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

Tag: ideas for engagement

Can you IMPROVE a Square Wheel?

A casual note in Slack to me from our marketing guy Amit got me thinking, so I responded and then felt I should write a blog about it. I had shared an old LEGO style, Too Busy to Improve image with him with a note that we want to change this to our new Divya illustration style.

Really too busy to improve the Square Wheels

Amit said, “…most times it’s only because we don’t know how to work them smoothly.” (referring to the Square Wheels on the wagon)

And my immediate response was, “Nah. The Square Wheels always need to be replaced with better ones. BUT, sometimes we see organizations implement Triangular Wheels because they can measure the improvement — “one less bump per revolution.” Square Wheels cannot be made into round ones. Yet the Round Wheels really are everywhere. Customers have them, workers have them, supervisors have them, consultants should get them from the three previous groups. Senior Leadership seldom has really good ones…”

So, my response got me thinking: maybe I might clarify my thinking about improvement and engagement and innovation.

Square Wheels® are simply things that do not work smoothly. We show the image of the wagon and ask people for their thoughts on how this might represent how things work in most organizations. Results from asking are simply amazing. People project their beliefs on to this “Organization Ink Blot Test*” and you get a pretty amazing number of thoughts about issues of systems and processes, innovation, leadership, culture and similar. A few people make funny comments like, “We’re not like that. We push our wagon uphill in the mud!”

Square Wheels image of how organiztions really work

Then, the next phase of the engagement is to ask the participants, “What are some Square Wheels that we might want to address” and let them discuss the things that do not work smoothly from their perceptions. These discussions are amazing, in that some of the ideas represent really good organizational improvement ideas and some represent only minor and easy to implement changes. Some are systems and process improvement thoughts and many are problems that have already been solved by top performers, the Best Practice kinds of things.

People have real and well-considered ideas in many cases. And everyone engages and offers their thoughts. A few things are seen as problems by an individual or two but those do not generate traction and the lack of consensus peer support for them tends to make them go away in the proposer’s mind (which can be really helpful to the team!).

And because the ideas are generated in group discussion, the active involvement serves to generate engagement and the cognitive dissonance that because there are Square Wheels, there must be some ROUND Wheels out there to address them. Too often, they start solving a Square Wheel problem before they have even finished the discussion of possibilities.

As to “fixing” a Square Wheel, I think that is not a functional possibility. Square Wheels can generate new ideas for implementing improvement but trying to fix an existing problem is not as effective as looking at a variety of possible solutions. Too often, we jump in to fix something without considering other possibilities.

Let me complete this post with another relevant thought. In a John LeCarre novel, he wrote, “A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.” And I think that is right. The people who have hands-on experience generally have a good sense of reality. While they view things from the back of the wagon and they may not have great overall perspective, they DO have a sense of what is happening in reality. I contrast this with the reality of isolation of the more senior managers, who may see things from the Big Picture much better, but they do NOT know the specifics and the details of how things work. Two things happen:

One is the reality of the long rope:

 

And another is that they may measure their impacts without considering all of the ramifications of their solution. I call that basic problem two different things, “The Cost of Human Capital” and  “One Less Bump per Revolution.” We can easily make changes that have significant negative impacts on people and we can always measure the wrong thing…

 

I hope that you have found this interesting and I am looking forward to updating this post with our new illustrations, which are powerful tools that can be used in zoom conversations to generate more active involvement, engagement and motivation to address some of the things that can be changed and improved in most organizations.

 

For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman, Ph.D., CPF, CPT – “The Square Wheels Guy”
Managing Partner, Performance Management Company – 864-292-8700
1520 S McElhaney Road, Greer SC  29651    USA
Scott@SquareWheels.com
SquareWheelsGuy (Skype)

 

Our new VIRTUAL version of our team building game is now available for demonstrations and developmental partnerships.

