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How many people have seen Square Wheels illustrations?

Got a problem with motivation, engagement or productivity and looking for a simple and bombproof, proven tool? Take a minute and read this. And Think!

A team of us are working at building our online teaching resource wrapped around the idea of “stupidly simple facilitation” through the use of my Square Wheels® theme. The project has gone through a number of phases and Dan Stones in Melbourne has jumped in to help us drive all of this forward. Expect some fun stuff as we continue to rock and roll.

As we were chatting, Dan asked me the simple question,

“How many people have seen or used Square Wheels?”

That is a really good question, for which I have no clue. History shows I have been presenting the theme at conferences and workshops since 1993 when I started using the main cartoon, Square Wheels One, done in black ink by my friend Roy Sabean. A few presentations later and I had 4 and then 7 different illustrations. When I got to 13, people started asking me for copies to use and I started selling a set in a brown envelope as colored transparencies and black line art.

Then, they wanted me to explain how to use them. Really? “Just do what I do or do your own thing,” I said, to no avail. They wanted me to write that stuff down, which resulted in a book with photocopiable masters. That was back in 1993, with the first book published in 1994.

By 2004, we were in our fifth edition of The Big Book, a package containing descriptions for using more than 200 of the illustrations and for making transparencies. I am guessing that I still have a 3 or 4 foot stack of transparency versions of these materials in different places in the house!

The cover of the 2004 Big Book of Square Wheels

So, I did not have an answer for Dan. Since 1993, I have presented workshops in 38 countries and dozens of conferences, including more than 10 trips each to places like Singapore and Hong Kong. And we have sold a lot of a variety of books and electronic toolkits since we started all this more than 20 years ago. My squarewheels.com website went up in 1998!

But I just saw a statistic that is relevant, one that I blogged on in a different place. There, I said:

For what is probably my 40th year of viewing this same statistical reality, here we go again: Leadership Management Australasia’s LMA survey summary, April 2016 shared this stunning commentary:

Communication and connection are the cornerstone of relationships – a quarter to a third of employees believe their managers seldom or never listen to them, understand their issues, seek their input and ideas, or help them to resolve the issues and challenges they face.

Okay. So one thing I am pretty sure of.So, here is my tongue-in-cheek but serious answer to Dan’s original question:

Two-thirds of the employees worldwide have NOT had their manager use the Square Wheels theme in a discussion about improving their workplace involvement and performance.

If they did, things would probably be different. Square Wheels really are everywhere and the round ones are already in the wagon. Communications would have HAD to improve!

There ARE some things you can choose to do now:

Square Wheels LEGO poster of engagement and motivation

We believe that managers should be motivators, and that engagement comes directly from active involvement and communications about issues and opportunities, about goals and expectations. It is about teamwork and shared perspectives as well as about ideas for improvement/ We think “this engagement and motivation stuff” is pretty straightforward and that people are intrinsically motivated when they feel a sense of ownership involvement.

A solution? Consider using our $25 Stupidly Simple Toolkit to generate a conversation in your workplace. Or wait until we get our online MOOC up and running where we can teach and support you in your improvement initiative. The choice is yours and we will guarantee it will work for you to help involve and engage your people, improving communications in many ways,

For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman 2016Dr. 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

 

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

 

 

 

Stupidly Simple Engagement and Motivation

One gets whacked in the head, but maybe not often enough. No, let me change that to say that workplace whacking should be a lot more common and that every manager of every manager should be whacking their people about this problem. At some point, realistically, you would think managers would finally step back and see the stunningly obvious reality of how things are not working in workplaces to engage and motivate people. Or not…

For what is probably my 40th year of viewing this same statistical reality, here we go again: Leadership Management Australasia’s LMA survey summary, April 2016 shared this stunning commentary:

Communication and connection are the cornerstone of relationships – a quarter to a third of employees believe their managers seldom or never listen to them, understand their issues, seek their input and ideas, or help them to resolve the issues and challenges they face. This persistent gap presents both a challenge and an opportunity to leaders and managers.

Seriously? Two-thirds of the workers (or more) in another national survey feel that communications in their workplaces stink? Still? This is what I remember addressing back in 1978 when I first started organizational consulting on people and performance.

