benefits and a lot more part-time jobs with no benefits and with variable hours… More and more people are working part-time — Between 2007 and May of this year, the number of part-timers jumped from 24.7 million to 27.5 million. A 2013 Gallup poll shows that one in every 5 workers is now part-time. For many, less than full-time work is creating conflict and all kinds of issues. According to the US Labor Department, as many as 1/3 of all part-timers are involuntary ones.

Reasons are many, but one seems to be “ObamaDodge,” whereby big employers avoid having to give healthcare to people who work less than 30 hours a week to bypass the Affordable Care Act.

Large employers like Regal Entertainment Group (franchise owners of Five Guys, Applebee’s and Denny’s), and the owner of Papa John’s pizza chain and a few other chains have announced plans to side-step new requirements that businesses with over 50 full-time-equivalent employees offer their full-time workers access to a qualified healthcare plan or pay a penalty. (There has been a lot of media and general public pushback, too.)

The healthcare law defines a full-time employee as anyone working more than 30 hours a week, so the boss simply cuts workers’ hours and hires additional part-time staff to make up the difference. Stafford notes that as many as 2.3 million workers across the country are at high risk of having their hours slashed to below the 30-hour mark. Half of retail workers in New York City were part-time, and only 10 percent of part-timers had a set schedule week to week and part-time workers are far more likely to be paid minimum wage (13%) than full-time workers (2%)

When I started a turnaround in my new job as Senior Vice President for a retail company, we had all kinds of issues to deal with, including store manager turnover of about 250% — we did not bother to measure salesperson TO because too many of them were quickly being promoted to store managers. AND, we had millions of dollars in “inventory losses.” Some of that was caused by the chaos and confusion in the stores, and some of it was most certainly THEFT by Employees. They were simply getting even, was the reason most of them gave…

If people feel attacked, we know from history that they will band together to fight back. The reaction of being pushed is to push back and the pin will eventually touch the balloon and things will pop. That is expected.

Pin Hits Balloon red color

The American Psychological Association reports a variety of ailments associated with underemployment, including depression, anxiety, psychosomatic disorders, low subjective well-being and poor self-esteem. There are workplace impacts for those kinds of feelings as they relate to customer service and teamwork with others. Researchers have found that full-time work is critical not only to the mental well-being of workers, but to their physical health as well. A decrease in physical health is another way that forced part-time workers suffer.

Once the group feels like it is being attacked (instead of supported and involved and engaged and compensated fairly), one can often expect that they will circle the wagons and try to defend themselves from the attackers. That is also a signal that all is not well in the workplace and that they are not completely convinced that pulling and pushing the wagon efficiently and effectively is in their best interests. If they run out of bullets, they will head for the hills!

Defense wagon yellow 70

But, if they feel pretty solidly supportive of each other, a slightly different scenario is possible, one that we are seeing in a few large companies. That one looks like this:

FortVanderWeilen th

Here, they start taking the wagons apart to use the wood for the walls and the wheels for barricades. They may demonstrate a sense of solidarity, and create a more permanent adversarial structure and culture. It is somewhat predictable — and look at the news about striking workers at WalMart – On May 28, around 100 workers in FL, MA and CA walked off their jobs for a series of “prolonged strikes.” Many of the striking workers traveled to Wal-Mart’s annual shareholder meeting in Arkansas last week. (article)

But it gets bigger than this. Just as my store managers did things to their company, workers everywhere have ways of “getting even.” Let me excerpt from my blog on  “Thoughts on Management,” which is basically about sabotage and comes from a manual produced by the US Army back in the 1940s, with this part talking about what employees can do to sabotage companies:

(1) Work slowly. Think out ways to in­ crease the number of movements necessary on your job: use a light hammer instead of a heavy one, try to make a small wrench do when a big one is necessary, use little force where considerable force is needed, and so on.

(2) Contrive as many interruptions to your work as you can: (with examples)

(4) Pretend that instructions are hard to understand, and ask to have them repeated more than once. Or pretend that you are particularly anxious to do your work, and pester the foreman with unnecessary questions.

(6) Never pass on your skill and experience to a new or less skillful worker.

(8) If possible, join or help organize a group for presenting employee problems to the management  See that the procedures adopted are as inconvenient as possible for the management, involving the presence of a large number of employees at each presentation, entailing more than one meeting for each grievance, bringing up problems which are largely imaginary, and so on.