See a 2-minute video here:    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cE6gDtZymwk

* This is also know as a Rorschach Test, more formally…

Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of Performance Management Company.
© – All illustrations copyright Performance Management Company, 1993 – 2022

Bill Cosby, John LeCarre and Jim Collins on Improving Workplace Performance and Motivation

Bill Cosby made a great presentation years ago at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Conference in San Diego. he told the story of:

… two geniuses and two human resources professionals at the gates of heaven, all trying to get in. The gatekeeper said there was a simple way to gain entry: just give God a question that he couldn’t answer. If you could stump him, you got in.

The Geniuses huddled and talked back and forth for a while, but no matter how hard they tried to ask questions, God always had the answer.

Those two human resources people, on the other hand, huddled for just a moment, scribbled down a single question and handed it to the gatekeeper.

He reappeared a few minutes later and said they had done well and that God was stumped, so they could enter Heaven when they liked. 

The geniuses were puzzled. How? What, they asked the gatekeeper, could those two HR people have possibly been able to ask God that he couldn’t answer?

It was simple, the gatekeeper said:  “They asked God when the company they had been working for was going to get its shit together.”

The joke was well received because of the reality:  Businesses really don’t have it together!

The workforce and staff know it to be true and pretty uniform across organizations. These same people, as customers, undoubtedly feel it when interacting.

Square Wheels One with Customer Riding

But top managements just don’t seem to be aware that they do not really know what is happening or if they have the right operational policies and procedures in place.

As the author John LeCarre, once wrote,

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

Jim Collins, author of management books as Good to Great and Built to Last, showed that a very typical problem is that “the CEO has already made a decision, and that view of “leadership” was to get people to participate so that they feel good about the decision already made.” This is a really poor way to manage because, “you’re ignoring people who might know a lot that would be useful in making the decision.”

Collins added: “You’re accepting the idea that because you’re in the CEO seat, you somehow know more or you’re really smarter than everyone else, But what you’re really doing is cutting yourself off from hearing options or ideas that might be better.”

The story and Collins’ research make the same point:  Leaders are not fully informed. They know some things but not everything. They tend to look at numbers and receive information that has been filtered a number of times (see how I close this with, “In The Beginning!”). Senior leadership seldom actually deal with customers or customer problems and do not have their hands on the keyboards and phone pads that influence results and touch the business. And talking with the CEO of another company does not make them hands-on, either!

A Desk is Dangerous Place from which to View the World

People down in the trenches understand an awful lot more about the business than the executive suite people give them credit for and they have good hands-on feelings about the causes of a lot of problems. They also have a lot of good ideas about how to make the business operate more efficiently and more effectively. While they may not understand the Big Picture and the overall issues, they certainly know a lot about how things actually work in their areas of expertise.

The problem is, the people with their hands on things are generally not asked what they think or about what should be done differently. They are often pushed into competing with other departments rather than collaborating in meaningful ways. Worse, from a motivational and developmental perspective, they are often simply handed down decisions without being given an opportunity to have any meaningful input or change to those ideas – this generates compliance.

Heck, even God would probably understand the issues and opportunities communicated in my favorite quote:

“Nobody ever washes a rental car.”

We totally agree that these are real issues! And this is where our Square Wheels® tools can easily have a huge impact. We provide simple tools for helping managers dramatically improve communications, helping them become better facilitators for motivation and innovation and allowing their people to have a voice and feel ownership. They can use our tools to remove roadblocks, identify issues and generate possible solutions, all the while doing this with the people rather than to them.

A wide variety of workplace statistics point to the dissatisfaction of employees because they perceive that leaders do not care about their ideas for improvement. Many feel little involvement in the decisions that directly affect them and often feel they have no effective way to voice their ideas, opinions and solutions concerning workplace issues or ideas.

For managers, a great way to tap this source of ideas is to facilitate a session using Square Wheels® illustrations.  These illustrations provide a “safe” non-threatening format for people to openly discuss issues and ideas and work on implementation.