What boggles my mind is that this is one of those “forever” problems. Is it a training issue? NO, because if you put a gun to the head of the manager and threatened to blow her brains out if she could not communicate, you would actually SEE her communicate with her people (this is the Bob Mager Test, not mine, so do not blame me for any workplace violence — it is just a metaphor! Do NOT bring a gun to your leadership development programs unless you are in Texas.)

This is NOT a skill issue; training is not needed. But it might be a “tools” issue, and that might be readily solved. So, here is my proposed solution to this global communications issue, with me trying to keep things stupidly simple and obvious:

Square Wheels LEGO poster of engagement and motivation

This persistent and incessant gap in communications is simply numbing.

The manager should be the motivator and the communicator. After all, who else has the connection to the workers?

This is such a persistent problem that we are going to develop an unnecessary but apparently critical actual online MOOC training course to teach people how to use this stupidly simple communications tool, the Square Wheels metaphor, complete with worksheets and training and collaborative support across a global community of people wanting to improve motivation and engagement. Overkill, probably.

But we are going to eliminate the excuses for people not talking,

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 quips and quotes on Poems on The Workplace is here.

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

Images that Changed The World – 1972 and 2016

The image of The Blue Marble, taken in 1972 by the Apollo 17 crew on its trip to the Moon, is one that changed the view of the Earth forever. It is an iconic picture, and one that has appeared in zillions of places and seen by billions of people:

Blue Marble

This image of our planet has inspired so many people to care for Mother Earth, and has been used for recognizing Earth Day and in so many other tools to drive awareness of our planet over the years. And perspective will show that we need to continue to focus on our world. (You can read a bit about its history here, in a nice article on the Adobe Create newsletter site that stimulated me to post this blog. That article also talked about the Stuart Brand, Whole Earth Catalog, of which I still have a copy (1971) on my bookshelf.)

Whole Earth Catalog

Images can be inspirational. Images can help to end wars (like Vietnam) or generate charity or to basically influence people and performance.

On that note, I keep communicating about an image that could similarly affect workplaces, in particular the issues of improvement, engagement, innovation and communications. That image is this one:

Square Wheels One LEGO MAIN ©

along with the simple idea is that we can find all sorts of things to improve if we just step back from the wagon and talk about what is or might be happening. Talking through the illustration is easy and bombproof. Facilitating a workplace improvement process that involves and engages people is very straightforward, as well as cheap (we sell a $25 toolkit with the image and the worksheets.)

Anyone can help change their world!
It is about having relevant conversations!

Pass this on if your manager needs to better involve and engage the people in your workplace. Gallup shows that 34% of people are actually engaged in US businesses and it is generally lower than that in other countries (2016). We can do better than this if we just focus on making things work better.

For the FUN of It!

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

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

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/
Scott’s blog on themes of People and Performance is here.

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

 

 

 

Improving Engagement and Workplace Efficiency to Motivate Performance

In today’s workplace, we are asking for more better faster results from our people yet often not doing what we might to optimize engagement — we tend to be doing things TO people rather than WITH them, an approach that often generates resistance. Pushing generates push-back. And, it is common that when we are asking for changes, we are often adding more tasks and responsibilities to people who already have plenty of responsibilities and tasks. So, doesn’t it make sense that we look for things we can choose to eliminate and do it in a way that motivates?

Who out there among us does not have too many meetings or too much “paperwork?” And you can find lots of examples online of ways to decrease meeting time and make them more effective.

Logically, we can improve morale and motivation by doing a bit of best practice management and workplace simplification along with improving engagement. It is often simply a matter of keeping things in balance.

Balance Easy Peasy poem

From workshops and performance improvement programs, we all know that there are some good ideas in your workplace about how to make lemonade out of lemons. Top performers know how we can improve effectiveness and impact and improve organizational effectiveness since they are already doing things differently. It is not about inventing new solutions but about understanding the issues and the opportunities.

Here are a couple of ideas from my experiences on organizational improvement that you might adapt to your own purposes. Let me start with an example from my own experience; while the details would be different today, the overall situation should be familiar to a lot of us.