There are SO MANY ways to cost companies money and increase your pay per unit of time worked. You can also be indifferent and unresponsive to customers or not fix things such as misplaced stock items on shelves or all kinds of things.

The solution:

You are probably going to be unable to fix a lot of the structural issues that companies have, but you can sure document the local impacts they have and push for improvement. You may not be able to reduce employee turnover, but you can certainly track the actual issues caused by new people on the job. Some of your analysis should include:

  • The cost of advertising for new people
  • The cost of initial paperwork and screening
  • The costs of interviewing  – costs of time spent doing that and costs of time not available for doing other important things
  • The costs of on-boarding or initial job training on systems and processes
  • The potential increased costs for job-related injuries or accidents
  • The costs of coaching and on-the-job training time
  • The costs of errors of new employees, including customer satisfaction issues, slower response times, mistakes and materials waste, misplaced inventory, and all sorts of innocent things that people do when new on a job
  • The costs of management supervisory time (yours)
  • The costs of advanced skills training — sometimes there are 6-week courses on learning how to process transactions and work computer systems correctly
  • The costs of NOT working the above computer systems correctly

There are many other similar kinds of costs incurred by organizations. Some of these also involve inter-departmental kinds of problems and you might also include theft or other kinds of negative impacts from the disgruntled as well as the new.

And, as result of all this training, there is also the eventual statistical likelihood and reality that this New Hire will simply be an average employee. Down the road, you may be looking to replace them!

Often the better and more skilled employees choose to go elsewhere for employment (and the below average ones are not actively looking) and you may be losing talent on a net overall basis. The best ones may also go to one of your competitors…

Sometimes, newer previously skilled employees will demand a higher wage and benefits than the “normal employee” and that is guaranteed to cause problems down the road.  Paying new employees wages equal to long-term employees is also problematic.

So what do you do?

You probably need to make the case, or at least support the existing case that things need to be improved, that doing the same thing will generate the same results. And you can choose to do things differently, yourself.

Nearly every research study shows that an involved and engaged workforce shows fewer negative issues with the above and shows lots of positive impacts on numbers like profitability and reduced customer turnover. If employees are presently un-engaged or at least not actively engaged, you have about 70% of your workforce that you can address and encourage.

Extrinsic motivators do not work. They possibly might have short-term positive impacts on some people, but they always have negative long-term impacts on everyone. Compensate them fairly on an overall basis.

Allow people to solve roadblocks and make improvements to systems and processes. Give them the tools and resources.

Allow them to address interdepartmental issues that impact their performance results.

Improve the performance feedback so that they have a better idea as to how they are performing in comparison to their own goals and your expectations. You can find a simple analysis checklist here. PMC sells simple toolkits for improving communications and engagement.

Provide some team building activities and build a sense of group (remembering all the stuff at the top of the article, be sure to have a fairly solid environment before forming, “The Collective” — remember the Borg?). PMC sells some great, inexpensive and bombproof team building simulations.

Have engaging and informative meetings and discussions, as groups and a one-on-one coaching and mentoring discussions.

Be there and supportive, not away and adversarial.

There is no silver bullet for any of this. Understanding the problem is a first step toward designing YOUR solutions. There is no one else who can really help you, when push comes to shove. HR cannot do it, senior managers cannot do it, consultants (certainly) cannot do it —

If it is to be words

and

If not you who words

If you are looking for some tools for improving engagement or for improving involvement and motivation to make workplace improvements, we sell some simple tools. Our specialties are in the areas of employee involvement and team building, but with a focus on performance improvement.

Square Wheels are simply great tools

Have Fun out there!

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+
Reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com and 864-292-8700

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

 

Note: some of the basic statistics taken from
http://www.alternet.org/labor/part-time-jobs-and-economy

Improving Leadership Effectiveness = Dis-Un-Engagement

I got involved and engaged in a LinkedIn thread this morning, one that I had actually been trying NOT to be involved in! But they wore me down so I posted this up around the theme that some leaders actually make things worse by being involved.

I will just post up what I thought about the situation and what I wrote:

My focus for many years has been on the issues of organizational performance, individual motivation, involvement and engagement, and issues of teamwork and alignment. Toward that end, I have presented on a wide variety of topics in 38 countries thus far and I sell my toolkits inexpensively and globally. All that is simply meant to anchor the following thesis:

Most managers are un-engaging their people.