Square Wheels One is an illustration that sets up the metaphor of the wagon moving along on Square Wheels with Round Wheels in the wagon.

square wheels image of how things work

The Manager begins the session by showing the cartoon and stating that this is how most organizations seem to work. At this point, he asks the participants (who are ideally seated at round tables with 5 to 6 people per table), to talk among themselves about how they see their organization in the illustration.

After 5 minutes, ask for reactions from each table and write them on an easel pad, preferably containing the illustration. Leaders need to get their people involved and engaged. And the leaders also need to be active participants in the improvement process itself — they must clearly show their support for the show to go on…

square wheels on ownwership

Lastly, all of this discussion reminds me of a classic, which I have reproduced for your enjoyment:

In the Beginning was The Vision
And then came the Assumptions
But the Assumptions were without Form
And the Vision was without substance.
And Darkness was upon the faces of the Workers
As they Spoke amongst themselves, saying:
“It is a Crock of Shit, and it Stinketh, badly.”

 So the Workers went to Supervisors and sayeth unto them:
“It is a Pail of Dung, and none may abide the Odor thereof.”

And Supervisors went to Managers, and sayeth unto them:
“It is a Container of Excrement, and it is
so very Strong that none may abide it.” 

And Managers went to Directors and sayeth unto them:
“It is a vessel of Fertilizer, and none may abide its Strength.”

And Directors went to Vice Presidents and sayeth:
“It contains that which aids plant Growth, and it is very Strong.” 

And Vice Presidents went to Executives and sayeth unto them:
“It promoteth Growth, and it is very very Powerful.” 

And Executives went to the President, and sayeth unto him:
“This powerful Vision will actively promote Growth and Efficiency
of our departments and our company overall.” 

And the President looked upon the Vision and saw that it was good.
Thus the Vision became The Reality.

Yeah, the reality is that information is quite filtered as it rolls up the organization, so do what you can to get more hands on (so to speak!).

See more thoughts on thinking and decision-making at this other popular blog of ours:

Square Wheels ideas are good implementation

and find out more about our tools for engagement by clicking the image-link below:

Square Wheels are simply great tools

For the FUN of It, be involved and engaged!

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.

The Play’s The Thing – More Cartoons on how organizations really work

Organizations need to make continuous progress on workplace improvements so that they can sustain intrinsic motivation among the staff and retain some level of competitive innovation in products and services. That is a given.

But the reality is that people are un-engaged and de-motivated by “continuous un-improvement” and are frustrated because their ideas are ignored and their efforts unappreciated. At least that is the consistent result of a few hundred workplace surveys!

CAN things be improved? Sure. Think “Best Boss” and what that individual did differently for you and your work. The ideas for improvement and engagement are pretty straightforward, but it just seems like so many managers and supervisors simply cannot do those simple things to involve and engage people and performance.

To that end, I continue my series of illustrations and captions about how things work. My idea is that maybe I can rattle a cage somewhere and get at least a few people to see what they might do differently. After all, the Round Wheels are already in the wagon and it is simply an issue of identification of Square Wheels that often leads to ideas and implementation.

Captions – Part One

Captions – Part Two

Don’s Just DO Something. Stand There.

So here are a few more cartoons and captions for your enjoyment. Let me know which ones you like best.

SWs One Today was good today was fun

SWs One brain in head feet in shoes

SWs One all the things you won't see red

 

SWs One all the things you won't see yellow

SWs One Nothing is NOT

SWs One They're everywhere

SWs One Collective Intelligence

 

So, please let me wrap this up with this last one, which is kind of a closing theme.

 

Brainstorming Their ideas are BETTER

 

You can find our Square Wheels Toolkits on our website. We offer a variety of different bundles of cartoons in powerpoint, handouts, and ideas / instructions for how easy it is to involve and engage people in your performance improvement initiatives.

Have FUN out There!

Elegant Solutions

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

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

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

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