1 – Accountability and Priorities

Working in an organization as the top operations guy with a very supportive new president, we focused on improving organizational results by focusing on people and performance. We had 126 retail stores with all sorts of problems and a horrible overall culture under the deceased former owner — one indicator was that our store manager turnover was more than 250%! We had inventory problems, service quality issues, bad morale, high “inventory loss” problems, etc.

In talking with my store managers, it was clear that they felt overburdened with things. They received WAY too many forms and “immediate priorities” from the corporate staff. They were focused on paperwork a lot more than actual store results. They did not even know if their stores were profitable (and many of them were not, for a variety of reasons.

As Senior VP Operations, my first priority was to improve operational effectiveness and I saw our very young group of 13 District Managers as our leverage point — the challenge was to make them effective. The first thing was to change their perceived role as forensic accountants into performance facilitators and coaches.

Lou started with a clandestine investigation — he started collecting every single bit of information sent from the departments to the stores, filing it by Department and by Day. Two binders quickly filled up and we saw that there were inches of paper going to stores every week, each having something or other to do with operations. But if everything is important, than nothing is important.

This data collection got us a strong grip on the amount of paperwork sent each day to our stores and the nature of corporate demands being made of our store managers for reports, etc. Few people really understood how many things a manager had to read and do.

The resulting “All Department Head Meeting” that Lou directed was “most interesting.” This was the first time that anyone saw how much stuff we actually sent out to managers — it was literally inches every week. Some was simply “policy information to read” from personnel or marketing. Some was requesting information of one kind or another, and always under “need it now” deadlines. Some were sent to all stores asking that only some stores respond. Anyone at corporate could type something up and send it to EVERY store.

Our product group might send out a half-inch of paper a day — some was industry news and what’s hot kind of stuff. It was eye-opening how many of these missives were three or four pages long.

New Policy: One Page Memos, tightly written:

Things sent out needed specific reasons for being sent and people not needing information were not to get lazily copied. Random document reviews kept the focus and prevented slippage. If the memo needed more than one page, it required special senior management approval to send (there were few of those, as a result!).

The impact was amazing and virtually overnight. Stores were being unburdened by “things to do and stuff to read stuff” and managers could now find time to actually look at what was happening, manage store inventories, train new hires on best practices, and actually focus on customers! Manager morale went up immediately!

Note: This obviously occurred BEFORE today’s email systems were established and, in today’s world, the onslaught of being overly burdened with too much email happens all of the time. Therefore, whether it was paperwork needing attended then or email needing to be read and responded to today, it can all be better managed and the volume turned down.

Suggestion: Do some MBWA and have some simple and direct conversations with your staff about what kinds of things distract them from accomplishing their jobs, their MAIN jobs. Minimize distractions and allow focus on primary issues and opportunities. Clarify the vision and generate alignment.

2 – Responsibility

Team building with the top management group of a manufacturing operation in Texas, we asked Department Head staff what kinds of things prevented them from doing their jobs most effectively. A bunch of things were discussed, with some Best Practice solutions offered by their associates. Many of them were unintentional inter-departmental kinds of collaboration issues that one normally sees.

The most interesting were the external influences.

A year before, their operation had been acquired in a merger and there were new “executives back in Cleveland” who were asking for things. A Department Head might get a memo asking them to complete some data analysis within three days, for example, some unexpected thing that required a scramble to get done and distract that manager from the job at hand.

With the Plant Manager listening, the complaints about this kind of thing were from most of his staff. So, he made a pretty surprising policy decision. From that point on, any request from Corporate that was not an obvious priority or that was not aligned with the plant’s goal of Producing Product was secondary to plant operations and could be ignored or rejected.

If a corporate person justified the importance of the request and gave a reasonable deadline that did not interfere, fine well and good. But any “stupid request” should be forwarded to the Plant Manager and tabled. After all, the goal was production and not production of paperwork! The operation was accountable for results, not reports! The Plant Manager said that he would handle the politics and that Corporate would need to develop relationships with the Department Heads to build some teamwork to get some of their requests handled.

A year later, I checked back and this change actually worked extremely well, helping to realign priorities. Requests for information could get answered, but only if there was a reasonable timeline and some rationale for it. If they were just “making some report” and the information would interfere with production, they needed to do more than send some letter. The Plant Manager, after all, was responsible for generating operating profitability and not “reports for some clerk,” as he put it!