If we look at any of a very wide range of data, it is clearly evident that most people in most workplaces are dis-engaged and uninvolved. I share some viewpoints and data and other people’s ideas in two blogs referenced at the end of this.

With all that data supporting un-engagement, like Sirota Research saying that 85% of new hires regress to “average” motivational levels within 6 months, it all begs the question as to whether managers and supervisors might simply CHOOSE to do some things differently. Might they look to focus on something I will call Dis-Un-Engagement.

Simply put, why can’t / won’t they focus on removing the roadblocks that their people face in doing their daily jobs. People report that no one listens to their ideas (and have been doing that for the past 70 years, it seems) and that feeling more of a part of things is a powerful motivational tool.

Most people are not REALLY roadblocked, as most coaches will tell you; they are simply perceiving that they are, or they are somehow choosing to be. They could do things differently and will often do so when involved in some problem-solving team situation. Peer pressure / support is a powerful tool for generating change.

A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world (John Le Carre)

Yet most decisions seem to emanate from that desk rather than the hands of the workers who try to push the wagon forward every day. If all they see are boards and hands, no wonder they don’t show up motivated and engaged.

Dis-Un-Engagement — a corollary of “Ask and Ye Shall Receive,” methinks.

You can see some writings here:

https://performancemanagementcompanyblog.com/2013/03/23/managers-biggest-contributors-or-biggest-problem/

https://performancemanagementcompanyblog.com/2013/03/16/workplace-motivation-i-quit-nevermind-whatever/

I think that ANY one leading any group in any organization can IMPROVE their overall leadership effectiveness. There will still be that average curve of skills ranging from low to high because that is just a statistical reality of any population of people. What we CAN do is move that median score upwards to improve overall effectiveness of the population…

Dis-Un-Engagement. It does not even sound that hard…

Have fun out there! Elegant Solutions

I think that this is just another example of a simple, elegant solution!

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 scott@squarewheels.com

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

<a rel=”author” href=”https://plus.google.com/u/0/114758253812293832123″ a>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SWs One How Things Work ©

How things REALLY work in many workplaces

And how things REALLY work in many workplaces

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

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

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

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

People will circle the wagons and defend themselves…

and continued attacks also generate more predictable results:

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

Square Wheels Defensive wagon poem

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

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

ASK — ASK — ASK — ASK — ASK

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

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

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

SWs Facilitation Guide $50

 

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

Slideshare Dutchman icon

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

Square Wheel Playing haiku

 

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

For the FUN of It!

square wheels author

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

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

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

Motivation, Collaboration, Engagement and Dis-Un-Empowerment*

Dis-un-empowerment: The removal of those performance-influencing factors (real or believed) that are thought to be un-empowering by the individual or individuals.

And we can define Motivation as the absence of de-motivating factors.

The concept of empowering people is really a difficult one – lots of things have been written about it over the years but it requires the active involvement of senior managers, a whole lot of trust between managers and employees, and often some significant changes in workplace culture.

Plus there is the reality that one cannot really empower someone else – try it with a teenager if you need any proof of this!

I posted my first article on this subject back in 2006 and got a lot of interesting feedback about this simple but effective approach to involving and engaging people in an activity to improve morale, motivation and real performance.

We take the simple and somewhat obvious position that most people are far from actually being empowered or more properly, acting empowered. There are tons of statistics that support this notion.

So what are we actually talking about here? Let me start with a few simple examples of engaged and motivated people:

1) At a major hotel chain, employees are wearing buttons that say, “Yes I can.” I ask the front-desk clerk if she could give me a button because I am speaking that next morning on customer service and she says, “No, I can’t.”

She really did want to give it to me, but she said wearing the button was required as management’s policy, that they were expected to have one on, the hotel didn’t have extras and that she would be yelled at by her boss for not having a button. Caught in a dilemma, she was not able to do what the company or customer wanted her to do. (I did persuade her to give me the button and I used it in my session, explaining the dilemma she faced. Heck, I even invited her boss to sit in for free (but he did not!)).

The paradox is that management is telling her to act one way while asking her to follow a policy that blocks this request.

2) At McGuffey’s Restaurants, employees and managers wore buttons saying, “The Answer is Yes.” Unlike the above, ask anyone for a button, and they’ll give you their very last one, knowing this response is the expectation of top management. The employees are simply trusted to act appropriately. This attitude infected all kinds of behaviors, with waitresses making a quick run to McDonalds to buy a customer’s kid a Big Mac, raising money for charities or driving to the grocery store to buy anchovies for my Caesar salad.