Suggestion: Look closely at what Staff requests or requires from Operations and be sure that there is an alignment to the Mission and Goals for all of that. Staff needs to support Operations and not vice versa.

Square Wheels Toolkits are a simple and effective way to generate discussions on what things are not working smoothly and what ideas exist that could make improvements in the journey forward. Check out our performance improvement support products on the website and sign up to receive the blog posts at the right.

Most of all, have some FUN out there!

Scott small picDr. 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/

We CANNOT expect involvement and engagement if we play the Blame Frame Game

How can we motivate people when we make them defensive? How can we expect innovation and process improvement if we are not actually encouraging people to share their thoughts and try new things?

Attack creates defensiveness; and appraisal and constructive criticism can certainly represent an attack in the perception of the workers:

Defense with © Square Wheels Image

If we ask managers how they manage, they tend to give all the right answers. But is that really their tendency to act and perform in reality?

Maybe. In the “Keeping Things Simple – Involving and Engaging” blog, I shared this cartoon that we call, “Trial and Error”.

square wheels image of Trial and Error

When we ask them to comment on the illustration, they tend to focus on what is wrong, rather than what else might be done, The ratio of negative to positive is about 8 : 1 and, if anything, the peer support appears more clearly in reactions to the different negative themes.

In other words, eight comments focused on the negative and what they did wrong for every one good thing the managers might spot, such as they are stepping back and looking for more improvements and that the horse, will in reality push a wagon.

Mothers usually call this “constructive criticism,” but I am not sure what good purpose it serves to continually point out what people are doing wrong, “even if it is for your own good.” as we so often hear as kids and teenagers (and workers, in so many instances!).

What the managers tend to do looks like this:

and this will not serve to improve motivation or make things better. If anything, this blame frame will make innovation harder and decrease the likelihood of people trying to be involved and engaged.

Note they this work team added a horse to the situation — more horsepower, as it were — and a definite paradigm shift. And YOU probably have not considered whether this might actually work. What if the next step simply looked like this:

ALL of us need to focus more on the innovative steps to improvement and the reality that change is a requirement in the workplace. So is support and encouragement — every book on leadership will comment on that but that is not congruent with the behavior of many managers.

Improvement is a continuous process, one that requires celebration of what is accomplished and continued reflection on possibilities and potential shifts in resource utilization. One might think that there is a train in their future?

Note – clicking on the images will take you to some different, related posts.

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 at scott@squarewheels.com

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

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On Teamwork, Trial and Error Improvement, and Blame Frames

Organizational improvement and teamwork. The ideas are pretty simple but the reality of actually designing and implementing workplace improvement tends to be a little difficult. When we add in issues of corporate power and politics, of sensitivities to criticism and perceived failures, and the framework of collaboration between departments to get things done differently, it looks a bit more like this:

Mud and Square Wheels image

And, organizationally, it can sometimes look like this:

Square Wheels and competition

In the “Keeping Things Simple – Involving and Engaging” blog, I shared a cartoon that we call, “Trial and Error”:

square wheels image of Trial and Error

Take a moment and look at the above image and react to what you see before moving on, please. Just consider what might be happening with the people and their workplace.

When I show this illustration to managers and ask for their reactions, we generally get a ratio of about 8 negative reactions to each positive one. In other words, eight reactions focused on the negative and what the people in the cartoon did wrong for every one positive thing about the situation. This is often called “constructive criticism,” but I am not sure what good it serves to continually point out what others are doing wrong. It does not build teamwork or increase engagement and it serves to smash down any intrinsic motivation that might have been occurring.

Managers should be trained to look for business improvement opportunities and to look for things that can be improved. This serves solid business purposes. But when this gets expressed as Non-Support for Change and Risk-Taking, we cannot expect others to just go along with that.

What we commonly see looks like this:

We embed the good with the blame and the people are more likely to run over the top of the hill and hide than come back to the wagon and continue to make improvements. Sure, their first attempt was pretty quirky and maybe they missed an idea or two about how they could get things done better.

But they also added a horse to the situation — more horsepower, as it were. And YOU probably have not considered whether this might actually work. What if the next step simply looked like this:

Square Wheels images by Scott Simmerman

The Round Wheels are in the wagon. Carrot’s, too!

Allow people to do things and celebrate their successes.

Square Wheels Celebration Haiku good ideas

Improvement is a continuous process, one that requires celebration of what is accomplished and continued reflection on possibilities and potential shifts in resource utilization. One might think that there is a train in their future?

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 scott@squarewheels.com

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

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The Origin of Engagement in the breakdown of Appraisal and Control

Simply put:

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

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

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

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

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

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

square wheels image

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

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

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

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

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

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

Square Wheels One cannot expect improvement words

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

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

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

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

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

We cannot become what we want to be

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

For the FUN of It!

square wheels author

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

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

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

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Top Performers Least Engaged Workers? Low Performers Most Involved?

In 4 of 10 companies, low performers were more engaged than the high performers, a paradox that has some big implications for your organization’s long term results. The people who are bringing you the least impact are more engaged than your best performers, who need involvement and engagement for you to retain them. Yeah, motivation is a funny thing!

John Baldoni shared some survey data from LeadershipIQ on the HBR Blog Network, which has a nice pdf analysis of the data. It IS thought provoking. John wrote this up well and gave me permission to repost, so I will keep this whole post short and link to it with some other blog posts on my thinking. I will retain his links and add my cartoons! Here is what John wrote:

Some of the most engaged employees in your organization are your worst performers. And some of the least engaged are your highest performers.

This conclusion comes from new research by the consulting firm, Leadership IQ. The study “matched engagement survey and performance appraisal data for 207 organizations.” According to CEO Mark Murphy (who I interviewed via email), “We had long suspected that high performers might not be as engaged as has traditionally been assumed. But seeing that, in 42% of cases, high performers were even less engaged than low performers was a bit of a shock.”

This conclusion runs contrary to conventional wisdom as well as many studies (including this one from Gallup) that show high engagement — that is, how much employees are committed to their work — correlates with better bottom line results, including productivity and profitability.

You could think of these low performers as hamsters on a wheel, spinning fast but actually going nowhere.

Rat Cage Making Progress Yet yellow

Conversely, high performers may be coasting like swans on a pond, just gliding by. You don’t see their effort because it’s below the water. As Murphy says, “in our study, high performers gave very low marks when asked if employees all live up to the same standards.”

Overlay - duck color

While low performers may be more engaged, their efforts may not be as productive, especially since it’s the higher performers — disengaged though they may be — who are doing all the work. The underperformance of the former undermines the effort of the latter. This is especially true, according to the study, when low performers are not held accountable for poor performance. These employees may not even know they are doing a poor job.

Naturally when poor performers are allowed to slide by, it erodes the morale of high performers who feel, again according to the study, “helpless about the trajectory of their careers.”

 (Read Scott’s blog about “I Quit! Nevermind. Whatever…”)

“We had seen plenty of cases where managers avoid dealing with low performers (because they believe the conversation will be difficult), and instead assign work to the employees they enjoy — i.e. high performers.,” says Murphy. “And as a result, they end up ‘burning out’ those same high performers they enjoy so much.”

While I find Leadership IQ’s findings linking high engagement to poor performers to be contrarian, it is not usual for good performers to feel lost in the system. This is a comment I hear not infrequently in my coaching work.

So what to do about it? Murphy offers two suggestions. “First, leaders need to set very explicit, and behaviorally-specific, expectations for performance. These expectations need to define and delineate good, great, and even poor performance so employees and managers can clearly define and differentiate best practices, teach those practices to others, and then hold people accountable accordingly.”

Doing this, according to Murphy, “gives high performers confidence that their manager understands the meaning of ‘high performer’ and it holds the manager accountable to actually differentiate employees on the basis of their performance.”

Second, Murphy suggests regularly monthly leadership meetings (perhaps lasting no more than 20 minutes) that ask managers about what’s going on in their workplaces and how motivated they feel. As Murphy says, “If a company CEO were told that their best customers were unhappy, it’s a safe bet that CEO would be on a plane within hours. If we truly believe that people are our most important asset, shouldn’t we pay a bit more attention to the engagement of the best of those people?”

Senior management needs to communicate more clearly, hold people at every level accountable for results, and actively invest time and resources in the talents of high performers.