Top performers, the ones who build positive long-term relationships with customers, will often bend rules and make decisions for the long-term good of the customer relationship when necessary. They tend to retain customers and build loyalty. At the other end of the spectrum, many people will blindly follow policies, procedures, systems and all those constraints that they believe are imposed on them from all over the place, significantly impacting performance.

Many people in the workplace are un-empowered and thus un-responsive and roadblocked by their perceptions of what the organization wants. Or they are roadblocked by their own beliefs about their capabilities. Or, they simply do not know how to get things accomplished.

My answer to performance improvement is simple and straightforward – let’s remove those things that individuals and groups feel are blocking their responsiveness and performance. That is not to say that we change all the policies and procedures, but that we discuss the approach of the top performers in the context of the organization.

If people are un-empowered, then let’s remove the things that might be blocking performance. Let’s work to limit the perceived roadblocks and provide some useful strategies and tactics to work around things inhibiting better results, on an individual and group basis. Thus,

Improvement is all about people; people dis-un-empowered to make decisions to the benefit of the customer and the company. And we know from decades of behavioral research that peer support can work wonders on individual performance, if we allow or encourage it.

What is Dis-Un-Empowerment and how do we Implement?

There are two issues to dis-un-empowerment, the organizational ones and the personal ones. Personal dis-un-empowerment issues are sometimes less clear, while it is easy to get consensus on common organizational ones.

Astronaut Scott Carpenter gave a nice analogy about walking in space. Years of training, simulations, and practice in weightless conditions as well as hundreds of hours of discussion and preparation did not adequately prepare him for the reality of standing in the doorway of the spacecraft with black infinity in every direction. He thought he could do it, but he froze. Wouldn’t you? There are direct parallels to dis-un-empowering people.

The American Society for Quality Control reported that while two in three workers said they had been asked to become involved in workplace decision-making, only one in seven felt they had the power to make those decisions. And if they don’t feel dis-un-empowered to make decisions, they won’t make them. And a Sirota Survey of 2007 found that 85% of employees say their morale declines significantly after spending 6 months on the job. 

Why don’t most people feel able to make improvements? Because they are uncomfortable doing things differently than they have done them before. Most people will resist change.

“The only change people like is the kind that jingles in their pockets.”
my friend, Jerry Brown

“Change is good. You go first.
Dilbert Principles

Note that almost every organization has a few top-performing employees doing exactly what is necessary to generate results. They are the people that have the highest productivity and profitability.

Exemplary performers manage roadblocks much more effectively and tend to have clearer perspectives and focus on what your customers require. They also tend to focus on doing the small things that truly make a difference in building a client relationship with the customer. But also recognize that they often bend the rules to do what is right — thus delivering the highest perceived value.

A few years ago, Frank Navran had the opportunity to observe the role that perception plays in people’s ability to manage obstacles. Frank was involved in a performance improvement project and asked to observe a work group to identify the behavioral, attitudinal and/or skills and knowledge differences between the exemplary performers, average performers and poor performers.

The intent was to identify those differences so that an intervention could be devised to make the average and poor performers more like their exemplary peers to raise overall unit performance levels.

What ensued was rather frustrating for the consultant and the client. Aside from the actual performance results there were no noticeable behavioral differences. The only apparent difference was the workers’ response to the question, “What is keeping you from performing at a higher level?

  • The exemplary performers said they had fewer than 3 perceived roadblocks to higher performance levels.
  • The average performers identified 6 roadblocks each.
  • The poor performers cited 12 or more reasons why they could not perform at a higher level.

Their significance was twofold:

1. As all employees worked under near identical conditions nothing differed except their perception of the number of obstacles to exemplary performance facing them.

2. The differences seemed to be more perceptual than real. This lead the consultant to the hypothesis that in this client’s organization the performance difference might be related to the employee’s perceptions about his or her own power to remove the roadblocks to higher level performance.

Further testing proved him right. In addition, the consultant observed that employee perceptions fell into four sets or categories that could be generalized and applied to other cases. These can be drawn as a Square, of course:

Category 1 – BRICK WALLs

Some roadblocks are truly unalterable. There are things in the real world facing people that inhibit their performance which they are not likely to change: the effectiveness of a foreign competitor’s product, the slumping national economy, the international exchange rate, the organizational structure at the organization, the funding and paperwork processes for new product development, etc. These are all factors which affect employee performance but are well beyond individual or collective control. Characterize these as brick walls: immovable and real.