All too often companies do not know their employees are unhappy until they leave. Exit interviews reveal that they leave because they did not believe anyone cared. Research has confirmed the old saw that people leave bosses, not companies. That makes holding bosses accountable for employee engagement critical.

Senior leaders need to do a better job of teaching managers how to be better managers. And they also need to apply such standards to themselves.

———————————–

I trust that you find this data and John’s framing of it to be of interest and use, as I did. If we expect workplace performance to improve, engagement and involvement are an easy way to address these opportunities. Doing another survey is not going to help us. Focusing on Dis-Un-Engagement is much more likely to pay dividends.

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 scott@squarewheels.com

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

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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:  http://www.smbcinc.com

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 scott@squarewheels.com

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

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Spring into Innovation – Some Thoughts about Involvement and Motivation

There are a lot of blogs and groups focused on the themes of innovation, and so many know so much that it continues to be mind boggling.

There appear to be two main camps, one that says that Innovation Occurs in Big Leaps and one that focuses more on what I have been calling Continuous Continuous Improvement for many years (that label from the Department of Redundancy Department!).

The Big Leaps People tend to use a specific set of creativity and structured innovation tools and an “outsider’s approach” and look for huge quantum jumps in things. These kinds of innovators get most of the attention from Fast Company and Wired and the venture capitalists and represent the Heros of the Universe. For people with this viewpoint, creativity is a learned skill and one that often takes on a very structured approach to opportunity identification. Think of the creative meetings at advertising agencies that push for the Big Idea on TV and reward those extravagantly.

Sometimes, that One Big Idea just appears out of nowhere and is so enticing that people can raise millions of dollars from others who see the potential. That is why some of the big software companies spend bazillions on some new idea from some small company long before it shows that it generates a cent of profits or is worth even a tiny portion of a bazillion dollars.

Celebration plane color green

Sometimes, we can be focused on our wagons while only the horse sees the idea of the cargo plane. (So, the solution is to hire the horse?)

But there is another kind of innovation that gets my interests, since it has so many impacts on people, performance and the workplace. It has links to leadership and motivation and organizational development.

Me, I like the writings of people like Sidney D’Mello, my new professor friend who focuses on confusion as a key to learning and retention. People learn more when they are placed in a situation where some problem solving is required. I like the literature on facilitation and collaboration that enable people from different viewpoints and backgrounds to get together to consider possibilities of doing things differently. In those kinds of workshop sessions, we get an occasional Big Leap, but more often, it is framed around the improvement of existing work processes.

Intrinsic Motivation color green

Improving existing work processes can have BIG impacts on motivation, performance results and innovation, however. That one small, implemented improvement can make a BIG positive impact on one person who has been frustrated in dealing with that issue, and it can be the first step forward of many more. Seeing that idea implemented by one person can help reassure the other people that the organization is willing to consider doing things differently, which can then involve and engage the others in rolling forward.

So, now that Spring has Sprung here in South Carolina, we are enthused by a new addition to our games and toolkits.

31

This interesting new development is the completion of our team building and creativity game, Innovate & Implement. This is a fun, fast-playing board game designed to enable innovation and get ideas implemented into the workplace. We get players into a problem-solving framework whereby they need to work together and deal with different kinds of common organizational roadblocks.

Take a narrative pictorial tour of Innovate & Implement by clicking on the link. It is a fully-packaged organizational intervention designed to involve and engage people in generating new ideas for doing things better and faster.

Good ideas exist but to implement them, people need motivation to overcome barriers and issues. This is why I&I is more than just a game–it works to engage and enlist people and teams in improvement initiatives.

Open a window for innovation and implementation in order to impact your employees and organization with positive, refreshing improvements. And have more FUN out there!

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/

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Thoughts on Optimal Team Sizes and Intrinsic Motivation for Results

Andrea Goodridge posed the following question in a LinkedIn discussion:  “What is the optimal team size? Does anyone know of any evidence which demonstrates a team’s decay of effectiveness and productivity because of its size? (I am interested to hear if a team of 12 on one site will be more productive than 2 teams of 6 on two sites.) How DO you approach assembling a team or teams that will actually generate results and have organizational impacts?”

belbin

To this, I shared some of my thinking and perspective, noting that my experiences are varied on this, but that I have been playing with these same kinds of issues for 20 years (yeah, more like 35 actually…). I am not sure that there IS an answer to the question. (Andrea actually does go on to add some research data in her comments and discussion with me.)