Category 2 – PARTITIONs

The second category of roadblocks are those that can be managed through with effort, time, money and/or additional personnel, or other resources. The individual employee might make some degree of progress in overcoming this particular inhibitor to performance. Often a small group of employees can make even more progress collectively. And, most importantly, this type of roadblock can be managed in large part or totally, if supervision or management gets involved. This type of roadblock is characterized as a partition, since a partition, if pushed from the bottom, might move slightly, but if pushed from a higher level will often topple. These are real roadblocks which the employees require assistance to remove.

Category 3 – PAPER WALLs

The third category was reminiscent of a football game where the home team burst through a paper barrier to the cheers of the crowd at the start. Until tested, this roadblock often looks impenetrable. Workplace examples are common, and include the belief that the boss will not approve, that it won’t be supported by another department, that it is “policy” or the way things have always been done, etc.

But people discover that these beliefs aren’t true when they test these perceptions. Others have done things differently and are doing things differently. But, unless tested, this roadblock is just as effective in preventing performance as the first two. These are manageable, but also real.

Category 4 – MINDSETs

This type of roadblock is the most troubling to management. It represents the untested beliefs and perceptions. When people believe they can’t, they are correct. These roadblocks are de-actualizing and restrictive, yet arbitrarily so in that they really do not exist. Interestingly, these are generally the most common of all the different types and the ones that block the below average performers from improvement.

Using the Model

It is always fascinating to observe how different employees manage the different roadblocks they face. Top performers, as a group, are generally not impeded by many of the things that get in the way of average or poor performers. Their model of how things really work appears to be more proactive and behaviorally-oriented. They are generally more willing to test the roadblocks to see which are which and are often quick to refer the Category 1 and 2 roadblocks to management whereas they push through the 3s and 4s.

Average performers, on the other hand, are sometimes stymied by roadblocks in many cases. Some may stubbornly push the 1s and try to get them to move even though they do not have the power to do so. They may often spend a lot of individual time on the 2s, trying to generate change and feeling good when they manage to get past them; this behavior, while well-intentioned, may not be time and energy effective!

Poor performers can generate long lists of roadblocks that get in the way of getting things done. They face innumerable hurdles in their everyday job and can constantly point out the things that cause their performance levels to be low.

How to deliver the theme:

So, here’s an empowering exercise that you can easily do to help reshape the thinking of the poor performers and generate new alternative behaviors among the average ones.

Use a flip chart and masking tape and start a meeting with the question, “What are some of the roadblocks to getting things done around here?” or similar. Allow the group to brainstorm and write everything down.

(Note: You might want to set the Rules as, “All comments are okay, everything gets written down and we discuss the specifics of each idea when we complete the list. No negative reactions are allowed in this part of the meeting.”)

Capture all of the ideas without reframing or rewording, since changing wording might change the meaning or it may be perceived as a “put-down” to an employee with less than perfect language skills who might then not participate any longer. You can also ask for clarification after you write it down, making notes on the page.

Ask individuals, if necessary, to generate the participation of everyone, but expect more roadblocks to come from the average and poor performers. Write them all down. You may also prompt, when the going gets slow, by saying something as, “How about the interdepartmental things?”

Post up the sheets as they become filled and do not be surprised to get 10 or more pages (my personal record: 22 pages!). The more the better. Really!

Once the list is essentially complete, share the model of Roadblock Management with them, describing the categories and the general frameworks of each.

Now, go back through this list and have the group categorize, as best they can, the nature of each of the roadblocks. Let THEM do this — that way it is their list and not yours!

What you will discover is that 80% of the roadblocks will be 3s and 4s and that the top performers will often offer everyone suggestions as to how to manage the 2s more effectively. The Category 1 roadblocks are those that you should volunteer to escalate and some of the 2s might be addressed by a team of your people, including some of the poorer performers.

Celebrate any ideas for improvement and attempts to address specific problems. And be sure to get out of the way as the group and individuals now engage in some dis-un-empowerment.

© Performance Management Company, 1998 – 2010 All Rights Reserved.

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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 at scott@squarewheels.com

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