No doubt teams of 5 to 6 people can form up more quickly and identify and solve problems quickly. But do they have the “steam” to actually get things done politically? Is there enough power there to do more than talk? So, a real question is around the issue of real and perceived management support for risk and initiative.

The makeup of the team is also critical — do they have a vested interest in the outcome, are they some of the engaged workers who self-selected onto the team and do they have any previous success with improvements? Note that previous failures are most likely seen as de-motivators of future performance. The organizational culture is also important: Does it support change and improvement and will it allow the group to become a team and actually take action?

Large groups can have more position power and can include some people who will actually do little but who have the juice to say, “get this done.” The problem is that those large groups CAN play the political / appearance game and be on the team for “resume purposes” or to protect turf or whatever.

It is amazing how many managers do NOT really want changes and improvements to occur, feeling that if a team can come up with something better and implement measurable improvements and results, then they make that manager look bad for not doing that before. Yep — I have seen that crush a plant-wide performance initiative because “Frank” was retiring in a year and he thought of himself as, “The Best Plant Manager in the Whole Entire Company.” My work in a whole bunch of pilot programs clearly showed improvements were possible but, as soon as I left the project, you could hear the screeching sounds of brakes being applied — success was NOT possible.

You can spend lots of money on team surveys and all that — plenty of offerings to “help improve teamwork.” Me, I am a GFNJ * 

The key is to have a really effective team leader or moderator, to take good notes, to set dates and standards and report accomplishments and insure that the infrastructure works to allow teams and team members to succeed. I have always liked that metaphor of a good team as a good jazz band, where everyone gets some solo time but where the group is recognized for its overall results.

Becoming an orchestra is an awful lot harder to accomplish.

Small teams. Engaged. Collaborative. Focused on improvement. Dis-Un-Empowered and Dis-Un-Engaged. In a culture that will actually support implementation!

Git ‘er Done!   ( * Guy From New Jersey)

Andrea Goodridge then added some good comments that I simply copy below:

AndreaThanks for your comments Scott – over the last few days I have done some research into this very question – below is my output: 

M Ringelmann discredited the theory that a group team effort results in increased effort, by analysing the pull force of people alone and in groups as they pulled on a rope. As Ringelmann added more and more people at the rope, he discovered that the total force generated by the group rose, but the average force exerted by each group member declined. Ringelmann attributed this to what was then called “social loafing” – a condition where a group or team tends to ‘hide’ the lack of individual effort. 

Researchers (Hackman and Vidmar, Richard Hackman, QSM, Klein, Wheelan) identified a general preference for a small team, containing less than seven members, showing: that as a team gets bigger, the number of links that need to be managed among members goes up at an accelerating, almost exponential rate; and teams comprising between three and six members are significantly more productive and better developed than those made up of between seven and ten, and those with 11 or more members. When teams get over eight or nine people, it is cumbersome and the team breaks down into sub-teams. 

J Mueller explored the question of small versus large teams and noted in larger teams, people may not have the time and energy to form relationships that really help their ability to be productive; and also higher levels of stress were revealed for members of larger teams than for smaller teams. On a smaller team, people knew what resources were available and felt they could ask questions when things went wrong. 

Espinosa, Lerch and Kraut state as projects and teams grow in size and complexity, tasks and member dependencies become more numerous, diverse and complex, thus increasing the need for team coordination. It often means less cohesiveness and less participation from group members, and often the opportunity for “social loafing”. 

Wheelan reports that smaller groups are more likely to pass through all four stages of group development, and highly developed groups are more likely to be productive. 

Overall, small is the better way to go when forming a team!

So, you have my subjective thoughts on this along with the research that Andrea cited. I cannot imagine where I would build a large team, but I might have a larger “steering committee” or some such political body that would give a stamp of approval to the efforts of the smaller teams.

I do note, though, that many automobile manufacturers and similar kinds of design groups are using social networking and crowd sourcing to help generate ideas for improvement. I am guessing that the implementation teams would be small to be effective, however.

And there does seem to be good support for the reality of organizing small mobile teams rather than big ones, IF you give them the room to operate and the resources they need to be effective.

For the FUN of It!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why use Square Wheels? Round Wheels aready exist!

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

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

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

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

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

Scott Simmerman

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

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

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

Facilitating Engagement, Alignment and Involvement with Cartoons

Sometimes, I think that everyone already knows what I do and how simple it is to do and how well it works to involve and engage people in workplace improvement and get their ideas about what things need to be done differently.

Then, I have a phone conversation with someone and I cycle right back to the beginning, and I start talking about how simple and straightforward it can be to involve people because they want to solve problems and improve their workplace, given all the time then spend there… And THEN, I realize how much fun this all is and how wonderful the approach I have taken for the past 20 years really works.

Okay. The Situation:

The people are demotivated and unengaged (lots of statistics). And the theme of building some teamwork is suggested by the boss’ boss. Only there is no budget and no time. And no support from Training. “Just get it done!” we are told…

Okay. Pay $50 and get a toolkit containing worksheets and cartoons and instructions on how to use a simple cartoon to generate discussion of issues and ideas about what is not working and what could work better.

The toolkit starts by having you share an image just like this:

Ask: “How might this represent how most organizations really work?”

Then you can pretty much let things flow undirected. Let people think and consider, let them play with the ideas at hand and the issues and opportunities. We’ve figured out a lot of different ideas and frameworks for facilitation and structuring the resulting issues and opportunities, with handouts like, “What are some Square Wheels we deal with” and “What are some Round Wheel ideas to fix this Square Wheel” and stuff like that.

But a few colored marking pens and some easel pad paper are pretty much all you need to generate the gap between the way things are and the way they should be and to generate the teamwork and energy and focus needed for most people in most organizations to be motivated to close the gap

Heck, you can even select one person who has natural leadership skills and just let them self-direct the group in rolling downhill and forward.

I read these articles about how difficult it is to engage people in the workplace and how people are resistant to change and how to motivate people and all that. All it does is make things SEEM really complicated and confusing.

I will bet you can do all that with just the cartoon above. Ya think?

Oh, almost forgot. The Square Wheels One illustration above is how things work in MOST places. Here is how things tend to work in Asia:

 

Yep, that is just a little joke.

Have fun out there.

Scott Simmerman

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

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

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

“Nobody ever washes a rental car.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leaders will resist changes they feel are done TO them.

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

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

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

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

Have some fun out there, too.

Scott Debrief

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

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

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On Trial and Error, Blame Frames and Gotcha’s: Engagement? Innovation? Really?

In the “Keeping Things Simple – Involving and Engaging” blog, I shared a cartoon that we call, “Trial and Error”:

square wheels image of Trial and Error

Take a moment and look at the cartoon and react to what you see before moving on, please. Just consider what might be happening above.

Okay? Take a moment. Seriously…

When I show this illustration to managers and ask for their reactions, the ratio I get is about 8 : 1. In other words, eight themes focused on the negative and what they did wrong for every one good thing they might see. Mothers usually call this “constructive criticism,” but I am not sure what good purpose it serves to continually point out what people are doing wrong, “even if it is for your own good.” as we so often hear as kids and teenagers (and workers, in so many instances!).

I think we, as managers, are trained to look for business improvement opportunities and to look for things we can improve. That is fine. well and good and serve solid business purposes. But when this gets expressed to our “teenagers” as Non-Support, we cannot expect others to just go along with that. Most people do NOT like the taste of castor oil, even if it IS for our own good!

What managers tend to do looks like this:

We embed the good with the blame and the people are more likely to run over the top of the hill and hide than come back to the wagon and continue to make improvements. Sure, their first attempt was pretty quirky and maybe they missed an idea or two about how they could get things done better.

But they also added a horse to the situation — more horsepower, as it were. And YOU probably have not considered whether this might actually work. What if the next step simply looked like this:

Allow people to do things and celebrate their successes.

Improvement is a continuous process, one that requires celebration of what is accomplished and continued reflection on possibilities and potential shifts in resource utilization. One might thing that there is a train in their future?

———————————–

Update:

I added a short article on Devil’s Advocate roles and building Trust as it relates to organizational improvement. You can see it by clicking on the image below:

LEGO SWs One POSTER Devil's Advocate Challenge

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

 

 

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